National Goal for Poverty Reduction (Terrance Hunsley)

By Terrance Hunsley

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The Government of Canada discussion paper, Towards a Poverty Reduction Strategy, asks for suggestions on how the federal government can better align its poverty reduction efforts with those of provinces, territories, municipalities and communities. It also solicits suggestions on how it can encourage ongoing dialogue with other governments, community organizations, businesses and academia about poverty reduction.

I have a suggestion:

The Government of Canada should invite other governments to agree on a national objective – a goal – to achieve a specified reduction in poverty levels over the next ten years. This could be an optimistic, but achievable goal – let’s say for example, a 50% reduction based on the LIM (Low Income Measure). As all governments including provinces, territories, municipalities, and first nations, have a role to play, they could all be asked to sign on to pursue this common goal. In doing so they would be agreeing to have their collective efforts evaluated each year, hopefully by Statistics Canada or by a special purpose agency or observatory to monitor social well-being and programs.

To make this a truly national effort, public institutions, civil society, community organizations, labour unions and businesses would also be invited to formally ratify the goal, thereby agreeing to help in its attainment and to review progress and their own role, in their annual general meetings.

Of course, income is not the only problem that vulnerable and marginalized people face, and other services and supports also need to be improved. However, increasing incomes at the lower end of the scale would have a transformative effect on quality of Canadian life. The OECD tells us that reducing poverty and inequality would bring about better health, better educational results, better economic growth and a happier and more cohesive society.

A common national goal would help to align our efforts across the country while respecting organizational mandates and constitutional jurisdiction, and would promote a continuing national dialogue. And when the goal is achieved, there will be real and well-deserved national pride in the accomplishment. This is a fitting goal to launch during Canada’s 150th year.

Terrance Hunsley is a Senior Fellow with the Pearson Centre. He is also Editor of politudes.com (International Social Policy Monitor), past Director General of the International Centre for Prevention of Crime. CEO of the Canadian Council on Social Development, and Fellow of Queen's University School of Policy Studies.

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