Rethink Nova Scotia social policies to reduce rising income inequality: study

a growing gap between the rich and poor is harming Nova Scotians' well-being, a new study has found. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Bayne Stanley

A report released Wednesday says a growing gap between the rich and poor is harming Nova Scotians’ well-being, and it’s time for the Liberal government to recognize the issue in its policy-making.

The study cites Statistics Canada figures indicating that between 1998 and 2018, the share of the province’s total income going to the top 10 per cent of society has grown.

It says in those two decades the share of the province’s richest citizens grew from 23.3 per cent to just over 26 per cent.

The study, titled “Creating the Future We All Deserve,” was prepared for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers.

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Lead author Tammy Findlay, chair of political studies at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, says in the study that governments need to begin assessing policies more rigorously to ensure they reduce poverty.

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Findlay says policies should be run through a set of principles, which she refers to as a “social policy framework,” that include looking at the long-term impacts on poorer citizens.

“For too long, Nova Scotians have been told that real solutions to poverty and inequality are unaffordable and impractical. But we don’t have to accept that,” Findlay said.

The report gives the example of child care, noting how improved investments improve the health of parents, catches illnesses of children before they enter school and eventually leads to “healthier, better educated and more prosperous adults.”

It also advocated for more universal programs, including in child care, which bring children from diverse backgrounds into contact with one another and provide “equal opportunities for all children to thrive.”

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Christine Saulnier, an author and director of the provincial branch of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, said the study shows citizens are “working longer hours,” but often earning less in real dollars compared to two decades ago.

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The left-leaning centre’s website describes itself as one of Canada’s “leading sources of progressive policy ideas,” with its work “rooted in the values of social justice and environmental sustainability.”

Alec Stratford, director of the province’s college of social workers, said during a news conference that the provincial budget’s plan for $80 million in cuts to corporate and small business taxes is an example of a policy that doesn’t consider income inequality.

“It’s a policy change we know will have zero impact on the most vulnerable and marginalized in our society,” Stratford said.

“We can’t expect the private market to lift 40,000 kids out of poverty. We haven’t seen that happen before and we won’t see it happen now.”

READ MORE: ILO report shows increasing income inequality — Where does Canada stand?

After a cabinet meeting Wednesday, Premier Stephen McNeil said the province has seen improving wages in the private sector over the past year.

“It’s not just the top portion (of earners) there – it’s through the entire sector,” he told reporters.

He also defended his corporate tax cuts as necessary to stay competitive with neighbouring jurisdictions.

“If we’d been racing to the bottom in a corporate tax that would be one thing. We’re just trying to be competitive in a region and we’re looking for economic opportunities and jobs,” he said.

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McNeil said there are other programs supported in the recent budget are helping less wealthy citizens.

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The 2020-21 budget added $17.5 million to complete the expansion of pre-primary programs for young children and $16.6 million for programs that support adults and children with disabilities.

It also expanded the Nova Scotia child benefit program by adjusting the low-income threshold to include more families, at a cost of $18 million, and provided an additional $17.3 million to support the housing subsidies under the welfare programs.

McNeil also cited increased funding for a program where the salaries of recent graduates are supported by the province, known as “Graduate to Opportunity.”

Under the program, employers receive one quarter of the first year’s salary – 35 per cent if the new graduate is a member of a designated “diversity” group – and 12.5 per cent of the second year’s salary.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 11, 2020.

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