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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

10:30 a.m.

Manager, Policy and Research, Canadian Association of Food Banks

Shawn Pegg

One thing that we haven't talked about today is something called the nutritious food basket. It is, I would think, an absolute measure of poverty in terms of healthy eating. It's not very widespread in Canada. There have been nutritious food baskets created for Toronto, for Edmonton, and possibly for Hamilton, and a few other municipalities across the country.

I don't want to compare it with Mr. Sarlo's way of measuring absolute poverty, but it is certainly something to look at. It's something that we use a lot in looking at the role of nutrition in health, the role of health in relation to poverty, and then we get into the whole conversation about what are the social determinants of health. That's another thing we haven't talked about today—

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Lynne Yelich Conservative Blackstrap, SK

We'll start with deprivation. We will agree on that.

10:35 a.m.

Manager, Policy and Research, Canadian Association of Food Banks

Shawn Pegg

You definitely have to look at it, yes.

10:35 a.m.

Consultant, Federation of Canadian Municipalities

Michel Frojmovic

I mentioned earlier on that I'd like to come back to the question of the market basket measure. The FCM, early on, had developed something called a community affordability measure, which at some point actually had members of this technical team in different Canadian cities going out to grocery stores and physically coming up with a basket of goods. It was trying to get at, essentially, a deprivation index.

We used that measure early on, but it proved unsustainable for these individuals in their municipalities to literally go out and come up with estimates of housing costs and food costs and a range of costs on their free time. The methodology seemed good and useful but, in terms of delivering on it, was difficult to sustain. So in that sense, absolutely a starting point is in terms of what are your basic needs, and in the case of FCM, it would be basic needs varying quite a bit across cities, which is true for you as well.

Your predecessor, Human Resources Development Canada, had developed the market basket measure and published that in 2002. We used that MBM in our previous quality of life report, in fact, in the 2004 one. That was looking at a market basket for the year 2000. We found it quite compelling, but since then we have not heard of the follow-up, and there's the sustainability of being able to measure these things.

So on the one hand, absolutely coming up with a way of measuring a basket of goods--a mix of grocery items and other basic needs, shelter, clothing, and transportation being among them--would be really helpful, but clearly there is a sustainability issue of how long you can keep measuring that in different cities. If you can get it right...and certainly at FCM, we just had a technical team meeting last week where we talked about whether we want to try to do this again, whether we want to send staff out into the grocery stores again this year.

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Lynne Yelich Conservative Blackstrap, SK

You're asking for a strategy. We need something we can work with. We have such a huge country. For smaller countries or for your cities it's easy, but we have very big.....

However, I think we have two others who still wanted to ask questions.

10:35 a.m.

Bloc

The Vice-Chair Bloc Yves Lessard

Thank you, Ms. Yelich.

Now we'll move on to Mr. Ménard, from the Bloc Québécois.

10:35 a.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I'm going to ask a general question, and I'll be very pleased to hear the opinion of the federation, Mr. Sarlo and other witnesses who wish to speak on the subject.

The federal government is currently intervening in a number of ways in the fight against poverty. With regard to Aboriginal people, it has a fiduciary responsibility, a department and significant budgets. The various governments have withdrawn from social housing. There are mainly revenue transfers to individuals, through the tax benefit, the old age pension and the Guaranteed Income Supplement. There are also transfers to the provinces.

Having regard to the fact that the highly determinant factors for poverty are very much related to health, education, welfare and to methods of entering the labour force, is it realistic to think that the impulse to combat poverty can come from the federal government? Is it realistic to request a national strategy? Shouldn't we now argue in favour of increasing transfers to the provinces so that, with their own expertise, they can win this battle?

Incidentally, one measure could be taken immediately. The governments have delayed in doing it. That is to state in the Canadian Human Rights Act that social condition is a prohibited ground of discrimination. That provision would have made it possible to invalidate certain acts passed by the Liberals and Conservatives.

Don't you think the best way to win the fight against poverty is to increase the transfers borne by the provinces to implement the programs?

First I'd like to hear from the federation, with your permission, then Mr. Sarlo and the other witnesses who wish to speak.

Mr. Chairman, that's a non-partisan question, like we like them.

10:35 a.m.

Acting Deputy Director, Policy, Federation of Canadian Municipalities

Michael Buda

FCM believes that municipalities are an order of government, but they are clearly within provincial jurisdiction. However, having said that, we believe that the problem of poverty and eradicating poverty is so large, and it has such a significant impact on national prosperity, that it is going to require the participation of all three orders of government. Having said that, we are always very careful and always very clear in saying that federal support for, in this case, poverty reduction in cities and communities must always respect provincial jurisdiction over cities and communities.

In terms of how that's done, whether it's federal–provincial programs or federal transfers to provinces so they can run their own programs, we don't get involved in that because federal–provincial relations are outside of the scope of our organization. So I wouldn't want to comment specifically on that. The message I would leave is that we do believe these kinds of problems are large enough, and the impacts are national in scope, that each order of government has a very important part to play.

How those parts are played out—transfers versus federal–provincial programs—we'll leave that up to federal and provincial governments.

10:40 a.m.

Bloc

The Vice-Chair Bloc Yves Lessard

Mr. Sarlo.

10:40 a.m.

Prof. Chris Sarlo

I would agree with the previous speaker. I think a national approach is preferable.

This is a problem because of the difficulties we've had in the past keeping our commitments. Canadians are watching, and I think other people in the world are watching. We need to take this to the national level, ideally with the cooperation of the provinces. And I would urge you not to forget another group--it's not a single group--which is the private sector and helping organizations. There are a variety of groups and an increasing number of people who could be instrumental in this process.

The other thing I picked up on from one of the speakers is the importance of one-on-one. I've urged that for a long time. The character of poverty has changed over the years, and I think part of any plan should include that kind of personal attention to individuals.

Those are my comments.

10:40 a.m.

Bloc

The Vice-Chair Bloc Yves Lessard

Ms. Townson.

10:40 a.m.

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

Monica Townson

I think a national strategy is preferable because it focuses the energy.

Quebec is a unique case in that it was the first jurisdiction to implement a comprehensive anti-poverty strategy, and it's been going for several years now. It produces an annual report. It's doing very well. Unfortunately, there's only one other province doing the same kind of thing, and that's Newfoundland and Labrador. So the fact that Quebec is doing so well doesn't mean that everybody else would too.

Plus, there are programs within federal jurisdiction, such as the ones I mentioned--the pension system and the EI system--although Quebec is the exception there, too, in that it has its own maternity benefits program through EI.

Altogether, there are things the federal government could do, but it needs to be comprehensive and done in conjunction with the provinces and probably also with the municipalities.

10:40 a.m.

Bloc

The Vice-Chair Bloc Yves Lessard

I now invite Ms. Dhalla to ask her questions.

10:40 a.m.

Liberal

Ruby Dhalla Liberal Brampton—Springdale, ON

Thank you very much, all of you, for your insightful comments.

I think all of us around this table would agree that poverty is a complex issue that has multi-dimensional facets and hence requires very comprehensive and detailed solutions. I think all of us, with our desire to study the issue, really want to ensure that there are solutions and that the report is actually going to be tangible and will be used by the federal government to come up with a national strategy. I know that all of you have done extensive work in that regard.

My first question is for Shawn, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in my office last month. We had the opportunity to discuss some of the work the food banks are doing across the country to deal with the issue.

Perhaps, for the rest of the committee members, you could identify for us.... We've seen that some demographics within the country are more impacted by poverty than others--recent immigrants, the aboriginal population, single mothers, and women. Do you think that within the immigrant communities, for those who are living in poverty, there is a stigma attached to accessing food banks?

10:40 a.m.

Manager, Policy and Research, Canadian Association of Food Banks

Shawn Pegg

That's a difficult question to answer.

We did discuss this. We did discuss the fact that.... There aren't really South Asian food banks, and there aren't really Chinese food banks directed at particular ethnic groups. You see the same sorts of things with other social services. Certain groups--they might not be the ones you would expect, or they might be the ones you would expect--are not going to look within their own communities for help because of the stigma that's attached.

So yes, that is definitely an issue. I don't know if that answers your question.

10:45 a.m.

Liberal

Ruby Dhalla Liberal 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 Liberal 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 Bloc Yves Lessard

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

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

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Conservative 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.