For over a decade, Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ) and its partners have been part of a process of encouraging lawmakers to put a national anti-poverty vision before the Canadian Parliament.
In late August there was good news that the effort is paying off as the federal government released Opportunity for All, Canada's first National Poverty Reduction Strategy.
This is only a strategy, laying out goals and a vision for reducing poverty but, at this point, not committing funding for programs, said Joe Gunn, executive director of CPJ.
Founded with help of Christian Reformed Church members, CPJ is an ecumenical, non-profit organization that promotes justice in Canadian public policy through research and analysis focused on poverty reduction, ecological justice, and refugee rights.
“The strategy falls short of what we would like to see, but this is important progress,” said Gunn. At the same time, “this shows that we haven’t been just running around in circles. . . . This strategy will hopefully go into law and set a poverty measure for the first time across Canada.”
On Aug 21, Jean-Yves Duclos, Canada’s Minister of Families, Children, and Social Development, released a letter announcing the effort and gave credit to all of the organizations, such as CPJ, that have given input into developing this strategy.
He also explained what developing measures for poverty on a national level means.
“To be effective,” he wrote, “Canada’s Poverty Reduction Strategy must have transparent indicators, clear targets, and tangible actions. That is why Canada's Poverty Reduction Strategy is introducing, for the first time ever, an official poverty line for Canada, as well as targets to reduce poverty by 20 percent by 2020 and 50 percent by 2030, based on the official measure of poverty.”
This strategy, if enacted, doesn’t call for particular programs. Rather, it sets the stage for helping the government better determine where to put its resources by creating ways to meaningfully measure and monitor poverty. In addition, wrote Duclos, the strategy "supports data sharing, knowledge creation, and engagement with Canadians, in part by establishing a National Advisory Council on Poverty, enshrined into law.”
Gunn said that CPJ and its partners, including the Christian Reformed Church, care deeply about eradicating poverty and over the past decade have gathered momentum to address the issue.
That momentum led to a document called Dignity for All: The Campaign for a Poverty-Free Canada, which they presented to the government as it was developing its new strategy.
In their document, said Gunn, they call for the government to address poverty on a range of fronts: income security, housing and homelessness, health care, food security,jobs and employment, and early childhood education and care.
“Our goal is for the government to create a comprehensive, strong, and effective national anti-poverty plan that would show federal leadership in ending poverty,” said Gunn.
Mike Hogeterp, director of the CRC’s Centre for Public Dialogue, said he applauds CPJ for its work in seeking ways to highlight the issue of poverty for lawmakers: “CPJ’s careful persistence and partnership has been vital in the development of this national anti-poverty plan. We are thankful for their leadership.”
CPJ’s board of directors includes Trixie Ling, a member of First CRC in Vancouver, B.C., and Rev. James C. Dekker, a retired CRC pastor (serving as chair). Until her recent passing, Thea DeGroot of Redeemer CRC in Sarnia, Ont., also served on CPJ’s board.
Dekker wrote a letter to Jean-Yves Duclos to thank the government for the release of its first-ever national poverty reduction strategy. He also thanked Duclos for acknowledging the role CPJ played, in conjunction with others, in continuing to bring the issue of poverty to the government’s attention.
At the same time, Dekker highlighted CPJ’s request that Canada now move forward to develop a “comprehensive, rights-based, and fully funded plan that will eradicate, and not merely end, poverty in Canada.”
Dekker also encouraged Duclos personally, “along with [his] ministry and government, to continue to press forward to take further concrete and practical action, not merely to reduce poverty, but to eradicate it.
“While CPJ and I are pleased with yesterday’s announcement, I am concerned that it was made with no specific steps beyond programs that have already been established by the government,” Dekker wrote.
The government plans to introduce the anti-poverty strategy later this year, which if passed would require future governments to meet the goal. Hopes are that this will be a way to convince lawmakers, over the long term, to invest more in current programs and, as the poverty measurements come out, to create programs to address the needs expressed in the measurements.
“This strategy isn’t perfect, but progress has been made, and the government responded to the pressures from people in the churches,” said Gunn. “We have momentum now, and I’d like to see even more people behind it.”
Dignity for All states that October 17 is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty and invites people to join or host a Chew On This! event to call for a comprehensive, rights-based, legislated, and fully funded national anti-poverty plan.