Last month, the federal government released Budget 2018. The Dignity for All (DFA) campaign was encouraged to see two positive anti-poverty measures linked to income security included in Budget 2018: indexing the Canada Child Benefit (CCB) and strengthening the Working Income Tax Benefit (WITB), now called the Canada Workers Benefit (CWB). We also applaud the robust funding dedicated to programs supporting Indigenous, First Nations, and Métis communities.
At the same time, the DfA campaign was also profoundly disappointed that this budget did not include any dedicated funding for the Canadian Poverty Reduction Strategy (CPRS), despite indications that it will be released this year. Without funding a comprehensive anti-poverty strategy with effective, evidence-based policies, millions of people living in poverty in Canada will continue to be left behind.
Here is a quick breakdown of how Budget 2018 relates to the six main policy areas of DfA’s model national anti-poverty plan:
Budget 2018 announced the creation of an advisory council on the implementation of national pharmacare. Canada remains the only country with a universal healthcare system but without a pharmacare program – and the impact is notable: one in ten people in Canada cannot afford to fill their prescriptions. The announcement indicated that the federal government will be forming an advisory committee to explore options or a national pharmacare program, with the committee set to report back in 2019. Given how much research has already shown the positive economic impact of universal pharmacare access, we do not need another committee – we need action.
Jobs & Employment
No living wage policy was included in Budget 2018 We did make some headway in terms of pay equity, in the form of upcoming legislation to address the gender wage gap, but only for the federally-regulated sector. According to estimates contained within Budget 2018, this legislation has the potential to “reduce the gender wage gap by about 2.7 cents for the core public administration (to 94.1 cents on the dollar), and by about 2.6 cents in the federal private sector (to 90.7 cents on the dollar).” The government is also set to host a symposium related to the gender wage gap in the spring of 2019.
There was no National Food Policy announced or funded in Budget 2018. However, like the CPRS, the National Food Policy is expected to be released later this year. The budget did not include any improvements to the Nutrition North Canada program as called for by DfA.
While we are glad to see funding directed to improving conditions on reserves, it is very disappointing that some of these communities will have to wait until as long as March 2021 to have all long-term drinking water advisories lifted; there are currently 81 long-term, on reserve, drinking water advisories in effect. The fact that such conditions exist in the first place is unacceptable.
On parental leave, the budget added an additional five weeks to a non-birthing parent at 55 percent of their income. This is still three weeks short of the eight weeks DfA has called for. It’s worth noting that Quebec provides this leave at a higher rate – 70 percent of income – with an uptake by 80 percent of new fathers in Quebec. Comparatively, just 12 percent of non-birthing parents living in Canada take any form of parental leave. Clearly the Quebec model is a good indicator of how the additional time provided by this policy plays out in the lives of families and is a step in the right direction.
Early Childhood Education & Care
Budget 2018 included a funding allocation of $7.5 billion over 11 years for childcare. This is far from the universally accessible childcare and early education policies that DfA has been calling for. The international benchmark for spending by OECD countries on early learning and childcare is 1% of GDP. Yet Canada does not even come close to meeting this minimum standard, even with this new funding. Childcare remains a significant barrier for women’s equal access to the Canadian workforce.
It is estimated that the low-fee, universally-accessible childcare system in Quebec directly contributed to 70,000 more mothers entering the workforce and an increase in gross domestic income of 1.7 per cent – around $5 billion. Not only is childcare for all the right thing to do, it also makes sense from an economic standpoint.
Housing & Homelessness
Last November, the government announced their National Housing Strategy, which included a rights-based framework and strong funding: 40 billion dollars over a ten-year period. As it stands, three million Canadian households are precariously housed, and 1.3 million people living in Canada experience homelessness in the last five years. While the launch of the NHS was significant as the first national housing plan and one that promises to take a rights-based approach to housing and homelessness, programs within it – like the Canada Housing Benefit – will not begin to roll out until 2020.
It is critical that the upcoming CPRS contains legislation to protect and entrench the plan in Canadian law so that it cannot be undone by shifting political climates. The funding of a national poverty reduction strategy is urgent and needs to be entrenched in legislation before October 2019, to ensure that Canada’s first national poverty plan is here to stay.
One this is for sure: Budget 2019 will need to make significant investment in a CPRS to meet the needs of the 4.8 million people in Canada living in poverty.