Evidence of meeting #25 for Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was banks.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Shawn Pegg  Manager, Policy and Research, Canadian Association of Food Banks
  • Wayne Hellquist  Chief Executive Officer, Regina and District Food Bank, Canadian Association of Food Banks
  • Michael Buda  Acting Deputy Director, Policy, Federation of Canadian Municipalities
  • Michel Frojmovic  Consultant, Federation of Canadian Municipalities
  • Monica Townson  Research Associate, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, As an Individual
  • Chris Sarlo  Professor, Department of Economics, Nipissing University, As an Individual

10:45 a.m.

Liberal

Ruby Dhalla Brampton—Springdale, ON

In developing a national anti-poverty strategy--and it's the reason I ask the question--do you think we need to take into account the stigma and perhaps the stereotypes attached to these cultural communities in terms of accessing resources?

10:45 a.m.

Manager, Policy and Research, Canadian Association of Food Banks

Shawn Pegg

Absolutely. I'll give you an example of how we deal with this day to day. We get very strong feedback from our members that they don't want to ask people what ethnic group they're from or what language they speak. They don't want to stigmatize certain people. They don't want to pinpoint certain people as being more likely to be living in poverty. And I think we need to address that.

There are reasons people are poor. We need to address the fact that there are larger conditions that lead to certain avenues of stratification. We need to take the focus away from the idea that it's their own fault when people are poor.

10:45 a.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Regina and District Food Bank, Canadian Association of Food Banks

Wayne Hellquist

I will add to that. I don't think that any particular individual, family, or group makes a decision to be poor. It's based on a set of circumstances, for the most part, that they have little or no control over. Whatever we come up with as a national strategy has to be culturally sensitive. We need to take into consideration the fact that there are cultural reasons that groups will or will not access certain services. Whatever we do in terms of a national strategy has to be comprehensive enough that it takes into consideration those issues as well. They are very important to the people who come to the food banks. They want to be served in a culturally sensitive manner, and it's a challenge to be able to do that.

10:45 a.m.

Liberal

Ruby Dhalla Brampton—Springdale, ON

Thank you.

My next question is for Michael from the FCM.

You've done extensive work in regards to advocating for the issue of affordable housing and homelessness. I know you came out with a report a few months ago on a national strategy and an action plan. Many of you have discussed the importance of having good social programs that are going to deal with the issue of addressing poverty. You know as well that the three major programs that are providing funding for affordable housing and homelessness are due for expiry at the end of this year: the affordable housing program, the homelessness partnership initiative, and the residential rehabilitation program, which in particular deals with providing the lower socio-economic demographic with assistance.

What would be the impact on the people who are living in conditions of poverty or who are poor, if these programs were to be cancelled?

10:45 a.m.

Acting Deputy Director, Policy, Federation of Canadian Municipalities

Michael Buda

Michel could likely provide some background on some of the trends we've seen in housing and homelessness that we reported on in January, actually just prior to the release of our national action plan through the quality of life reporting system.

Broadly speaking, some positive momentum has been built. That momentum will come to a crashing halt if these programs are not renewed. It's not to say that these programs don't need to be reviewed carefully and perhaps redesigned. Surely one of the things we're very clearly calling for is a long-term extension, as spoken about before, about the need for certainty in order to allow for planning. Yes, indeed, there is a risk that some of the positive momentum that we've built over the last few years will come to a halt. What we really need to do, though, is look at how to solve some of these problems permanently rather than just having a mandate.

10:45 a.m.

Bloc

The Vice-Chair Yves Lessard

That's complete? Then we'll now hear from Mr. Gourde.

April 17th, 2008 / 10:45 a.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, QC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

I would like to thank the witnesses who are here today. This is very interesting.

I would also like to congratulate the Canadian Association of Food Banks. It consists of individuals who are often on the front line helping people in need, who no doubt are hungry. You must often work with the municipalities and community groups that can provide you with premises, which helps you.

It can also be said that many private businesses, and even the Canadian public, are relatively generous in giving money to your groups for food banks. It is also true that the municipalities undoubtedly have to work with the provincial government and with the federal government.

In your view, to find a way to determine the poverty line, to help guide us, do you think the market basket might be a fair measure or would it be more the low-income cut-off? The fact that the situation is not the same in urban areas must also be taken into account. The cost of housing there is undoubtedly higher than in rural areas. On the other hand, travelling expenses are higher in rural areas.

Could the market basket be a fairer measure of poverty?

If you have any other advice to give us, I'd like to hear all the witnesses on that subject.

10:50 a.m.

Manager, Policy and Research, Canadian Association of Food Banks

Shawn Pegg

I don't think you need to choose one. I think the market basket measure measures one thing and the low-income cut-off measures another. It is important to measure income inequality. I think it is important because income inequality is an indicator of social exclusion. My answer is, don't pick one.

10:50 a.m.

Consultant, Federation of Canadian Municipalities

Michel Frojmovic

I'd like to respond to that.

Certainly you don't have to pick one. The issue, though, is that we don't have the choice right now. We don't have the functional market basket measure to draw from, and that would be quite helpful. The LICO does that a little bit in that it allows you to distinguish between large cities versus smaller communities, but it's still not fine enough an analysis. If there was a nationally recognized, locally relevant measure of a basket of goods--it won't be easy, none of this will be easy, it will be debated no matter what you do--that at least captured the dynamics among large cities, small cities, and rural communities, that would be helpful. LICO will always be helpful. It's a great analytical tool, it's very accessible, but it's not enough. So it would be nice to have the choice.

10:50 a.m.

Research Associate, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, As an Individual

Monica Townson

I think it's too simplistic to think it's a choice between the market basket measure and the LICO. There are all kinds of different gradations of this. For example, international comparisons are based on income less than 60% of the median, so they don't use the LICO, and they don't use the MBM to make an international comparison.

I think it's too complex to just zero in on one and say this is the one we're going to focus on. You probably need a combination of different aspects, depending on what you want to look at in terms of what poverty issues you're trying to address.

10:50 a.m.

Bloc

The Vice-Chair Yves Lessard

Mr. Sarlo, would you like to answer that question as well?

10:50 a.m.

Prof. Chris Sarlo

Thank you.

First of all, I'm on record as having real difficulties with the LICO measure. I don't regard that as a very useful technical tool for measurement. I think that if we're interested in a genuinely relative measure, we ought to use something like 50% or 60% of median after-tax income or some of the social exclusion measures that have been used in Great Britain. I think those are much preferable to LICO. My understanding is that one reason the market basket measure was developed was in response to provincial dissatisfaction with the LICO.

I'm also on record, for at least 10 years, as advocating that we do use two measures, a relative and an absolute. I happen to feel that absolute captures what most people understand in terms of poverty. If we listen again to Ed Broadbent's comments when he spoke passionately in Parliament about child poverty, he wasn't talking about social exclusion. He wasn't talking about inequality. He was talking about hunger and ill-housed and ill-clothed and so on--terms that you can get at only if you use an absolute measure.

So I think that's widespread. I think people understand an absolute conception of poverty when they think of that term, so I would prefer to use that in linking poverty to the national issue that we're talking about, but continue to measure both absolute and relative, so that we have the information before us.

10:50 a.m.

Bloc

The Vice-Chair Yves Lessard

We'll complete our round with Mr. Martin, from the NDP.

10:55 a.m.

NDP

Tony Martin Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Thank you very much.

I wanted to, first of all, say to Mr. Lake that I understand some of what he's been putting on the table here the last couple of days. I don't think anybody out there who is living in poverty often sees himself as being poor, but as Mr. Cuzner said on Tuesday, we do know somebody down the road who's dirt poor. So it's fairly relative.

I know that in my own case, growing up in a working-class family with seven kids and no benefit package, I didn't realize I was having any difficulties until into my teen years, when my folks actually did get a benefit package, and I began to be able to get my teeth fixed. The cheapest option for us as a family was to just get them pulled, and after my brother had lost all his, and I was on the same track, I realized that I needed to do something different. As a teenager, there's nothing worse, in terms of social exclusion, than bad teeth.

I just wanted to go back to this idea of what we should include, what we should measure. We've heard this morning, on a number of occasions, about the issue of the basic necessities. The question I have is, what are the basic necessities?

Maybe, Monica, to give you a chance to respond to the previous question, which was the social inclusion question, we'll start with you.

10:55 a.m.

Research Associate, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, As an Individual

Monica Townson

Social inclusion or social exclusion definitely should be measured.

You may be familiar with the United Nations definition of poverty, which is based on what they call a human rights definition, and it talks about being poor as being excluded from society, that social inclusion is definitely an issue. So we should be measuring social exclusion and not simply focusing on income or basic necessities.

Most of the jurisdictions in Europe that have developed comprehensive anti-poverty strategies do measure social exclusion. Ireland does, the U.K. does, and other European countries do.

The Irish situation, which you may be familiar with, has a whole list that says these are things people should be entitled to. Talking about basic necessities, we may find some of these interesting. They are a warm home, a warm coat, shoes, a roast once a week—things like that—the ability to invite friends over once a week, be able to go to a movie once a week. We might not consider these basic necessities, but what it says is, I think, if people are lacking more than two of those, then they should be considered to be socially excluded.

In other words, you look at some of the things that are common in your particular culture, and you say people should be able to have what other people have within reason. So social exclusion definitely should be measured, and I think we should take that into account along with income. It shouldn't just be deprivation.

There were years when we would have said having an outside toilet was fine, and then having an inside toilet became a necessity. I read somewhere recently that having a telephone is considered a basic necessity now, whereas it might not have been 50 years ago, and the suggestion was made in this article that eventually having connection to the Internet may be considered a basic necessity.

So this changes over time, depending on the society you live in, but we need to be giving thought to that, as the jurisdictions that are having success in anti-poverty strategies have done. They mostly have a combination of those basic necessities or social exclusion measures along with some kind of income measure too.