May 7, 2009

Poverty reduction and the party platforms


The CCPA is a member of the BC Poverty Reduction Committee, the network that has been pressing all the BC political parties to commit to a comprehensive poverty reduction plan. Over 280 organizations have now signed an Open Letter to all the political parties calling on them to commit to a poverty reduciton plan with legislated targets and timelines, ahead of next week’s election.

Late last week, the BC Poverty Reduction Committee released its analysis of the three main parties’ platforms with respect to the call. In summary, here’s where they have landed:

The BC Liberal Party does not commit to a poverty reduction plan with clear targets and timelines. The Premier has written, “the Province of British Columbia has made promising steps to address the challenges associated with poverty and we are working on additional measures to put together a comprehensive plan to continue moving forward.” The closest the Liberal platform comes to suggesting a real target is in the area of homelessness, in titling the one-page policy section on housing, “Ending homelessness with new solutions.” The section describes various initiatives to date (outlined below). But this goal of ending homelessness is not linked to clear timelines.

The BC New Democratic Party platform does commit to “Developing a poverty reduction plan with targets and timelines that build on our initiatives that will raise the minimum wage, support jobs and skills training, increase affordable housing, improve child protection and change income assistance.” This is good news. However, the NDP plan does not specify what the poverty reduction targets and timelines should be (presumably this would be determined after the election), nor does it say if such targets and timelines would be legislated (which is key to accountability). The NDP commitment with respect to homelessness is more concrete. Their plan commits to “Ending the crisis in homelessness in 5 years.”

The Green Party has included poverty reduction as a priority in their platform, British Columbia’s Green Book: “The Green Party understands that immediate action is needed to ensure every British Columbian has a meaningful opportunity to share in the wealth of this province.” The key goals of their plan include ensuring British Columbians can all meet their basic needs, and “reversing the trend towards greater disparity between rich and poor.” Additionally, in the area of housing and homelessness, the Green Party has committed to “safe and affordable homes” for everyone living in BC. As the Green Party is not contesting government, they have not costed out their policies.

A more detailed analysis of the party platforms/positions with respect to the poverty reduction call can be found here.

Premier Campbell’s stubborn refusal to commit to poverty reduction targets has been particularly disappointing. During the election campaign, Premier Campbell has repeatedly been asked by reporters and citizens if a re-elected Liberal government would bring in a comprehensive poverty reduction plan with targets and timelines. On each occasion, he has refused to say yes. Instead, the premier has replied that his goal is “to have the lowest unemployment rate that we can,” because “a job is the best social program.” It is correct that job creation is important to poverty reduction. But most poor British Columbians are already employed in the low wage workforce (where they face a minimum wage that hasn’t moved since 2001), and record low unemployment over the past few years has not changed the fact that BC has the highest poverty rate in Canada. So clearly, a focus on employment is insufficient.

During last Sunday’s TV leaders debate, Steve Kerstetter asked (in a recorded question) what new initiatives the leaders would take to reduce child poverty. Notably, in his response, the premier did not mention any new initiatives, but rather, simply talked about things the province has already done.

Once again, the premier selectively noted that BC’s child poverty rate has declined by 15% since 2003. Why 2003? Because that’s when BC’s child poverty rate peaked at 19%. What the premier neglects to mention is that the latest BC child poverty rate of 16% remains 2 percentage points higher than it was in 2001 (when it stood at 14%).