Premiers meet in Halifax, but will they talk about poverty?
Today is the first day of the annual meeting of the Council of the Federation - a group comprised of the 13 premiers from all provinces and territories. From July 25-27 premiers have gathered in Halifax to discuss important issues such as healthcare, the environment, and a pan-Canadian energy strategy. But is there room for poverty on the agenda? We hope so.
The Dignitiy for All campaign has written two letters to provincial leaders inquiring about the effects that changes to Old Age Security and Employment Insurance will have on regional economies, and where a federal poverty plan fits in. Two campaign members, Campaign 2000 and Canada Without Poverty, have recently added their voices to the conversation in published online articles looking at poverty and healthcare, and Employment Insurance in the Atlantic provinces. Both pieces note the role that each service plays in alleviating poverty.
The premiers may have a full plate of topics already set for discussion, but they would be at a loss if they failed to examine the effects poverty has on a region and on Canada as a whole.
Here are excerpt's from both articles:
1) Laurel Rothman (Campaign 2000) and Stella Lord (CCPA), "Premiers must remember poverty affects all Canadians"
"Income is a key determinant of a person’s health. The higher one’s position on the income ladder, the more likely one is to live in good health. Income inequality, on the other hand, impairs health and increases premature mortality. Yet all of us will benefit from less poverty and inequality...
The social and economic costs of poverty are high. Hunger, inadequate nutrition and unsafe housing create hardship for families and result in higher expenditures for health care and social services. These costs of poverty, including the remedial costs of the criminal justice system, must concern us. Poverty leads to higher risks of social and economic exclusion, which in turn drive up expenditures in policing, the courts, legal aid, criminal prosecutions and corrections, along with the considerable pain and suffering experienced by victims of violent crimes...
When federal, provincial, territorial and First Nations governments work together, they can achieve a great deal to address poverty, build social solidarity, and develop confidence in our governments. Great social advances have come when provinces and territories lead (as in medicare) and work with the federal government (pensions, child benefits, child care). Indeed, the 2010 House of Commons report, Federal Poverty Reduction Plan: Working in Partnership Towards Reducing Poverty in Canada, supported by all parties, outlines what is needed to move forward.
The civic, moral and economic imperatives for poverty eradication are well-established and understood among growing numbers of Canadians. Now is the time for the provinces and territories to call on the federal government to build on their commitments to reduce and eventually eradicate poverty."
2) Megan Yarema (Canada Without Poverty) "Why the Atlantic Provinces are Concerned About EI"
"Some argue that seasonal industries in the Atlantic Provinces, employing almost 20,000 people, are expected to be disproportionately affected. Workers in the shipbuilding, forestry, agriculture and fishing industries rely on the security of EI during the months work is not available. This has been the natural flow of employment for years. News of the changes to EI left Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter, host of the upcoming Council of the Federation meeting, concerned that people will be pushed away from these critical industries causing them to suffer…
The Mowat Centre released a report this month that states that youth, urban centres and immigrant workers will be the groups predominantly affected by EI changes. This counters the concerns of Atlantic Canada, but does not fully ease fears as the report also states that most frequent users of EI are based in Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Under the new rules, frequent users will be forced to take lower wage jobs sooner than other EI claimants. Low wages and unemployment can quickly pave a path to poverty. Without federal supports, provincial resources will be limited in the effect it can have on a social safety net.
Currently, unemployment in Nova Scotia increased 0.4 percentage points over May 2012 to 9.6 per cent (the national average is 7.2 per cent). The decline in May was due to a loss of full time jobs. While the labour force has grown, employment has not kept up with demand. In recent years there has also been a decrease in Nova Scotians accessing EI, a problem that is bound to increase in areas offering seasonal jobs...
If the goal of the budget, titled "Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity Act" is to increase the economic and social well-being of Canadians, then parliamentarians must consider the impact decisions will have on all segments of the population, including the poor. While EI is not meant to focus on poverty reduction, it acts as an important transition tool between employment and often catches people before hitting welfare, the social system of last resort.
Federal and provincial governments should work in tandem to develop appropriate responses to unemployment and low income issues. Forcing individuals to take home less pay is not what will help keep the economy moving or lift people out of poverty."