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Moving towards a poverty-free Canada

Dignity, inclusion and empowerment are some of the buzzwords found within the August release of Canada’s first Poverty Reduction Strategy, Opportunity for All. The strategy announced by Minister Jean-Yves Duclos provides a solid base for the anti-poverty community to celebrate the feat, as well as regroup advocacy efforts around one common goal: a Canada without poverty.

On October 30th, the Dignity for All Campaign (DFA) hosted a stakeholder strategy summit following on the launch of the federal poverty reduction strategy (CPRS). The summit brought together partners in the anti-poverty movement to discuss and analyze the CPRS and to look ahead to options for collaboration and advocacy in moving the strategy forward.

Led by DFA coordinating organizations, Canada Without Poverty (CWP) and Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ), the group engaged in a critical analysis of Opportunity for All, while deliberating the logistics of a cohesive advocacy plan for the future of the movement. With the national Chew on This! campaign garnering the highest level of participation from organizations across the country, this was a pivotal time for stakeholders to discuss “what’s next” in the push for national leadership to eliminate poverty.

The summit gathered groups working on social policy in a number of areas, including income security, housing and homelessness, health, child poverty, food security, employment, and taxation. The vibrant discussion coming from the wealth of knowledge in the room highlighted the sections of the CPRS that are lacking. It was also important to bring forward ideas around how to collectively strengthen the current plan, ensuring it effectively responds to the urgent needs facing people living in poverty.

Joe Gunn, CPJ’s Executive Director, knows that this is a crucial time for joint advocacy. “In order to ensure that Canada’s first-ever CPRS contributes in concrete ways to the well-being of people living in poverty, the on-going engagement of many sectors of civil society is essential, especially people with lived experience [of poverty]” he said.

Gunn also noted why this is in many ways the start of a real action plan; requiring a strengthened and unified approach: “The issues are complex, the needs immediate, and government will not succeed on its own. Sessions that bring our movements together, share strategies and build active and larger momentum are essential for citizens to guarantee the most robust CPRS possible.”

Following the launch of the strategy, the federal government tabled Bill C-87, the Poverty Reduction Act this November. Although the Act lacks attached funding or adequate mention of a human-rights based framework, it sets an official poverty line with clear targets and establishes a National Advisory Council on Poverty.  We agreed that this is another important opportunity for civil society and the movement to engage with the new poverty line and the Market Basket Measure (MBM), and hold to account the National Advisory Council.

DFA’s summit highlighted key policy priorities and strategic entry points as we move forward in collaborative action, even more so as we move toward an election year. An important part of our effort will be bringing a strong understanding of dignity to this political moment while addressing the opportunity to incorporate our recommendations. It will also involve pushing for further ambition, coherence and investments in the strategy, along with a strong, rights-based accountability framework and claiming mechanisms.

Despite the necessary improvements for the plan, we are all encouraged with the strategy’s release. “For decades, we never would have expected a federal anti-poverty strategy – and certainly not one that referenced human rights. Though this strategy is not to the standard we were hoping for, this is a moment to be celebrated.” Says Deputy Director at CWP, Harriett McLachlan.

Our collective values aim to ensure the services and programs provided to individuals living in poverty are based in dignity and represent the complexity of people’s lives. Constructive critiques and dialogue regarding the MBM, the proposed targets and the National Advisory Council will only allow for a stronger, more comprehensive strategy for all.

The stakes are high for ensuring the Poverty Reduction Act really is an “Opportunity for All”, and not a missed opportunity.

What we cannot forget is that the gaps in the strategy translate to failures for real people’s lives. It is more important than ever to work together for a plan to end poverty in Canada.

Alexandra Zannis is a Placement Student at Canada Without Poverty in the Carleton Bachelor of Social Work program.

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