N.L. can’t solve economic crisis without addressing poverty: advocates

Newfoundland and Labrador's provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, Friday July 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – Advocates in Newfoundland and Labrador say there’s a growing poverty crisis behind the province’s financial strife, and any economic fix will have to reckon with it.

Doug Pawson, the executive director of End Homelessness St. John’s, says the province should be reviewing its social support systems with the same openness to innovation that Premier Andrew Furey says will guide the provincial economic recovery team he convened in September.

In an interview, Pawson said provincial social support systems were designed decades ago to suit a labour market that has long since changed, and he worries that without representation from the anti-poverty sector on the recovery task force, no one will advocate for a new approach.

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With a population of just over 520,000, Newfoundland and Labrador faces a $1.84-billion deficit and a $16.4-billion net debt, and Furey assembled the task force to review the province’s finances and map out its economic future.

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Pawson says better social services, like an income support system with less red tape and surveillance of its users, coupled with a higher minimum wage, will ultimately save the province money in health-care and corrections costs.

Lisa Browne, chief executive officer of Stella’s Circle, a St. John’s non-profit providing work and homes to vulnerable people, agrees with Pawson that ignoring the creeping poverty will only cost more money down the road.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published January 13, 2021.

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