Time for National Consultation on Poverty Reduction to Bear Fruit

By Terrance Hunsley

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When the Trudeau government was elected, Jean Yves Duclos was appointed to cabinet with a mandate to implement increases to children’s benefits, and to consult with Canadians on further measures to reduce poverty and strengthen the middle class. The consultation has been underway for a year and a half, and Minister Duclos stated at a recent OECD forum for social policy ministers that announcements will be coming soon.  

An advisory committee has been focussing on an “all of government” approach to poverty, with official targets, measurement, reporting and accountability. Mr Duclos indicated that clear targets and measurement will be part of the announcement.

When the consultation process was first launched, the Pearson Centre organized a half-day roundtable on poverty reduction, involving a wide range of stakeholders. Minister Duclos accepted our invitation to spend the morning with us. 

In our report, we emphasized the need for poverty reduction to involve both a “whole of government” and a “whole of society” approach. 

We suggested that the federal government adopt a bold goal – like a fifty percent reduction over ten years – and invite other governments as well as businesses and civil society, to engage and commit to the goal, and participate in an inspiring national project. 

Here’s what we said:

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.

The focus on targets is an attempt to get beyond the constraints of four-year election cycles which favour measuring efforts in dollars committed.  But Canadians really have no way of knowing if any figure, whether millions or billions, is enough to achieve the goal. They receive less information on whether and when the dollars are actually spent, and even less on the results attained. An overarching goal with continuing measurement provides a better basis for democratic accountability. 

We also need a modernized social policy approach, which engages all levels of government, and all of the relevant institutions and organizations in Canadian society. A goal which is broadly supported by the population permits parties from different points on the political spectrum, to demonstrate how their approach could achieve the best outcome. 

Communities, civil society, businesses, all have a role to play in reducing poverty. Energizing their interest and contributions could help to create national pride in building an inclusive society. 

With the recent change in the Ontario government, a rare window of potential for political consensus in Canada may have disappeared. Which could make a federal invitation to all of Canada – governments and society – to engage in a common goal, all the more important.

 

Terrance Hunsley is a Senior Fellow of the Pearson Centre.

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