Premiers must put Canada's poor at top of agenda

For immediate release: August 5, 2010

Premiers must put Canada’s poor at top of agenda

Winnipeg – A sustainable stimulus to the economy requires Canada’s premiers to put the 4.4 million Canadians living in poverty at the top their agenda, a coalition of business, labour and community organizations said today.

The Winnipeg Statement on Poverty Eradication calls on the premiers to establish a working group that would report back in a year with a joint federal-provincial plan to eliminate poverty in Canada that would make a real difference in the lives of low-income Canadians.

Wayne Helgason, Executive Director of the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, noted some encouraging developments, such as poverty reduction initiatives in six provinces and one territory and the unanimous support of the House of Commons last November for a resolution to eliminate poverty.

However, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said poverty is a provincial responsibility, Helgason said. This continues the trend since the mid-1990s of the federal government cutting, abandoning or off-loading programs in the social safety net.

Laurel Rothman, National Coordinator of Campaign 2000, said eliminating poverty must be the first objective of any plan to recover from the recession. “Canada can and must do better than simply turning a blind eye to families relying on food banks and children not receiving affordable access to education, health, social and economic opportunities,” Rothman said.

Sid Frankel, Board Member of the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, said that Manitoba’s poverty-reduction strategy, known as All Aboard, lacks specific targets and timelines. “The Manitoba government should make firm commitments to reduce the child and family poverty rate. It should set goals so it can be held accountable. This is very achievable, if Premier Greg Selinger wants it to happen,” Frankel said.

Cindy Blackstock, Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, said children raised on-reserve receive much less money for government services. “They get less because of the colour of their skin. It is an anti-Canadian stand by the federal government. The premiers could correct it tomorrow by fully adopting and implementing Jordan’s Principle across all government services, if they had the will,” Blackstock said.

Jim Derksen, a Disability Rights Advocate with the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, called on the premiers to take action to support the more than 14 per cent of Canadians living with a disability. “Many Canadian families have a member with a disability. We are not ‘the other.’ We are us,” Derksen said.

Tom Murphy, Manitoba/Ontario/Saskatchewan Director for the Canadian Auto Workers, said all governments must realize that current minimum wage rates are much too low. “Minimum wages are in reality poverty wages. They are a subsidy to minimum wage sectors, such as the fast food industry, banks and big-box retail,” Murphy said.

Peggy Taillon, President and CEO of the Canadian Council on Social Development, said the federal government’s decision to eliminate the long-form census will seriously damage efforts to eliminate poverty. “To the federal government, the poor don’t count. Now the federal government won’t count the poor,” Taillon said.

In 2008, before the full brunt of the recession was felt, about one in every eight (13.3 per cent) Canadians lived in poverty (less than 50 per cent of median income after tax).

“That is about 4.4 million Canadians who are struggling to meet their most basic needs. Ottawa has the money. If it can spend $1.2 billion hosting the richest nations in the world, with little payback to Canadians, we can eradicate poverty and make a substantial investment in our shared future,” Taillon said.


For further information please contact: 
Rhonda Powers
Communications Coordinator
Social Planning Council of Winnipeg
300-207 Donald St.
Winnipeg, MB   R3C 1M5
(204) 943-2561