Canada’s Senate has unanimously adopted a comprehensive, 283-page report that calls on the federal government to implement a national housing plan, poverty reduction strategy and other measures on income, health, education and training. Under the rules of Parliament, the federal government has until September 20 to formally respond. In From the Margins sets out 74 practical recommendations from housing and homelessness to incomes and employment, plus health, education and training. “Senator Art Eggleton and his committee have prepared a vital blueprint for social and economic renewal, and it is gratifying to see that the full Senate has unanimously backed the strategy,” says Michael Shapcott, Director of Affordable Housing and Social Innovation at the Wellesley Institute. “Now, the federal government is required to consider carefully and respond fully.”
The Wellesley Institute hosted a webinar with Senator Eggleton on Jan 15 that drew more than 100 community leaders, government officials, housing advocates and experts and others. Our presentation notes provide highlights from the full report.
During the final Senate debate on the report, Senator Eggleton (Liberal) reported: “In our study of poverty, housing and homelessness, the committee held some 35 hearings, hosted 5 round tables and visited some 20 agencies in 9 cities across Canada. We had the opportunity to hear from close to 200 witnesses, some of whom were people who live in poverty or are homeless themselves. Other witnesses work for community agencies, are academics at universities or work in various volunteer organizations. What we heard, frankly, was appalling. We found that a staggering one in ten Canadians lives in poverty. The rate has been even higher at other times. That is 3.4 million people, the equivalent of every man, woman and child in Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan combined. For these people, for our fellow citizens, every day is a battle with insufficient income, unaffordable housing, inadequate clothing and unsatisfactory nutrition. Every day brings wrenching decisions about whether they have enough money to buy groceries or whether they use the money to pay the rent; can they buy shoes for the kids or do they make a mortgage payment; and also whether they drop out of school and take a job to help the family struggling to get by. These families cannot even dream about getting ahead.”
“We need to do a better job on both housing and homelessness. It is time for the federal and provincial governments to come to grips with the issue and develop a national housing and homelessness strategy. Underlying our report is a simple common-sense premise: Social programs should lift people out of poverty, not keep them there. It is time to give people the tools they need to lift themselves into a better life. Poverty is not benign. It affects us all. It costs us all. We spend a lot of money and do not get the results we should get. We do not need to spend more money. I emphasize that. We do not need to spend more money, but we need to spend smarter, and more efficiently and effectively. In today’s global economy, with the looming demographic challenge of an aging population leading to a shrinking workforce, the importance of creating those opportunities of unleashing the creative contribution of those trapped in poverty is more important than ever. In a very real sense, honourable senators, the future level of our prosperity depends on addressing the current level of our poverty. Simply put, we cannot afford poverty anymore.”
Also in the Senate debate, Senator Hugh Segal (Progressive Conservative), deputy chair of the committee that produced the report, stated: “This report looks at federal and provincial issues as they relate to poverty income, security and homelessness, and not just from the perspective of the federal government. It is clear about not wanting to spend more taxpayers’ money and about spending the existing revenues of $140 billion to $150 billion per year by federal-provincial governments more efficiently and more effectively. It pays tribute to helpful programs, such as Minister Finley’s extension of EI benefits and Minister Flaherty’s Working Tax Benefit. These important initiatives have to be addressed over time but are steps in the right direction. The report also pays tribute to the reinvestment in social housing that the present government has put in place and which is so vital to the questions and challenges that we face. I will make one point about the notion of this report being a base for further work. The report takes the position that we have an income security hodgepodge of programs across Canada that clearly are not reducing the level of poverty while they cost a tremendous amount of money.”
“In every province of the country, except for Newfoundland and Labrador, recipients of welfare are earning, as a family of four, between $11,000 to $19,000 less than the low-income cut-off. Even if you take the market basket measure of our friends at the Fraser Institute, welfare still pays well below that level. What the report suggests is that this is a great opportunity for a green paper to look at income security across Canada, to look at best practices elsewhere, to look at how we can make it more effective and efficient and to do it in a way that involves the provinces, business, the private sector and the many NGOs that work so hard on this issue, church organizations and others in their own communities.”