House of Commons Hansard #201 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was crime.


Government Services Act, 1999Adjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I recently had the opportunity to ask a question of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources Development. It had to do with poverty measures.

By way of background, Statistics Canada has a measure called low income cutoff. It measures poverty on a relative basis, which basically means that Canadians are looked at as to how their requirements for food, clothing and shelter match up to the average Canadian expenditure.

The low income cutoff has measured poverty in Canada to be at a rate of 17%. In December of last year the United Nations committee dealing with such matters addressed poverty. With regard to Canada, even the Government of Canada made representations that it does not consider the low income cutoff to be an official poverty line.

As a result, the UN committee made a recommendation that Canada must adopt an official poverty line so that we can properly measure poverty in Canada in order to properly target our resources available and measure our progress.

I understand the federal and provincial governments are looking at another measure called the market basket measure. That is more an absolute measure of poverty. It looks at how much is required for basic necessities as well as certain provisions for participation in society so that Canadians would be able to fit in, as it were.

The proposed market basket measure right now would measure poverty in Canada at 12%. That is five percentage points lower than the LICO measure, or a 40% decline.

My concern would be that Canadians will start asking questions about whether we have reduced poverty in Canada simply by redefining what we mean by poverty. I do not believe that is the case. I hope the parliamentary secretary might be able to shed some light.

In 1989 the Campaign 2000 coalition identified that there were one million children living in poverty. In 1998 it reported a figure 50% higher, that 1.5 million children were living in poverty. That was used in the LICO measure.

If we look at the LICO measure we see that 40% of the people who are poor own their own homes. In addition, of those 50% do not even have mortgages. It is very clear to me that the low income cutoff measure is not an appropriate measure of poverty in Canada and that something more akin to a market basket measure may be appropriate.

Canadians should be engaged in a dialogue about what constitutes poverty in Canada. We need to define poverty so that we can better measure, target programs and convince Canadians that we have made progress and not fallen behind as shown by the low income cutoff.

Canadians have been exposed to what I think is called sympathy fatigue. If the numbers get far too large people do not believe them any more. For that reason I believe the UN committee is correct in recommending that Canada adopt an official poverty line. I am hopeful the government will look carefully at the proposition and engage Canadians so that when we establish a poverty line in Canada everybody understands it and accepts it.

Government Services Act, 1999Adjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.

Oakville Ontario


Bonnie Brown LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Human Resources Development

Mr. Speaker, like almost all industrial countries other than the U.S.A., Canada does not have an official measure of poverty.

Since the early sixties Statistics Canada low income cutoffs have often been used as measures of poverty by journalists and by advocacy groups. These cutoffs calculate low income as compared to the average family income.

In 1990 Statistics Canada introduced a second measure called the low income measure which calculates income levels both before and after income taxes relative to the median or middle income level. This is comparable to the way the United Nations calculates international comparisons of poverty.

Today many in Canada favour the development of a third measure, a market basket measure that takes into account the cost of people's essential needs like food, clothing, shelter and essential services.

To adopt an official measure of poverty in Canada, parliament would have to agree on the form such a measure would take and at what income level the measure would be set.

Currently there is no consensus about how to appropriately measure poverty. Most people seem to agree that we need to broaden our understanding of poverty. We believe it is prudent to have a number of complementary measures based on different concepts of poverty. Trends using these various measures can then be followed over time.

Any new measures that we would look at would complement, not replace, existing measures like the LICOs or the LIMs and would build on our knowledge of the real conditions of low income Canadians.

Government Services Act, 1999Adjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 o'clock pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6.48 p.m.)