THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON SOCIAL AFFAIRS, SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
OTTAWA, Wednesday, November 28, 2018
The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology met this day at 4:15 p.m. to study the subject matter of those elements contained in Divisions 8, 15, 16 and 21 of Part 4 of Bill C-86, A second Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on February 27, 2018 and other measures; and, in camera, for the consideration of a draft report.
Senator Chantal Petitclerc (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Good afternoon and welcome to the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology.
My name is Chantal Petitclerc, and I am a senator from Quebec. It’s a pleasure to be chairing today’s meeting.
I would like to invite my colleagues to introduce themselves.
Senator Seidman: Judith Seidman from Montreal, Quebec, deputy chair of the committee.
Senator Eaton: Nicky Eaton from Toronto.
Senator Forest-Niesing: Josée Forest-Niesing from Northern Ontario.
Senator Ravalia: Welcome. I’m Mohamed Ravalia, Newfoundland and Labrador.
Senator Mégie: Marie-Françoise Mégie from Quebec.
Senator M. Deacon: Marty Deacon, Ontario.
Senator Omidvar: Ratna Omidvar, Ontario.
The Chair: I’d also like to welcome two new committee members, Senator Deacon and Senator Forest-Niesing.
Today, we are completing our examination of the subject matter of those elements contained in Divisions 8, 15, 16 and 21 of Part 4 of Bill C-86, A second Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on February 27, 2018 and other measures.
Today, we will focus on Division 21. Without further delay, I would like to introduce our witness for today. From Employment and Social Development Canada, we are happy to have with us Colin Spencer James, Senior Director, Social Development Policy, Strategic and Service Policy Branch.
Welcome, Mr. James.
I believe you have an opening statement for us.
Colin Spencer James, Senior Director, Social Development Policy, Strategic and Service Policy Branch, Employment and Social Development Canada: Senators, as you may be aware, on August 21, 2018, the government releasedOpportunity for All: Canada’s First Poverty Reduction Strategy. The strategy sets concrete targets for poverty reduction by 2020, reducing poverty rate by 20 per cent from its 2015 levels, and by 2030, reducing the poverty rate by 50 per cent from its 2015 level. Meeting these targets will lead to the lowest poverty rate in Canada’s history, reducing the number of Canadians living in poverty to about one in 10, or 10 per cent, by 2020 and to one in 17 by 2030, a target of 6 per cent. That means lifting about 2.1 million Canadians out of poverty since 2015.
The poverty reduction targets are proposed to be put into law to cement the federal commitment to poverty reduction. Those are the targets you see in the division in front of you today.
The Chair: Thank you. We will begin the questions with the deputy chair.
Senator Seidman: Thank you very much. Short and sweet. So is the bill — very short.
The House of Commons tabled Bill C-87, which enacts the poverty reduction act, and it sets similar targets as Division 21 you’ve just presented on. What is the reason for including this division in the bill if legislation supporting poverty reduction already exists?
Mr. James: I would answer that in two ways. Bill C-86, the Budget Implementation Act, was introduced prior to Bill C-87. The implementation of that bill was set prior. The reason it was included in the Budget Implementation Act was because Budget 2018 reaffirmed the government’s commitments to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The first UN sustainable development goal is the objective of anti-poverty, and the targets aligned with that objective. That is why you see that in Bill C-86.
On the timing of the introduction of Bill C-87, the government remains committed to entrenching the remaining elements of a poverty reduction strategy into law: the creation of the national advisory council on poverty and the establishment of Canada’s official poverty line.
Unfortunately, I can’t speak to the timing of why this was introduced in the house so quickly. It is outside of our department’s control.
Senator Seidman: I am still having trouble understanding. If there is a piece of legislation that will partially deal with this, and now another piece, Bill C-87, that will deal with this going forward, I don’t understand why we have Division 21 in this budget update. It sets targets, but it doesn’t say how they will meet those targets. Essentially, all this does is just set targets. There is no budget or money requested around this. It says nothing about how they plan to meet these targets or how they plan to evaluate meeting these targets.
Mr. James: You are correct. The proposed legislation does set targets in law. It doesn’t prescribe in law exactly how they will be achieved, recognizing there are multiple dimensions of poverty and lots of different ways in which poverty can be reduced.
The government has invested over $22 billion since 2015 in incremental and new investments to help lift Canadians out of poverty, as well as things like the Canada Child Benefit and the Canada Workers Benefit that will come into effect in 2019. There are things like the National Housing Strategy, and investments in skills and training.
The government has made investments, but what it doesn’t do in law is prescribe how exactly future governments would have to do that and continue.
Senator Seidman: Okay. I will leave it at that. Thank you.
Senator Eaton: You have set the targets. Do you have any idea how much money this will cost? It is lovely to have these blue-sky ideas. I would love to eliminate poverty tomorrow. When you set the targets, I am sure you had some idea as to what it would take in terms of programs or costs, no?
Mr. James: In setting the targets, within the department we did modelling about what would be realistically achievable. As I said, the government has invested quite a bit of money — about $22 billion — which will help.
Senator Eaton: When you said “invested $22 million,” can you tell me what they invested it in?
Mr. James: Sure, just bear with me —
Senator Eaton: I am serious. I understand the new labour codes will help a lot of people. Pay equity will help, but how —
Mr. James: I understand. Bear with me for one second.
Senator Eaton: Perhaps you could send it to the clerk.
Mr. James: I would be happy to.
Senator Eaton: That would be nice. There was no cost analysis done of what this might cost the federal government to hit this target in 2020, for instance?
Mr. James: We had done some modelling within the department in the context investment to know how many people would be lifted out of poverty as a result of the existing investments the government has made, such as those investments I will send to the clerk, which are things like the Canada Child Benefit, enhancements to the Guaranteed Income Supplement and the creation of the new Canada workers’ benefit.
By 2019, those things should lift about 650,000 Canadians out of poverty. We know how many people we anticipate to lift out of poverty out as a result of existing investments, but the proposed legislation does not prescribe exactly how a future government should aspire to meet those targets. It would be difficult for the department to model that therefore. There are a variety of different policy options, you could say, for how people could be lifted out of poverty, ranging from direct payments to individuals to investments in helping people get a job, for example.
Senator Eaton: I will say it is rather strange that you would come up with this good and valid idea of having targets, but then, at the same time, you wouldn’t cost it out for the budget. You didn’t say, “All right, in 2020 it will cost us an extra $5 billion, and for 2030 it will cost another $10 billion,” as we do in military procurement. We have some idea of what has to be spent.
That’s all. It’s a blue-sky idea, and it’s lovely, but without a piece of money attached to it, why is it fitting into the budget?
Mr. James: As I said, Budget 2018 reconfirmed the government’s commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. They are just that — goals; they are objectives —
Senator Eaton: It is a lovely talking point, thank you. I realize you can’t tell me.
Senator Ravalia: Thank you, Mr. James.
Could you give me a provincial breakdown in terms of the levels of poverty? Do they vary from one province or territory to another? Are particular communities more vulnerable, and if that is the case, are there any proactive measures to assist these populations in terms of staying out of poverty? Is the government looking at any of this?
Mr. James: The question you have asked is quite a detailed question about the level of poverty in specific regions and communities in the country. I would be happy to provide the clerk with a breakdown of the poverty rates right across Canada.
The strategy uses the market basket measure as Canada’s official poverty line, which is the cost of a set of goods and services that would allow Canadians to live a modest standard of living. We have a breakdown of that in 50 different regions across the country and 19 specific cities. We can provide the poverty rate for each of those.
Of course, the government’s investments in things like the Canada Child Benefit are targeted to people with modest to low incomes. In the communities where there happen to be more families of low income, those regions will benefit a bit more. The investments aren’t distributed equally across the country.
Senator Ravalia: Thank you.
Senator Omidvar: I appreciate the line of questioning by my colleagues, so I won’t overplay that, because I think you have done a great job in raising the issue. I, for one, am also a bit puzzled, but I will be positive and think of this as a sneak peek into what Bill C-87 will give us.
I am excited about the new market-based measure for measuring poverty. You said 650,000 Canadians will be lifted out of poverty. Do you have a gender lens on this number?
Mr. James: I don’t off the top of my head; I apologize. I would be happy to provide to the clerk exactly what the breakdown is.
We know that there are certain groups of people living at low income where there is a stark gender divide. For example, when you look at single parents, 90 per cent of them are women. When you look at investments like the Canada Child Benefit, which helps Canadians to raise their children, there is a disproportionate benefit to single mothers, for example. So we have looked at the gender breakdown of the investments that have been made to date.
Senator Omidvar: And you can get those to us?
Mr. James: For sure.
Senator Omidvar: You will get more information on regional impact, gender and anything else you can provide us regarding your investment of 650,000. What about Indigenous communities? If you can give us a breakdown of what the number of 650,000 is made up of it would be helpful.
Mr. James: Certainly. That information is available in the poverty reduction strategy itself, in the document. I will provide that to the clerk.
The Chair: That would be appreciated.
Senator Mégie: I want to start by saying that no one can oppose virtue. Everything the government is doing to tackle poverty is great. However, my question is a fundamental one. As I see it, the more buying power consumers have, the more they spend. Are there any measures economists or other experts might have to break that vicious cycle? The idea would be to ensure those earning more money are able to spend smarter, without living beyond their means because, then, they would be no better off than they were before. I’m not sure whether you know what I mean. The more money you have, the more you spend. If I give you $10 and you spend $11, you stay poor. Do you know what I mean?
Do the measures to increase the buying power of every Canadian include efforts to curb the backsliding I’m referring to?
Mr. James: I would describe Canada’s poverty reduction strategy as a whole-of-government framework for poverty reduction that is based on three pillars. It is based on helping Canadians meet their basic needs and ensuring that Canadians feel they are included and have equality of opportunity. The third pillar is a concept of income security and resilience.
It is that third pillar of income security and resilience that would respond to the issue you raise.
As a whole-of-government strategy, there are obviously multiple departments contributing to helping lift Canadians out of poverty. Unfortunately, that measure and that area would not be under my department’s jurisdiction. It would probably be under the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada or perhaps the Department of Finance. It would be more appropriate for then them to answer what could be done in that area.
The Chair: I see no other questions. Therefore, I wish to thank you.
Thank you for being here to answer our questions on this short division that leaves us a bit puzzled, as you’ve noticed. Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions.
I would ask my colleagues to stay as we will go in camera for consideration of a draft report.
(The committee continued in camera.)