Poverty in Canada is a Canadian Problem

By Elizabeth Keith


Photo: S.L.M /Flickr

Canada is a wealthy country, yet 1 in 7 people here live in poverty.

Worse still, there is no national plan to fix this, despite many asks for one. Instead, the government ends up paying billions of dollars each year to “manage” poverty.

Maybe the reason poverty hasn’t been addressed is because no one can agree on whose problem it is.

To the federal government it’s a jurisdictional issue. Many of the components surrounding poverty are provincial or territorial matters, such as healthcare, education, and housing. But in reality, all levels of government have a role to play in eliminating poverty because poverty in Canada is a Canadian problem.

How is our federal government affected by this?

Dealing with the effects of poverty is more expensive than taking action. The Cost of Poverty: An Economic Analysis of Poverty in Ontario, The Ontario Association of Food Banks, 2008, states that it costs the Canadian Governments more than $70 billion annually. Imagine what could be accomplished with that money?  It should come as no surprise that income insecurity is bad for the economy. This money could be used to boost Canada’s weak income security program, which is now one of the weakest among developed countries.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) recently released its findings on residential schools. They found the impacts, including poverty, of these schools are still seen in indigenous communities today.

Canada’s Indigenous peoples experience high levels of poverty as a result of historical oppression, poor infrastructure on the reserves, and the discrimination they continue to face in urban areas. The TRC has made recommendations to the federal government on how to move towards reconciliation. Putting Indigenous peoples in the spotlight can illuminate a number of other important national issues, such as poverty.

At the TRC closing events it was said repeatedly that reconciliation isn’t just an Indigenous  problem, it’s a Canadian problem. We can apply the same philosophy to poverty.

The Dignity for All report cites many reasons for the federal government to take action. Whether it is an act of reconciliation in respect to their role in economic programs and services for indigenous peoples, an effort to transform the economy with tax policies that can generate revenue for public programs, or a step to ensure dignity for all people by upholding their commitment to international human rights treaties, the federal government needs to take ownership of the issue of poverty.  As the leaders of our nation, it is up to them to put a plan in place. They need to work with the provinces instead of pushing all the responsibility on them.

Most provinces have a plan– or at least one in development – to eradicate poverty. British Columbia however, with the sixth highest poverty rate of the provinces and territories, doesn’t have one. In this case, while BC would be wise to develop a provincial poverty plan. Yet the federal government must still take responsibility for creating a better standard of life not just in BC but in all of Canada.

With virtually nothing to lose and so much to gain, it’s time for the Government of Canada to take leadership over what is a national problem and develop a plan to make poverty in Canada history.

  • Elizabeth Keith

    Elizabeth Keith is the current outreach assistant at CPJ. She previously worked for the Presbyterian Record. There she had the opportunity to write about important issues, such as refugees, Boko Haram in Nigeria, reconciliation with the Aboriginal community, and maternal and child health. Elizabeth will be entering her third year of journalism at Carleton University in the fall. She is also minoring in Canadian Studies and French. Studying journalism allows her to combine her love of writing with her interest in Canadian and world issues. She sees journalism as a tool for advocacy and hopes one day she can change the world. Elizabeth has grown up in the Anglican Church and currently attends Trinity Anglican Ottawa, where she teaches Sunday school and volunteers at various events.

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