moved that Bill C-245, An Act concerning the development of a national poverty reduction strategy in Canada, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, none of my Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot constituents were surprised when I introduced Bill C-245 concerning a national poverty reduction strategy. I have worked for community organizations in various capacities and been involved in groups, associations, and cooperatives, so they know that I have always been driven by a desire to reduce poverty in our community.
In choosing to introduce this bill, I have chosen to build on the work of Ed Broadbent. In 1989, he got the House to unanimously approve a motion to eliminate child poverty. I am also building on the work of Tony Martin, a member who was dedicated to laying the groundwork for this bill and working out how best to develop such a strategy. He held consultations and met with anti-poverty groups across Canada. Jean Crowder and several of my other colleagues in the House also took up the torch and fought for this kind of bill.
I would also like to thank all the organizations and individuals across this country who have expressed their support for my bill since I introduced it at first reading on February 26, 2016. I am very proud to have the support of several Canadian anti-poverty organizations.
Federal leadership is needed to reduce poverty. Canada has signed international human rights treaties that require us to make very clear commitments to guarantee each and every Canadian citizen the right to a decent standard of living. Poverty reduction is a non-partisan issue. Every member in the House represents a riding in which poverty is a reality. We all witness this when we return to our ridings. Every time I travel around my riding, Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, I see poverty on the faces of all kinds of people, including children, families, people who live alone, and seniors. When I meet with anti-poverty organizations in Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, I see how hard they are working on the ground to distribute food and clothing to help all those families.
It costs more to do nothing about poverty than it does to address it. We can do something to reduce poverty. Poverty greatly hinders both individual and community development. Grocery store and retail store owners in Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot tell me that they are also concerned about the growing gap between the rich and the poor. When wealth is concentrated in the hands of one group, the purchasing power of regular Canadians keeps diminishing. That is what store owners in my riding are talking to me about. They tell me that they are still struggling to recover from the 2008 economic crisis because too many people continue to get poorer.
Another growing problem these days is that some people are working 40 hours a week and are still poor. Youth employment is increasingly precarious. A third of all young people have part-time employment. The use of food banks is the ultimate proof. Representatives from the Moisson Maskoutaine food bank in my riding tell me that they are seeing a growing number of workers using food banks such as Accueil Fraternel, in Saint-Hyacinthe, or the soup kitchen in Acton Vale. More and more workers need food aid. We also see many immigrants using food aid.
In some Canadian communities the cost of living, including rent and food, is high. We have to put in place a strong social and economic safety net because poverty affects everyone. We should all be concerned by the fact that, in a country as rich as ours, inequality is growing and worrisome.
In this bill I am presenting a very comprehensive poverty reduction strategy. As I mentioned, over the past decade there have been many consultations that have led to the plan put forward by this bill. This bill focuses on our obligation to produce results, not the means. All members of the House should therefore focus on the poverty reduction goal we want to achieve. Voting for this bill at second reading stage will ensure it is referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.
The committee has undertaken a study on poverty that will wrap up next June. By adopting this bill at second reading, the ideas it contains can be discussed at the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. I will be a member of the committee studying poverty until June, since I am replacing my colleague from Churchill—Keewatinook Aski who usually sits on the committee. Some witnesses have already appeared and presented other tools that are consistent with the objective of this bill. Let us at least give ourselves the opportunity to use the ideas in the bill as the basis for the discussions that will take place at the committee and compare them to other ideas that will be presented so that we can make the best possible recommendations when we table our report.
As I said earlier, in 1989, the House unanimously adopted a motion to eliminate child poverty. In 2009, the House of Commons reaffirmed its desire to reduce poverty. We are now at the point where we need more than empty words. We need to establish a real strategy. Establishing a strategy means setting goals: where do we want to be in five or 10 years when it comes to reducing poverty? We also need mechanisms to measure poverty. Right now, in Canada, we still have not agreed on an official definition of poverty. We still have not established how to measure poverty. If we want to be able to see how well a program to eliminate poverty is working from year to year, we have to have mechanisms to measure progress and determine whether poverty has been reduced or not.
That is what my bill proposes. Let us develop mechanisms for measuring poverty so that, year after year, we can take steps toward reducing it. My bill would also add social condition to the Canadian Human Rights Act. We know that poverty is a ground for discrimination, but right now it is not in the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination.
We need mechanisms and indicators, but the most important point that this bill makes is that we, the federal government, need to show leadership in order to reduce poverty, but we cannot do it alone. We need to work with community organizations.
In my riding, like in those of my colleagues, day after day, community organizations work to reduce poverty by giving people food and clothing and helping families in need. In Saint-Hyacinthe, we even have the Fonds d’aide Optimiste, which helps children participate in sports so that poor children can take part in these activities, just like their friends do.
Community organizations in our ridings are doing what needs to be done. They are also working to tackle poverty at its roots because we have to focus not just on the consequences, though that is part of it, but also on the causes. We have to work with these community organizations and truly partner with them.
Municipalities have to be partners in our poverty reduction strategy too. We know they are responsible for providing social housing. In Saint-Hyacinthe, there are 200 households on the waiting list for social housing. I am sure that MPs who meet with these organizations in their ridings will hear about households waiting for social housing. Food banks and soup kitchens cannot meet the demand. Municipalities are putting strategies in place to ensure their services and activities are available to everyone.
We have to partner with the provinces too. Many provinces, including Quebec, already have poverty elimination strategies. Other provinces tell us that Quebec's strategy is a model. Provinces that do not have strategies are thinking of adopting them, and all provinces are urging the federal government to develop its own poverty reduction strategy so we can coordinate our efforts and work better together. That is what it will take to reduce poverty.
Education is a big part of the conversation about poverty, so the provinces are involved at that level too. No child should come to school with an empty stomach. Children's academic performance should not suffer because they move too often or are worried about a parent having lost a job. Such children are less likely than others to graduate or go on to university. Those are some of the effects of poverty, and we have to work with the provinces to tackle the causes of poverty.
Children raised in poverty require more support, and there are costs associated with that. I talked about this earlier. It will be more expensive in the long run to not address poverty and let it persist. Poverty also means more health care costs, as many studies have shown. People living in poverty are ill more often and have a hard time paying for their medication.
Although I represent Quebec's agri-food capital, we still have food deserts, that is, areas where people have little or no access to fresh fruits and vegetables within walking distance. Unfortunately, some people have to get some of their groceries at Dollarama, and that is unacceptable. Everyone knows how important nutrition is to health, so we need to take action on this.
There are too many statistics right now that should frighten us. Having one in seven people living in poverty in Canada is unacceptable. We have a duty to act. The poverty rate is higher in Canada than in the other OECD countries.
When talking about poverty rates, we need to see the face of poverty. For instance, 15% of the children in my riding live in poverty, and among indigenous people, it is one out of every two children. In addition, 6% of seniors in Canada live in poverty, and 63% of low-income, single seniors are women. The median income for seniors in Quebec is $20,200 for those aged 65 to 74, and for those 75 or over it is less than $20,000. There are real people behind the statistics. Lastly, the median income for indigenous people is even less. As for immigrants, they are twice as likely to find themselves living in poverty.
In closing, we must pass this bill at second reading so it can be studied by the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.
We have to think of the faces of poverty in our ridings.
I will close with a quote by Nelson Mandela:
Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.
Together we can make a difference.