The federal Liberals have unveiled their long-promised anti-poverty law, saying it will force future governments to meet ambitious targets to lift more than two million people above the poverty line in the coming years.
These targets would see poverty rates lowered by 20 per cent from 2015 levels by the end of the current decade and by 50 per cent from 2015 levels by 2030.
The law will also establish the country’s first official poverty line using the “market basket measure,” which tests whether a family’s income is enough to afford a set of basic goods and services.
The MBM has thresholds based on communities and not nationally, so based off 2016 data, a single person in Toronto making under $20,298 would be considered below the poverty line, though in Winnipeg you’d have to make under $18,272. The threshold rises if more people are part of your “economic family.”
LISTEN: University of Calgary economics professor Ron Kneebone joins Danielle Smith to discuss the new anti-poverty law
Laura Neidhart, spokesperson for Canada without Poverty, said the using the MBM thresholds, there are 3.7 million people living in poverty at the moment. But other measurements have given different numbers, showing more people in poverty.
“Canada’s never had a poverty line before, and it presents an opportunity for us to actually demonstrably address poverty and have a baseline from which we’re addressing it,” Neidhart told Global News.
“But the market basket measure is kind of a mixed bag in what it presents to us, because it’s not something we can compare nationally (and internationally) and it really remains to be seen in how effective it’s going to be as a tool.”
The new law also doesn’t include any new spending for programs meant to help Canada’s poor today.
Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos acknowledged that in his announcement at an Ottawa food bank, but pointed to previously announced programs totalling $22 billion since 2015 for low-income families and the middle class, hinting that more could be coming in the 2019 budget.
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Volunteers at the food bank listened to the announcement with skepticism, however, saying they had hoped to see more tangible commitments from the government to help the homeless and the poor.
“We’d love to see more funding. That’s something that has been missing from all of the announcements thus far,” Neidhart said. “That’s been a real challenge for us.”
She said that the introduction of the poverty line and its legislation are administrative, “but we actually need money.”
“The next step the government needs to take is to put money behind this and really invest in addressing poverty.”