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Poverty, Housing and Homelessness:
Issues and Options
Date: 2008 (Interim)
Chair: Hon. Art Eggleton, P.C. (ON)
Deputy Chair: Hon. Wilbert Keon (ON)
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The Committee is studying large urban centres. Its initial focus is on poverty, thereby building on the legendary Croll Report (see below) as well as other Senate reports which previously dealt with this issue.
Seven key findings are presented in the report:
* Canada's income support systems are broken.
* A job is no longer enough to lift a person out of poverty.
* Too many Canadians cannot afford decent housing.
* The federal government is too compartmentalized to fight
poverty in a comprehensive way.
* Provincial and territorial governments are likewise chopped
into departments and agencies that deal with pieces of poverty.
* Cities are an afterthought in the development of social policy.
* The poor usually have no input into programs that affect them.
In all, 103 options have been compiled for further consideration. As described in the Toronto Star, the report "contains up-to-date statistics, solid analysis and proposals from the country's top social scientists."
The Committee will travel across Canada in the next few months to ask Canadians what they want to see in a national poverty reduction plan, how it should be designed, and who should pay for it.
Sounding the Alarm: Poverty in Canada
Author: Hon. Erminie J. Cohen (NB)
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“It is time for the Senate of Canada to revisit the commitments made in the 1971 Croll Report (see below) and to evaluate where we are a quarter of a century later,” declared Senator Cohen, the author of Sounding the Alarm. Her position paper documented the harsh domestic reality. Almost half of Canada’s poverty stricken under the age of 65 were working poor. The face of poverty had also ‘aged’, with disproportionate numbers of senior women living well below the poverty line. The rates of single families had also climbed significantly, and the lack of affordable childcare was escalating the number of single-parent families on welfare. Approximately 60% of Canadians with disabilities were living below the poverty line.
Senator Cohen called upon the federal government to create a national, coordinated ten-year anti-poverty strategy, and to honour all their international agreements. She also advocated lowering taxes for low-wage workers, and recommended that a committee of parliamentarians and Canadians prepare a report addressing unemployment and underemployment in Canada. Finally, Senator Cohen proposed that the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA) be amended to prevent discrimination based on economic status.
Sounding the Alarm is an example of how one committed Senator can make a difference. Senator Cohen’s involvement with “Voices in Action: The Atlantic Conference for Poor People”, the first event in Canada organized by the poor to address their specific needs and experiences, inspired her to delve deeper into the issues. Both the conference and her subsequent position paper were successful in encouraging Canadians and others to advocate new measures to alleviate poverty.
For example, Michelle Falardeau-Ramsay, then Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, took up the cause. As she stated in 1998, “poverty is a serious breach of equality rights which I believe has no place in a country as prosperous as ours." That same year, Bill S-11 (An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA) in order to add social condition as a prohibited ground of discrimination) passed unanimously in the Senate although it was subsequently defeated in the House of Commons. The idea has never gone away, however – a year later, the Status of Women Canada issued a paper urging an economic and social charter. In 2000, a CHRA Review Panel again recommended that social condition be added to the Act. An Australian advocate picked up the idea two years later, publishing an article in the Deakin Law Journal which cited Canada's efforts as a precedent for reforms in that country and, as recently as 2009, policy papers from the Canadian Human Rights Commission renewed the call for anti-poverty provisions in our own human rights legislation.
Children in Poverty: Toward a Better Future
Chair: Hon. Lorna Marsden (ON)
Deputy Chair: Hon. Brenda Robertson (NB)
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This comprehensive study builds on a series of previous Senate reports. Several aspects of childhood welfare, including children at risk, child care and child benefits, were examined in the 1980s, all by the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology.
Children in Poverty advocated a two-tiered approach to child benefits that includes both income supports and service provision. Specifically, it proposed two alternative models for income support – either a national child benefit and a refundable child tax credit, or an enhanced refundable child tax credit for poor families with children – to finance the actual costs of raising a child. Both would require provincial and territorial approval
The Committee also highlighted the need to address poverty amongst aboriginal children. It called upon the federal government to make this a priority by dedicating significant financial resources to the issue and creating an action plan that includes the government working together with aboriginal organizations. In addition, it recommended that all levels of government work together to establish a national child care policy. Other measures addressed by the Committee include increased federal minimum wage, job retraining, further education, options such as Consumer Cooperatives and cost-shared rent supplements for households that pay more than 30% of their income on housing. In addition, it suggested a federally funded program to encourage and facilitate home ownership for low and middle income families..
Although Children and Poverty has been cited widely in reports, documents and policy briefs by advocacy groups, professional organizations and non-profit agencies, many claim that Canadian child poverty rates have not improved significantly since the report was published in 1991. Moreover, the Conference Board of Canada says early progress has been reversed in the past decade. It ranked Canada 13th out of 17 developed countries in 2009, using figures from the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development).
Poverty in Canada (The Croll Report)
Chair: Hon. David Croll (ON)
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"The poor do not choose poverty. It is at once their affliction and our national shame." With these words, Senator Croll and his colleagues sought to shine a spotlight on an issue that had largely been ignored in post-war Canada. Their report made a number of major recommen-dations including a guaranteed annual income with built-in incentives to encourage welfare recipients to seek employment, and the creation of a Council of Applied Social Research.
Speaking to the Empire Club a year after the report was published, Senator Croll emphasized the call to action by saying: "The elimination of the scourge of poverty from the land is a vital national goal. It cannot be achieved without the compassion, the understanding, and the co-operation of the Canadian people. The test of national progress is surely not merely in providing more for those who have much - but also in providing enough for those who have too little."
The Croll Report is generally regarded as having put poverty on the national agenda. Even though its principal recommendations were not implemented at the time, it is credited with prompting Prime Minister Trudeau to triple family allowances in 1973 and to introduce the Child Tax Credit in 1978.
The Croll Report also acted as a catalyst for giving a voice to the poor in Canada. The government reorganized the National Council on Welfare, an advisory body to the Minister of National Health and Welfare, replacing civil servants on the Council with strong anti-poverty advocates.