‘Now’s our chance’: B.C. poverty reduction advocate relieved province taking action

Originally published on CBC News

Longtime poverty reduction advocate Trish Garner says she is excited to have a provincial government in power that she feels wants to reduce poverty in a meaningful way.

The B.C. NDP government announced Monday that it is taking steps to create a provincewide poverty reduction plan

Garner, a community organizer with the B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition, is one of 27 people appointed to a new advisory group that will offer guidance through the strategy’s development. 

Recent numbers released from the Ministry of Poverty Reduction report 678,000 British Columbians live in poverty — the highest number in Canada.

Garner says the high number is largely due to government inaction up to this point.

“Our previous government relied on a jobs plan, which just didn’t work for folks,” Garner told The Early Edition host Rick Cluff. 

“We’ve actually seen over a decade of bad policy keeping people in poverty.”

‘A step in the right direction’

Garner said there’s a more visible presence of people in poverty due to low welfare rates and a lack of affordable housing across the province. 

“We’ve had a step in the right direction … with a $100 increase,” said Garner. “That’s still not enough to cover even housing costs.”

Garner said income assistance should be increased from $710 a month to around $1600, an amount she said reflects the province’s poverty line more realistically.

Many people she’s spoken with work two or three jobs and still live under the poverty line, feeling the squeeze of high rental costs.

She is also a strong proponent of the NDP’s $10-a-day childcare plan. In parts of the province, Garner said childcare is the highest cost for families, surpassing rent in some regions.

Learning from mistakes

Since B.C. is the last province to have a legislated poverty reduction plan, Garner added the government can learn from other provinces and countries when deciding on the best course.

“Now’s our chance to come from behind and lead the way,” said Garner.

“For example, we know Ontario wished they had not just focused on child poverty,” said Garner. “One in five children [live] in poverty in B.C., but if you focus there you miss so much.

“It is a big wish list and it sounds like a lot,” said Garner. “But actually it costs less to do this upfront than to deal with the costs of poverty, which we’re dealing with right now.”

Legislation for the poverty reduction plan won’t be introduced until early next year.