Good morning, and thank you for the opportunity to speak to you this morning.
The health centre is a non-profit government organization with a mission to support north end Halifax to be a healthy community by offering leadership in primary health care, education, and advocacy. We operate within a collaborative health care model, which includes attention to the social determinants of health. Poverty is a key determinant of health. The evidence is clear that reducing poverty will help to contain provincial health care expenditures.
First and foremost, we recommend to the federal government that they play a critical role in ensuring that the tax system benefits all Canadians, and we recommend the establishment of a federal government poverty reduction strategy. Canada needs a long-term plan with clear goals to prevent and reduce poverty and inequality. To be effective, it must have indicators and targets so that governments and leaders can be held accountable for the distribution of resources.
Canada has a $1.3 trillion economy, which has doubled in real terms over the past 25 years, making it the ninth largest in the world. Despite this growth, we have forgotten those who are challenged in their ability to participate in our economy.
For reasons including racism, Nova Scotians of aboriginal and African descent are excluded in large numbers from the economy. Our business community is challenged in providing newcomers with work experience. People who are permanently disabled, single-parent mothers with young children, and other marginalized groups depend on social assistance rates that are lower today than they were 10 years ago. These individuals and families with small children are left to survive with incomes significantly below designated poverty lines.
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development suggests that the idea that “the best social policy is a job” does not necessarily apply in Canada, when wages don't cover the cost of shelter, child care, and basic necessities and when 60% of workers are ineligible for unemployment. Policy is needed that brings down the cost of housing and child care to a level that low-income parents can afford or brings up their incomes to a level that allows them to support their families.
There is lots of evidence suggested through organizations like the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation that rents in Halifax are not affordable.
We spoke this morning about the Halifax explosion. I think something that's not commonly understood is that the first social housing in Canada was a result of the Halifax explosion, the Hydrostone project. It's private housing at this time. However, it was a response to that crisis, and we are in a housing crisis in our community.
Mulgrave Park is another social housing development from the 1960s in the same area as the Halifax explosion. It is hurting hard today. It's not a place where people want to live and it's because it is a place where we throw the absolute homeless. It's not mixed housing, as social housing should be, and it's not an attractive place to live.
We have a large number of condos in the area of the Halifax explosion now. The value of people's property over the last 10 years or so has increased at least 50%, so it's not affordable for people with low income or low wages. We need our government to address this.
In 2006, the child poverty report card for Nova Scotia reported that the proportion of child poverty in Nova Scotian households where one adult has a full-time job is increasing. In 2004, 10.4% of children in families where one adult was working for a full year lived in poverty, up from 1998.
In 2004, the Government of Nova Scotia had a surplus of $165 million. The surplus all went to the debt. Like the federal government, we don't have a poverty reduction strategy in our province. The reality of people who are marginalized is not acknowledged. They're excluded. They're forgotten about.
In 2006, the Ontario-based task force on modernizing income security for working-age adults, which was an unprecedented coalition of business people, labour groups, academics, not-for-profit groups, and think tank leaders, released their report, “Time for a Fair Deal”. The report called for a fundamental reform of Canada’s income security programs for working-age adults, particularly for those with low incomes and the disabled.
These findings are similar to the observations made in 2006 by the United Nations covenant on economic, social and cultural rights on the status of Canada. This report reveals that the levels of food insecurity and food bank use, which are at an all-time high, point to the need for a national poverty reduction strategy in our country.
Health Canada's office of nutrition policy and promotion reported in 2004 that 2.7 million Canadians, or almost 9% of the population, lived in food-insecure households. The rate of household food insecurity in Nova Scotia at that time was almost 15%, the highest in our country.
In 2006 the majority of food bank recipients in Nova Scotia were single adults and single parents, mostly on social assistance. A large percentage of those people were either disabled or working in low-paying jobs.
Solutions to address food insecurity require public policy change. We need a poverty reduction strategy in both our province and our country.
Minimum wage must be increased to reflect a living wage. American economists, some of whom were recognized with the Nobel Peace Prize, have recommended gradual increases to the minimum wage. They concluded that, “While controversy about the precise employment effects of the minimum wage continues, research has shown that most of the beneficiaries are adults, most are female, and the vast majority are members of low-income working families.”
Tax reforms are needed to support low-income families. In March 2006 the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released a report indicating that the present government's tax cuts disproportionately benefit high-income families. The analysis found that high-income families receive a disproportionate share of--