Open Letter: Strengthening Bill C-87, An Act respecting the reduction of poverty

NAWL signed the Open Letter to Minister Jean-Yves Duclos prepared by Canada Without Poverty Campaign 2000 and Citizens for Public Justice to strengthen Bill C-87, An Act respecting the reduction of poverty.


The Honourable Minister Jean-Yves Duclos
Minister of Families, Children, and Social Development
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2

February 1, 2019

Open Letter: Strengthening Bill C-87, An Act respecting the reduction of poverty

Dear Minister Jean-Yves Duclos,

We are writing to provide you with recommendations to strengthen Bill C-87, An Act respecting the reduction of poverty, and align Canada with our obligations under international human rights law and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In 2018, after decades of advocacy, anti-poverty advocates around the country welcomed this legislation following the release of Canada’s first federal poverty reduction strategy (PRS). The legislation tabled in November 2018 commits Canada to a target of reducing poverty by 20% of 2015 levels by 2020 and 50% of 2015 levels by 2030; establishes the Market Basket Measure (MBM) as Canada’s official poverty line; and mandates the creation of a National Advisory Council of Poverty.

As organizations and individuals that are working to end poverty in Canada, we believe that this legislation must be strengthened to ensure we meet the first Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) to end poverty by 2030.

This Bill comes at a critical moment in Canada’s history. With the upcoming federal election later this year, we urge the government to pass legislation for the PRS before this session ends. We look forward to an open dialogue in the coming months as this critical legislation is studied by Parliament.

International Human Rights

The legislation does not reference Canada’s international human rights obligations under the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, and other instruments. The Government should amend the legislation to explicitly reference human rights, committing the government to a rights-based process as the PRS is shaped and implemented, in alignment with recommendations from Parliamentary committees including the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology.

Poverty Reduction Targets

The poverty reduction targets articulated in section 6 of the legislation commit Canada to reduce poverty by 20% by 2020, and by 50% by 2030. These targets and timelines are additionally articulated in Bill C-86, which was passed in December 2018.

While the strategy and legislation reference the SDGs, the target and timeline invoke the minimum threshold of a reduction of poverty by 50% by 2030. First, we believe that Canada must be more ambitious in reducing poverty over a shorter time line. Further, the reality is that when we only commit to reducing poverty, we create opportunity for some, not all, and especially not those who are the most marginalized. To avoid this, the government must ensure the poverty rate declines by the targeted amount among those in deep poverty and among Indigenous, racialized and LGBTQ2S+ people; persons with disabilities; women; immigrants, refugees and people with precarious immigration status; children; lone parent families and other groups who experience disproportionate levels of poverty due to systemic factors.

A country as wealthy as Canada should be leading other countries in implementation of the SDGs. We are disappointed the legislation does not commit to the spirit of SDG 1, which is to end poverty.

Canada’s Official Poverty Line

Many organizations have voiced concern that the MBM, which has been chosen as Canada’s official poverty line, will underestimate poverty rates in Canada. This measure does not include expenses for childcare or health care and grossly undervalues the reality of housing and other costs. It requires constant rebasing and is not internationally comparable.

The MBM is an adequate measure of material deprivation, but poverty must also be understood more broadly as a denial of social inclusion, dignity and human rights. We have serious concerns that the MBM, will not accurately reflect the lived experience of people in poverty, and this will have an impact on eligibility for services and programs. For example, eligibility for the low-income energy program in Ontario, which is currently calculated at the Low-Income Measure Plus, may be adjusted to a lower amount through the MBM. The consequence would be that fewer people may be able to access this program and others, including food banks, housing services, and income support programs.

In addition, the government has committed to develop a dashboard of indicators to provide a range of measurable elements that reflect the complex reality of poverty. However, it is unclear how heavily the government will rely on these multiple indicators to provide a holistic picture of poverty or to measure the progress of the strategy in achieving targets in publicly accessible ways.

[pdf-embedder url=”https://nawl.ca/wp-content/uploads/attachments/2019-PRS-Open-Letter-Coalition-Poverty_Reduction.pdf” title=”2019 PRS Open Letter Coalition Poverty Reduction”]