Guest speakers Trish Garner (left) and Adrienne Montani

Poverty experts call for provincial poverty reduction plan

British Columbia is the only remaining province without a comprehensive poverty reduction plan

British Columbia needs a comprehensive poverty reduction plan.

That was one of the main topics at an event held by CATCH, Success by 6 and Aboriginal CATCH Tuesday afternoon in Kelowna. Trish Garner, community organizer of the B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition was one of two speakers at the event, and she addressed what can collectively be done to solve the issues with poverty in B.C. One in five children in the province are poor, with Kelowna coming in just beneath that rate at 18%.

“B.C. has one of the highest poverty rates in Canada, but we are the very last place to have a comprehensive poverty reduction plan,” Garner said. “Everywhere else across Canada we’re seeing provinces and territories take this preventative and comprehensive approach to tackling poverty at it’s root causes. We’re doing a few things here in B.C., but we’re lacking a comprehensive framework that really gets at those root causes. We’d like to see a comprehensive plan with targets and timelines so we can track if we’re being successful along the way.”

Garner believes a poverty reduction plan should include seven pillars; raising welfare and disability rates as welfare has been frozen for nine years; raising the minimum range from $10.45 an hour to $15.00 an hour; more affordable housing; a $10 a day childcare system; investing in education; investing in healthcare; and helping groups in communities that face very high rates of poverty, such as indigenous groups, people with disabilities, single mothers, senior single women and the LGBTQ community.

First Call B.C Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition provincial coordinator Adrienne Montani was the other speaker at the event, and she directly addressed child poverty in the province. Montani explained most poor children live with parents who work either full time around the year with low wages, or have precarious employment such as part-time or seasonal work.

“If you work full-time at minimum wage it should lift you out of poverty, and it doesn’t,” she said. “So we work on the Fight for $15 campaign, the campaign for a fifteen dollar minimum wage. And if you can’t work for one reason or another, we need welfare rates to rise enough so you can feed your family and don’t have to go to the food bank. They should be adequate so you can house and feed your children and raise children in a healthy way.”

Montani noted affordable housing is a huge part of preventing poverty, as living expenses continue to climb while wages stay the same. At the same time, child care is also important as many parents simply can’t afford it.

“There are a lot of things in public policy we could be doing better,” she said. “Some are federal, and some are provincial. The provincial early childhood tax benefit, which is relatively new, is much more miserly than other provinces. Other provinces that have child tax benefits are not only giving more money per month, but it’s for children aged zero to eighteen, whereas ours is only zero to six. So there are other examples we can look at where other provinces are doing much better.”

Montani added she is hopeful attendees came away from the presentations looking at child poverty not as an individual problem, but as a systemic one. She explain the cause of many people living in poverty is not because they made poor choices or were unlucky, but because we have a system that doesn’t support them well, pays them low wages, and doesn’t help with child care.

With other countries and provinces doing much better to help lift their residents out of poverty and preventing them from reaching that point in the first place, both speakers noted it is easy to get depressed around these issues, but they both also spoke about the optimism and the power of collective action in a call for a comprehensive poverty reduction plan in B.C.