B.C. Should Be More Ambitious in Tackling Poverty

The B.C. Legislative Assembly (flickr/Jimmy Emerson, DVM)

At the beginning of October, the provincial government tabled legislation that is intended to reduce child poverty by 50 per cent and overall poverty by 25 per cent within the next five years.

Although these targets are bold, they could stand to be more ambitious.

B.C. currently has the the second highest rate of overall poverty among all provinces in Canada and the highest rate of poverty among children. It also has one of the highest rates of income inequality in the country, meaning that there is still a lot the government can do to address these issues.

The B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition, an umbrella group representing a number of organizations fighting poverty and income inequality across the province, has been one of the driving forces behind putting these targets in place. Under the Liberal government, the coalition fought hard on a variety of initiatives, including increasing the minimum wage and creating a poverty reduction strategy.

Their requests, however, were often unmet or significantly watered down. Today, B.C is still the only province without a provincially mandated poverty reduction plan.

Although the new legislation does not yet state how the government is to meet its targets, it is already clear that the current government has done a lot more to reduce poverty than their predecessors.

Some of these initiatives include getting rid of MSP premiums, increasing the minimum wage, and reducing the cost of childcare. The Green caucus has also pushed for looking into basic income as an alternative to reducing income inequality, as well as addressing the issue of liveable wages with the new Fair Wages Commission.

Although the government would ideally set targets that completely eradicate poverty, the existing ones will still result in a lower cost and greater quality of life for a large number of people.

With the newly-introduced goals, B.C. has become the first province to have poverty reduction built into its legislation. This means that it will be mandatory, by law, to reduce poverty, and that will still hold true for successive governments. This could set an example for other provinces also wanting to implement greater levels of commitment in their poverty reduction plans.

Although the government has not released an official strategy, it has held public consultations across the province, receiving input from 885 individuals on better ways to reduce and meaningfully address income inequality.

The new legislation requires the government to have a poverty reduction strategy in place by the end of March 2019, at which point it will become possible to tell what the strengths in their plan are and which improvements can be made for them to successfully meet their targets.