Liberals pressed on anti-poverty plan as report details child poverty rates

Liberals pressed on anti-poverty plan as report details child poverty rates

OTTAWA — Anti-poverty groups are raising the stakes on the Liberal government's promise to reduce the prevalence of low-income families by detailing child poverty rates in all 338 federal ridings — including the above-average rates facing constituents of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau.

The report released Monday outlined divides inside and between ridings: single-digit rates in parts of Quebec; more than a quarter of children in low-income families in Trudeau's Montreal riding; and in Morneau's downtown Toronto riding that includes the Bay Street corridor, a child poverty rate of 40 per cent — one of the highest in the country.

Rates were the highest in ridings that were home to a large number of visible minorities and recent immigrants, as well as Indigenous People.

Trudeau said the child poverty figures, "which are so alarming," show that action is needed. But he argued the poverty report was out of date and that things have improved with the Liberal's means-tested Canada Child Benefit, among other measures.

"We're going to continue to fight child poverty," he said.

The anti-poverty coalition behind the report, Campaign 2000, hopes the data will prod the government to approve a promised poverty-reduction strategy before next year's federal election and enshrine commitments in legislation so it cannot be undone by a future government.

The plan was expected by the end of the month. Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said Monday it would be out "very soon."

Expectations for the plan's impact hang over concerns that there won't be any new spending attached to the strategy, but rather better co-ordination of existing and promised federal programs.

Conservative critic Karen Vecchio said the Liberals need to ensure that any plan provides flexibility for communities to tackle poverty, rather than having a top-down approach, and take a second look at consumption taxes families pay.

"At the end of a day, if a child is impoverished, that means the family is impoverished, so what are we doing for families and I think that right now, for every dollar that they give, I feel like they're taking a dollar back."

NDP MP Niki Ashton's northern Manitoba riding of Churchill-Keewatinook Aski — a predominantly rural riding home to multiple First Nations — had a child poverty rate of 64.2 per cent, the highest of any constituency and more than three-and-a-half times the national average. She said the Liberals needed to attach new spending to the poverty reduction plan.

"It's not rocket science that equitable funding, fair funding, is part of the solution," she said.

"Certainly what's not good enough is for the government to lay blame on others and to pretend that the (Canada Child Benefit) is going to solve everything."

Duclos said the government knows it can still do more to help low-income families, including pegging increases in the child benefit this summer to inflation — two years ahead of schedule. Duclos touted the change at an event in a Montreal riding with a child-poverty rate of 38 per cent.

Campaign 2000 called on the Liberals to set a target of halving child poverty over the next five years, boost the base amount of the Canada Child Benefit, and create a "dignity dividend" of $1,800 per adult and child who live below the poverty line as a sort of top up to the GST credit.

The coalition also called on the government to expand child-care spending, which has been linked to the low child-poverty rates in Quebec.

"Child poverty is an issue that affects all communities and therefore all MPs and all political parties should be working towards its eradication," said Anita Khanna, national co-ordinator of Campaign 2000, adding each have a stake in the Liberals' poverty reduction strategy.

The latest census found that 17 per cent of children 17 and under lived in low income, or about 1.2 million children overall.

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Jordan Press, The Canadian Press