Report of Pearson Centre Roundtable on Poverty Reduction


By Terrance Hunsley, Senior Fellow, The Pearson Centre

(Reprinted with permission of The Pearson Centre)

Hosted by the Somerset West Community Health Centre, Ottawa
December 8, 2016

1. Executive Summary
2. Overview; Format and Objectives
3. Discussion Summary
4. Analytical Comments
5. Recommendations for the Federal Government

Attachment 1.
List of participants
Roundtable Agenda

Attachment 2.
1. Comments by Sheri Torjman, Caledon Institute
2. Canadian Network of Women’s Shelters and Transition Houses
3. Andrew Jackson, Carleton University / Broadbent Institute
4. Proposal for a Canadian National Goal for Poverty Reduction, 2017-2027 (By Terrance Hunsley, Senior Fellow, The Pearson Centre
5. OCASI – Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants; Colour of Poverty – Colour of Change (COP-COC)
6. Avvy Go, Colour of Poverty – Colour of Change (COP-COC)
7. Comments Mary Lou Levisky, Poverty Activist Ottawa
8. Notes for Pearson Centre Roundtable, by Sheila Regehr
9. Tamarack Institute Guide for Cities Reducing Poverty


Keynote guest:

Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos
Minister of Families, Children and Social Development

The following is a report of the Roundtable on Poverty Reduction held in Ottawa on December 8, 2016. It summarizes the discussion and the issues raised, provides a concise analysis of the key issues and includes the recommendations put forward by various participants. The views expressed by participants have been summarized by the Pearson Centre. Participants were invited to submit written comments and those which were received are attached as appendices.

Canadian governments at all levels are looking for ways to reduce poverty, inequality and exclusion. Other countries and international agencies like the OECD are also worried that the benefits of increasing economic activity and increasing wealth which have followed globalization of trade and the information technology revolution, have not been distributed in a just or equitable way. The fact that poverty has not been reduced is a clear indication of this. Canada has above-average wealth in the OECD and above-average poverty. The Government of Canada recently released a consultation document on poverty reduction, indicating its desire to align with governments and communities throughout Canada in a collective effort to reduce poverty and promote inclusive economic growth to build a broad and prosperous middle class.

The Pearson Centre convened a group of people, well-qualified to bring policy expertise, community service and civil society perspectives to the challenge of a national poverty reduction strategy. We were joined by the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, Jean Yves Duclos, who made introductory remarks and listened to presentations and comments of participants. The meeting was held at the Somerset West Community Health Centre (SWCHC), and was chaired by Andrew Cardozo, President of The Pearson Centre.

1. Executive Summary:
Roundtable Objectives: To identify and consider: 1) alignment of federal poverty reduction initiatives with others, 2) options for reform, 3) prudent and efficient approaches, and 4) possibilities for strategic federal action. 5) The Pearson Centre was also seeking guidance in relation to possible follow-up initiatives.

a) Minister’s Comments
Minister Duclos spoke about the federal consultation paper, identifying recent initiatives and feedback being sought. He highlighted questions regarding the measurement of poverty and of progress in reducing it; identification of the most efficient methods to reduce poverty, the desire to align federal actions with those of other actors, and the need for a coherent and integrated national strategy.

b) Participant Views:
Measurement: A single poverty income measurement is preferable, probably the Low Income Measure, possibly modified to a five year moving average. But poverty has dimensions other than income and these should also be considered in a poverty reduction strategy.

Holistic and Integrated Approach: Social Assistance programs are a failed model. They do not reduce poverty. . The majority of the poor are working precariously. Realistic minimum incomes coupled with working income supplements are essential. But vulnerable groups have unique challenges, and it is important to hear from them. Many need a combination of individualized “wraparound” services to escape poverty for the long term. Public services like child care, ECE, universal and accessible education and health care including pharmacare, higher education subsidies and lifelong learning opportunities are needed to enable full participation in society. This social infrastructure should sit on a human rights foundation.

Efficient and Strategic Intervention: The Ontario pilot has put Basic Income on the public agenda, and a well-designed basic income would be a major advance. But the experiment lacks a coherent policy framework. Participants identified in particular, the Working Income Tax Benefit (WITB), disability benefits (Tax credit, CPP Disability, EI sickness benefits), programs for indigenous people, and anti-discrimination programs, as areas where federal action could be efficient. It was also suggested that some form of conditionality be considered for federal social transfers to provinces.

Alignment and coordination of efforts:
It was suggested that the Prime Minister formally invite other governments to ratify a Canadian Goal for Poverty Reduction, to have collective efforts evaluated annually, perhaps by StatsCan; and also invite civil society, labour and businesses to sign on to support the goal and participate in its accomplishment.

2. Overview of the Roundtable: Format and Objectives

The Roundtable was invitational, with all participants seated at the table, and observers from ESDC and the Minister’s office seated separately.

Several participants were asked to make a lead commentary on a specific subject, and all participants were invited to make short comments or interventions. Due to time limits and the wide range of subjects and expertise at the table, emphasis was placed on permitting many perspectives to be advanced. Consensus was not sought. Participants were also invited to provide written comments or documents to be appended as part of this report. There were several brief and focused interventions, as participants respected the wide range of expertise present at the table.

The purpose of the roundtable was to encourage exchange about options to reduce poverty and inequality, to collect advice and to pull insights from the comments, in response to the federal consultation document (and for potential future work by The Pearson Centre). As stated in the Executive Summary, the specific objectives were to identify and consider: 1) alignment of federal poverty reduction initiatives with others, 2) options for reform, 3) prudent and efficient approaches, and 4) possibilities for strategic federal action. 5) The Pearson Centre was also seeking guidance in relation to possible follow-up initiatives.

3. Outcomes: Discussion Summary

The Roundtable was chaired by Andrew Cardozo, President of The Pearson Centre, who introduced the host, Naini Cloutier, Executive Director of Somerset West Community Health Centre. Ms Cloutier welcomed the group, pointing out that much of the work of community health centres involves working with people who are poor and vulnerable.

Andrew Cardozo then summarized the role of The Pearson Centre in promoting dialogue and collaboration toward progressive public policy. He thanked Terrance Hunsley, Senior Fellow at The Pearson Centre, for conceiving and organizing the event, as well as Greg Stulen, who was assisting, and noted that Terrance will be producing a summary report. He also thanked ESDC for their assistance in making the event possible.

In introducing the Minister he pointed out that Mr Duclos was a highly-respected academic and a previous co-founder of a centre for policy and economic development research, and his expertise makes him extremely well-suited for the challenges with which he has been mandated.

Minister’s Comments:
The Minister then opened the session in speaking about the federal government’s agenda in relation to poverty, inequality, the economic health of the middle class, and the challenge of inclusive economic growth. He noted several initiatives which have already been taken, and which will have an impact of reducing poverty. These include:
a) Reversing the decision of the previous government to increase the age of eligibility for the OAS-GIS. Certainly, more Canadians are working past the traditional retirement age, and this trend will continue over time. But the circumstances of older workers vary considerably, and that decision would have added 100,000 seniors to the impoverished population.
b) Changing the tax benefit for families with children. This action was helped in large part by the continuing efforts of communities and civil society over the years to bring national attention to the child poverty issue. The result of this measure will be a reduction of 40% in children living in poverty.
c) Some other measures provide in-kind support to families, for example the work being done on a national housing strategy. Housing is a base for successful and healthy development of individuals and families. In 2017 there will be a longer term strategy announced. Some short term investment as well.
d) The government is also working with provinces on strategies around training and child care and homelessness.
e) They are also interested in encouraging a co-creation process for social finance and social innovation initiatives.
f) They have introduced changes to employment insurance to eliminate measures which discriminated against women and recent immigrants – removing some heavy-handed rules, reducing the waiting period to one week, improving provisions for working while on claim; as well as improvement in services offered by EI.
And now the poverty reduction strategy. Many provinces and cities have poverty reduction strategies. The federal initiative is aimed to connect the federal government with those governments, with the private sector and communities. The Minister indicated that the federal government is seeking feedback and guidance from the public in several areas (which are described in greater detail in the federal discussion paper):
a) Knowledge – There is a need for some consensus on types of data and measurement, to aid in understanding poverty, interpreting information and measuring progress.
b) How to make the use of resources as efficient as possible – What programs and interventions work best? How can we maximize results?
c) Collaboration with other actors such as indigenous, territorial and provincial governments, as well as communities and the private sector. What mechanisms might work best?
d) How can we have a strategy that is coherent and integrated?

Following the Minister’s presentation there was a series of interventions by the participants.

Minister Duclos’ intervention was very well-received. Participants expressed their delight and gratitude that the federal government has taken some substantial measures to reduce poverty and has indicated its willingness to work with provinces, other levels of government, and communities to develop a comprehensive and sustainable approach to reducing poverty. They noted that it has been a long time since this kind of optimism has been felt at the national level.

Defining and Measuring Poverty
Several participants emphasized that poverty is not a uniform condition which can be measured by income alone. That is not to understate the importance of an adequate income, not only for those in poverty, but to prevent others from falling into poverty. But many people in poverty need help to be included in society, to join the mainstream, to sustain a healthy family. A graphic description pointed out how a community housing complex infested with bed bugs and cockroaches could render people incapable of integrating in society, even preventing their children from normal play activity, healthy development and schooling. Poverty can affect and undermine all dimensions of life, making what others may think of as everyday normal activities a struggle. People face barriers created by health and disability issues, care responsibilities, language issues, discrimination, exclusion, or a disadvantaged start in life. It was suggested that data needs extend across many related but separate policy and program areas and that it would be timely to consider an exercise to define data needs more broadly so as not to duplicate efforts.
Measurement is important and our most widely accepted measures right now are income measures. Miles Corak (U.of Ottawa) spoke to the divergent paths of the LICO (Low Income Cut-off) and the LIM (Low Income Measure) over recent decades. The LICO is mostly a fixed measure, anchored in a calculation of spending patterns of the average consumer in 1992. The LIM is a purely floating measure – essentially half of the median income adjusted for household size. It is the measure which is used in international comparative research. It is most easily communicated. The weakness of both of these measures is that they hide inappropriate and arbitrary value judgments about how frequently the poverty line should be updated: never, in the case of the current version of the LICO, and annually in the case of the LIM. In his view these are very extreme views of what it takes to participate normally in society: one never changing and anchored in 1992, another always changing from year to year. As an illustration of the inadequacies, neither of these measures showed an uptick in poverty rates during the Great Recession. Thus he proposes a five year moving average of the LIM to smooth out the impact of economic fluctuations, and to embody a value judgment that what it takes to participate normally in society is constantly, but slowly, changing. He also suggested that this statistic be used in conjunction with a LIM anchored in the year the government took office. The LIM anchored in this year reflects a value judgment that the government should be held accountable to the norms of the society that gave the government its mandate. A government’s progress in reducing poverty would be measured in the progress it has made in reducing the poverty rate according to both of these lines at the end of the mandate. A government should strive to leave office with a lower poverty rate in both of these respects, and then the anchored LIM would be updated for the next government.

Pilot projects for reforming income security
The group was aware that several jurisdictions in Canada – provinces and cities – are expressing active interest in experimenting with one version or another of basic income. Sheila Regehr (Basic Income Canada Network)) spoke to the growing consensus that provincial social assistance programs are a failed model. They do not reduce poverty. They do not help people out of poverty. They perpetuate poverty. They stigmatize. Not only in Canada but internationally, the consensus is growing that these systems create and perpetuate exclusion and inequality, and that they need to be changed. She also noted that reducing inequality and increasing social solidarity are even more crucial right now, as we are witnessing great social stresses and social divisions in many societies, and that the integrity of society rests on social trust and solidarity. She pointed out that the recent Ontario announcement that it would proceed with basic income pilots has been helpful in advancing the issue in the public mind. Canada has basic income models for seniors and families with children, that do not judge. And there are models (tax-based) of limited income supplementation for the poor that do not judge and do not stigmatize. A Basic Income Guarantee could incorporate and build on these mechanisms. However, no one is suggesting that Basic Income is enough on its own. There will still be needs for other programs and services.

Jean Pierre Voyer (Social Research Demonstration Corporation) addressed the challenges of using pilots to test new policy options. He suggested that the most important variable to be watched would be the workforce participation of the people currently on social assistance, and the people who are currently in the workforce, whether full or part-time. There is also an expectation that more money and less stressful life conditions will result in better health, lower health care costs, and better educational outcomes for children. But these types of things only pay off in the long run and would be hard to build into the design. He pointed out that the self-sufficiency experiments of the 1990’s (which his organization evaluated) showed that people will indeed respond to economic incentives. So a key issue is getting the incentives right. Ontario intends to test basic income using a negative income tax model and family income (not distinguished from household income) as a measure. However he suggested that the Ontario experiment is about to be carried out without a policy framework behind it. Regardless of what is learned about what people will do with the money or what they will do in order to get the money, we won’t know how policy changes would or could be implemented. A model that uses year old income data is not likely workable on an ongoing basis. We need appropriate design. Simulation models. CRA would very likely need to change its operating model, and there is no indication of the interface of federal and provincial programs. A better approach might be for the federal government to coordinate a number of pilots across the country and thereby enter into a national policy design process.

Senator Art Eggleton (Senate of Canada) spoke of the need for a national commitment to reduce poverty and in a second phase, to eliminate poverty. It is clear that current programs are not working. If the goal is to leave no one behind, then despite good efforts, over 5 million people are being left behind. Basic income is needed. People will still need other supports such as housing and child care. But the current system is degrading and stigmatizing. At the end of the day, (and the incremental approach has not worked to eliminate poverty), doing this and doing it well, will pay for itself and we should not permit the suggestions of big costs to get in the way.

Vulnerable Populations

Beverly Blanchard (Native Women’s Association of Canada) pointed out that poverty is a word that is associated with indigenous populations. There will be a need for other, wrap around services for vulnerable populations, including things such as financial literacy, bank accounts, ID’s, filling out income tax forms. People need opportunities, not just money. Opportunities to learn how to do resumes, learn what their legal rights are, learn work habits. A project in the 90’s which provided wrap around services for people who were very disadvantaged and on the streets, had longterm success with 12 of 15 clients. They moved out of poverty. Some went on to university and good jobs. The project showed how to make people whole again, to give them opportunities and real choices. Everything for indigenous people is connected.

Sherri Torjman (Caledon Institute) spoke of the work of the Caledon Institute which has proposed changes to the income security architecture. Canada has a great need for programs which are adequate, portable, and respectful of individuals and their circumstances. But the current Canadian architecture has large gaps which undermine its function and purpose, especially with respect to the working poor. Canada has a very modest Working Income Tax Benefit (WITB) which should be significantly improved. There are also significant problems in programs for people with disabilities – a non-system really – of workers’ compensation, disability insurance and social assistance (welfare) payments. . Provincial workers’ compensation programs provide the best benefits, although many workers note that they are pushed back to work too quickly, and cannot cope or become re-injured. After a few weeks of sickness benefits from Employment Insurance (EI), there is no provision for continuity of support. A significant portion of social assistance recipients have exhausted their EI sickness benefits. Eligibility for CPP disability benefits has become increasingly stringent. . At least 50% of CPP applicants are refused at first, (and after long administrative delays) despite the fact that 37% are then instated after appeal. None of the current programs is designed to deal well with episodic disability in which symptoms recur and remit. As a result of all the problems in the system, there has been a “welfareization” (to cite John Stapleton’s characterization) of disability in Canada. About 500,000 people receive long term social assistance benefits in Canada; this is an estimate because the federal and provincial governments stopped gathering welfare caseload statistics in 2008. Caledon has been trying to fill the data gap on a tiny budget. She posed the question whether people with disabilities should be on social assistance, which was designed as a last resort measure. A Basic Income for people with disabilities should be introduced outside of social assistance, and based on the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors, which is adequate, efficient and non-intrusive, A first step in that direction could be making refundable the federal disability tax credit.

Avvy Go (Colour of Poverty) spoke to racialization of poverty in Canada and the need for any antipoverty program to consider that people in racialized communities are between 2-4 times more likely to live in poverty than the rest of the population. So a place to begin might be in the prevention of poverty through eliminating systemic racial discrimination in the labour market. And training programs need to be adjusted to the needs of racialized populations. Canada’s data systems need to be improved to better reflect the racialization of poverty. EI reform is needed, especially to cover precarious and part-time employment. There is a recent study which suggests that only 30% of people in Toronto who should get EI actually get it. The UN Committee reviewing Canada’s compliance with the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights also made reference to these weaknesses. Since many kinds of social barriers provide pathways to poverty, Canada should reinstate the action plan against racism, and improve access to justice, so that people who have rights can have them respected.

Amy Casipullai (Ontario Council of Immigrant Serving Agencies) made an observation that many of our problems of poverty and vulnerability can be related to the piecemeal approach that our programs and systems represent. We do not have a holistic approach and we should have. Because we don’t have a holistic approach, we have inequities. For example, temporary foreign workers don’t get health care. They don’t get renters’ tax credit. They don’t get the child tax benefit. They pay for EI, but don’t receive it. We also have many gaps in our programs for refugees. It is great that we brought in many Syrian families, but we need to provide continuity of support for them until they can become established. Simply transitioning them to social assistance is not really enough. We have to be aware of, and respond to the whole life situation of the person or family that needs help. She re-emphasized the importance that the Canadian system be holistic in approach and organized around the principles of human rights.

Jane Bertrand ( OISE, McCain Family Foundation) spoke to the issue of early childhood education and child care. She pointed out that these programs have been proven effective both for reducing poverty for the long term, and for increasing labour force participation. They benefits kids, especially disadvantaged kids. Yet they are less likely to be involved in it. When a parent of a preschool child gets a job she is much more likely to be working 14 years later when the child is ready to graduate school. But we need to have an approach to wrap around services. And that is to have place-based programs in communities, and this can be done in schools. Facilities that are already built. In North End Toronto, $50k per person is being spent each year and no progress is being made. So we need to have local experiments to make services seamless.

David McDonald (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives) suggested that the Canada Child Benefit (CCB) improvement shows that poverty can be reduced by funding decisions. There are currently in Canada, thirty three programs that have basic income characteristics. But for adults, especially middle age, where disabilities are becoming more common, there is a very low level of support. We should look at the GIS model, and top-up the GST tax credit to the GIS standard. The Canada Child Benefit increase is effective but more spending on that mechanism would be less effective because more money would go to higher income people. Something that is needed and would not cost much would be to extend data collection more effectively to reserves. We do not apply national poverty measures to reserves. There is now lots of capacity to do that. Of course that would mean poverty rates would go up, but surely we want to work with accurate measures of the extent of the problem.
Andrew Jackson (Broadbent Institute) spoke to the issue of incrementalism versus the big bang approach to income security reform. He believes that we have made progress with incrementalism, and that to some extent it is probably more realistic to think that the federal government and provinces could work together best in that manner. Nonetheless he suggests that in the long term, we should look toward the federal government taking over responsibility for income security, including the delivery of social assistance through the tax system, with the provinces responsible for services. There was an example of such a trade-off several years ago when an increase to the Child Tax Credit relieved provinces of some social assistance costs, but they were willing to put that money into improved services. In the context of incrementalism, the priority should be placed on a negative income tax for people with disabilities, and the Working Income Tax Benefit for low income and precarious workers. The latter needs to be coupled with improved minimum wages to avoid simply subsidizing low wage employment. And because there is so much low wage employment in Canada – maybe 30% of the work force – substantial improvement will be expensive, but that is again where an incremental approach can help.

Naini Cloutier (Somerset West Community Health Centre) – wanted to remind us that we are the only country which does not have a national pharmacare system as part of a universal health system. She also pointed out that many pregnant indigenous women do not have status and are thereby not eligible for benefits.

Michele Biss (Canada Without Poverty) reported that Canada without Poverty is happy to see the federal interest in a poverty reduction strategy. She wanted to echo the need for a holistic approach with a human rights base. Canada has been receiving suggestions from committees overseeing several human rights conventions that income security and other forms of social protection should be founded in human rights. And with Canada about to sign the optional protocol on rights of people with disabilities, it would be an excellent opportunity to begin a national process to transition the legal base of social protection to human rights. For poor people in Canada this would change the discourse, and remove the stigma and loss of dignity which accompanies poverty, and which in fact accentuates the social damage caused by poverty. The Canadian Human Rights Act should specify social condition as a factor of discrimination. A Canadian poverty reduction strategy should be based on consultation with people who are living the conditions of poverty, and it should build in accountability mechanisms such as review mechanisms and perhaps an ombudsperson function. In relation to measuring poverty, she agrees that consensus around an income measure would be helpful, but also reminds us that we need to ensure that other measures are also used which relate to the situations of specific impoverished groups. Moreover, we should have provision for qualitative assessments, in order to ensure that there is continuing sensitivity to the lived situations and the kinds of disadvantages that are produced. It would seem possible to make an important step forward by attaching to the Canada Social Transfer a condition that provinces fulfill their human rights obligations. She also mentioned that in 2014, a requirement that provinces not impose residency requirements for access to benefits was removed in relation to certain refugees. This was a very regressive step and a clear movement away from a human rights base for policy.

Lise Martin (Canadian Network of Women’s Shelters and Transition Homes) pointed out that the women who make use of shelter services are often the most marginalized of society. Survivors often experience high levels of trauma leading to mental health and substance abuse issues. Access to affordable housing is one of the most, if not the most, important poverty initiative that would benefit women fleeing violence. Despite much talk about service coordination, the system still operates in silos. She also noted that the 89.9 million dollars provide for shelter renovation in the 2016 federal budget were dispersed strictly on a per capita basis. The result is that the three Territories are only receiving $500,000 each over the two years. This allocation does not take into account need and actual costs.

Herb Breau (The Pearson Centre) expressed his pleasure that the federal government appears now to be ready once more to provide some national leadership in the social policy area. This is good because since 1995 when social transfers were reduced and conditionality was abandoned, the federal influence has been absent. However, he felt that the federal government should be asking “How do we help poor people?” not “How to reduce poverty?” The idea of a national strategy may seem good to academics and people in the PCO, but it is potentially a road to failure. Progress on social files, ever since the Diefenbaker years, has been built on federal funding and political deals. Medicare would not have been possible without political deals. So we should worry less about a national strategy and more about doing something to help people who are poor right now.

Terrance Hunsley (The Pearson Centre) then spoke to a question prominent in the federal discussion paper, specifically, how the federal government could align itself with other governments, with communities, business and civil society, in pursuit of poverty reduction. He proposed that the Prime Minister should invite other governments to adopt and pursue a Canadian Goal for Poverty Reduction. It could be an optimistic but achievable goal, such as a fifty percent reduction in poverty income levels, as measured by the Low Income Measure (LIM) over a ten year period. Provincial, territorial, municipal, and indigenous governments could be invited to ratify the goal, thereby agreeing that their collective progress would be monitored and reported by Statistics Canada or a specialized agency. Community organizations, civil society, professional associations and businesses would also be invited to sign onto the goal, indicating their support, their willingness to help, and to review the progress measures each year in their annual general meetings. Such a national goal could help to build consensus and momentum, encourage innovation and collaboration, and keep the objective in public view.

Future federal consultations

Doug Murphy, Director General, Social Policy Directorate, ESDC, spoke to the consultation plan for a “Tackling Poverty Together”, which includes consulting with people with lived experience in poverty.

Mark Holmgren (Tamarack Institute) indicated that the Tamarack Institute is working with many cities in a network focused on poverty. It is a challenge to consult with people who are living in poverty. It is hard to do and time consuming. We need to go to where they are rather than invite them to a focus group or town hall. Then, how do we decide on and create a priority? Tamarack is exploring what they call a “game changer” approach. What would be a critical intervention that would have an immediate and transformational impact?

Brock Carlton (Federation of Canadian Municipalities) pointed out that it is essential that municipal governments be involved in the development of federal poverty reduction strategies. Municipal governments are the order of government closest to the people, and so very familiar with problems related to poverty. It is also municipal governments who deliver many important services and supports for people living in poverty. He supported the view that a holistic approach is necessary, and that services need to be coordinated and responsive. Service support needs to go around income support and similarly, data requirements need to be integrated, streamlined and multipurpose.

Jean Pierre Voyer (Social Research Demonstration Corporation) reiterated the need for a full gamut of tools to reduce poverty, including income and services. The goal should be long-term to avoid distorting the process.

Angella MacEwen (Canadian Labour Congress) suggested that one target for poverty reduction might not be enough. Perhaps a group of related goals such as in the UN millennial approach, could be more comprehensive.

Sherri Torjman (Caledon) emphasized that priority should be given to moving disability-related supports out of a social assistance context.

Herb Breau (Pearson Centre) reminded the group that there is a good political context today, and that we should take advantage of that to make some immediate progress.

Lise Martin (Canadian Network of Women’s Shelters and Transition Homes) pointed out the expectation that people will have that the government come back and report on what they heard in their consultations.

Dan Clement (United Way /Centraide Canada) suggested that we should not distill this process down to a whole number of discrete policy interventions. There is a need to anchor this in a common policy development platform. “We need to unify conversations and adopt a sustainable livelihood framework.” The federal government has only some of the policy levers.

Beverley Blanchard (Native Women’s Association of Canada) underscored that we need to talk to the people on the street. And we need to avoid another consultation with nothing happening because the government changes or there is no momentum.

John McAlister (Salvation Army Canada) related how his work in a shelter was a wake up process, and if people could really understand the effects of poverty and the barriers to getting out of it, perhaps there would be more momentum.
Johnathon Greene (Trent U.) suggested that working with homeless people is an opportunity to understand the devastating effects of poverty on quality of life. There is a chance now to take stock – a chance to be bold. And the federal government should prepare to put money into this.

Hendricks Brakel (Canadian Chamber of Commerce) suggested that we need to be innovative. With new technology, jobs are being replaced such as driverless vehicles and retail sector automation. Practically all new jobs created over the past few years are in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. We cannot rely on economic growth to create jobs that will keep people out of poverty. New policies need to deal with new and emerging realities.

Miles Corak (U of Ottawa) reminded us that although the issues are complex, the solutions which are most powerful are those that are simply expressed and clearly presented.

With that, Andrew Cardozo terminated discussion, thanking participants and inviting those who wish to have their written comments or relevant documentation attached to the report to forward those to Terrance Hunsley in the next few days.

4. Analytical Comments:

Note. Because all participants were encouraged to recommend what they felt appropriate, and these are for the most part reflected in the previous section, the following two sections represent The Pearson Centre’s interpretation of the key messages and of their implication for national policy. We remind readers that no attempt was made to reach or measure consensus.

a) A significant reduction in income poverty and economic inequality, for families and unattached individuals in the bottom third or half of the income scale, would have a transformative effect on the lives of these people and on Canadian society as a whole. We can have a more productive economy, reduced pressure on the health care system, better education outcomes, reduced pressure on emergency services, police, courts and prisons, and a happier population even prouder to be Canadian. Accomplishing this will require coordinated effort from all governments with support from communities and civil society. Bold leadership of such an undertaking is indeed within the mandate of the federal government.

b) There was little support for a universal payment or demo-grant. There will be a continuing expectation that social benefits be targeted. But many support a negative income tax model, with involvement of CRA. That would change the role of CRA to measure income on a more current basis and perhaps become the national paymaster on behalf of all income programs.

c) With structural changes in the economy, technological advances and an ageing society, the nature of disability in Canada is changing. We have relatively fewer industrial accidents, but as Sherri Torjman commented, growing concerns about episodic and chronic and mental illness. Our disability support systems are out of pace, and leave those with disabilities without appropriate services and support.

d) Many vulnerable people have complex and oppressive life situations which require specialized services and supports to escape poverty. People involved in the social service delivery system report that despite years of talk about coordination, services are still mostly organized in silos. There is a great need for flexible and responsive combinations of services to help people gain stability, develop resilience, and achieve a foothold in mainstream society. “Wraparound services” combined with housing, income, and opportunities for training and work experience are often required – but seldom provided. What we have are fragmented service structures and programs, many of which compete with the others for funds, and which do not succeed because the help they provide is fragmented and limited. More complete and thorough help at the time that help is needed, is more likely to have a lasting life-course effect of moving people out of poverty, helping them and their dependents to enter the mainstream. There is therefore a need for fundamental reform of social, health and community services. Many of these services are provincially controlled, but it is important to see the problems of poverty in their full dimensions, and the federal government could assist, with provincial cooperation, by supporting research and innovation.

e) Several participants stressed that social programs should be based on and incorporate human rights. The reasoning behind this view is unequivocal: First, modern democracy and the social contract which underpins the nation state require that all people have a right to life and that means an existence which supports health and human dignity. Moreover, all people have a right to share in increasing collective well-being. Treatment based on obsolete standards does not meet this test. Second, human rights have been carefully developed and thoroughly debated in international fora, and Canada has an admirable record as a champion in their advancement. They offer security to vulnerable minorities and thereby strengthen democracy and equitable human standards globally, in face of economic and political forces which would undermine them. Third, they constitute an important accountability measure for remote and often anonymous decision-making structures.
f) There were many comments that provincial social assistance programs have consistently failed to move people out of poverty and do not give them a decent living standard. Many social assistance programs do not meet the benchmarks established by international human rights conventions to which Canada is signatory, including security of the person and a range of related human rights, such as for indigenous peoples and people with disabilities.

g) Participants were aware that achieving significant reductions in poverty and inequality will require boldness and political will. As suggested by Senator Eggleton, progress will not be made through a search for fiscally-neutral adjustments. There will be costs and governments will need to raise resources from sources other than the poor and low income population. But the benefits to society will accrue and it will be essential that the federal government provide strong leadership; not just encouragement to other governments and communities. The recent improvements put in place by this government are an excellent start and place the government in a strong position to create momentum.

h) The Ontario pilot test of a basic income was discussed as a good initiative, but one which needs to be grounded in a solid policy framework, which is currently absent. It was also suggested that this would be a good opportunity to test various poverty reduction approaches in various parts of Canada – but again within a policy commitment to attain clear and measurable objectives.

The Need for Leadership:

Several observations were made that since the early 1990’s when the federal government severely cut the Employment Insurance program and reduced its social transfers to provinces and also reduced conditionality, national leadership in this area has disappeared. Concepts such as national standards and national objectives have disappeared. Interest in measuring performance disappeared, including collection of data on provincial programs and caseloads. National organizations in the social development field were defunded and disappeared from view. Even mobility rights within the federation have been challenged. Juxtaposed with substantial federal investment and institutional infrastructure on national health research concerns, there is an almost complete absence of federal involvement in research and development on social well-being.

And yet poverty and exclusion and inequality underlie problems which plague all governments; which create public costs not only in social assistance, but in health and health services, in education costs and inadequate system performance, in emergency services, police services, courts and justice and prisons, in economic performance, in public trust and democratic participation. These issues undermine the very foundation of nation states. They are not issues of local charity. In recent years, the OECD, the ILO, the World Bank, the World Economic Forum, have all issued warnings to national governments that action is required, and especially so in the face of rapidly ageing societies, rapidly changing social and cultural demographics and dynamics, and revolutionary labour market changes being enabled by technology.

Constitutional divisions and sensitivities, and a pattern of jurisprudence which has re-enforced decentralization, as well as consequent fiscal competition between governments, pose barriers to effective national action. Yet when political will has been strong, national solutions have been found – in Employment Insurance, the OAS-GIS and CPP; in refundable tax credits; in the Canada Health Act, in Infrastructure funds; in various research, information, and innovation supports, in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Arguably, the federal government is better-positioned to tackle the upfront costs of reducing or eliminating poverty and reducing inequality. It has superior taxing and borrowing capacity. The costs of population ageing (OAS/GIS) are to some extent offset by decreased expenditures and increased tax revenues accruing as RRSP’s are converted to RRIF’s; by the maturation of the CPP offsetting what would otherwise be more rapid growth in the GIS, and by control over increases in social transfers. And to some extent, increased costs of dependent elderly are offset by relatively fewer dependent children. Provincial governments have fewer controls on health costs, education services, urban transit, etc. Moreover, the federal government is better able to capture the fiscal benefits of decreased poverty and inequality, through improved economic performance, increased employment and tax revenues, decreased expenditure on EI, and eventually, on GIS. For provinces, decreased pressure on emergency wards, para-medical services, ambulances, doctors’ visits, diabetes treatments, arrests and court appearances, remedial education, etc, are less likely to translate into budget reductions although the population may receive more timely services.

The best estimates of economic costs and benefits of potential interventions and policy options can be done by the federal government, armed with Statistics Canada data, tax files and administrative data, supplemented by provincial caseload data. They are well-equipped with micro-simulation models. They are also able, with consent of people who may be participating in new programs, to study fuller life course outcomes.

5. Recommendations to the federal government:

a) Poverty saps the productive capacity, the health, education, social order and quality of life of the country. Disproportional economic inequality poses a threat to social trust and the future of democratic nation states. Therefore reduced poverty and income inequality should become a national goal and become a factor for ongoing evaluation of the performance of governments. The federal government is encouraged to provide assertive leadership in this area.

b) Reducing income poverty requires coordinated improvements to social assistance and low employment incomes. Increased federal benefits will have only short term effects if provinces allow provincial benefits or labour standards to decline. In the past, federal efforts to reduce child poverty were undermined when provinces responded to increased federal transfers to low income families with proportional reductions to social assistance. There are also examples of the federal government reducing expenditures on EI or CPP disability benefits by passing costs over to provincial social assistance, (and vice-versa). The underlying fiscal competition is unhelpful to good governance. The federal government should pursue a broad agreement with provinces to eliminate intergovernmental fiscal competition.

c) Coordinated improvements to social assistance and employment incomes through a basic income guarantee/negative income tax model, or through augmenting existing instruments, could constitute a substantial redistribution of income to the population below the median income. To facilitate adaptation to the evolving labour market and economy, this could be an incremental process, with a period of experimentation and adjustment-in-progress. This should include adjusting minimum wages upward, beginning in cities with growing economies, and adapting supplementation to evolving forms of gainful work and income.

d) The federal government has both the infrastructure and experience to expand the negative income tax model, and can build on or consolidate existing mechanisms. It also has the potential to create efficiency through offering the services of CRA as a national paymaster for all social income transfers, including for aboriginal peoples.

e) A “national paymaster” role would also permit CRA to more completely integrate and maintain more current and complete income data. Combined with StatsCan resources and mandate this could dramatically improve data and evaluation capacity.

f) The Pearson Centre has been asked by ESDC to comment on the implementation of the roundtable, and to provide recommendations to the federal government for the conduct of future consultations.

It is our opinion, based on our own observations as well as feedback from participants after the event, that the roundtable succeeded in generating a substantial range of well-informed comments, suggestions, and advice. This was no surprise, given the knowledge and experience being brought to the table by participants. However, several participants mentioned to us that the topics covered in the event, had they been subjected to thorough discussion and exploration, could have occupied as much as two full days of discussion. Therefore in future it might be useful in certain consultations to reduce the number of subjects, and perhaps the number of participants, and provide time for fuller discussion.

It could also be useful for the federal government to provide some basic information products to serve as background for future consultations. Simple charts showing social assistance incomes for typical client cases, with and without associated subsidies (subsidized rentals, transportation, health services, child care, emergency benefits, special needs, etc.) as well as illustrations of people working at typical low wage jobs, with associated income supplements or income-tested benefits. There is also good research on costs of poverty which accrue to other service systems, which could be simplified for illustration purposes. Discussion aids, based on solid research but presented in simplified illustrative form, could be very useful in discussions where participants are likely to be using or thinking about data which has not necessarily been shared.


Attachment 1. Suggestions and Recommendations at a Glance; Agenda; List of Participants

Suggestions and Recommendations at a Glance
From Participants:
1. Poverty should be understood holistically and in its various forms.
2. Social data needs for various policy areas should be reviewed and integrated.
3. A 5-year moving average of the LIM should become the standard measure of income poverty and be reported in conjunction with government cycles.
4. Experimentation in improving incomes should be done within a policy framework, with national experimentation coordinated by the federal government.
5. There should be a national commitment to reduce, and then eliminate, poverty.
6. Vulnerable populations require individualized services as well as money.
7. The income security architecture has big gaps in relation to the working poor and people with disabilities. Expanding the WITB and making the disability tax credit refundable would be a good start toward a basic income guarantee.
8. Reinstate the Action Plan Against Racism.
9. Reform EI to cover precarious and part time work.
10. The social infrastructure should be placed on a human rights foundation.
11. Early childhood education and child care subsidies should be expanded.
12. Data collection on incomes should be expanded to reserves.
13. An incremental approach to improving the income security system can be effective, and in the long term the federal government should consider taking over all income security responsibility.
14. We need a national pharmacare system
15. The Canadian Human Rights Act should specify social condition as a factor of discrimination.
16. Consultations should include people who are living the experience of poverty.
17. Immediate interventions to reduce poverty may be more useful than a national strategy.
18. The Prime Minister should invite other Canadian governments to join in a national goal for poverty reduction over a ten year period.
19. Consultations should go to where the poor are, and should involve municipal governments.
20. We will need innovative policies to deal with emerging economic and labour market realities.

The Pearson Centre Recommendations:
1. Reduced poverty and income inequality should be a national medium term goal and progress measured to evaluate the performance of governments.
2. Federal and provincial governments should agree to eliminate fiscal competition in social policy and thereby align fiscal and social policy objectives.
3. Substantial and sustainable improvements will require coordinated actions at many levels. Experimentation and innovation for continuous improvement can be carried out within a clear policy framework and commitment to medium term results.
4. The CRA should become the national paymaster for income transfers.

<em> Agenda for
Pearson Roundtable on Poverty Reduction

December 8, 2016

Somerset West Community Health Centre, (SWCHC); Third Floor Board Room,
55 Eccles Street, Ottawa K1R6S3 (Booth and Somerset area)

8:30 Registration and coffee

8:45 Call to Table

9:00 Welcome by Andrew Cardozo, President, Pearson Centre, and Naini Cloutier, Executive Director, SWCHC. Introduction of Participants and Observers

9:15 Hon. Jean-Yves Duclos will discuss the federal government plan to develop a national poverty reduction strategy

9:45 Questions and Comments

10:00 Moderated Discussion, with lead-off speakers on select subjects.

11:30-12:00 Open Discussion</em>

Note that participants who wish to advance specific proposals are asked to provide advance summaries.

Topics for discussion: The Chair called on specific individuals to lead off the discussion

1. Should there be a single measure of low income, possibly supplemented by other measures of poverty? (Miles Corak)

2. What will we learn from evaluating the Ontario experiment if it proceeds as recommended by Hugh Segal? What important questions about BI, and BI vs other interventions, will the Pilot not likely be able to answer? (Jean Pierre Voyer, All)

3. Weighing the pros and cons of various approaches to poverty reduction, such as augmenting existing social assistance, basic income, expanding the WITB and/or income supplementation for housing, expanding labour market programs (with or without job guarantee), providing basic income for people with disabilities, early childhood education/child care, increasing minimum wages, expanding universal public services, etc? (Sheila Regehr, Sherri Torjman, Jane Bertrand, Jean Pierre Voyer, David MacDonald, Andrew Jackson)

4. What kind of poverty reduction initiatives would hold the most potential for vulnerable populations? ( Michele Biss, NWAC Rep, Amy Casipullai, Avvy Go, Lise Martin)

5. How can federal and provincial objectives and responsibilities for poverty reduction best be aligned to maximize cooperation and minimize fiscal competition? (Herb Breau)

6. Should the federal government invite provinces to adopt a shared national objective for poverty reduction with annual progress reports by Statistics Canada? (Terrance Hunsley)

7. Should poverty reduction be the main initiative for reducing inequality? (All)

8. Other issues or questions that participants may wish to raise.

List of Participants

Title First Name Last Name Organization
Ms. Kirsti Battista Vibrant Communities – Cities Reducing Poverty
Ms. Jane Bertrand OISE, McCain Family Foundation
Ms. Michele Biss Canada Without Poverty
Ms. Beverly Blanchard Native Women’s Association of Canada
Ms. Rhonda Bradley United Way Ottawa
Mr. Hendrik Brakel Canadian Chamber of Commerce
Hon. Mr. Herb Breau The Pearson Centre
Mr. Andrew Cardozo The Pearson Centre
Mr. Brock Carleton Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM)
Ms. Amy Casipullai OCASI
Mr. Dan Clement United Way Centraide Canada
Ms. Naini Cloutier SWCHC
Mr. Miles Corak University of Ottawa
Mr. William Cowie Every Canadian Counts
Hon. Mr. Jean Yves Duclos Government of Canada
Sen. Art Eggleton Senate of Canada
Ms. Avvy Go Colour of Poverty/Colour of Change Network
Mr. Johnathon Greene Trent University
Mr. Mark Holmgren Tamarack Institute
Mr. Terrance Hunsley The Pearson Centre
Mr. Andrew Jackson Broadbent Institute
Mr. Mathieu Laberge Government of Canada

Ms. Colleen Lamothe Government of Canada
Ms. Mary Lou Levisky Community Volunteer
Mr. David MacDonald CCPA
Ms. Angella MacEwen CLC
Ms. Lise Martin Canadian Network of Women’s Shelters and Transition Homes
Mr. John McAlister Salvation Army
Mr. Doug Murphy Social Policy Directorate, Employment and Social Development Canada
Ms. Sheila Regehr Basic Income Canada Network
Mr. Greg Stulen The Pearson Centre
Ms. Sherri Torjman Caledon Institute
Mr. Diane Urquhart Social Planning Council of Ottawa
Mr. John Pierre Voyer Social Research and Demonstration Corporation

Attachment 2. Explanatory Documents

The Pearson Centre Roundtable on Poverty Reduction
Additional comments and materials

Table of Contents
1. Comments by Sheri Torjman, Caledon Institute
2. Canadian Network of Women’s Shelters and Transition Houses
3. Andrew Jackson, Carleton University / Broadbent Institute
4. Proposal for a Canadian National Goal for Poverty Reduction, 2017-2027 (By Terrance Hunsley, Senior Fellow, The Pearson Centre
5. OCASI – Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants; Colour of Poverty – Colour of Change (COP-COC)
6. Avvy Go, Colour of Poverty – Colour of Change (COP-COC)
7. Comments Mary Lou Levisky, Poverty Activist Ottawa
8. Notes for Pearson Centre Roundtable, by Sheila Regehr
9. Tamarack Institute Guide for Cities Reducing Poverty

Comments by Sheri Torjman, Caledon Institute

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today about disability income and its relationship to the federal Poverty Reduction Strategy. Income security and associated supports and services are intrinsically linked and must be considered that way in any Poverty Reduction Strategy. Today, I have been asked to discuss the income security component of this issue.

For many years, the Caledon Institute has put forward various policy options for making Canada’s income security system more adequate and robust than its current configuration. We have written about the need for a reformed architecture of income security in which constituent programs are adequate in both absolute and relative (i.e., indexed to inflation) terms, portable across the country and respectful of human dignity.

Caledon’s work on the Canada Child Benefit – and its predecessor the National Child Benefit – reflects very powerfully those values. At the other end of the age spectrum, Canada runs an Old Age Security/Guaranteed Income Supplement program. While it could be improved in certain ways, it acts nonetheless as a guaranteed income for seniors in this country.

But there is relatively little financial assistance available to the ‘middle group’ of working poor individuals and heads of households between the ages of 18 and 64. Caledon has argued for increases to the Working Income Tax Benefit, which is currently too modest to have a real impact on poverty. Moreover, its narrowly targeted design leaves out significant numbers of working poor singles, in particular.

Neither are Canadians in this age group well served by the disability income system. In fact, calling the disparate set of disability income programs ‘a system’ is an undeserved compliment. The programs are inadequate and do not cohere in any consistent way − with the possible exception of Québec, which has tried in the past to ensure that its various programs work well together.

The disability income system is an agglomeration of programs that were designed for distinct purposes. That reality would not actually be a bad thing if at least all the pieces worked well together. There are three main categories that comprise this system.

The first group of programs provides compensation for injury or loss of function. The main players are provincial workers’ compensation programs, funded by employers. The purpose of this program is to compensate for the effects of an accident or injury that occurred at work.

The problem is that there is growing pressure on workers to return to employment as soon as possible – with the result that many are getting reinjured and are unable to work at all. They end up on provincial/territorial social assistance (‘welfare’). Many face family breakdown and other major losses, including their primary residence.

Social insurances represent the second category of disability income programs and are funded primarily by employer and employee contributions. In terms of disability, Employment Insurance covers short-term absences from work due to sickness. The Canada Pension Plan and associated Québec Pension Plan provide financial assistance in the event of disability that is severe and prolonged.

These social insurances are not adequately meeting the needs of Canadians with disabilities. First, they protect only those who have made the required contributions to these insurance plans − a subset of the broader population of persons with disabilities. There are also problems specific to these two programs.

At a maximum 15 weeks, the Employment Insurance sickness benefit is not sufficient to cover many conditions, including the rising incidence of chronic illness and many episodic conditions whose symptoms come and go, and which may entail frequent work absences. The sickness benefit within Employment Insurance needs to be improved.

For its part, the Canada Pension Plan has become increasingly stringent in its coverage of long-term disability. A 2015 report by the Auditor General found that an estimated 57 percent of applications for the disability benefit are rejected – even though about 35 percent of these cases are subsequently accepted upon reconsideration.

The eligibility obstacles to these social insurances and their limited coverage have resulted in the “welfareization” of the disability income system (to cite John Stapleton’s characterization of the problem). At least 500,000 Canadians with severe disabilities are on welfare. This number is only an estimate because there are serious limitations in determining caseload figures.

The federal and provincial governments halted the joint collection of this information in 2008. While Caledon has picked up this work and calculates welfare caseloads on an annual basis, it is difficult in some jurisdictions to separate out basic income recipients from those who are on the program because of disability.

Welfare incomes in all jurisdictions fall below poverty levels – no matter what standard comparator is used. Fortunately, the story is not all bad. The welfare systems in some provinces and territories have a separate stream for persons with disabilities that typically pays somewhat higher benefits than for persons without disabilities. In fact, several provinces have carved out the disability component into an entirely distinct program.

In Alberta, for example, the Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) program pays benefits to persons with severe and permanent disabilities that substantially limit their capacity to earn a living. Its asset and income levels are less stringent than regular welfare. In 2015 (the latest available data), AISH benefits amounted to 95.5 percent of the after-tax low income cut-off (LICO) compared to 49 percent of regular benefits in that province.

Saskatchewan operates a separate disability income program known as the Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability. It pays higher benefits (89.3 percent of the after-tax LICO in 2015) than the regular welfare stream of 65.9 percent of the after-tax LICO in that province.

Welfare also offers another important benefit to recipients with disabilities – access to the disability supports required for the activities of daily living. Disability supports consist of both technical aids and equipment, and personal services. If recipients manage to move from welfare to the workforce, they may lose access to these vital goods and services, which can be very costly.

While special benefits are a vital component of the welfare system, they comprise part of the stubborn ‘welfare wall’ that makes it difficult to leave the program. Ideally, these supports would be delivered outside of welfare and made available to all working poor households that require this assistance. Canadians should not have to apply for or stay on welfare because they cannot afford vital disability supports.

Moreover, because social assistance originally was designed as a last-resort safety net, it virtually guarantees a life of poverty. It never was intended as lifetime security. Even when higher benefits are paid, the archaic apparatus of welfare typically remains – with limitations on assets, frequent reviews of income, personal investigations and perpetual stigma.

If nothing else, social assistance benefits for persons with severe disabilities should be bolstered and indexed to ensure that welfare does not mean a life of poverty. Better still, individuals with disabilities should not have to rely on this last-resort program at all. It makes no sense to be on welfare to get access to disability supports that are vital for daily living.

Caledon has proposed a separate income program for persons with disabilities that ideally would be run by the federal government. A new Basic Income would replace provincial/territorial welfare for working age persons with severe disabilities.

A federal benefit would cover the entire country and would be portable between jurisdictions. Someone with a severely disabling condition may want to move closer to family members or friends in order to have an informal network of support. A provincially or territorially delivered benefit is made available only in that jurisdiction.

The design of the proposed Basic Income for persons with severe disabilities could be modelled on the federal Guaranteed Income Supplement for low-income seniors. It would be more adequate than current welfare programs and would be indexed. Eligibility criteria could combine elements of the Canada Pension Plan disability benefit and the disability tax credit, discussed below.

As part of this income security redesign, Caledon has proposed a negotiated accord that would require reinvestment of provincial/territorial savings into a coherent and comprehensive system of disability supports for all persons with disabilities − whether working or on some program of income support. The National Child Benefit is a policy precedent for this proposal. The federal government assumed responsibility for income benefits for children, and provinces and territories reinvested their savings in income and/or supports for low-income households.

The investment in disability supports would detach the delivery of these goods and services from welfare. That step is a crucial advance in making these essential services more available to the general population.

In addition to low incomes, persons with disabilities face other challenges linked to disability costs, which may be relatively minor or very significant. The disability tax credit and medical expense tax credit are two major federal measures intended to help offset both hidden (non-itemizable) and direct (itemizable) costs, respectively.

Because these measures are designed as non-refundable credits, they provide no help to lower-income Canadians who most need the financial assistance. Caledon has recommended that the disability tax credit be made refundable. That conversion would represent a first step in building a new federally-delivered Basic Income. We have also proposed that disability supports be made more readily available through improved provincial/territorial programs rather than through a tax-assisted approach.

A new Basic Income for persons with disabilities would enable the reform of both the disability income and supports components of the equation. Ideally, it would contribute significantly to poverty reduction in Canada.

Sherri Torjman
December 2016

Pearson Roundtable on Poverty Reduction
Canadian Network of Women’s Shelters and Transition Houses
December 8, 2016

The Canadian Network of Women’s Shelters and Transition Houses
The Canadian Network of Women’s Shelters and Transition Houses (CNWSTH) brings together the provincial and territorial shelter associations to provide a unified voice at the national level on the issue of violence against women (VAW).

We believe that violence violates women’s human rights and equality. We also believe that poverty and lack of access to housing are violations of human rights.

Before I directly address the question of what kind of poverty initiatives would hold most potential for women fleeing violence, I would like to say that I believe we have a unique opportunity to bring about meaningful change, but to do so, it will be essential that the National Housing Strategy, the Poverty Reduction Strategy and the Gender Based Violence Strategy build on one another and develop coordinated policies.

The women who make use of shelter services are often the most marginalized of our society. Over the years, the needs of women served by shelters have become increasingly complex. Survivors of violence against women often experience high levels of trauma leading to mental health and substance abuse issues. If we want to develop policy that will reduce poverty reduction, these women need to be front and center. Too often, policies simply do not speak to their realities.

I believe that access to affordable housing is one of the most, if no the most, important poverty initiative that would benefit women fleeing violence.

Through our annual survey, we have asked shelter workers if there were able to change one thing that would make things better for abused women and their children, what would it be? The response from a significant percentage of workers is, access to safe and affordable housing.

The lack of affordable housing means that there has been a trend for lengths of stay in shelters to increase or for women to move from shelter to shelter. This in turn has major impacts on the capacity of shelters to serve women and children. During our last annual shelter survey, 38% were full on the snapshot day.

When women do leave VAW shelters, they are too often confronted with limited choices because of an acute lack of affordable housing. What is deemed affordable is often not affordable for the women who are in shelters. They either return to their abuser, go into hidden homelessness via couch surfing, a less than ideal option or become homeless. Research has demonstrated that women return to their abusers because of a lack of housing.

For many women, leaving an abusive partner is the beginning of their journey into homelessness. We know that women’s homelessness is vastly underestimated and often hidden. With VAW shelters across the country having to turn women away on a daily basis, these women are reluctant to access homeless shelters, which are often mixed gender, for lack of safety.

Women’s economic independence is also very much linked to her capacity to leave an abusive relationship. Economic independence requires the capacity to work which is often linked to the availability and cost of child care, especially for women working in low paying jobs. Therefore, a universal child care program where the cost is adjusted to income is another important poverty reduction measure for women.

It is important that any poverty reduction strategy and its accompanying policies take into account how polices have often further stigmatized women fleeing violence. It is also important that we take the time to ensure that policies do not contradict one another. For example, women with children are given priority access to housing, however, women are also at serious risk of loosing their children if they do not have adequate housing.

In the area of VAW, the levels of services available to women across the country vary enormously among provinces and territories and between urban and rural/remote areas. The federal government needs to play a leadership role to ensure that all Canadian citizens have access to comparable levels of services.

I will end by reiterating the urgent need for the National Housing Strategy, the Poverty Reduction Strategy and the Gender Based Violence Strategy build on one another and develop coordinated policies.

Why we need a practical approach in the basic-income debate by Andrew Jackson

The idea of a basic income guarantee for all Canadians has again moved to
the front burner with the House of Commons Finance Committee and the
Ontario government supporting further study and experimentation. This could
be an important step forward, but incremental reform towards an income
tested guarantee for working age Canadians delivered through the tax system
will be the best path forward as opposed to more visionary “big bang”

The concept of a basic income has won support from both the political right
and left. For the former, it promises to simplify complex income security
programs and to replace most if not all welfare state programs with a
single cash payment which would allow individuals to meet their needs in
the market. For the latter, it is a means to free people from dependence
upon the job market, a tool for social solidarity amidst a rapidly changing
world of work, and a means to abolish poverty.

The visionary concept of an adequate basic income delivered to all citizens
as of right is morally compelling. But a universal payment high enough to
eliminate poverty would inevitably mean extremely high tax back rates on
incomes from employment. Another key problem is that a large, universal
transfer would likely swallow up existing programs, such as Old Age
Security and Employment Insurance, which have purposes other than to just
provide a minimum income guarantee.

A more practical way forward is to selectively improve refundable income
tax credits and other income support programs so that all household incomes
after taxes and transfers meet a basic level of adequacy.

Canada already has a guaranteed income for seniors through the
income-tested Guaranteed Income Supplement to Old Age Security, which comes
close to pushing seniors above the poverty line. And pending improvements
to income tested child benefits promised by the Trudeau government will
deliver a maximum transfer which comes close to the cost of raising
children and will significantly reduce child poverty.

By contrast, our current system of social assistance falls woefully short
of delivering an adequate income for working age Canadians who have no or
limited employment income. Collecting social assistance requires a person
to exhaust almost all assets, and recipients can earn only extremely
limited amounts before income benefits as well as health, housing and child
care benefits are clawed back.

The key reform we need is to provide a non stigmatizing and adequate income
to working age persons who cannot work, usually due to disability, or who
receive only low incomes from work due to low wages and limited hours. The
ranks of the working poor have been growing rapidly due to major changes in
the job market and rapidly shrinking eligibility for Employment Insurance

The most obvious step forward, as recommended in the 2013 report of the
House of Commons Human Resources Committee, is to increase the federal
Working Income Tax Benefit or WITB to supplement the incomes of low earners
who are not eligible for social assistance and who do not usually qualify
for much if any Employment Insurance benefits due to current rules and low
and unstable earnings.

WITB benefits go to some 1.2 million low wage Canadian workers. The main
problem with the program is that maximum benefits are far too low (about
$1000 per year for singles and $2000 for couples and single parents) and
that they are lost completely at very low levels of employment income
(about $11,000 for singles and $16,000 for couples.)

There are several important issue to consider if we are build on programs
like the WITB. It is important to ensure that higher benefits do not simply
work to subsidize low wage employers, which means that the floor of minimum
wages needs to be improved. And it is also important to ensure that
households with modest incomes from work do not face punitive claw back
rates as income supplements are phased out.

A well-designed system of income tested benefits for low income workers,
including disability benefits, is needed to set a basic income floor for
all Canadians and to replace our inadequate and punitive social assistance
system. Practical reform is an important stepping stone towards more
visionary solutions.

*Andrew Jackson is Adjunct Research Professor in the Institute of Political
Economy at Carleton University, and senior policy adviser to the Broadbent

Proposal for a Canadian National Goal for Poverty Reduction, 2017-2027

By Terrance Hunsley, Senior Fellow, The Pearson Centre
December 8, 2016

The Government of Canada discussion paper, Towards a Poverty Reduction Strategy, asks for suggestions on how the federal government can align its poverty reduction efforts better with efforts 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 objective – let’s say for example, a 50% reduction based on the LIM (Low Income Measure). As all governments including first nations governments have a role to play, they could all be asked to sign on to pursue this “Canadian 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, income is currently our only consistent measure. Increasing incomes at the lower end of the scale would have a transformative effect on quality of Canadian life.

A common national goal would help to align efforts locally, provincially and nationally, while respecting organizational mandates and constitutional jurisdiction, and would promote a continuing national dialogue. Moreover, if the goal were to be achieved, there would be real and well-deserved national pride in the accomplishment. This would be a fitting goal to launch during Canada’s 150th year.

So why a national goal or objective?

Democratic governance seems to be moving, albeit inconsistently and with frequent setbacks, toward more involvement of evidence in policy making and more consistent and timely evaluation of policy performance and outcomes. Traditionally, governments have been more than willing to report on new initiatives and policy improvements. However, there tends to be reticence to having their performance evaluated. It puts an edge on accountability. And when multiple jurisdictions are involved, clear policy goals, performance measurement and accountability are a real challenge. Canadian policy history is replete with incidents where one or another government has tried to offload its financial liability for particular problems or programs onto another government, rather than concentrate on improving the situation which brings about the problems in the first place.

The European Union, in trying to coordinate efforts of multiple orders of government, has developed a system called the Open Method of Coordination. This involves developing broad consensus on EU level goals, and for member nations to define national objectives consistent with those goals. The discipline of doing this provides a common frame of reference which makes it easier to consistently measure progress and performance. It does not necessarily ease inter-jurisdictional competition, and it does not provide the EU with enforcement powers. But it does help to establish consistency in dialogue and continuity in measuring progress, and it provides an opening for civil society to play a role by insisting on accountability.

National goals can be useful in situations where different jurisdictions, or changing configurations of political leadership, are being encouraged to measure and guide their efforts consistently over time. They may be adopted by members of a military alliance such as NATO, establishing a common objective for proportion of GDP spent on military. They may serve as guides for nations signatory to international accords such as climate accords. The objectives may not be enforceable, but the important thing is that they take on public legitimacy and the measures, being consistent, are broadly understood.

The UN Millennium Development Goals established targets for poverty reduction and improvements in education, child and maternal health, gender equality, etc. Consistent measures were adopted, and when in 2010 it became clear that several goals would not be achieved by the 2015 target date, increased efforts were introduced. Canada played a role in that increase with efforts directed at maternal and child health. Clearly the adoption of these goals did not guarantee success. But they did contribute to broad measurement and knowledge of progress or lack of it, and that in itself is helpful.

In Canada, national objectives were part of the proposed and rejected Charlottetown Accord. National objectives were to be negotiated in conjunction with a reduction in conditionality of federal transfers to provinces, and of federal intervention in areas of provincial jurisdiction. The idea died with the Accord. Some basic principles of social policy, such as common quality of social programs, right of mobility, and the guiding principles of health care, were integrated into a follow-up effort – known (or perhaps better said, little known) as the Social Union Framework Agreement, signed by governments of Canada, the territories and all provinces but Quebec, in 1999. But national objectives per se were not included.

It could be said that our constitutional commitment to equalization is guided by a national objective that all provinces can provide reasonably comparable levels of public services at reasonably comparable levels of taxation. I would argue that that objective has served us quite well, and transfers for purposes of equalization enjoy broad public support throughout the country. In social policy we have had few if any, formal national objectives, with the possible exception of the standards adopted by the federal government and the provinces for CPP benefits. These standards are highly regarded in Canada and when in the early 1990’s it became apparent that CPP contributions should be increased to maintain the standard over time, that increase – a substantial increase – was accepted by Canadians with hardly a whisper of complaint.

On the other hand, a few years back, the ESDC department under an earlier name, made a presentation to a parliamentary committee looking at Canada’s commitment to reduce poverty. The report consisted of program description after program description – dozens of programs, policies and benefits – all intended to reduce or alleviate poverty. And all of them were, ostensibly, good things to do, and were probably doing good. But there was no indication whatsoever as to whether they were reducing poverty – in part because there was no agreed measure of poverty – and no assessment of the relative merits or effectiveness of all of these interventions. That remains in essence the situation today.

We do have an example of an attempt to establish a national objective to reduce poverty, which was Ed Broadbent’s motion to Parliament in 1989, adopted unanimously. I feel a particular pride in that, since I was the Director of the Canadian Council on Social Development at the time, and he began his motion by referring to CBC coverage of our recently-published Fact Book on Poverty. Well, as everyone knows, we did not eliminate child poverty by the year 2000. Nor did the motion make that into a national goal of the federation. A parliamentary motion does not have the authority to commit the government. Nor did the government undertake to provide regular progress reports. Nonetheless the goal did take on legitimacy with the public. It served as a focus for several organizations to coalesce under Campaign 2000, and it could be argued that we have nationally done more to move children out of poverty than other impoverished groups.

I was also pleased to notice that several presenters to the current HUMA Committee have called for the establishment of national objectives and consistent performance measurement.

Canadian federalism, operating through a complex federal-provincial-territorial interface with often competing fiscal priorities, can be a barrier to democratic involvement of civil society. The federal consultation paper on poverty reduction indirectly acknowledges this in seeking suggestions on how the efforts of the various stakeholders can be better aligned. A Canadian National Goal for Poverty Reduction, 2017 – 2027, could be a catalyst for doing this, and for creating great national pride in its accomplishment.

OCASI – Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants
Colour of Poverty – Colour of Change (COP-COC)

Briefing Note for Pearson Roundtable on Poverty Reduction
December 8, 2016

By any measure — income, employment, housing conditions, health, well-being and more, refugees and immigrants and members of racialized communities are falling behind their Canadian-born and non-racialized counterparts. In October 2016 the United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent expressed deep concern about the human rights situation of African Canadians, including the high incidence of poverty, poor health and low education attainment, over-representation in the criminal justice system, as well the lack of race-based data and research that could inform prevention, intervention and treatment strategies for African Canadians. A May 2016 report from Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives highlighted the fact that the worst incidence of child poverty is among Indigenous children, followed by children of immigrants, racialized children, non-status First nations children, and Inuit and Metis children.

A “targeted univeralism” approach to poverty reduction-eradication is needed:
– it must incorporate effective measures to address at a minimum the disproportionate rates of poverty among First Peoples, peoples of colour, single mothers, persons with (dis)abilities and newcomers.
– it must take into account the intersectionality of marginalization of race (and ethnicity) with gender, age, disability, sexual and gender identity, etc.

There is a need to adopt ethno-racial and other appropriate disaggregated approach to all poverty reduction interventions and success indicators and measurement (see COP-COC template).
There is a need to adopt a racial equity impact analysis on all other strategies, such as (but not limited to) access to justice.

The following are a few specific recommendations for targeted poverty reduction measures:
• Strengthen and enhance implementation of the federal employment equity framework to address disproportionate levels of poverty and underemployment among racialized immigrants and refugees. Employment equity should be implemented and more effectively monitored with firms working in federally regulated industries and all federal contractors; and should be integrated into all public physical capital and social infrastructure investments (including public transit, roads and highways, housing, water and waste-water, renewable energy, green economy, arts and culture, and more) through the creative use of conditional transfers, Community Benefit Agreements and other appropriate legislative tools and program delivery mechanisms.
• Implement disaggregated data collection across the federal government so that we are better able to identify and plan for targeted poverty reduction measures, and better able to quantify the impact of poverty reduction strategies (including in health, mental health, well-being, education, housing, income earnings, wealth accumulation, food security and more).
• Develop a National Housing Strategy that works toward the expanded development of affordable housing units across the country, and in the process deliver equitably accessible construction and labor market opportunities to equity-seeking groups and historically disadvantaged communities. The strategy should revamp policies to accommodate extended and non-traditional family households in need of social housing. The experience of recently arrived government and privately sponsored refugee families that include a larger than average number of individuals and multiple generations highlights this gap.
• Review the refugee, immigration and citizenship program to identify and address areas of disproportionate inequities, including but not limited to the following priorities:
❖ Provinces can now impose minimum residency requirements to qualify for social assistance as a result of a change to the Canada Social Transfer. If implemented, this will disproportionately affect refugees.
❖ Transportation loans for sponsored refugees (government assisted – GARs, and privately sponsored – PSRs), and interest on said loans, cause enormous burden on these groups, and has been shown to worsen poverty and poor health outcomes.
❖ Interim Federal Health coverage is not provided to refugee claimants until their eligibility hearing is scheduled. There are some additional gaps in coverage resulting in healthcare access barriers for refugees. There is a need to improve knowledge and uptake of IFH among healthcare institutions since many healthcare providers refuse to accept it. Certain provinces, including Ontario, leave newly-arrived permanent residents without healthcare coverage as a result of a three-month residency rule. Given the over-representation of new immigrants among those living in poverty, the residency rule leaves some of the most vulnerable residents without healthcare.
❖ Citizenship fees increase represents a significant barrier to gaining citizenship
❖ The minimum income threshold does not allow low-income families to reunite with family. The 30% increase to the threshold in 2014 to sponsor parents and grandparents has further reduced access for low-income Canadians. As well the lengthy sponsorship delays have a negative economic and social impact.
❖ Residents with precarious immigration status are more likely to live in poverty. They have little or no access to healthcare & mental health and wellness care, or social supports and services that are available to virtually all Canadian-born residents and those will full immigration status. They include those without immigration status, low-wage and low-skilled migrant workers and international students.
❖ Expand eligibility for immigrant settlement services, employment services, healthcare, housing and more to include migrant workers and others with precarious immigration status (for example – EI contributions are deducted from migrant workers but they are not allowed to use the program).

Comments from Avvy Go

From the perspective of the Colour of Poverty/Colour of Change Network, any national Poverty Reduction Strategy will not be complete if it does not specifically address the growing racialization of poverty. When we talk about racialized communities, we are referring to both people of colour and Indigenous peoples. Members of racialized groups, whether they are newcomers to Canada, or Canadian born citizens, are anywhere between two to four times more likely to live in poverty as compared to non-racialized group members.

To address the issue of racialization of poverty, Canada must adopt a “targeted universality” approach, which includes effective measures to specifically address poverty among Indigenous peoples and people of colour, while taking into account marginalization based on race as it intersects with other grounds such as gender and disability.

Our key recommendations to reduce poverty for racialized communities are:

First, address systemic discrimination in the labour market by strengthening the federal employment equity framework to make it more effectively applied and monitored;

Second, implement disaggregated data collection across the federal government to better identify and plan for targeted measures, and to quantify the impact of any poverty reduction strategies adopted.

We also urge the Government to pursue further EI reform so that people in part time and precarious employment will have access to the EI benefits that actually they pay into.

Indeed, the United Nations Human Rights Committee has endorsed these three measures in their concluding observation about Canada’s compliance with the International Convention on the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

In addition, we urge Canada to develop a National Housing Strategy to make affordable housing equitably accessible to all low income groups.

Recognizing that we need to take a holistic approach to poverty reduction, we ask the Government to re-launch Canada’s Action Plan Against Racism in order to address the underlying racial inequities in social, economic, and political context in Canada.

Finally, we ask the government to improve access to justice through increasing contribution to provincial and territorial legal aid programs, so that all marginalized communities are better able to enforce their rights under the law and therefore better able to improve their life chances.

Comments Mary Lou Levisky, Poverty Activist Ottawa
Poverty Reduction Strategy Round Table, December 8, 2016

The Round Table was excellent. Minister Jean Yves Duclos was very open, receptive and engaged. People felt comfortable bringing experiences from their own lives into the discussions. I found these particularly memorable, among everything memorable, about the session.

For the last year I have been working to reduce bed bugs, cockroaches and other vermin in Ottawa Community Housing (OCH), our social housing; and in affected low rentals in Ottawa. The genesis for this was the death from cancer in late 2015 of a life-long friend who lived in OCH and who, along with other tenants, battled major and repeated infestations of cockroaches for eight years. For fear of catching bed bugs in the building, I did not grant her final wish to see me to say goodbye because of fear of catching them.
My work on poverty issues over the last year has led me to some reflections:

Do we as a Canadian Society respect and understand the lives of those living in poverty? I think we do not.

Journalists, politicians at all levels, their bureaucrats, members of NGOs, and the general public need sensitivity training on people living in poverty. They should know that 16,000 of the 32,000 living in Ottawa Community Housing are seniors. Additional information on those living in poverty and their many health challenges, as well as other challenges, including how to get enough to eat, would be helpful.

MP Chandra Arya noted at his Housing Consultation on October 2, 2016 that there is a 15-year waiting list for social housing in Nepean, in Ottawa’s west end.
Ottawa has a Property Standards Vermin Bylaw indicating landlords must keep their rentals free of vermin at all times. Tenants must keep their units clean. Is this Bylaw only applied to the middle class and upwards? As well, the UN Declaration of Human Rights (1948) indicates that citizens have a right to housing that meets basic standards.

Poverty insensitivities displayed themselves to me in many ways:
The City of Ottawa politician who told me in December 2016 that people who live in poverty and who have bed bugs and cockroaches are responsible due to their not keeping their homes clean. It was a blanket statement. Are all poor people unclean? I know they are not.

The CBC radio journalist who while covering a poverty session this year on low rent housing said she was not interested in doing a story on cockroaches. She pronounced: “I grew up poor, actually very poor in X – she named the Canadian city – and I played with them all the time.” Neutrality on her part was expected and would have been appreciated.

At the same session, a Muslim teenager noted that she cannot bring her friends home from school because of cockroaches. She said: “I want a home like everybody else with no bugs. I am ashamed of them”.

Several young mothers at this session all indicated that they are fearful when they put their babies to bed that baby cockroaches will go into their infant’s ears. One of the Deputy Mayors has his constituency office in this building.

An Ottawa Councilor this fall, when confronted by picketers for improved social housing told the polite crowd of about 40 persons living in poverty, that all the Councilors stick together on these issues and that he had been warned by another Councilor that we were coming. He asked why I was lobbying in his ward since I did not live there. I noted, respectfully, that I live in suburbia but wanted to lobby for those with substandard housing and unrelenting vermin in his ward and in our city.

The now Chief of Staff at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO), Dr. Lindy Samson, co-authored a paper on sub-standard housing and its negative health impacts on children for the Canadian Journal of Paediatrics in 2015.

She noted in a November 2015 speech that there are babies coming to CHEO who are not meeting their health milestones, such as crawling, because parents cannot let them practise due to large numbers of cockroaches on the floor. Asthmatic children are allergic to cockroaches and make many repeat visits from their sub-standard housing to CHEO for treatment.

A City of Ottawa funding officer berated me for one-half hour for aspects of my advocacy related to seniors and vermin told me I was ruining my credibility and reputation which had being excellent, he said, and that I caused all kinds of ill will within a seniors’ organization because I brought the issue to them for action, not how I behaved. They are funded by all three levels of government. His intimidation tactics were unwarranted. As a free volunteer, this abuse was way above my pay scale, not that anyone salaried should put up with abuse either. The seniors’ organization has since distanced themselves from his comments and said they never trashed me.

Advocacy needs to be accepted by all levels of government and welcomed. The Federal Government’s adoption of Open Government and their numerous consultations on a large number of issues this year are valuable and welcomed. Ontario adopted Open Government a few years ago.

Governments funding groups and receiving their advocacy need to ensure that these groups are open, transparent and run democratically. Elected executives, resolutions from members that are democratically adopted are essential.
In December 2016, Toronto City Council adopted a Bylaw that would see all city landlords, over a minimum number of units, licensed. ACORN Toronto lobbied ten years for this Bylaw. Ottawa should enact the same and should strongly enforce it.
I have a dream that would see big business in Canada demonstrating their social consciences by funding pilots on social housing and vibrant communities. Money is not endless from governments. Let’s develop some innovative and successful strategies. Perhaps start such strategies in 2017, to celebrate Canada’s birthday!

My observations are that people living in poverty deserve more respect. It includes vermin-free homes and respectful interactions by various sectors of society. I met many wonderful people living in poverty this year. I never met one who I felt was abusing the system. I met many who do not know how to get out of poverty and who do not feel listened to or respected. I appreciate the opportunity to have participated in this very excellent session.

Notes for Pearson Centre Roundtable
to consider current suggestions and options
for reducing poverty and inequality
December 8, 2016, Ottawa

Sheila Regehr, Chair, Basic Income Canada Network

Option: Basic Income (specifically a BI for 18-64 age group currently left out of existing BI-type programs)

Why this solution and why now?

1. The US election is a wake up call to the high level of anxiety and frustration that many people are feeling – the 99% – AND the dangerous nature of many of the responses – to blame and disparage someone else. This Us/Them tribalism, along with poverty and insecurity, all break down along lines of gender/race/religion/immigrant/Indigenous status. Canada has done better than most at holding the social fabric together – using policy levers – but we are not improving and we are not immune to the pressures.

2. Canada has two basically competing models of income security: the BI-type (33 according to David Macdonald’s count – seniors, families with children, a few refundable tax credits) that does not judge; and the highly restrictive, controlling, austere social assistance (SA) model that both judges and penalizes. Stuck in the middle are the majority of working-age women and men struggling to make ends meet through employment with extremely little support for their efforts. These two models do not co-exist well in a society that aims for inclusion and cooperation. The BI-types are shown to get better results across many indicators (e.g., governments’ own evaluations, Mark Stabile and colleagues on child benefits, Lynn McIntyre on food security).

3. The federal government and other jurisdictions could be immensely helpful, especially to Ontario in it’s pilot, by providing as much information and evidence as possible on the success of child benefits. Despite the name, these benefits go to working-age adults–so much speculation about what happens when you give people unconditional transfers already has answers that can be helpful going forward. Did housing prices go up when child benefits were introduced? Did they have a negative affect on wages? What happens when income fluctuates? What happens at tax time?

4. The assumptions on which the old SA model are based are morally and practically flawed: e.g., that only the threat of starvation will induce people to ‘work’, that ‘the poor’ are an immutable category and they are lazy, or make bad decisions, etc. The assumptions also rest on the idea that those who make it are somehow morally and behaviourally superior: the us/them divide enshrined in policy. SA is also based on the twin assumptions that there is a decent paid job for everyone and that full-time, all the time employment should be the norm, with other productive and reproductive activity undervalued and even confused with leisure rather than being a necessity upon which the market economy depends. The evidence does not support the assumptions that underly the SA model.

5. The new economy, with the precarity of jobs and income, is challenging our very notions of work and employment and what people will do with their time given that with automation and AI we can continue to produce a lot with only a little human labour. The good future is about distribution – of income, wealth, time, education, opportunity to contribute to society. The status quo path is the dystopian future.

6. In contrast to the universal security and stability that an unconditional cash transfer provides (when it is needed – proportionate universalism, like child benefits), the current plethora of indirect programs, while they may be valuable in many respects, are often at least as limited and precarious as employment. Too many people get left out or fall through cracks. Too many things have to go right for them to work and that often doesn’t happen to people living on the edge of a crisis. Higher minimum wages only work if you have a job, and if you get enough hours (hard to do if you or your child gets sick and you have to miss work periodically). Training programs, services for mental health problems and much more are great but there are usually not enough to go around and the demand for them increases the more people are stressed by poverty and income insecurity; this means the services are too often downstream solutions to problems that could have been prevented. And many programs and services take time – upgrading education, searching for a job after graduation or lay-off from the last one, getting re-established after divorce or recession. In the meantime, people need the basics to live. And if they have the stability and security of a BI, that provides the foundation for resilience and for success in other programs and/or in their own initiatives.

7. What is promising: we have lots of experience with seniors and children’s benefits; there is multi-faith, multi-sector collaboration developing. There is an appetite for bolder, more hopeful policy.

Agenda for
Pearson Roundtable on Poverty Reduction

December 8, 2016

Somerset West Community Health Centre, (SWCHC); Third Floor Board Room,
55 Eccles Street, Ottawa K1R6S3 (Booth and Somerset area)

8:30 Registration and coffee

8:45 Call to Table

9:00 Welcome by Andrew Cardozo, President, Pearson Centre, and Naini Cloutier, Executive Director, SWCHC

9:15 Introductions and First Topic

9:30 Hon. Jean-Yves Duclos will discuss the federal government plan to develop a national poverty reduction strategy

9:45 Questions and Comments

10:00 Moderated Discussion, with lead-off speakers on select subjects.

11:30-12:00 Open Discussion

Note that participants who wish to advance specific proposals are asked to provide advance summaries.


Topics for discussion: The Chair will call on specific individuals to lead off the discussion

1. Should the federal government invite provinces to adopt a shared national objective for poverty reduction with annual progress reports by Statistics Canada? (Terrance Hunsley)

2. Should there be a single measure of low income, possibly supplemented by other measures of poverty? (Miles Corak)

3. What will we learn from the Ontario experiment if it proceeds as recommended by Hugh Segal? What important questions about BI, and BI vs other interventions, will the Pilot not likely be able to answer? (All)

4. Weighing the pros and cons of various approaches to poverty reduction, such as augmenting existing social assistance, basic income, expanding the WITB and/or income supplementation for housing, expanding labour market programs (with or without job guarantee), providing basic income for people with disabilities, early childhood education/child care, increasing minimum wages, expanding universal public services, etc? (Sheila Regehr, Sherri Torjman, Jane Bertrand, Jean Pierre Voyer, David MacDonald, Andrew Jackson)

5. What kind of poverty reduction initiatives would hold the most potential for vulnerable populations? ( Michele Biss, NWAC Rep, Amy Casipullai, Avvy Go, Lise Martin)

6 How can federal and provincial objectives and responsibilities for poverty reduction best be aligned to maximize cooperation and minimize fiscal competition? (Herb Breau)

7. Should poverty reduction be the main initiative for reducing inequality? (All)

8. Other issues or questions that participants may wish to raise.

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