Mr. Speaker, I am so very pleased to rise in the House today to introduce this important bill.
In August, the minister and I were honoured to launch “Opportunity for All - Canada's First Poverty Reduction Strategy”. Today, we are introducing the bill that will make this strategy a reality.
“Opportunity for All” is the government's response to what Canadians have told us about how we can fight poverty.
Over the past year and a half, we have been talking to people across the country to inform them of the development of our national poverty strategy. We have consulted people working on the front lines: researchers, indigenous partners and most importantly, people with lived experience. They have been telling us about the reality of struggling to make ends meet and satisfy basic needs. Essential things, such as providing for the needs of one's children or taking care of one's health, are simply out of reach for far too many people in this country.
We have heard about the plight of vulnerable people, namely seniors, youth, women, the LGBTQ2 community, racialized people, newcomers, persons with disabilities and single parents. It is a tragically long list.
We have heard that the poverty reduction strategy should acknowledge the challenges faced by these specific groups and should contain targeted policies and supports that specifically support them in the lives they lead and in ending their poverty.
We received ideas and insights into different ways to fight poverty. Bill C-87 is an attempt to do two things. First and foremost, it would set a poverty line right across the country. It would do so in a way that has never been done before. It would not simply be a measurement of income against the norm or against the achievable. It would set a poverty line by looking at a basket of consumer goods, such as housing, food and transportation, but would also rate things like access to health care, access to education and meaningful participation in democratic changes in communities.
The poverty line would be set across the country, but most importantly, it would also be regionalized across the country in different centres and different settings. That is because poverty is experienced, measured, felt and understood differently in different communities.
We are also working with indigenous communities to make sure that it reflects their experience and comprehension of what constitutes poverty by measuring the basket of goods they consider critical to a good life in this country.
Understanding poverty in this country in detail, from region to region, from community to community, from sub-population to sub-population and from nation to nation, is critical if we are going to attack it, lift people out of poverty and transform the lives of Canadians.
This project is also about making investments. I know that some have worried that the announcement of the poverty strategy is not attached to a major new set of spending initiatives. There is good reason for that. Our work on eliminating poverty did not begin with the formulation of this piece of legislation, nor did it begin with the idea that we should have a poverty line that is new and modern and measures poverty in real ways. Our work on eliminating poverty started the day we took office, the day we introduced tax cuts for middle-class Canadians, the day we introduced the Canada child benefit and the day we indexed that Canada child benefit. All those measures, and many more, $22 billion worth of investments over our first two years in office, were aimed at lifting people out of poverty.
They were successful. We have seen 300,000 children lifted out of poverty since we took office, and 650,000 Canadians. More importantly, over 550,000 full-time jobs have also been delivered, by Canadians to other Canadians, to make sure that poverty does not enter the lives of many families. In total, this is part of our commitment to eliminating poverty, reducing it substantially in this term of office and moving forward with even more aggressive strategies.
The investments some wanted with the announcement of this strategy are actually also forecast and have been pushed forward into this year, next year and beyond. For example, the national housing strategy, which is an integral part of reducing poverty in this country, is not just the $5.6 billion investment made in our first two years of office. It is also $40 billion that is locked into multilateral and bilateral agreements with provinces and territories over the next 10 years. In other words, it is a 15-year project, in many ways, to deliver affordable, safe and secure housing for Canadians right across the country. Some of that is in new housing builds. Some of that is in supports for rent supplements through the new Canada housing benefit and some of that is in simply honouring the operating agreements that were set to expire and allowed to expire by the previous government.
We also have a $7.5-billion investment, with provinces and territories and indigenous governments, in early learning and child care. This is another substantial investment that will make a transformative change in the lives of Canadian families, and most importantly, Canadian children, to make sure that we eliminate poverty and the challenges many families have accessing child care and early learning opportunities.
There are other measures on the horizon as well. We have announced an expert panel to show us the way to implement pharmacare. It is not something we can simply switch a switch and cut a cheque for. There are complications in terms of how to integrate it with provincial plans, how to integrate it with doctors' offices across the country and how to create a national formulary. All these things are part of delivering that program, but at the end of the day, what the program is going to do is deliver more affordable health care to vulnerable Canadians right across the country. Again, it will be a step in the direction of eliminating poverty.
The reason this is so critical to us is found in the international covenants we signed on the United Nations' sustainable development goals. We know that the sustainable development goals are focused as much on the elimination of social inequity, poverty, gender inequity and racial inequity as they are on sustainable and prosperous development on the economic front. We need to make sure that as we build a strong country, we do not leave people behind, because the precious resource we have is, in fact, Canadians who contribute to the success of this program.
The poverty reduction strategy has to be seen as much more than simply a series of programs that support vulnerable Canadians. It has to be seen as a major way of rethinking our economy, rethinking our social programs and rethinking our footprint in the coming century to make sure that we build the most resilient generation of Canadians ever. That is the goal of the poverty reduction strategy. That is the goal of many of our social programs, when taken together as a coordinated approach to reducing poverty.
As I said, there is much more to do. We know that EI reform is critically important in reducing poverty. We know that the work we have done on EI reform has made it easier for seasonal workers to sustain their employment in industries that stop and start based on the natural cycle of the economy in some parts of the country. We also know that making EI quicker and easier to receive is one of the ways we do not create cracks that people can fall between. We know that working while on benefits, extended maternity benefits and all the changes we have introduced to EI to make it more flexible and more accessible to Canadians are ways we are focused on reducing poverty and some the challenges Canadians face from time to time.
At the end of the day, there is more to do, because eliminating poverty is not something we can rest on after we have made investments. We have to constantly look for new gaps in society and new areas where poverty starts to lock in. For example, we have an aging population. We know that seniors are aging into poverty differently than they did a generation ago, partly because of precarious work and partly because of a changing economy, which is seeing benefits and pensions reshaped even after people have paid into them for many years. Therefore, pension reform and the changes we made to the GIS are part of our poverty reduction strategy.
When we looked at poor seniors and seniors who were living in difficult and marginalized economic circumstances, we saw that one of the things that was driving certain pockets of seniors' poverty was gender. We knew that when women lost their partners, they sometimes lost their full pensions. We knew that women living alone did not suddenly cut the expenses of living where they were living simply because a member of the family was no longer partnered with them to pay the bills. The boost we made to the guaranteed income supplement and the reform of CPP were all forward-looking measures that were part of our strategy to end poverty. They were not announced as part of the strategy. They were part of the work we have been doing over the last three years. However, they have projected positive results into the future and will help us meet the targets spelled out in the poverty reduction strategy.
Focusing in on building a strong middle class and focusing in on fighting climate change and providing adaption strategies to municipalities is also part of the poverty reduction strategy. If we look at natural disasters that have rocked this country, whether it is the fires in Fort McMurray, the floods in New Brunswick, the challenges in northern Ontario and Manitoba with water or the droughts that have hit some parts of this country, we know that as the economies are damaged in those parts of Canada, one of the things that also happens is that low-income Canadians suffer even more.
Getting those communities back on their feet means that we have economies those people can tie their lives to and move forward with. Minimizing the impact of climate change over the next decade and century will be just as critical in reducing poverty, because it will have a different impact on low-income Canadians.
We also know that poverty is different in the north and in remote communities. Access to healthy food and country food is becoming more difficult in places like the territories. With climate change, animal patterns, such as the herding of the caribou, pushes available food further away, or unfortunately, eliminates it altogether, in some circumstances. It changes access to healthy food and therefore has an impact on the way poverty is measured in northern communities.
As climate change moves forward, we know that some of the ice roads disappear, and therefore food security in the north is challenged. I was in the territories visiting Behchokö to look at some of the housing challenges there. The road we came into Behchokö on was like a roller coaster. I asked the member from the Northwest Territories when the road would be replaced, and he said that it had been replaced two years ago, but climate change had allowed the tundra to melt. The thaw-and-freeze cycle was heaving the road, and in doing so, destroying a very important investment, making it almost worthless as soon as it was finished.
These challenges have an impact on the economics and on the health and welfare of Canadians in the north. We have to turn our attention to that, because building strong infrastructure, like the connecting road between Yellowknife and Behchokö, is part of how poverty is reduced in those communities.
Access to health care is a critical driver in sustaining one's employment. If there is not access to the major centres in the north, and there is not access to the food and distribution centres in the north, we drive poverty into those communities.
When we look at poverty reduction and how we measure it, beyond just income and the large economic numbers previous formulas have looked at, access to these critical services is just as important. From that perspective, and from the perspective of the investments we are making in infrastructure, we can see that stronger transit infrastructure in major cities is also something that helps reduce poverty. If people can get to school, get to work and get home more easily, more reliably and more cheaply, with a more robust transit system across the country, it can have an impact on the quality of their lives. It is an impact that actually enriches people's lives by not taking as many dollars out of their pockets to pay for transit, by having the government step up and do that. It makes those things they need to have a better quality of life that much easier to access because of a stronger transit system.
All these investments do one other thing that is critically important. They deliver good-paying, often unionized, jobs to communities right across the country. It is the same thing with the housing policy. It is creating investments that not only sustain society in a progressive way but also create jobs and tie in supply chains. It means a good, strong economy focused on doing what this poverty strategy says must be done, which is eliminate poverty right across this country from coast to coast to coast.
We also need better data. We cannot simply rely on anecdotal evidence. We need to know whether racialized women are receiving health care at the same rate as other groups of women. We need to know whether indigenous children are faring as well coming out of the school system as non-indigenous children. We need to know exactly how government support for low-income communities impacts the economies in the communities where those dollars land. When the Canada child benefit lands in communities by the millions, right across this country, we need to understand the transformational change that has in people's lives so we can figure out where the gaps are and fill those gaps with new investments.
For example, when we make investments in child care, we need to know which families are getting it, which are not, and why not. If they are not getting it, we need to then look at our infrastructure programs to make sure the capital programs and the operating dollars are married to some of the other investments to make sure that we have good, strong, whole communities being built right across the country. Again, the poverty reduction strategy relies on data being generated through StatsCan and the long-form census as well as the segregated data that looks at subpopulations that experience poverty differently. We need to look at them in concert to make sure the investments we are making are reaching all Canadians and not just the averages, which previous systems, studies and poverty lines reached.
We also need to know from the data how many people we actually are lifting out of poverty and how many people we need to work harder to reach. The investment in data is as critical a part of today's announcement and the bill that is in front of us, as any of the measures I have spoken about from previous budgets or from future investments. Understanding what the problem is and measuring the problem is one of the best ways to start to manage that problem.
We know that poverty will change in the next decade and the next century. We know that poverty is not a static or singularly defined reality for Canadians. We know that in Atlantic Canada, for example, as fish stocks change, as communities transform and as new technologies provide opportunities for new businesses, the kinds of poverty we find in isolated or coastal communities also change. We need to make sure that, as we move forward as a country, we start to understand those details and understand how poverty is different from region to region to make sure our programs are not one-size-fits-all designed-in-Ottawa solutions, but rather ideas that grow from the ground up.
One of the ways we are going to accomplish that is an advisory panel to the minister that will provide lived experience, a voice inside the ministerial offices directly to us in Parliament, to make sure we have a regionalized and diversified set of experiences reporting out, including academics and experts as well as activists and front-line workers and our partners in municipal, provincial and indigenous governments. We need to make sure we have an advisory panel that reflects the true diversity of poverty in this country so that as we evolve programs, we do not evolve them in a vacuum; we evolve them with a constant check-in to make sure the advice we are getting, the policy we are developing, and the programs we are delivering impact all Canadians in a way that is positive. That, too, is a critically important part of the bill that has been presented to the House here today.
As I said, we also have targets and those targets are critically important. We know, for example, that in 2015 there were 4.2 million people living in poverty in this country. We know that 1.3 million people are considered the working poor. We know that when we measure and set these targets to reduce poverty and achieve the 2030 targets set out in this bill, we have to do it methodically, persistently, and in a way that does not leave particular groups behind. Therefore, the targets that have been set, which are consistent with SDGs and consistent with our commitments to the United Nations, are aspirational targets. Can we do it faster? I hope we can. Can we reach more people quickly with stronger programs? We work every day to find out how to be more effective on that front, and we rely on some of the voices that come from across the aisle to get there, to make sure that our ideas become stronger and become more beneficial to the individuals in question.
At the end of the day, I want to leave members with one last thought and this thought is at the heart of what we are doing. We have an opportunity in this Parliament to set a way in the next century to build the most resilient generation of children in this country's history. We need them. We need every child in this country to make a contribution to the betterment of Canada. We do that by making sure that seniors can contribute and transfer their knowledge to the young ones. We do it by making sure that those of us who are working hard right now in Parliament or in companies, businesses or community centres across the country are focused on making sure we end child poverty as quickly and as furiously as we possibly can. If we can build that resilient generation of Canadian children, if we can build the happiest, healthiest, smartest and most resilient kids in the world, Canada will succeed. More important, those children will succeed.
That is why the poverty reduction strategy is a central piece of our thinking, a central piece and focus of the network of bills, laws and budgets we have passed over the last two years, and it is why it is the focus of our government, going forward into the next century.
I want all members to get behind this, not just for today but through to the end of this parliamentary session and to commit themselves to those ideals we just spoke about: ending poverty in this country; focusing on building the most resilient generation of Canadian children in the history of Canada; and making sure that no one in this country is left behind as we build a stronger country by eliminating poverty and building a better future for Canada.