Make Poverty History Presents at the Standing Committee on Finance Pre-Budget Consultations
Last week I had the opportunity to attend Make Poverty History's presentation to the Standing Committee on Finance. The committee is holding its pre-budget consultations. Make Poverty History presented to members of the committee and submitted a brief containing five recommendations for the Federal 2011 budget. Make Poverty History's brief to the committee can be found here.
Dennis Howlett from Make Poverty History and Lorraine McCarthy from Campaign 2000 were the presenters. They stressed the importance of investing in a poverty-reduction strategy for Canada and ensuring that Canada invests its fair share in global aid to meet the United Nation's Millennium Development Goals by 2015. They pointed out that it is the poor in Canada and the poorest in the developing world who were hit hardest by the economic recession and rather than pulling back on social spending that could cause them further harm Canada needs to step up its efforts.
As Dennis stated “The poor who really didn't get much help both in Canada or globally shouldn't now be the ones to bear an unfair burden of cuts to social programs or cuts to development aid. It's simply not fair”
Tony Martin (NDP) asked the presenters to comment on the impact that not doing anything about poverty has on the economy.
Ms. McCarthy responded that even before the full impact of the recession in 2008 more than 3 million people live in poverty in this country, almost 1 in 10 are children, and for First Nations 1 in 4 children live in poverty. Despite the obvious costs to individual children and their families a group of economists projected that the annual cost of poverty in Canada is between 17 and 20 billion dollars a year. This includes increased costs related to health care, lost productivity due to people not being able to participate in the workforce for reasons such as a lack of affordable child care or accessibility for those with disabilities, and costs associated with the criminal justice system.
Mr. Martin also asked the presenters to comment on the two approaches to eradicating poverty - the charitable model versus a public policy approach.
Ms. McCarthy pointed out that while she works for one of the bigger charities, Family Service Toronto, charities are no substitute for public policies that not only support low-income people but prevent people from falling into poverty. She pointed out that many Canadian families are still recovering from the recession, with household debts at an all time high, and that according to a survey by the Canadian Payroll Association 6 out of 10 employees reported they would have trouble making ends meet if one pay-check was late. So we have to look at preventive strategies as well as strategies to help lift people out of poverty.
Robert Carrier (Bloc Quebecois) noted that as member of the Canada-Africa association for the past 6 years he found the presentation "quite refreshing" and agreed that many initiatives are needed here in Canada and abroad as well.
Particularly interesting were the questions put forward from Massimo Pacetti (Liberal) and Ted Menzies (Conservative) who both questioned the presenters on how much money it would take to be effective.
M. Howlett responded that in regards to domestic poverty Canada does poorly compared to other countries. Many countries in Europe have achieved rates of less than 5% where as we are at 10%. He stressed that we need to shift from the welfare model to investment in human resource development. It's an investment in our future that will pay off in terms of giving people the opportunity to contribute to their full capacity to society.
In regards to international aid, Mr. Howlett noted Canada has made significant contributions and now is not the time to be pulling back. Many people and many countries have escaped poverty and no longer need our assistance, financing their poverty reduction through mobilization of domestic resources, but some countries particularly in Africa still require aid. Other countries are not pulling back but are rather stepping up their efforts. Similarly Canada should continue to increase its efforts to help achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
The full audio and video broadcasts of the hearing can be found here. Unfortunately due to technical difficulties the first part of the hearing was not broadcast.