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February 22, 2011

Poverty Plans

It was interesting to watch Kevin Falcon try to remake his political image during segments of the Shaw Cable BC Liberal leadership debate. On a couple of occasions he sounded like someone other than a hard right conservative. Whether he was sincere or not, it is noteworthy that when Keith Baldrey asked about child poverty Falcon mentioned that it is driven by new immigrants, single women and first nations. Falcon said its not a matter of statistics. On Twitter some critics immediately accused him of blaming those groups for poverty, but I think he should be cut some slack. The standard Liberal response to any discussion on poverty is to argue the statistics so as to attempt to minimize the problem; that's how Christy Clark began her answer to the question, although she finished saying she'd offer a tax break and increase the minimum wage. George Abbott took it to the next stage, saying that a poverty reduction plan is needed, such as New Bunswick's, with measurable goals.

The Liberals shouldn't be excused for their ten year record, but when a crack of light shines under the door, the opportunity to open a dialogue should be seized. Wouldn't it be nice to hear a non-partisan discussion on the introduction of a legislative plan to reduce poverty? Of course it would be easier to believe that they are serious if at least one Liberal leadership hopeful had responded to First Call's survey. Well known as the organization that publishes the annual Child Poverty Report Card, First Call asked candidates from both parties to respond to questions on keys to success for children and youth.

Gilles Séguin's excellent website, Canadian Social Research links, provides an extensive list of poverty reduction strategies and commentary. BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan are the only provinces that haven't adopted formal poverty reduction strategies. Of course, having a strategy and actually making progress are not necessarily the same thing, but at least governments can be held to account if they specify measurable goals and then fail to meet those goals. Newfoundland and Labrador and New Brunswick have issued their first progress reports.

Upon adoption of its plan, New Brunswick implemented a variety of initiatives, including improvements to its social assistance plan, and it began a series of increases in its minimum wage which will see it increase to $10.00 an hour by September 1, 2011. The Common Front for Social Justice, an advocacy group that attempts to hold the NB government accountable, has criticized the NB plan for doing nothing for 97% of income assistance recipients until July 2011.

Newfoundland and Labrador launched its plan in 2006, three years before New Brunswick. Its 2009 report said: "Over 80 initiatives have been funded to prevent, reduce, and alleviate poverty." NL may be the only province where even welfare rights advocacy groups compliment the government on its poverty reduction plan. A key reason for what appears to be almost universal support for the NL plan may be that former Premier Danny Williams make it one of his personal priorities and saw that it received sufficient resources to make measurable progress. There is a lesson here that success requires commitment from the top.