OTTAWA – The minister in charge of a federal plan to reduce poverty nationwide says he has heard clearly that Canadians want the Liberals to find a way to make it easier to cover the basic costs of living as part of a sweeping strategy to be released this year.
Helping to cover the cost of the monthly rent, healthy food and transportation, among other necessities of every day life, was a key message from the more than 8,000 Canadians who gave their ideas on the plan.
Their views were summarized in a report released Tuesday that provides an overview of findings from months of consultations.
The Liberals have promised a poverty reduction strategy before the end of their four-year mandate and the “what we heard” report gives the broad strokes of what the Liberals are likely to include in the plan when it is finally released, including an emphasis on enacting measures to prevent people from falling into poverty.
Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said helping lower-income Canadians have enough money to meet the range of basic needs is something the government is reviewing, suggesting that some measures may be further detailed in next week’s budget.
What exactly those measures will be Duclos wouldn’t say during a Facebook live chat.
What Duclos did say was that a key focus of the strategy would be on reducing income inequality to avoid a populist uprising linked to those who feel socially and economically excluded. Duclos said much of the language in the consultation report is aimed at preventing the rise of an us-versus-them mentality.
“They will build walls as opposed to building bridges,” he said.
“It will bring even greater exclusion because of perverse political processes. So we want to avoid that and so all of these measures have the impact of bringing people together, of making feel people feel more part of a community.”
Duclos said the poverty reduction strategy would be released sometime in 2018.
The most recent census figures found that in 2015, 4.8 million people lived below the poverty line as defined by Statistics Canada, including about 1.2 million children under 18.
The Liberals have promised a poverty reduction strategy before the end of their mandate that would build on existing strategies on housing and homelessness, among others.
Key to the plan will be measuring poverty, which can’t always be captured by a single figure, and then reporting publicly whether things have gotten better or worse. Some groups have disagreed with the numbers the Liberals publicly use, such as the impact of the Canada Child Benefit on child poverty rates, arguing they exaggerate the effects.
The Liberals are also looking to build the federal strategy upon similar plans provinces and territories have in place.
Provincial strategies have included investments in child care; dental, vision and prescription drug plans; increases to the minimum wage; and expanding affordable housing options. Each issue was highlighted in documents prepared by Duclos’s officials in late 2016, copies of which were obtained by The Canadian Press under the access-to-information law.
— Follow @jpress on Twitter.