British Columbia is now the only province in Canada without a poverty reduction strategy despite having one of the highest poverty rates in Canada.
Yesterday, Tuesday, September 27, 2016, the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition hosted a press conference in Victoria to highlight the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) motion to support the creation and implementation of a Poverty Reduction Strategy for the Province of British Columbia. The resolution will be voted on this morning.
24 municipalities have passed resolutions in support of a poverty reduction plan for BC with legislated targets and timelines, expressing a strong collective call from local governments for provincial responsibility and action to address the root causes of poverty in BC. The UBCM has unanimously passed resolutions in support of this call since 2009; and the BC Select Standing Committee on Government and Finance Services has recommended a provincial poverty reduction plan for the last three years. When will the government start listening to British Columbians?
Hosted by Jeremy Loveday, Victoria city councillor, the crowd at the event had the opportunity to hear the concerns and hopes of local councillors from different regions throughout BC as they urged the provincial government to listen and take action on poverty, homelessness and inequality.
Councillor Rob Southcott never thought he would see homelessness in Powell River but it is now on the rise in his community. “With a below 1 per cent vacancy rate, the intense competition for housing translates into people with means getting housing while people without means don’t and end up sleeping rough. Housing is a crisis even in our small communities in BC.”
Michael Prevost, councillor from Terrace, has seen rents increase from $500 to $1500 and says “we are not prepared for the social challenges of a resource boom. We are failing our citizens. A poverty reduction plan for BC would allow businesses and community members to address basic needs around housing, health, employment and food security.”
“It’s affecting our local economies,” highlighted Andrea Reimer, councillor from Vancouver “Businesses can’t find workers because workers can’t find housing.”
“We don’t need shelters,” says Hilary Marks, a local homeless shelter worker. “We don’t need food banks. We need a poverty reduction plan for BC. Please help!”
Trish Garner with the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition stressed that “poverty is bad for all of us. Homeless people die half a lifetime younger. Children in poverty are not growing up happy and healthy. The health of all of us suffers from living in an unequal society; and our province is down 8 to 9 billion dollars each year paying for the costs of poverty.”
Many city councils are doing what they can at the local level in the absence of strong provincial investment according to Vera LeFranc, Surrey city councillor, who advocates for “good access to childcare, affordable housing, transportation and raising incomes. Moving the dial on any of these things makes a huge difference.”
“The problem is moving into the middle class,” says Valerie Warmington, councillor from Nelson and coordinator of Nelson At Its Best, their local poverty reduction strategy. “Full time, working people are not able to make ends meet. So many issues facing our communities are provincial responsibilities.”
A provincial poverty reduction plan needs to raise incomes – welfare has been frozen for almost a decade now and the minimum wage is below the poverty line – and address the affordability crunch that most of us are feeling these days through investment in social housing, childcare, health and education. There also need to be targeted commitments to the most marginalized communities.
In closing, Garner said, “while our communities are different, it is striking how similar the challenges are. The housing crisis is a central theme throughout BC.”
“It’s clear that we care about our communities and this collective call is an expression of that.”
The question is, does the provincial government care?