New plan to lift more than two million people past the poverty line

Anti-poverty strategy will aim for 50 per cent cut in low-income rates: source

A new plan to help low-income Canadians will set a lofty goal of lifting more than two million people past the poverty line over the next 12 years, says a source familiar with the federal government’s long-awaited strategy.

If the federal government meets the ambitious target, it would push poverty rates in Canada to historic lows.

Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, the minister in charge of the plan, will lay out details Tuesday at an event in Vancouver — including establishing the threshold that defines poverty in Canada.

The government wants to reduce the rate of poverty in Canada by 20 per cent from 2015 levels by the end of the current decade, which would require almost 850,000 fewer people living in poverty in 2020 compared to five years earlier.

The source, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss details not yet public, says the target increases to 50 per cent by 2030 — a decline of 2.1 million people, including just over 534,000 children under age 18.

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Legislation to be introduced later this year would require future governments to meet the goal, but likely won’t carry any consequences if targets aren’t met.

Work on the strategy has been two years in the making, but anti-poverty groups who have taken part in consultations don’t expect to hear any new spending commitments.

Indeed, documents obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act suggest the Liberals intend to sell the plan by referencing myriad federal programs, linking them back to efforts to reduce poverty.

Absent any new spending, the government is likely to promote efforts to better co-ordinate existing and promised federal programs, as well as better tracking of their impact.

During consultations on the anti-poverty plan, the government heard repeatedly about the need to establish an official poverty line for the country. To date, Ottawa has been using a measurement created by Duclos’ department in the late 1990s.

The benchmark — known as the “market basket measure” — tests whether a family can afford a basic standard of living by testing their income against the cost of a basket of goods and services. The measure is tailored for 50 different regions and cities, reflecting the fact that the cost of living varies between regions.

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Early government work on the anti-poverty strategy flagged the measure as one favoured by Duclos in his academic work before entering politics.

An April 2016 briefing note to the top official at Employment and Social Development Canada noted the minister’s “stated preference” for the measurement in his academic research on the economics of poverty. In one paper, Duclos argued that a range of tests using the measure showed Quebec had a lower poverty rate than the rest of the country.

Under the market-based measure, Statistics Canada found more than 4.2 million people living below that poverty line in 2015. One year later, using the same threshold, the agency recorded 3.7 million people in poverty for a rate of 10.6 per cent — the lowest recorded over the past decade.

The Liberals estimate that the measures they have introduced since coming to office in 2015 — among them a new child benefit and a boost to seniors benefits — will lift some 600,000 people above the poverty line by next year.

The Canadian Press

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