EDMONTON (CCN) — Despite its wealth, Canada still has almost five million people struggling to make ends meet. These are people who struggle to pay their rent, feed their families and address basic needs.
To solve this problem, Canada needs a national plan on poverty reduction, says Darlene O’Leary, socio-economic policy analyst for Citizens for Public Justice.
CPJ is an Ottawa-based national organization inspired by faith to act for justice in Canadian public policy.
O’Leary was in Edmonton in early April to attend the Cities Reducing Poverty conference hosted by Mayor Don Iveson. The conference focused on municipal poverty reduction and was attended by mayors from cities across Canada.
“It has been important to us to know what strategies have been developed and there’s been a lot of leadership at the municipal level when it comes to poverty reduction and poverty eradication,” O’Leary said.
“We think all levels of government need to be part of the solution to end poverty in Canada. CPJ’s focus is on the federal government, but we know that provincial, territorial, municipal and First Nations and Aboriginals need to also be part of the discussion.”
At the national level, O’Leary is promoting CPJ’s recently announced national anti-poverty plan, a proposal she would like the federal government to adopt in developing its own anti-poverty plan.
It presents the key planks of a federal anti-poverty plan that, if implemented, would make a meaningful improvement in the lives of low-income Canadians, O’Leary said in an interview.
The plan asserts that poverty must be addressed in Canada through focusing on six different realms: income security, housing and homelessness, health, food security, early childhood education and care, and jobs and employment.
“We had summits on each of the six areas because we feel poverty is not just one thing. All these areas intersect; they affect each other.
“So if you don’t have housing it’s hard for you to have good health. If you don’t have good food, it is hard for you to have good health.”
O’Leary says she is encouraged because after the new Liberal government came to power, “the prime minister issued mandate letters to all the ministers in cabinet and the mandate letter to the minister of families, children and social development, Jean-Yves Duclos, committed the government to a Canadian poverty reduction strategy.”
Every Oct. 17, the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, CPJ publishes a report on poverty using the most up-to-date information from Stats Canada. Currently 4.9 million Canadians live in poverty.
The figure includes people on social assistance and others who work but don’t make enough to meet the cost of living, which varies across the country.
The national child poverty rate is 19 per cent, but can run as high as 40 or 50 per cent in some parts of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, she said. Rates are generally higher among newcomers and single parents.
“Indigenous peoples in some communities have the highest rates in Canada.”
Asked about the causes of poverty, O’Leary pointed to both individual circumstances and systemic causes.
“Some of it is lack of access to basic needs, such as lack of access to education, lack of access to child care, lack of access to jobs, lack of access to a basic income that would allow you to just have your basic needs addressed and then a lack of access to good health care,” she said.