Opportunity for All – A First for Canada

The importance of Canada’s first-ever poverty reduction strategy cannot be understated. It sends a signal that action is needed. Rising living costs and cuts to education have benefitted high-level institutions, but those in low-income thresholds remain stagnant, deprived of resources and exposure to opportunities. While the ladder to rise out of poverty exists, not everyone has a similar ability to climb it. Opportunity for All sets out to engage struggling Canadians communities.

It took awhile, but Canada finally released its first-ever poverty reduction strategy in August 2018—packed with 11 chapters addressing poverty in Canada. The two pages below provide a brief overview of the project:

The Gritty Details

Broken down to its key elements, Opportunity for All proposes the following:

  • Create a National Advisory Council on Poverty
  • A progress tracking program
  • Enact poverty legislation
  • Reduce poverty by 20% by 2020 and by 50% by 2030
  • Define Canada’s Official Poverty Line
  • Employ a “whole-of-government” approach that spans all of federal, provincial, and municipal governments to advance the program

What is it meant to achieve?

The OFA officialized the government’s plan to reduce poverty in Canada. The initiative will be checked by a progress tracking program, while setting reduction goals of 20% and 50%—but we need to dig a little bit deeper to understand how it plans to make this into a reality.

Mass investments into impoverished groups is the strategy’s main driver, which includes children and families, low-income workers, seniors, and those vulnerable to poverty. This is projected to lift 650,000 Canadians out of poverty by 2019. Chapter 7, which addresses First Nations, Inuit, and Métis perspectives on poverty, advances the inclusion of previously marginalized groups in policy-making and discussion of their welfare regarding poverty.

The final vision is “a better Canada in 2030.” A country that leads globally in economy and creating a healthy and productive labour force, and one that directly aligns with the U.N.’s 1st Sustainable Development Goal.

Will it Achieve What it Set Out?

Opportunity for All is an important first step to address the 1 in 7 Canadians in poverty. Any strategy that is officialized and endorsed by the government will help create solutions. The Official Poverty Line in particular not only allows Canada to identify groups struggling to make ends meet (the line is based on the ability to afford the basic basket of goods and services)—it also allows the government to track tangible progress.

Since 2015, the government passed reforms to provide more benefits to lower-income households. This is the plan Opportunity for All proposes: giving more money through systems such as the Canada Child Tax Benefit, increasing the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors, and creating a new benefit called the Canada Workers Benefit.

Injecting money into lower-income groups causes income levels to rise; statistically, the percentage of people considered “in poverty” also rise in tandem above the Official Poverty Line. This drives the initiative toward the 20% by 2020 and 50% by 2030 poverty reduction goals.

But is giving low-income Canadians more money a sustainable plan to lift them out of poverty?

Providing impoverished groups monetary supplements is essential to create necessary daily and monthly resources temporarily, but its longevity and lasting impact can be questioned. The situation of poverty cannot be boiled down to a case of statistics and budgeting. A change in the ruling federal political party, for instance, may propose new reforms that suddenly cuts at the temporary monetary supplements, pushing these vulnerable groups back under the Official Poverty Line.

A Couple Important Considerations

Let’s compare Opportunity for All with poverty reduction strategies from two other areas of the world.

European Union

When we compare the strategy to other industrialized countries, other states have more comprehensive plans simply based on historical precedence. The E.U.’s, for instance, adopts larger poverty reduction percentage goals and include several sub-strategies that specifically target the most vulnerable sectors such as child poverty. Instead of the focus of investment, progress tracking, and discussions that Opportunity for All has, it is part of a bigger agenda for job growth, infrastructure, and education.

China

China’s poverty situation is unique in that there was no specific poverty reduction strategy set in place. Rather, it started as part of a whole-scale economic change with the “open door” policy in the late 1970’s. Its sustained growth fuelled historically unprecedented poverty reduction and occurred as a byproduct of the changes in investment climate and economic policy in the country. This has resulted in an emerging middle class.

Why is it important to compare?

Of course, each nation’s poverty situation is different. Nevertheless, it is important to compare Canada to other nations to establish a relative standing at the global stage. When we examine other industrialized areas of the world, it becomes clear that Canada lags in modern approaches and a historical precedence to poverty reduction—because it never placed a priority on it in the first place. Still, Opportunity for All is a promising huge step toward the right direction.

Immigration

Immigration is another aspect that is important to consider. Perhaps the impact of immigrants contributed insignificantly to poverty rates, or maybe they were included in the strategy’s analysis as a whole. But it should be noted as a separate issue for us to understand: what are the income situations of immigrants who enter Canada and how do they impact poverty in Canada?

The 2016 Canadian census data reveal that immigrants make significantly less than people born in Canada. The immigration wage gap, as it’s called, has remained prevalent, and is a contentious factor in driving the amount of low-income households in Canada. A further September 2017 StatsCan study also asserts that low income among immigrants continue to be “relatively high.” This is an area that the strategy should look to address.

So What Now?

More action is necessary.

It’s not enough that the government implements a top-down approach that partners different levels of governments. Communities, citizens, organizations, and youth are all needed to take part in this initiative. It will take a collective action to truly create the lasting change that we envision. And the necessary steps to move in this direction is to raise awareness in local communities and engage with impoverished groups directly.

This is why finding ways to help out in your community is so important. Taking extra time to volunteer and raise awareness about reducing poverty in your local community goes a long way to create exposure and educate others. Everyone deserves the same foundations to open doors of opportunity—but inequality exists, is increasing, and is preventing these marginalized groups from participating at a level that is self-sufficient and contributory to society.

Take action today.

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