Opposition MLA Michelle Mungall introduced a private member’s bill proposing a British Columbia Poverty Reduction and Economic Inclusion Act in the B.C. legislature recently.
If it’s passed in the legislature, the act would see the government develop a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy within one year, and legislate specific targets and timelines to reduce the breadth and depth of poverty.
The bill has gained a groundswell of support with anti-poverty groups throughout the province, as well as with groups that work with folks – children, families and individual men and women – struggling with poverty on a daily basis.
In 100 Mile House, Cariboo Family Enrichment Centre (CFEC) Society co-chairs Noella Andrews and Diane Cober released the following statement.
“As the board [chairs] of the Cariboo Family Enrichment Centre, we feel strongly the children in British Columbia deserve to live in a family that is not stressed daily by the financial challenges of basic needs like buying food and paying rent. We are a member of the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition and encourage everyone to become involved in advocating for a just community free of poverty.”
The proposed act includes extensive community consultation, including with those living in poverty, and also outlines how a government should be held accountable for progress.
If passed the act would commit:
• To embed targets in legislation;
• To appoint a lead minister;
• To have a cabinet committee to oversee the strategy co-chaired by the premier,
• To have an outside advisory committee to hold the government to account; and
• To annual reporting to monitor progress.
“Each day at CFEC we see the negative physical and mental toll poverty has on new parents and their children in the South Cariboo,” says Sheila Glen, program manager early years.
“Research studies have clearly shown over and over again that poverty has a direct causal effect of reducing childhood development causing life long problems which impacts on all of us.”
After years of building support throughout the province for a poverty reduction plan for B.C., it is gratifying to see the Opposition signal a strong commitment, says Seth Klein, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-B.C. Office director and BC Poverty Reduction Coalition (BCPRC) co-chair.
“However, I hope to hear more from the Opposition about what their first steps would be, as we know the urgency of initial actions and these don’t need to wait for the development of a full strategy, such as raising inadequate welfare rates that have been frozen since 2007.”
Ted Bruce of the Public Health Association of BC and BCPRC co-chair notes the significance of the guiding principles of the act to protect human rights, address the social and economic costs of poverty, and address the social determinants of health.
“We know the costs of health care alone in relation to poverty are $1.2 billion a year. Tackling poverty upfront is the single biggest factor in improving health outcomes for everyone, not just those living in poverty.”
The BCPRC states it welcomes this bill, as B.C. has had the highest poverty rate in Canada for the last 13 years, but is now one of only two provinces left without a poverty reduction plan.
When Premier Christy Clark announced in February the B.C. Liberal government was going to battle poverty in B.C., CFEC executive director Lisa De Paoli indicated she was pleased to hear the news.
“Taking action to tackle child poverty is essential to the future health and well-being of our community. It is heartening that the government has heard, and is responding, to the voices of many children, youth and families in the South Cariboo who daily face the debilitating challenges of poverty.”