Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Agriculture and Forestry

Issue 17 - Evidence - Meeting of February 21, 2007

EDMUNDSTON, NEW BRUNSWICK, Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry met this day at 8:07 a.m. to examine and report on rural poverty in Canada.

Senator Joyce Fairbairn (Chairman) in the chair.


The Chairman: Good morning, thank you for giving us such a warm welcome in Edmundston. It is very important for us to be here in the heart of the Francophone community outside Quebec, in a proudly rural area. We apologize for the fact that we are not as Francophone as we should be, but we know that Acadians have a rich tradition. I want to emphasize that we have headphones for interpretation purposes, and I encourage you to use them.


With us this morning, colleagues, to tell us more about rural New Brunswick and the challenges faced by the francophone community, are Guy Lanteigne and Claude Snow. We are very pleased to have you come and meet with us and make us wiser.


Guy Lanteigne, as an individual: Madam Chairman, I am very pleased to be here to give you my viewpoint on rural poverty.

In my opinion, rural poverty is a very serious problem, but it is, above all, a reversible problem, which can therefore be corrected. I could not discuss a situation of this scope without trying to propose at least one solution to potentially solve the problems of rural poverty. Greater awareness of the importance of literacy and education could be part of a solution.

In New Brunswick, most of us have always made a living from the mining, forest, fishing and construction industries. Those occupations have not required high levels of postsecondary education. We are currently in a necessary period of economic recovery, in which we must diversify resources in New Brunswick. We may not be prepared enough to diversify, to open up to new technology, to flourish more socially. Perhaps we are not as prepared as other, more urban centres might be.

On page 5 of my brief, you will find a Statistics Canada table showing the rate of out-of-province migration. The last column on the right shows the high rate among persons who have left New Brunswick since 1991. If you look at the middle column, you will see other alarming figures, a decline in the birth rate and an increase in debts since 1991; there are 1,000 more deaths a year. The birth rate, aging, and deaths are almost equal. So the province is not renewing itself, and, if you add expatriation to that, it is very disturbing. Now I would like to refer you to page 6, to point 3.1.

FANB, the Fédération d'alphabétisation du Nouveau-Brunswick, contends that more literate individuals, among others, have a greater understanding of themselves and the world around them, are healthier, unemployed less often and adjust better to new technologies. These four points show the importance of literacy.

Let us take a brief look at the five levels of literacy: level 1, which is the lowest: these people only recognize only one or two familiar words in a simple text; level 2, which includes people who find it difficult to read anything new and long paragraphs in texts discouraging; level 3, which represents the minimum level for dealing with the demands of life in a complex and developed society, and is also the level required to complete high school and enter the postsecondary level; levels 4 and 5, which include people who can handle a number of sources of information and solve complex problems. Perhaps our interpreter friends are in levels 4 and 5.

In New Brunswick, 68 per cent of the francophone population and 47 per cent of Anglophones are in categories 1 and 2. These are alarming and deplorable percentages.

Now let us refer to page 8, to the figures gathered by the Comité des 12 pour la justice sociale dans la Péninsule Acadienne. My colleague Claude Snow, who is on that committee, has designed a table including various analyses conducted from 1993 to 2003 which also reveals some quite alarming information: of a total of 36,000 adults, 27,500 say they have some form of disability; of 16,000 jobs, 30 per cent are seasonal and 26 per cent of the population is unemployed. These are not very stable jobs; 50 per cent of these people earn small incomes; 1,700 persons use food banks, which mean their family incomes are not enough to feed their families. These figures reflect the current situation. If we conduct a brief overview of the situation regarding children, there are nearly 11,000 young people on the Acadian Peninsula. Of that number, 200 drop out of school every year, and 500 are suspended from the school system. All these figures show the less appealing sides of our beautiful region of New Brunswick.

In closing, I do not think the Government of New Brunswick can get there alone. I was listening to our premier, the Right Honourable Shawn Graham, on the radio three days ago. He said: ``New Brunswick needs two departments: a Department of Finance and a Department of Health to spend revenues.'' So there is a problem. The money is not necessarily put in the right places. One thing is certain: a government effort is necessary to fight rural poverty in New Brunswick. In my opinion, improved literacy and education could really get to the heart of the problem. We cannot build anything with a population that does not have enough education or literacy. With broader social vitality and more adequate openness to technology, we would be able to counter the exodus and develop our rural areas.

Claude Snow, spokesperson, Comité des 12 pour la justice sociale: Madam Chairman, first I want to thank your committee for being here this morning to hear what we have to say about rural poverty.

First, I must congratulate you on the quality of the report that you have prepared. To my knowledge, this is the first time that a report has so accurately reflected the poverty in our rural areas. It is very well done. To facilitate the presentation this morning, I have prepared a series of tables. I will only take a few minutes per table, knowing that time is limited. My presentation is called ``Breaking the Cycle: Yes, But Not the People.''

I appreciated the table in your report concerning the declining rural population. The chart showing declining population, leading to loss of services, very clearly illustrates the situation. I think that we must ensure that people are not broken in the process.

Look at the first table, which is entitled ``Profile of Northern and Eastern New Brunswick,'' because that is the region we will be talking about. It provides a map prepared by Natural Resources Canada showing the five major critical regions in Canada with regard to poverty. New Brunswick is one of those five regions, particular northern and eastern New Brunswick. I will not dwell on the table on pages 3 and 4, because my colleague has already spoken about education and the unemployment rate. As you can see, our region is particularly hard hit. Table 4 in particular shows that our region relies to a high degree on government transfers. I will come back to that subject in my presentation. As you can see, in the northern and eastern parts of the province, 29 per cent to 44 per cent of people's total incomes come from transfers, hence the importance of government transfers for us.

First, I would like to talk about all the government measures favouring the rural areas, then about unfavourable measures, then finish up with a few possible solutions.

On page 5, among the favourable measures, you will find all the social security measures that we have in the country and which are excellent. They can be compared to a temple that is built on six columns, and each is important to people's survival, particularly in our rural areas.

On page 6, you have the social services budget of the Province of New Brunswick, which is nearly $1 billion. You also see that half of that budget is allocated to institutional and home care for people. So this is a very important sector, but there is also income assistance and all the other services. These are essential measures for supporting and assisting individuals and families.

On page 7, you will find the equalization system, which ensures social justice in our country, as well as transfer payments. Unfortunately, the table on page 7 shows a significant drop in transfer payments. If I remember correctly, country-wide, the reduction is in the order of $6 billion for all the provinces. In our province, that is equivalent to a cut of $75 million a year. The table on page 8 shows that employment insurance is fundamentally important in a region such as ours, where there is a lot of seasonal employment.

If we consider the negative measures now, the small diagram on page 9 shows that the social security system in this country is declining with the years. Perhaps I will explain that later if you have any questions.

On page 10, you see that the number of employment insurance claimants has declined enormously, which represents a loss of $400 million a year for the province.

On page 11, we find the new funding methods, that are contracting out, centralization and privatization, which have a major impact on people, particularly in the rural areas.

On page 12, you see the problem of the child tax benefit. This is a problem because the government has increased the child tax benefit, and the province has reduced income assistance, so that people are still below the poverty line. On page 12, again, on the right, a small diagram shows that people on income assistance at the age of 55 have to wait until they are 65 before reaching the poverty line. They wait for 10 years in order to get at least $11,600 a year, an amount just above the poverty line.

Now, on page 13, I would like to draw your attention to two programs that are extremely beneficial in our region. The first concerned local initiatives, and the second rural housing and Aboriginal people. These are federal programs that date back to the 1970s, but that have been extremely beneficial in our region.

On page 14, you see a proposal to expand the concept of social security to include protection not only for individuals and families, but also for small rural communities.

On page 15, I believe we cannot overlook the fact that transportation is the number one problem in our rural areas, and that is well explained in your report. So I believe that the federal government should do its part in adopting a rural transportation policy.

Last, the last table on page 16 explains the social safety net for people in rural and urban areas. There is only one good arrangement: that is for the measures to be subject to a framework act, for funding to be provided out of public funds and, lastly, that it be managed by the public sector, not the private sector. With these three conditions, there is a guarantee and genuine protection for citizens. Unfortunately, we realize that, in recent years, we have switched from the Canada Assistance Plan Act, which dates back to the 1960s, 1965, 1967, to the distribution of charity bags in order to help people. That is what is sad.

The Chairman: Thank you, Mr. Snow.


May I make a personal comment before colleagues ask questions? Guy, I was very touched that your first comments were on literacy. This has been a major part of my life as a senator, which is quite a long time. When the issue of literacy became the hot topic all across Canada, New Brunswick was one of the most innovative provinces. Mr. Hatfield was in at the beginning of it, but Mr. McKenna really set a national standard and created all those CASPS, community academic services programs, all around the province, where people could come and learn. Are the little local organizations that help adults still operational?


Mr. Snow: There are committees virtually everywhere in the province concerned with literacy. Unfortunately, public funding is inadequate. These committees are forced to request money from the communities, and they are often unable to get the necessary funding to set up literacy classes and receive government subsidies. In our rural areas, it is very difficult to get funding arrangements under which the federal government, for example, pays 50 per cent, the province 25 per cent, and the remaining 25 per cent would come from the community. In the urban areas, this arrangement is more readily applicable, but it is very complicated in the rural areas.

Mr. Lanteigne: That is why I let Mr. Snow talk about this subject, because I have just come back to New Brunswick, and recently got involved in the social movement. Mr. Snow has been working in those organizations for a number of years.


The Chairman: I think we have an obligation, especially in Ottawa, to work even harder to help raise literacy support for the provinces. We have hit a bit of a snag, but we are going to keep on, particularly the Senate. Each day a Senate member is talking about literacy, so we have not forgotten.


Mr. Snow: That is very important. It is indeed a major problem.


Senator Mercer: Guy, after you mentioned literacy, you talked about people not being open to technological changes. I am from Nova Scotia and I have spent most of my life in Atlantic Canada. I remember before the advent of Bell Aliant, when NBTel was the leading telephone company in North America in technology. One of the reasons why Premier McKenna was able to adapt so quickly to the call centre idea was because the technology was in place. I was a little surprised when you said that people are not willing to adapt to technology, before the merger of MT&T, Island Tel and Newfoundland Tel with NBTel to form Aliant. Has that changed? Is it a change that is recent that New Brunswickers do not appear to be as willing to adapt to technology?


Mr. Lanteigne: In the northeast, the call centres rank perhaps one hundredth among the developments. The Client Logic centre in Bathurst has been there for nearly four years, and the technology of the call centres has existed in the northeast for about four or five years. I do not know whether Mr. Snow has the figures, but I think it is four years, no more. Those centres hire 150 individuals out of 50,000 or more, 100,000 including the entire northeast. That is unfortunately slow. Perhaps it is better in Nova Scotia, but the call centres are not developing very much in the Francophone area of the northeast.


Sen Mercer: You also indicated that 200 students drop out per year, which I do not think is unusual, but the 500 suspensions a year jumped out at me. I found that to be unusual. Is there something in the system? Is it a system problem that the young people are not able to adapt, or the system is not addressing their needs properly and conflict begins and the suspensions follow?


Mr. Lanteigne: I will briefly state my opinion and Mr. Snow will elaborate at greater length. I do not think that education is a deeply held value for everyone. When the least problem arises, people drop out of school. Perhaps less so now, but in my time, 12 or 13 years ago at Bathurst High School, the year started with a class of 30 and finished with a class of 20. Perhaps people do not attach enough importance to education.

Mr. Snow: There are not enough resources in the schools to assist students who are having trouble. These are children who disrupt the class, and the only solution that teachers have is to suspend them from the school system and to send them home. It is a real tragedy to have so many children at home during school hours watching television and doing nothing at all, when they should be in school. This is a serious tragedy, because they become adults who are not educated and who need remedial school classes in order to prepare to enter the labour force.


Senator Mercer: Mr. Snow, on table 5, I would like you to walk me through the six columns of social security.


Mr. Snow: In Canada, we have a very good social security system, which is based on various measures. Here we only have the acronym EI, for employment insurance. The first measure is our employment insurance program. Then there is old age security and the supplement, the pension plan, the child tax benefit, our income tax credits and, lastly, income assistance. I think that, if the six pillars are there and are strong, we can keep a good social security system in the country. That is vital for people living in poverty, especially income assistance, because those who have extremely low incomes do not get tax credits. The tax benefit is good too, except that, as I explained, the provincial government tends to withdraw when the federal government increases the tax benefit. The more it is increased, the more the government withdraws, so that, in total, people receive less.


Senator Mercer: My last question relates to the current government's program of $100 per month per child, granted to certain families for childcare, replacing a program negotiated between the Government of Canada and all 10 provinces and three territories prior to the election of this government. Has that program had an effect in New Brunswick? Has it had a positive or a negative effect? We have been in Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island, and we have heard different responses.


Mr. Snow: That is not a very popular measure because it is based on average needs. I believe it is fundamentally important to individualize situations. The Canadian welfare system is based on a means and needs test, and that makes it possible to assess a family's needs and to give it assistance based on its needs. Here we have a universal measure of $100 per family. On the average, that may be very good, but that is not enough for those who are really below the average. Perhaps those who are under the average would not have needed $100. In my view, it would have been a better system if that money had been transferred to the provinces and they paid assistance to families in the greatest need.


Senator Mahovlich: Where do the 500 suspended students go after they are suspended? What is the procedure after they are suspended from school? Do they just sit home and watch TV? They have to go somewhere. Something has to be done.


Mr. Lanteigne: They leave to go and work in cabbage and broccoli gardens in Montreal, or they leave for Toronto or Fort McMurray. Perhaps half of them will come back.

Mr. Snow: A number of them are quite young and still dependent on their parents. When they grow up, they become welfare recipients. Then there are programs to get them back into the labour force. There are remedial school programs to show them how to read and write, and business internships, with the idea that they may ultimately enter the labour market. But that is a very long process. It seems to me that prevention and a proactive approach would be better at the outset, from the moment the child starts to function poorly and is unable to adjust, starting in kindergarten, instead of saying: ``You are going to stay home for a year, then you can come to school when you are six years old.'' That suits a child who cannot adjust to other children, and that suits the mother, who likes to keep her child with her.

Mr. Lanteigne: That is not good for society.


Senator Mahovlich: This is how poverty begins.

Mr. Snow: Yes.

Senator Mahovlich: Are there many trade schools here in New Brunswick where we could train some of these people?


Mr. Snow: Yes, the community colleges, like trade schools, first offer remedial training to bring them up to Grade 12, then give them a trade, but it is a very long process before they can make up for all the time they have lost.


Senator Mahovlich: You can see it could be quite a problem. Shipping them back to Montreal can get them into a lot of trouble. Big cities make bad habits.


Mr. Snow: Exactly.


Senator Mahovlich: How do you measure poverty here in New Brunswick? You mentioned the level of poverty. You say the funds are not going to the proper people and people are on employment insurance. How do you measure poverty?


Mr. Snow: There are measures such as the low income cut-off and the market basket measure. What we are seeing is a decline in people's quality of life. That is mainly reflected by a higher rate of indebtedness. A lot of families spend one-third of their budget to pay down debt because credit cards are the only way to survive between two jobs. If they can find a job, that job is temporary; so no money is coming in between two jobs. The conditions to qualify for employment insurance are very tough, and they do not qualify; so the solution in order to survive is the credit card. The rate of indebtedness rises. This is a serious problem because cuts to unemployment programs have had a considerable impact in our province, particularly in the north, because of the seasonal nature of work. People depend a lot on employment insurance. The other matter concerns the sharp decline in federal government transfer payments, as a result of which the federal government is forced to tighten the social assistance purse strings.

Traditionally, in social assistance, there have always been two programs: basic assistance, then there were special benefits, supplementary assistance. However, supplementary assistance has been removed, so all that is left is basic assistance, which is very low, except for those who receive the child tax benefit. That is all, but that is still far below the poverty line. For single persons and persons living alone who do not get the child tax benefit, it is disastrous because there is just a little social assistance, and nothing else. That is why I say that they often have to wait until they are 65 to reach the poverty level.

Mr. Lanteigne: That reminds me of my experience with the minimum wage. The minimum wage in New Brunswick is $7. I believe it will be increasing to $7.25 in July. In northeastern New Brunswick, 40 per cent of jobs or every more pay minimum wage. I lived in Ottawa for four years, and there are no minimum wage jobs there. They are very rare. You can work at a gas station for $10 an hour. The minimum wage is common in New Brunswick, much more so than in other provinces. In northeastern New Brunswick, all jobs pay $8, $9 or $10 an hour. If you can work for $10 an hour, that is a very good job. It is inconceivable that you can have any quality of life on $10 an hour. It is impossible. You know that as well as I do.

Mr. Snow: I would like to clarify one point. The government often offers business traineeships to people who do not have an education. The government tells them: ``You can go and do a traineeship somewhere, a job somewhere, then you will be on unemployment, which will enable you to pay for your education.''

Business traineeships are currently subsidized by the government, and the person is hired for 420 hours of work, often at minimum wage. The employer does not pay because it is a subsidized job, but as soon as the 420 hours are up, the employer fires him and hires another. The person dismissed will go on unemployment, then will be registered for a remedial course. During this whole time, the person is living well below the poverty line and has to receive social assistance and a medical card because he cannot survive. He winds up with a job paying minimum wage, and if there are a lot of medical expenses, he is forced to be on social assistance, even while he is working. This is not a pleasant prospect for people.


Senator Mahovlich: Do the churches get involved?


Mr. Snow: Not very much, no. Because in addition to the difficulties the churches are experiencing, the number of parishioners has vastly declined. When social assistance is short, the food banks wind up at the church. They have their criteria, their conditions, their restrictions, and do not let people come very often. That creates another problem. In my opinion, the food banks are not a good solution because they do not offer equal quality of service in the province. Where people are more generous, the food banks give more. Where they are poorer, they give less. So we see a difference in the quality and services provided.


Senator Mahovlich: It is quite a problem.

Senator Callbeck: I want to continue with the 500 suspended students. Is that number increasing or decreasing?


Mr. Snow: In my opinion, that is still virtually the same thing. I do not think that is increasing.


Senator Callbeck: You gave as one of the reasons that there is not a deep respect for education. I am from Prince Edward Island, and yesterday we heard that from one of our witnesses when they were talking about a particular part of P.E.I. Do you have any ideas as to how we can turn that around in your area so that there is respect?


Mr. Lanteigne: Young people should feel they are more understood by the education system and should be made more aware at the outset of the importance of education for a better future. Unfortunately, for a number of people, and I am not pointing to anyone at all — when you come from a family with a salary of $90,000 or $100,000 a year from working in the mines or in the fishery, there are even some who make a million dollars, no importance is attached to education. Parents have trouble making the connection between education and the reality of today. Fishing is finished. The mines are declining. There were 5,000 workers at Brunswick Mines, and there are perhaps 500 left. The economy is completely different, and parents may not be successfully sending the message to their children that the time has come to study, because they did not see that education was important. You have to have an education today in order to function in society, and that unfortunately is not always the case. That would be my explanation.

Mr. Snow: May I add something? The problem of children who are disruptive at school is not a minor problem. Classes are large, teachers are at the end of their rope, and the only solution is to remove the child from the system. That is not a solution, but it is a survival solution for teachers. The only way to handle this kind of problem, in my view, in addition to valuing education, is to go and see the parents and to offer them help.

Because of the cuts to government transfers, general social services have been cut. There is child welfare, but child welfare will only intervene when the parents are very clearly negligent or violent with their children. That is tertiary prevention and not an adequate response to this kind of problem. From the moment the child is not functioning well, is unable to adjust to school, someone should meet with the parents and work with them to try to solve the child's problem at school. This is a long-term effort, but one that is made starting with the parents, because we know that you have to work with the family system as a whole.


Senator Callbeck: Is that is what you meant by lack of support?

Mr. Snow: Yes.

Senator Callbeck: Is the number you gave us the number of people using the food banks.


Mr. Snow: How many people use the food banks?


Senator Callbeck: Food baskets?


Mr. Lanteigne: Seventeen hundred persons in the adult category use food banks for their families.


Senator Callbeck. That is a lot.

Mr. Snow, I want to ask you about the solutions and the local initiatives.


Mr. Snow: There were two programs, and I did not have the time to elaborate: one was called ``local initiatives'' and the other ``rural housing and Aboriginal people.'' They were gems. I am a social worker, and I worked with those programs. They helped people enormously because they gave federal funds to individuals to set up small businesses in their communities and tried to give people services, to repair or build houses or do landscaping. People learned how to work, to manage small projects, and through that experience, some of them acquired enough confidence to continue their own small business. I think that was definitely a better solution than bringing in a big business from Pakistan to make wool that would shut down when markets declined. These programs enabled people in the community to learn how to offer and sell services. In that way, that became a small business that employed people. It was extremely good.

With the aid of the federal housing grants program in the northern part of the province, we built more than 100 houses. An extremely well made manual explained the procedure. The principle was this: the person received a federal grant of $40,000, a low-interest loan, provided that person had land to build a house. So we used people who were on social assistance to help them build their own houses. They had financing from Ottawa, and, with the job creation programs, they learned how to work with others and they built the houses they needed. That met both a need for work and a need for housing.


Senator Callbeck: Is this program running now?

Mr. Snow: No.

Senator Callbeck: When was it in existence?


Mr. Snow: In the years from 1970 to 1975.


Senator Callbeck: You mentioned a program for starting a small business. Is that program still in existence?


Mr. Snow: No. The situation has changed a lot. The program took place in 1972. This is unfortunate because, for rural regions like ours, these were excellent solutions adapted to our community.


Senator Callbeck: What about the Community Futures Program?


Mr. Snow: What is that?


Senator Callbeck: It is the Community Futures Program. The money comes from ACOA, but it is distributed through business development corporations.


Mr. Snow: It is assistance for small businesses, is it not?


Senator Callbeck: Yes, and working with communities on community projects.


Mr. Snow: The problem with initiatives that involve funding and community participation is that they vary considerably from one community to the next, depending whether there are people who can make a contribution. That is what is unfortunate about the current funding arrangements of having conditional government assistance, provided, for example, that the community does its share. In our province, a community like Moncton has no trouble obtaining private funding, but that is impossible in the north; we cannot find private funding, even 25 per cent of a project. That is not possible, so that is why this kind of initiative limits us.


Senator Peterson: Mr. Lanteigne, on page 6, you talk about 68 per cent of the francophone population in level one and two. Do you have the demographics of the age groups? Is it young people, middle-age people, older people?


Mr. Lanteigne: Unfortunately, I do not have all the age groups, but that is something that I can easily find from FANB. They are no doubt more specific. I merely prepared a summary of all the information.


Senator Peterson: Yes, it would be interesting to see whether the number of young people is dropping in that category.

Mr. Snow, on slide 2 on your presentation, you talk about the pillars of social programming. We have heard that people who try to better themselves by getting a job to earn extra money are subject to claw backs. These claw backs make people reluctant to work. Do you see that as a flaw in the system?


Mr. Snow: We have exemptions for employment income because, otherwise, if the person earned $1 and lost $1, that person would have no motivation to go to work; so there is a program for those who have income assistance. They have an exemption of up to $200. The first $200 is exempt. We feel that amount could be a little higher. The problem is that, because of our economy, some employers take advantage of the exemption and hire people so that they earn up to $200, then they hire someone else and so on. That is because people get no benefit from staying on the job after the first $200 because they start losing their assistance, and employers consider them as temporary labour, and it is nothing for them to change employees.

Here is the problem. It requires an incredible effort to take someone who is living in poverty and to put him in the labour market because you have to ensure that person has the same security that he or she had before going to work, when that person depended on government programs. That means providing that person with enough money, for example, to meet all transportation and medical needs. Families often have so many medical problems that there is no advantage for them in going off social assistance in order to enter the labour market. The compromise is to tell them: ``Get into the labour market and we will leave you with the medical card to pay your medical expenses.'' That is the compromise that is reached in the province. Hundreds of families are in that situation. These are families that work for minimum wage and would leave their jobs immediately if not for the fact that they still receive a social assistance supplement.

Mr. Lanteigne: I have an answer for Mr. Peterson to the question on literacy age groups. On page 8 of my document, we note that 36 per cent of adults on the Acadian Peninsula in northeastern New Brunswick have less than a Grade 9 education. Thirty-six per cent of adults who have less than a Grade 9 education is a figure that is quite representative of the level of education and literacy in levels 1 and 2, because I do not think you can achieve level 3 in literacy with less than Grade 9.


Senator Peterson: On slide 12, you show disparities that you have to become 65 years in order to reach the lower level, and that is only because CPP and Old Age Security kicks in. That creates a gap between the ages of 54 years to 65 years. I guess the attendant problem in all of this is that the federal government brings in a program to try to assist, and immediately the provinces cancel a program so we do not get anywhere. Is this leading towards some form of guaranteed income?


Mr. Snow: I think so. I think that would definitely be the best solution. A guaranteed annual income, particularly for those who have a partial inability to work. Three-quarters of the people on income assistance are in a category called transitional assistance, which means they are going to off assistance in order to enter the labour market. But that is not realistic because employers have a lot of choice in the labour force, and they pick those with the least disability. From the moment people have a disability, they are set aside. So these are people who will spend most of their lives in a transitional category with the idea that, one day, they will enter the labour market, but they will not enter it.

You raised a question. The Canada Pension Plan is a good measure, but that does not reach the poor because when those who work for minimum wage reach the age of 65 and can receive Canada Pension Plan benefits, the benefit is very small, and they, in any case, have to receive a social assistance supplement. People who have worked on a casual basis often do not qualify for the Canada Pension Plan. So that is a plan that reaches a fairly stable labour force, in the middle and upper class. Others do not really benefit from it. That gives them nothing; because they are receiving assistance, the government asks them to apply for the pension from the federal government and deducts the pension from the assistance and gives them the difference. So they get nothing more in the end.


Senator Peterson: Certainly, when people hear the words guaranteed income, everybody starts to panic. I wonder if we added all of these programs together whether it may not be a major cost difference. We would get rid of all the administration problems and possibly the province would have to buy into this and they could not take it away. It would be permanent.

Senator Gustafson: I come from rural Saskatchewan, and it seems that we in rural Canada have gone along with lower standards than what people expect in the large urban centres. You mentioned that 40 per cent of your people receive the minimum wage of $7 an hour. It seems unfair to me, and I do not know what the solution is, but this has been something that has been building and building and it seems to be getting worse instead of better. I will give you an example. You can hire somebody in Ottawa or in Toronto to shuffle paper and you have an awful hard time even coming to the conclusion that it is necessary. You will pay them $40,000 or $50,000 a year to do it. Here you are supposed to get along on $10,000. It just seems to me that somewhere in our society, we have gone wrong, and of course, the job of this committee is to conclude on rural poverty. We will always have that if our expectations are so low. We will never pull out of this. In significant areas of rural Canada, we accept lower housing standards and lower living standards. I will give you an example. I go through Yellow Grass, Saskatchewan. I stop in at this little café. I get two eggs, bacon and eggs, ham and the works for $3. I come to the city centre and they may crack you about $20 for the same thing.

I wish I knew why rural Canada has accepted less because it is creating a problem, and the problem between those who have and those who have not is getting wider. I would like your comments.


Mr. Lanteigne: I think it is representative of the economic forces of the various provinces or regions of certain provinces. In the northeast, as I mentioned earlier, our economy has long been based on manual occupations that require lower education levels. Today, in Canada's natural resource sector, there remains oil, and that will be taken care of. As a result of a lack of government investment, the population was unable to see the change in time, and we have gotten to a point where we have to compensate with what we have, and the economy is not ready for new changes. The manufacturing sectors are in decline. We want to hang on in order to live in New Brunswick, but that would take something else, and unfortunately we are not ready. That is what explains why minimum wages are so low. With the increase of 25¢ an hour in July, there are businesses with one or two employees that will close down as a result of that increase because they may not be able to afford it. This is a crisis. Minimum wage is less common in the major cities like Toronto, Regina and Saskatoon. Those cities are much more prosperous than the rural areas. In my opinion, people in rural areas hang on to the minimum wage so they can earn an income that is in the slightest way significant.

Mr. Snow: You know, in our country, we have an excellent tool for combating the differences between rich and poor of which you speak. The tool I want to talk about is the one in section 36 of our Constitution, which provides for an equalization system that ensures that we have roughly equal services right across the country. The problem is that equalization is currently threatened because of different perceptions, conceptions and natural resources. I believe our equalization system is in danger, and there will be more major inequalities if we do not preserve that system as it was designed. The poorest provinces receive money from transfer payments to enable citizens to have a virtually similar quality of life, not in all respects, naturally, but in many respects. That is why I emphasize the importance of preserving transfer payments as they previously were in order to restore a certain quality of life to people.


Senator Gustafson: I do not want to belabour this, but driving through a bit of your beautiful province, I noticed that you do not have the same problem that Saskatchewan has where if we lose a town everything is gone. Does that happen here? It seems that people tend to live in the rural areas because of the obvious beauty and scenery. What happens in those cases?


Mr. Snow: I would like to draw a distinction concerning people who leave small communities. We do not lose the community as a whole; we lose the most skilled people, those who are more enterprising and who have the most to offer. Those who stay are people who are less able to work and who are more dependent on government funding. That contributes to decline because these are people who have little to offer from a work standpoint and that costs the government money.

Traditionally, in New Brunswick, particularly in the northern part of the province, the tertiary sector did develop because there were a lot of poor people. However, in the past 20 years, we have realized that the government has also made cuts in the tertiary sector. The poverty level has increased as a result. The cost of living has risen, services have declined, assistance has dropped or remained the same, and there is a very significant income shortfall.


Senator Gustafson: Are the children who live in rural areas picked up by school buses?

Mr. Snow: Yes.

Senator Gustafson: Do you have a system where these buses are used for sports, say to play hockey or other sports?


Mr. Lanteigne: No. I was spoiled because my parents could afford to drive me, to sports or activities, and we pooled with other families who could afford it. One day it was my father, the next week it was my friends' father. That was and is the only way. The only possible transportation is by car with our parents. If parents do not have money, there is automatically no sport or activity.

Mr. Snow: There are sports, but you know that, in our regions, disease is the number one problem. There are a lot of diseases in families. Since the population is smaller, local hospitals are closing and regional hospitals are being centralized. So that increases distances for people who need treatment. Since there is no public transit, people have to seek help in order to be driven. This is an enormous problem. The next group will no doubt talk about the transportation problem because it is one of the major problems in the rural areas.

Mr. Lanteigne: FANB, the Fédération d'Alphabétisation du Nouveau-Brunswick, has studied the question and has managed to show that, with adequate literacy, you automatically become healthier. It increases awareness, about healthy living habits such as sport and eating. Let us invest in literacy, and I think health will follow.


The Chairman: We should put you on a television ad for l'alphabétisation. Thank you so much.

Before you leave, I want you to know which areas we represent. Senator Gustafson is from Saskatchewan; Senator Mahovlich, who knows all about learning how to skate and how to play hockey, is from Northern Ontario; Senator Peterson is from Saskatchewan; Senator Callbeck is from Prince Edward Island; Senator Mercer is from Nova Scotia, and I am from the southwest corner of Alberta, and we are all delighted to be here today.

I want to thank our next panel for being here today. It is a real pleasure for us to be allowed out of Ottawa and off Parliament Hill to come out where things are real. We very much wanted to be in this part of the province so that we could have these kinds of hearings.

John Gagnon, Co-Chair, Common Front for Social Justice of New Brunswick: I thank the senate committee for inviting us here today. The Common Front for Social Justice is a broad-based group, a coalition of many organizations, social groups, religious groups, labour groups, and more important, people living in poverty. We are a very inclusive group that is looking at ways of moving people out of poverty. We know how to get into poverty. My colleague Claudia is a person who lives in poverty. My co-chair, unfortunately, who could not be here, is also living in poverty. So, we are a very inclusive group. Again, we look at ways of how to move people out of poverty, and I think it is too long a story to tell you the history of how people move into poverty.

We will give you a verbal presentation and we have distributed a document. This is a working document, which was put together at our first summit on poverty. We had politicians, social groups and the majority of those groups included people living in poverty. We looked at ways that we can move people out of poverty. There is a lot of information in this document, and we will be talking indirectly on some of these topics today because it is a very inclusive document. The people living in poverty were a big part of putting this document together.

This document will provide the basis of our presentation that John Gagnon will give you. We will inform you from first hand experience what people in poverty see as their barriers and how they should get out of poverty. It is a very important document and, again, most of our presentation will centre on it.

This is the campaign that we started. It is the scarf campaign, a knitting campaign. The reason behind that campaign is that were are saying that poverty, economics, and everything else in this province, is intertwined and we have to work together, closely knit together. Everybody has a key focus of poverty. There are many more causes than this, but our campaign focuses on three of the causes. The first cause is in increase in the minimum wage to $8.55 an hour and then to $10 an hour.

Mr. Gagnon: That is only a start. Employment insurance has a big effect on poverty.

We have given you two copies, one for yourself, and we are asking the committee members to sign one. We are putting a postcard campaign together. I will explain a little more in detail if I have time afterwards.

The Chairman: Do you want each senator to sign one?

Mr. Gagnon: Each one, yes.

The Chairman: All right.

Mr. Gagnon: I did not give one to the staff, but if the staff wants to sign one, it is not a problem.

I think when we look at poverty we have to look at how people get into poverty. We can no longer live without helping the people to get out of poverty. The statistics found in this document will show you that the people living in poverty in this province, those people on social assistance, on minimum wage, et cetera, are on the bottom, bottom, of the scale in resolving poverty. We are on the bottom of the scale of people living in poverty. We are on the bottom of the scale of people receiving the amount of money in social assistance. We are on the bottom of the scale when it comes to minimum wage. Even with the minimum wage, even with the increases, even with the increases that we are asking, because we are trying to be realistic, people are still going to be living far, far, far below the poverty line and that is a low cut-off line given by Statistics Canada.

The statistics that you read in this document have been compiled with the help of statisticians from Statistics Canada and a researcher from one of the universities. The stats are very well based.

We are saying that in Atlantic Canada or the Maritime provinces, we are still lower than the average. What we are saying is that we should be at least brought up to that level. We are not even asking at this point in time to get to the Canadian level. This gives you an indication of how low we are.

Sixty-four individuals and families on social assistance, in order to bring them up to that level would cost about $13 million. We are looking at about $20 million because we do not mind talking about those figures; they are real figures, because we have a budget coming up. The figures you see are just to bring us up to the low level, not to take us up pas the line of poverty.

There was a dramatic increase of people in Canada using food banks from 708,000 up to about 750,000. That is a big jump. That increase equates to what happened in this province. There are 18,000 people using food banks in this province, and 66.3 per cent of those people using the food banks are people on social assistance.

In this province, we see many faces of poverty. People create poverty, people are homeless and people are on social assistance. There are the working poor. I sat through part of the presentation a while ago when they talked about the minimum wage. These people are working and they are still living below the poverty line. Even two people working together, they are still living far below the poverty line of this country.

We talk about poor children. In 1989, I believe there was a resolution, a parliamentary committee resolution, to eliminate poverty by the year 2000. We are now 2007. At that time there was somewhere between one in three children living in poverty. We are talking about one in five, very similar to what the numbers are in this province. People living in poverty are around one in five. We have not eliminated the question of child poverty. If anything, child poverty seems to be something people talk about emotionally, but what they do not understand or what they do not seem to accept is that if there are poor children, there are poor families. If there are poor families, it means that there is lack of sufficient income or lack of good employment, working at minimum wage jobs. That is what we have to equate to. It is okay to say we will eliminate child poverty, but we have to look at that aspect also.

We talked about economic impacts and low-income cut-off lines. I am not going to go too much into stats. I will be very short after this. I have my colleagues here who will talk of poverty from experience.

There are many personal barriers that we have to look at that are associated with poverty such as lack of self-esteem and the stress related to the worry of meeting your basic needs. Many people live with the worry of whether they will be able to eat or pay the oil bill for the whole month. They wonder if they will be able to clothe their children. Those are some of the choices with rising cost of living and inflation. The food baskets 20 years ago cost about $100 and now cost us about $130. Those are some of the questions where people have to make choices. As inflation goes up, you hear a lot of people talk, people who are living on middle incomes or higher incomes saying, ``Hey, this is terrible, we cannot afford it.'' They may have a choice in the type of car they drive or what type of vacation they take, but the choices for people living in poverty include whether they will eat or heat their home. They have to make the choice to clothe their children or buy food to feed them. People should not have to make choices about these basic needs. This should not happen in this country and because it does, it is a national tragedy. We hear people talking about the level of poverty. It is a national disgrace for a country as rich as ours and a province as rich as ours that we are talking about that today. This stress and worry is a big thing.

People living in poverty do not have a support base that many people seem to take for granted. The whole question of family hostilities, those things happen, not because they are bad families, but because of stress. People living in poverty sometimes cannot survive the systematic barriers and the discrimination that comes with poverty. Some people cannot survive emotionally. Some people develop unhealthy relationships and some live in solitude. The system has inherent systematic barriers that discriminate against people living on social assistance. Those things are very real.

We have to look at the lack of understanding of poverty, and I do not want to go into too much detail because I think I am taking too much time from my colleagues. There is a lack of understanding in this whole concept of a one- size approach to fix everything.

With that, Cathy will be next to talk about employment insurance, which is a big factor in many of our areas where we have seasonal work, not seasonal workers.

Cathy Mailloux, Secretary, Common Front for Social Justice of New Brunswick: Madam Chairman, I do speak English, but the terms are more familiar to me in French, so I will do it in French.


Today, I represent the people who receive unemployment insurance.

In the Atlantic provinces, as you know, we have the highest unemployment insurance rate in Canada. Seasonal work, such as fishing, the forest industry, blueberries, is the main reason. These industries generate millions of dollars for the Atlantic economy and for Canada as well. Without these workers, our local products would not exist and that would plunge industry into an irreversible economic depression.

It must be kept in mind that seasonal workers are paid low wages. For example, a person working in a plant will be paid roughly $7.60 an hour, which is unacceptable. It is distressing that people think that plant workers do not have an education and that they do not deserve better wages. That is distressing because we need people to do that work and that is as valid an occupation as any other.

In 1992, unemployment insurance benefits represented 66.6 per cent of their wages. Today, the figure has fallen to 50 per cent, which means a cut of more than 10 per cent since 1992, whereas inflation has continued to rise and unemployment insurance and rates are falling. This makes no sense.

The number of weeks of work required in order to apply for unemployment insurance has risen to 54, whereas it was 45 weeks in 1992. The number of weeks needed to qualify has risen from 10 to 14, as well as the number of hours needed to qualify.

From the moment a person files an unemployment insurance claim, there is a two-week waiting period, and thus a loss of two weeks of wages. There is a minimum of four weeks before the file is opened, which represents nearly six weeks without income. If the case has to be reviewed, the waiting period can be up to 12 weeks. Three months without income, with families to feed and all the rest, electricity expenses that rise in winter, all that means people go into debt before even receiving their unemployment insurance, and people are no longer able to recover. Things snowball, and the person is never able to gain control of the situation. All that is having devastating effects in our regions.

A number of people say that unemployment insurance discourages people from working and that they become dependent in these regions. We believe that it is the government's responsibility to create work with good conditions in order then to create a dynamic economy. I am going to take the fishing industry as an example. Let us suppose that, following the fishing season, we had a second or third round of fish product processing, and if the government set something up to employ those people, they would not need to rely on unemployment insurance. When you think about it, we get our product here in Canada, we have it processed, just the primary processing, and we send the product to the United States and give the United States work; we bring the product back to Canada, we put it in grocery store freezers, then we buy all their Captain Highliner products. Why can the government not put a system in place in which product processing would be done here instead of sending it to the United States, and that work would come back to the people in our regions? The people here would not need to rely on unemployment insurance.

My conclusion is that unemployment insurance benefits will have to be modernized to adjust to inflation so that people can live with dignity.


The Chairman: Thank you very much. We need more voices like yours in Ottawa.


Ms. Mailloux: I am a fisher and I am on unemployment insurance. I am experiencing this problem right now. My husband and I are fishers. I sympathize with people at the plant. Sometimes both parents work at the plant. There are captains who become millionaires with snow crab, and they are incapable of reasoning. The government is unable to put a system in place so that they can land their fish and employ these people at the plant. Being a boat captain and fisher, I realize I need these workers who most people take for granted. Without them, we would come in to the dock with our cargo, and what would we do with our fish? There are women who work in the shop in summer, and their wages are only used to pay the babysitter. They say they do not make any money working. They pay the babysitter. They start at six in the morning, and they do not know when they will be leaving, ten o'clock, eleven o'clock, midnight. The babysitter has to be there 24 hours a day. They work so they can have their unemployment insurance so they can survive the winter. That is shameful. That should not be happening in Canada. It is distressing that people have to live that way.


Claudia Parks, Member, Common Front for Social Justice of New Brunswick: Good morning, I am, I guess, what you would call one of the statistics. I live in extreme poverty. I live on the Acadian Peninsula. I will give you a general idea of my status. I raised two children on social assistance. Both my boys, so far, are not doing too badly in life. My oldest son has fetal alcohol syndrome and my second son has learning disabilities. It was a struggle raising them on such a meagre amount of money. With my older son being so physically and mentally disabled and unstable, I had difficulty returning to the workforce. In my heart, I always wanted to work. It had never been an issue for me to get a job. The problem was keeping it because my son was so unstable with his fetal alcohol syndrome; you know the behaviour problems that these children have. His disabilities took me out of the workforce. I would have to either leave work suddenly to try to bring my son back to reality. Then I decided at one point in time, I thought it was much more important to me to be home and be a full-time mom so that I could help him deal with his disabilities. I taught him how to survive in society; I taught him budgeting. It took years and months to teach him the process of saving money, and in the interim I learned too. It was not too bad. It was a struggle because I did not have much money. It was hard when you have to say to a six years old child, ``I'm sorry, you cannot have that chocolate bar. We just do not have the money for it.'' Being FASD he would have a fit. I remember at one point we were in a mall somewhere and I had just done my groceries and he wanted something, and with these children they want it like right now. I tried my mother thing and he had a fit. I just looked at the woman next to me and said, ``Whose child is this?'' Anyway, it was very, very difficult.

My second boy had learning disabilities, and I personally blame poverty for his learning disabilities because, although I am an alcoholic, I have been sober almost 30 years now, my health was not the best when I began my life with my first son. I was forced to live on income assistance at the time and I have been forced to stay on such a low income and because of my poverty, my health has gone down over the years. When I got pregnant with my second child, I was almost 40 and there were a lot of health factors involved in that pregnancy. He had a stroke just before he was born which caused his learning disability.

I am a fighter. I have always been a fighter. I have struggled all my life and I will not let a system get me down. That is one of the reasons I got involved with the Common Front. I am also a member of the Comité des 12 pour la justice sociale. You heard Claude's presentation, because if people like me do not come forward, how in heaven's name are people that are really, really down going to be able to say to people like you, ``I need help, you know, I need help.''

Just to give you an example, my total yearly income is $5,970. I am alone. I live in a house that belongs to me through an inheritance. I live in rural New Brunswick. I was ecstatic when I got my T5007 form because there was an error on it. It said I had made $6,065. Because I try to be optimistic, I called my worker and I said, ``Do you owe me $95?'' It would have meant that I would be able to eat something a little bit better this month.

The statistics or the numbers that I am giving you are exclusive for me. I do have the supporting data that would support the province in general. In my situation, heating alone takes up 40 per cent of my $505 a month. I have other bills and responsibilities like car insurance. I do not have house insurance; I cannot afford it. I was kind of hoping to be able to add it on this year, but because the Province of New Brunswick decided to increase our hydro bills again this year, they increased by 8 per cent last year, I just do not have the money available in my budget to insure my home. I have bills like my phone and odds and ends. I have to get deodorant and things like that to at least be presentable. So that takes up probably another 40 per cent of my income. That leaves me about $100 to buy food.

It is a bit like a circus when people get their cheques. For an outsider or someone who has the means to do things does not really understanding the behaviours of people living on social assistance. The first of the month you will see them in the store. They will go around, and I know at one point someone said to me, ``Why does she buy so many hot dogs and fries?'' I tried to explain to them that this is probably a mother of many children and she needs to have a way to feed these children so their bellies are not hurting at night. She will buy a dozen hot dogs and maybe cut them in two. I know I did it. I would take four hot dogs and put them in a little pack and then split them up into little things and get maybe two or three potatoes and a carrot and make a bit of a bouillon for my children and feed them that. It is very difficult to explain to them why this mother probably goes to bingo every week and does things that, ``Well, it is my taxpayer dollars. Why is she doing this?'' You have to understand that one of the major issues that stems from having lived in poverty or being stuck in the system, or stuck in poverty, is that there are a lot of addictions that develop because of being poor. A person can get so desperate that they will do just about anything to try to make a few extra dollars. They might be called cheaters or things that are humiliating and degrading for any human being to hear. This is again my own estimate. Maybe 3 per cent waste their full cheque, but that is very rare.

I have met people that have lived in rural New Brunswick, and the government came up with a genius plan to educate everybody and send them back into the workforce. That is very fine and dandy, but I know that myself, I have no trouble. I actually have a university degree and I am still living in poverty, and it is really, really frustrating. My mother took ill three years ago, I had to quit my job in Ottawa and come back to rural New Brunswick, and I went through a very deep depression at the beginning. It still affects me now because I came off of a reasonable salary of maybe $25,000, $30,000 a year down to $5,000. But the priority for me was to be there for my mother. She needed me and it was very sad.

We have had, as you probably know, a very cold winter this year. Some of the horror stories that have been coming out publicly, and it is probably because of something like the Common Front that they are able to say, ``Hey, maybe I can call a journalist and maybe he will be able to say to the public that I am cold or I have no food.'' The sad part of it is that there was a woman in rural New Brunswick, 59 years old, who had to resort to burning her furniture because the government would not even acknowledge that she was there. This needs to stop. It needs to stop. People need to be able to have resources available to help them for the basic needs.

If you are living in rural New Brunswick, transportation is an extreme difficulty because, as you know, many of our hospitals have been shut down. They have opened up mini clinics where you go and see a doctor during the day, but if a person takes sick in the middle of the night, yes, social assistance will probably pay your transportation. The problem that people in poverty have, because of the public attitude towards people that live on the taxpayer's dollar, I guess it is the only term I could use, have difficulty getting someone to drive them to the hospital for the amount that the government is willing to pay for the transportation.

The other problem is, again with transportation, there was talk of food banks. In rural New Brunswick, in the Caraquet Region, on the Acadian Peninsula, there are three food banks. I live in Grande-Anse, which is on the northeast part of the province. It is a beautiful part of the province, but if I happen to have a breakdown and I do not have a way to get to the food bank, I have to pay someone $20 to drive 20 kilometres or 25 kilometres to the food bank to get some food. There is supposed to be enough in the basket for three days, and I must admit though that the little bit that they give, it is pretty nice. You get maybe two potatoes, a couple of carrots, maybe a little piece of meat and some bread. The problem with the rural New Brunswick food banks is that I have to call and make an appointment. I am allowed to be hungry. I have to call and make an appointment, and if I happen to call they will immediately respond and say, ``No, you cannot call. You have to call your worker and she has to call,'' because you need permission from the government to call the food bank. These are just little things that are degrading for people. Then I have to figure out a way to get there.

Some people live way in the back. I wish the senators had the time to come and visit a small little place called Notre- Dame-des-Érables. I am not sure of the estimated population, but I know that poverty in that tiny little village is extreme. You can see the houses are falling apart. This community is completely ignored by the province. Unemployment is extremely high, and there are many learning disability problems. The people just cannot read and write. If you ask them to sign a petition, they do not understand what you are saying. They have no clue what you are offering them. It is so sad that people are forced into this type of situation.

The other thing is that there was talk about unemployment insurance and minimum wage and at $7 an hour, if you are living in rural New Brunswick, we will say Grande-Anse or Caraquet, and you happen to find a job in Bathurst at minimum wage, you have to drive at least 50 kilometres to get to work. The price of gas and oil has gone up. If you have a very good vehicle, it would cost you maybe $10 or $15 worth of gas for the day to get there and back. Many people do not even have that $10 to put into their gas tank. There is no public transportation. We need to come up with ways of allowing these people, those that can work, to work.

One of the things that I know is that medically, and it broke my heart my doctor has declared me completely unable to re-enter the workforce because of my physical problems. I have developed severe arthritis in the spine. I have seven disks that are gone, completely gone. He told me that if I continue to put too much stress on my bones, I will end up in a wheelchair. I am not even 59 years old and they will not operate; I am too young. Because of stressors, I developed ulcers. I have liver stones. I have digestive problems. I am not really fat, I am just swollen with stress. Some days I am fine. I would love to go out and take a walk, but some days I just cannot do it. I try to find other ways to compromise, but many people cannot deal with their depression. It is frustrating for people living on social assistance that have been told by their doctor, ``You need to take care of your health and you need to stay home.'' They are refused any extra assistance they could be entitled to.

They have set up a medical advisory board. To this day I still do not know who the doctors are on this medical board. I have no clue who they are. I have no clue why they would send me a letter and say, ``You are not disabled according to the law,'' when disability is very well defined in the provincial disability law. What I have as a disability is in the law. It is considered a disability, but yet I am not qualified. It is frustrating. It is not much more a month. It is just $82 more a month, plus an extra $1,000 that I could use to hire someone to shovel my driveway or mow my lawn because I cannot do it anymore.

I have two boys. One will be 30 years in March. My second son is 19 years of age. Despite their disabilities, they are both working, but they are not rich. It might have to do with my personality and my character and the way I taught them to fight. I taught them to fight whatever was bringing them down and keep fighting it. I had the chance to mould them into people that could conquer their problems. They are working. One is in Montreal. My second son is in Moncton. He has managed to get himself a job that pays him $10 an hour, but he is struggling because the cost of rent is bringing him down, and plus he is 19 years of age. I mean, if he has an extra few bucks, he would rather buy the amplifier than buy food. Then he will call mom and ask me, and I will say, ``Sorry. Where do you expect me to. . . .'' So he will say, ``Okay, I will eat rice for the week.'' But he is learning. He is learning to struggle. His biggest, biggest fear is to be forced to come back to live on the peninsula and live in poverty and live on welfare. He does not want that in his life.

There was mention earlier about education. One of the things that I have noticed, and I am very observant, is that there is a serious blockade. I do not know if the senators remember when the Government of New Brunswick brought out the works program. It sounded really, really good on paper. It sounded like an excellent idea. One of the complaints and one of the things that I was getting from people I know that went through this program is that they were frustrated because of the classification system. When they went to be classified or to be put into a category like where they were to go, they were completely saddened by the fact that they were brought down. Instead of being allowed to keep their certification, they were told, ``No, you cannot go to college because you only have a Grade 3 level education and we need to educate you because you are stupid.'' Not really the words that they used, but it is the way it makes them feel. This becomes a blockade. I have met some of them that have been stuck trying to get their Grade 4 and Grade 5 three or four years after. It would probably be someone like my second son who cannot read and write. I mean he needs aids like a computer or something to help him write because he cannot spell, and he cannot read anything that is too complicated. Words mean nothing to him. There has to be some way that we can find a better way to educate them with hands-on training or something without having to say to these people, ``Well, you cannot read and write so, therefore, we cannot educate any further.'' It is not right.

The other thing that happens is that they are forced into this upgrading and training. Yet, I was a perfect candidate when I came back to the Acadian Peninsula. I was on unemployment insurance. I was at the ideal opportunity to be recycled back into the workforce. I am qualified. I could have done anything from sweeping the floor to administrative secretary or translator. I can do anything if I put my mind to it. All I required from my worker was for her to allow me to go into upgrading to improve my French writing skills, so that I could be assimilated properly into the workforce. Yes, yes, yes was her answer. I waited and waited and waited. Three weeks later I called her back and I said, ``Where am I at with my appointment with the upgrading and training sector because I am supposed to have what they call an NB case?'' ``Oh, you cannot do that because you went to see a counsellor at mental health and I need a release from her.'' I said, ``Excuse me. I asked you to allow me to go.'' Anyway, they fooled around and fooled around for about six months and finally they told me, ``No, there are no more places left.'' I asked her, ``What do you mean there are no more places?'' She said, ``We only have 25 positions available on the Acadian Peninsula in the Caraquet region. We cannot send you and besides, you are overqualified. You have a B.A. and we cannot recycle you.'' So I was left to stay on assistance. I had no other choice. Many of the people that go into this forced training are threatened that if they do not do it, they will lose their income.

What I would like to see happen is a preventative system that would disallow young children to end up on social assistance. I do not want to see a young person live through what I lived through from my early adulthood, in my middle to late-20s. I am going to be 60 years old in a year and a half, and I am still stuck in poverty.

One of the things that I feel as a person that lives in poverty is that there is absolutely no way off the system. There is no way out of poverty. I have tried, I have tried every which way to get out of the system, and every time there is a small setback. If my toilet breaks, I have to call and ask permission to have it fixed because I do not have the money, and I have to argue with them and give them a reason why I need to have a running toilet in my home. I have to threaten them and say, ``Well, there is a health risk if you do not.'' Sometimes I can be waiting there for three or four days without running water and proper facilities.

At the age of 60, I am required to apply for my Canada Pension Plan. I am actually obliged to apply for it. The way it works is if I do not apply for the small pension that I am entitled to because I worked, they will deduct it anyway, no matter what. I feel that is completely unconstitutional. I should not be forced to take a pension just because I am poor. I am being penalized because I worked, and I find that degrading, that at least when I reach my retirement age, that I would be allowed to at least keep that small little pension. It is $185 per month. The amount that I am losing is probably around $20 per month, which is not much, but for me that is a lot of money. It would be nice if that could be adjusted so that I could keep the $185 and not have it deducted off my $500 a month cheque. At least it would give me something to work with.

That is pretty well what I have to say. For rural New Brunswickers, re-entering the workforce is a constant struggle, and the poverty has caused a lot of hardship.

The Chairman: We thank you very much for taking the time to speak to us today.

Mr. Gagnon: As you can see with the presentation that we just presented the definition of poverty is much, much more than just the lack of income. Poverty is also the conditions of a human being deprived of resources, means, choices, and the power necessary to acquire and maintain self-sufficiency and to participate in society. It is very, very important, that last part, participate in society. Therefore, we must improve the economic situations of people living in poverty. We believe we need a national anti-poverty strategy. Call it a poverty law like they did in Quebec, call it a process. Regardless of what you call it, we need a process, a strategy with a long-term vision, not only short-term visions, long-term visions with reasonable targets and reasonable time lines, for example, 10 years. In 1989, we heard about eliminating child poverty. We are now in 2007. That is not a reasonable vision. We still have child poverty and greater numbers of children living in poverty now than 1989.

We need a plan of action with a budget. Government has to start budgeting how to eliminate poverty or the causes of poverty. We do not see that lately. We have never seen it, and how they coordinate these initiatives across all government agencies, across the partners in order to address these issues.

We need greater accountability. We need an accountability structure ensuring consultation with Canadians, with special interest groups, people living in poverty, and a system to evaluate the action plan.

These are 10 of the things we have to do. We need effective legislation. We need measurable goals and time frames on these budgets. We need an independent committee, not only a government committee to oversee this.

We have to have a set an agreed upon definition and indicators with all the partners. What are the indicators that this process is working, the plan is working? How do we assess that? I believe this is what we need, and I want to conclude very briefly. We have not talked about a lot in the presentation, but many indicators of poverty, women, single parent women who have children, have great numbers of poverty; women that work in the workforce in lower paid jobs live in poverty. We have talked about pay equity. It is work of equal value, not equal work. They are paying about 14 per cent less an hour for work of equal value. Everybody seems to be saying the same thing. We have to realistic on some of these goals, and I want to conclude by saying that.

I want to thank you for allowing us the opportunity, and we are open to answer any of the questions that you may have.

The Chairman: Thank you very much to all three of you.

We will move over to David Couturier, General Manager of Atelier RADO.


David Couturier, General Manager, Atelier RADO: Madam Chairman, it is a privilege to be here and an honour to be invited to talk about the issue of rural poverty. Our presentation contains no documents or statistics because we are not an advocacy group. We represent a food bank, the community kitchen, the clothing counter and the emergency service.

I am glad to hear that the Senate of Canada has decided to take action against poverty and its effects in the rural areas of Canada and New Brunswick, because this is a reality. What I am going to present you here is the reality, because we work directly and indirectly with low-income people. There are two very important points involved in making our initiatives more effective. The first concerns poverty, and the second is that you have three questions to ask yourselves: What is poverty? Who is poor? And why are they poor? That is the basis. To be effective, you have to realize that we will never be able to eliminate poverty. The only thing we can do is to alleviate it. That is the cornerstone of strategy and policy development, because there is one fact: some people are really incapable of working in society. I am going to refer more to poverty, which is a trend that you see much more in the rural than in the urban areas.

Atelier RADO deals with food banks, community kitchens, clothing counters and emergency services. It is the first line of defence against poverty.

Poverty is a very complex equation containing a number of variables. One, education, health, politics — you cannot always blame the government — society, the economy, policies and so on, market globalization. You have to take into account a number of factors when you talk about poverty because poverty is not always a choice. I would say that, for 95 per cent of poor people, it is not a choice; it is the situation that makes it very hard to work.

According to Statistics Canada, the minimum wage in New Brunswick is $7 an hour. That said, Statistics Canada has determined that the poverty line wage in Canada is $14 an hour. The poverty line is the necessary wage, that is $14 an hour, to meet primary needs. Our minimum wage, which will be $7.25 in July, is half the basic amount. That is a gap of at least $6.75 an hour. That is enormous. Imagine the ability to meet one's needs; it is unbearable. I am going to go even further. Statistics Canada states that volunteer work is worth $16 an hour. Volunteer work is worth $16 an hour. When you draw a comparison between volunteer work and the poverty line, volunteer work is worth $16 an hour. It is worth $2 more than the poverty line wage, which is $14 an hour. That is quite something. That is a significance index that must be taken into account.

According to Maslow's theory, if a person is unable to meet his first basic need, which is to feed, clothe and house himself, that person cannot rise in the hierarchy of needs. If you cannot rise in that hierarchy, you have major deficiencies in advancing through your life. That is the reality of poverty and its effects in the rural areas.

I am going to give you some actual statistics from Atelier RADO concerning the food bank: we serve a population of nearly 35,000 inhabitants of Madawaska county, in Edmundston. Ten per cent of Madawaska county seeks out our services at the food bank. When I started, five years ago, 75 per cent of our customers were low-income individuals. Today, it is 60 per cent. There has been a decline because of the phenomenal increase in the number of the ``working poor,'' people who work and are poor, people who work at Wal-Mart for $8 an hour, 20 hours a week. Eight dollars an hour for 20 hours a week is equal to $4 an hour for 40 hours a week. We have lost a lot of ground with the globalization of markets. Under free trade, we have lost a lot of work, and the reality is there, the statistics are there. Some people tell us that we are lucky in Edmundston because there is as much work now as there used to be. It is true that there are as many workers as there used to be, and unemployment has remained the same. The only difference is that there are a lot fewer people working for $30 an hour, and a lot more working for $6 an hour. The region has lost its ability within government to assist non-profit organizations that have a virtually insurmountable and essential role in ensuring good quality of life. You know, today, according to Statistics Canada, if all the non-profit organizations in Canada decided overnight to shut down for lack of financial, human and material resources, we would automatically fall into an economic crisis. That is reasonable from an analytical standpoint.

That said, 10 per cent of Madawaska county: just think about that. That means that, if there are 30 of us here, at least three will come requesting services from us. That is quite alarming. In a class of 30, three children have not had enough to eat. If they have not had enough to eat, the vicious circle starts. How can they learn? How can they be disciplined? How can they be attentive? That is a vicious circle, and it is easy to understand.

At the Atelier RADO food bank, we have served 1,600 boxes of food. Our food boxes can last 10 days. We helped 3,055 persons last year out of a population of 35,000 inhabitants. At the community kitchen, we are open roughly 240 days a year because we are closed on weekends and holidays. Last year, out of those 240 days, Atelier RADO helped 14,400 persons by serving them meals. We have a population of 35,000. Just think of it. Do the arithmetic; nearly half of Madawaska county has sought out our services. At the clothing counter, more than 11,000 people have come, and our services are reserved solely for low-income individuals. If, in a county like ours, where there are only 35,000 inhabitants, we have helped 11,000 meet their clothing, appliance, furniture and other needs, there is a serious problem. It is enormous.

Last year, out of a budget of $350,000 to manage Atelier RADO, 35 per cent came from the government, 65 per cent from the community. Our problem is that the community has a lot of work in Edmundston, as I told you earlier. However, they work 20 hours a week, 15 hours a week, for $6, $7 or $10 an hour. Ten dollars an hour, even $20 an hour for 20 hours a week, is the same as $10 an hour for 40 hours a week. You cannot manage with that. The necessary wage in order to live in Canada is $14 an hour. That is a national average, and we did not make that up; it comes from Statistics Canada.

That said, in terms of statistics, Atelier RADO, our non-profit organization, last year offered a market value of $1.02 million in services last year with a budget of $350,000. The government gives $2.1 million to agencies such as ours in New Brunswick to take care of poor people. If you do the calculations, we provide an excellent return on investment in helping low-income individuals. Think about it: with $350,000, we offered services with a market value of $1.02 million just in Edmundston, in Madawaska county. That is incredible. Multiply those statistics by the 59 agencies in New Brunswick, and imagine the market value of our services in New Brunswick. Imagine the market value of our services across Canada? We are not here just to say that we are here. We are here because there is a need, a major need. Even though I am the manager of a food bank, I am aware that we are not the best solution to the poverty problem because our purpose is not to eliminate poverty and we are not an advocacy group. Our purpose is to meet needs, to help poor people in their personal lives, to break through in life, to get an education. We cannot ask a person to go to school, to go to work, to try to move forward in life if their primary needs are not met; they cannot do that. They will remain a statistic and they will be unable to move forward, and society will pay in one way or another, which means that it is very important to talk about the need to be proactive.

Poverty is not only a matter of money; there is nothing poorer than a rich country like Canada where there is so much poverty. In 1996, I lived in Mexico for a month, where I worked as a volunteer, in direct contact with poverty. They only spoke Spanish, and I worked the way they worked so I could experience the reality of poverty. I can assure you that it bowled me over. In Mexico, they do not have any assistance; we nevertheless have social assistance, but that is not enough. We have band-aid syndrome. For example, if you fall down and hurt yourself, you put on a band-aid, and you learn that, if you fall down, you can hurt yourself, so you learn not to fall. It is somewhat the same principle at the social, economic and political levels. Whatever the case may be, you have to learn. One of our problems is the lack of incentives for making people learn. It is not a matter of education; it is a matter of logic.

Take the example of the visible minorities of the First Nations; they are the group that receives the most money nationally in the form of social assistance and all the infrastructure programs. And yet they are the visible minority that we see has the highest rates of suicide, rape and murder. There is a reason for that. It is not a matter of resources, but of ability. Our centre takes in people who receive $495 a month; of that amount, $400 a month is used for housing alone. Financially speaking, they need more money, but if from one day to the next they were given $1,000 more a month, they would be unable to manage it. That is a fact. There are some people who are unable to get by, because their parents were unable to show them the realities of life. Consider the example of this mother who managed to break out of the vicious circle, by showing her children that she had not chosen to live in poverty, that it was important to change attitudes and to push further in order to change her life. If that is not an example of a person who is rich, then what is? It is at this level that action has to be taken. We have to use these examples to help and push these people. Some people are unable to work because of physical and mental disabilities. Others are unable to work for logistical and educational reasons.

In the past, we had access to a program that enabled people to better manage their financial and material resources. Funding came from the federal and provincial governments, and that enabled us to provide a free service and save money in our operations. That program enabled people to be much less dependent on the systems. Although the statistics show that a lot fewer people used our services because they were better able to manage their resources, the government decided to cut the program in 2003, because they thought it was not viable.

So poverty is not solely measured by a lack of money. Sometimes it is a lack of know-how, a lack of resources and guidance.

The other problem is ability versus will. Here in Canada, according to Statistics Canada, Madawaska county is the second most generous community in terms of its volunteer work and monetary contributions. The first is Sussex, also in New Brunswick. However, we are losing our capability because the large non-profit organizations, like the hospital foundations and the even the clergy, are hiring companies to do their fund-raising. As a result, there is major competition within the regions, and small organizations like ours are losing the ability to maintain their operations because there is a shortage of money. These major fund-raising drives have the effect of minimizing the ability of the tax base to share wealth. This is a matter of wealth redistribution. We cannot ask a poor community to take its affairs in hand because it has a lack of wealth. We need guidance in the rural areas, not only in New Brunswick, but elsewhere in the world; this is a major challenge.

We often wonder about the reasons why the rural regions are becoming poorer than other regions. That is because the rural regions in general are places with an abundance of natural resources, like water for fisheries, forests, mines and so on. Initially, everything goes very well. Everyone works. Then come market globalization and free trade. Big companies then buy up small ones, which buy the other small ones; at some point, there are no more small companies. That is why the co-ops and the credit unions were founded, to bring a number of small companies together to form a whole, but now, as a result of market globalization and free trade, the strong have become stronger and the weak weaker.

Most of New Brunswick's natural resources currently go to the United States. That is a capability that we had that we no longer have. A lot of products are taken from here and processed. We get them back at a much higher price. There is no reason why a tree that is cut down and processed in the region should cost more than a tree that is cut down here, sent to and processed in China and comes back to Edmundston for it to cost less. That is nonsensical and it is not logical. Wood is sent to and processed in China and takes away a lot of work from us, and why? Somewhere there is a lack of leadership, as a result of which we do not control our own natural resources. The problem is that resources are at the primary level, and that we are increasingly losing the secondary level, that is everything that is in the processing field. At the tertiary level, there is a deficiency. We are gradually improving, but momentum is not strong enough for us to be able to survive in that area. One problem in New Brunswick, for example, is the Irving company's monopoly on the pulp and paper industry. If Irving does well, everyone does well, because everyone works. Transportation goes well, the stores go well. If the company decides to close all its wood stops, everyone will be penalized. The fact that a company is big can help, but it can also hurt very much because the stakes are big.

Today, New Brunswick is paralyzed at the primary level because we are not diversified enough. All the resources are at the primary level: wood, paper, lumber and fisheries. If those markets are expanding, our economy will rise. But that is not the reality. The fisheries are in trouble, the forest industry is in trouble, the paper mills are in trouble because globalization is putting a lot of pressure on us. It is a major problem.

I am currently sitting on a committee with Claudette Bradshaw, who was appointed by the Premier of New Brunswick on the provincial non-profit organizations initiative. The reason we have nothing to present today is that we are working on an issue and it is in the early stages. We are trying to show the fundamentally important role of non- profit organizations for the welfare of communities and the development of their quality of life. What we need, first, is federal and provincial accountability in order to more effectively help and guide non-profit organizations; consider the example of RADO — the government gives Atelier RADO $100,000 so it can operate. If we disappeared overnight, it is not $100,000 that would have to be invested in the region, but $1.02 million, and it cannot invest that $1.02 million because the total amount invested in the province is $2.1 million. You have to think about that.


The Chairman: Thank you very much. Do give our best regards to Claudette, who has been a great leader in these areas. Not just here, but right across Canada. She is a great lady.

Senator Mercer: I would like to echo your last comments. The name of Claudette Bradshaw is one that comes up in every province. Claudette is not just a New Brunswick asset; she is a national treasure concerning these very important issues.

Claudia, it is really important for us to meet you. You are an inspiration to us. You may be on social assistance and you may not be able to work, but you are a tremendous success. You have raised two children who are out there working. They may not be doing exactly what you want or what they want, but you are to be commended for that, and commended for your sobriety and commended for your commitment to your children and to trying to improve not just your lot, but also the lot of other people in New Brunswick and in Canada. I want to thank you for coming and sharing that story with us. It is very important for us to hear from people who actually live with poverty on a daily and hourly basis. Thank you for that.

Ms. Parks: Thank you, senator.

Senator Mercer: Claudia brought up the issue of having to have permission to go to the food bank. This is a new concept to me that I have not seen in my own province of Nova Scotia. Is this something that is unique to New Brunswick?

Yesterday in Prince Edward Island, we heard of an analysis of food bank use and the frequency of food bank use and they have actually tried to adjust the food bank use to make sure that those using the banks are indeed the people that need them the most.

Can you answer both of these questions? Is this a provincial government regulation about getting permission to go to the food bank? Do you measure the frequency of food bank use?


Mr. Couturier: Very good question, senator. One thing that is certain is that we are trying to increase government awareness and accountability, but the problem is that it gives at times very small amounts to food banks and tells them to make do with those funds. No two food banks operate in the same manner; whether it be food banks, community kitchens, clothing counters or emergency services, every non-profit organization has its own management method and eligibility criteria. This is one of the shortcomings of the non-profit organizations. With Claudette Bradshaw's cooperation, we want to make the government accountable so that there is standardization in management and the services that non-profit organizations offer to meet the population's essential needs.

There are nine food banks in Moncton, New Brunswick, and half of them operate on a volunteer basis. At Atelier RADO, we have six permanent full-time employees, and we are considered a non-profit organization management leader. We often struggle like the devil to achieve our ends. The lack of uniformity in operating methods is what we want to change in government initiatives and that has not been achieved yet. There appears to be a certain openness on the part of the federal and provincial governments to this need for standardization of services. The problem is a question of capability. The regions, even if they are poor, have a tax base and have a financial capability.

The problem lies in a community's ability to meet needs. In our organization, everything is accounted for: the number of persons served, the quantities that we give, the quantities of gifts, and I am paid to do that. Some agencies do not have the funds to do that, and they do not have the resources to provide statistics. I was able to give you RADO's actual statistics because I work in the field, but many cannot do that. They have no idea how many people go through because they do not have the resources to record the numbers. There are food banks in St. John where the average age of the volunteers is 70. We cannot ask them to provide an elaborate accounting system. The reality in St. John is not the same in Moncton, Fredericton or Edmundston. Because we are in a public place, we are open to the idea of providing our statistics. That is the difference, but that is not unfortunately the case for everyone.

There has been a decline in services at the food banks, not because of a decline in numbers, but because we are less able to meet the demand. The main cause of this problem is that our revenues remain the same every year and the cost of living increases from year to year.


Senator Mercer: There is a national network of food banks, and I do not know if there is a network within New Brunswick. Nova Scotia has gone through a model where the food banks have all come together under the heading of Feed Nova Scotia, so that both the donation and distribution sides are coordinated. Is there something like that in New Brunswick? Are the New Brunswick food banks members of the national network? My colleague Gerard Kennedy helped establish that national network a few years ago.


Mr. Couturier: In New Brunswick, there is the New Brunswick Association of Food Banks. Our organization paid to become a member of that association and to become a member of the Canadian Association of Food Banks. However, there was a restructuring at the Canadian Association of Food Banks, and agencies such as ours can no longer become members. It is the provincial association that can become a direct member.

An alarming factor is that the Government of New Brunswick had the generous idea of increasing income assistance by a certain percentage. That resulted in roughly $15 more a month. At the same time in Edmundston, however, all landlords increased rents by $15. That is just to tell you that poverty is not just a matter of money. Let us suppose that the federal government said from one day to the next that it was standardizing income assistance at $1,000 in Canada. That would be a mistake because all landlords would increase the rents they charged to those receiving income assistance. That is logical. In your efforts, if you increase income assistance from $495 to $2,000, everything will automatically increase. The cost of living will increase. It takes an incentive in the sense that (1) it is good that you increase housing, but (2) you have to tell landlords that they cannot increase rents for a certain number of years or based on the inflation rate, no more.


Senator Callbeck: Claudia, I want to echo the words of Senator Mercer that it is important that we have heard your story, and I especially want to thank you for coming today.

Ms. Parks: Thank you, senator.

Senator Callbeck: You say at age 60 that you would get $185 from the Canada Pension, but you would lose $20 of that off your $500 cheque. Are you talking about your social assistance cheque?

Ms. Parks: No, when I would say I am forced, I am forced to retire at 60 years of age. When I reach 65 I lose approximately $20, as it stands now. That might change. Because of the Canada Pension Plan system if I apply at age 60, I am penalized .5 per cent per month for every month. Because I am a social assistance recipient in the province of New Brunswick, I am discriminated against, basically, because of that status, and I do not think that it is fair, personally.

Senator Callbeck: I understand that now. You mentioned $85 because your doctor had indicated you were disabled. Is that a provincial cheque of $85?

Ms. Parks: No, what happens is that my current cheque is $505, and I am not sure because they just increased us by 1 per cent or something recently. At the time that I had applied, or my doctor applied, I did not even know he had applied for this for me. I found out because my worker had to contact me and they had to set up an appointment to do their social assessment of my capabilities. Maybe it is my personality that made them decide I was not disabled, because I do not know what happened. There are three categories of income assistance amounts, and I believe the Province of New Brunswick is probably the only one that has this income bracket that I am in. There would be, let us say — I am just giving you examples, do not quote me — $582 would be for a person who has been declared disabled by the Medical Advisory Board. These are rare. The number of people that are in that category are approximately anywhere between 1,500 to 2,000 individuals or units. Then, there is my category that is $505. In that category, approximately 7,000 to 8,000 units are in that category. It seems to me as if everybody else that does not belong in those other two go there. Then, there is an absurd amount of $284 a month given to individuals living in shelters or in their parental home or in a home. These are people who are declared able to work.

The other thing that happens is that on the policy side of the social assistance benefits it clearly states that the majority of the people that are in my category are unable to work, but it does not say that we are allowed to get the extra assistance.

Senator Callbeck: John, your presentation was on poverty in general. This committee is looking at rural poverty. Is there a difference between rural poverty and urban poverty?

Mr. Gagnon: I think poverty in general is poverty, and you can divide it in as many ways as you want; there are many faces to poverty. Whether it is rural poverty or urban poverty, still there are different dynamics. The low cut-off mark that was mentioned previously in my presentation and in the presentation of my colleague over there, they are different. People recognize there are differences between rural and urban because the low cut-off line is lower in the urban.

I think the difference is the barriers. You still have the poverty, but the barriers like Claudia was talking about, you have to get to a food bank, you need transportation, you have to go get groceries, you live in a rural area, you need transportation. When you talk about poverty, not only people on social assistance, you have many people living on minimum wage. Why do you think people do not go to 10-hour jobs? A 10-hour job, with the cost of insurance, there is no public transportation in their areas. Those are some of the dynamics, some of the barriers. Yes, there are different barriers. There are more barriers in the rural areas than urban areas, but poverty is still poverty. That is the difference. Not the difference in poverty.

Senator Callbeck: Cathy, I certainly agree with what you said about value-added. I know in my own province of Prince Edward Island we used to pick potatoes and put them in bags and ship them off the island. Now, we have processing plants. I mean there are hundreds and hundreds of people employed there. So we certainly need to do more of that.

You mentioned childcare. Is that a problem here in finding places for your children? How expensive is it?

Ms. Mailloux: Seasonal workers such as fishermen or shop workers might work, in a five-month period, as much as a normal person at a desk job works in one year. It is more condensed. We are looking at, for example, people that work at the shops and that they have to have babysitters 24 hours, 7 days a week. They can be called in the night, at three or four or five in the morning. Obviously, they cannot start waking their kids up to take them out of the house and so, they have to plan in advance and make sure that there is somebody in the home. When you are looking at somebody 24 hours, 7 days a week for two months, you are looking at about $250 to $300 a week. When they are off work, they have to do their laundry, so they cannot take care of the children either and they have to pay their bills, go to town and do all kinds of things. The babysitter is really living on the premises for about two months. Once they have all their expenses paid and stuff like that, and the babysitter is paid, there is nothing left. You hear every day; the basic comment is I am working to pay my babysitter. I am just working so I can have unemployment to survive the winter. They work for their unemployment and their babysitter.

Mr. Gagnon: You hit on a very important point. We have had that debate on childcare forever and ever and a day. We had a commitment from the former government and a new commitment throwing money instead of providing spaces. It is the whole question, not only for seasonal work, but the whole question of affordable childcare, a national program, national standards where people can come in and bring their children, whether they are seasonal workers, whether it is people you want to take off social assistance and get them to work. What is the incentive? People working in low income jobs, below the poverty line need affordable daycare. These are some of the barriers I was talking about. Again, rural and urban, if you get something in urban, if you have that lack in rural, there is a problem. I think you hit on a very important point. It is not only for seasonal workers. We have to have a national affordable childcare system, and that is one of the barriers for people living in poverty.

Senator Callbeck: I agree with you.


Mr. Couturier: I am going to add an example. In New Brunswick, day care expenses cost us almost as much per month as our mortgages. The reality today is that both parents have to work. The cost of living has risen too quickly relative to incomes, and incomes have not risen the same way in all sectors. In places where there were unions, so much the better, because they created jobs that, in economic terms, assisted the economy. You cannot stimulate an economy with $10 an hour, 40 hours a week. You cannot even meet your own needs. We are a typical case. We are two parents, both of us work, we earn good salaries, we are lucky, but we work for that. The only problem is that it costs us one pay per month just for the children. Two incomes are necessary to make ends meet. Imagine if we had lower costs how beneficial that would be for the economic community. We could buy more. Right now, we minimize our purchases, we do not travel, and we definitely do not go out. That is the reality. Ultimately, we get a tax refund, of course, but we pay 12 months a year. It is very tough. But the tax refund does not represent exorbitant amounts either. Statistics show that the birth rate in the low-income class is rising and that the birth rates of the middle and well-to-do classes have remained stable. Something is happening. You have to help not only low-income people, but also those in the middle class, which is disappearing. What is happening to the middle class? They have money, they can afford to find ways to pay less tax: tax avoidance. I did not make that up. Even if I wanted to avoid taxes, I could not. I do not have any money. I told you earlier that I would show you the reality, not statistics. If I had $400 more a month, I would put money in funds for my children's education. I cannot do that immediately. Companies tell me they need good, low-cost programs. I do not have any money. I have to pay babysitters. Economically, I cannot buy the car I want or put shingles on the house; I cannot do this or that. That is the reality.

Mr. Gagnon: I am pleased that David has described the reality of a family of two people who work, but I do not think they live in poverty. That is the case of two people who work and who are having difficulties. At the start of our presentation, we talked about poverty, and when inflation rises, it is a lot tougher for them. If we find the situation really difficult with one income, imagine the mother of a single-parent family, people who work for minimum wage at $7 an hour in the province; imagine the problems they experience compared to those who have an income at an average wage.


The Chairman: Thank you. It would be very good if we could have all the members of both Houses of Parliament hearing your comments today.

Senator Callbeck: David, it is certainly impressive the value of the service that you are able to provide on your budget. You said that you have lost the capacity to help organizations that improve the quality of life. You mentioned the closing of volunteer organizations. Is that happening a lot? Are we losing many volunteer organizations?


Mr. Couturier: There used to be a working class, and they were considered people who were burned out by work. Today, the problem is that volunteers are the ones who are burned out by work. Statistics show that a high percentage of employees are depressed or overworked, as they say, but this situation also includes volunteer workers. Non-profit organizations do not exist merely to collect money. They exist because there is a need. In the region, for a population of 35,000 inhabitants, there are 174 non-profit organizations that need money in order to survive. Whether it be for sports and recreation, arts and culture, or non-profit organizations such as ours. The reality today, for Edmundston, is that people's financial ability to make donations has changed, and fund-raising is harder to do. Since 300 employees were cut from the Fraser company, where the minimum wage paid is approximately $25 an hour, nearly 95 per cent of them have found work. At the time, when asked for a donation, they could make a donation. Today, they are working at Canadian Tire or elsewhere, but for $10 an hour.

It has gotten to the point where non-profit organizations are hiring fund-raising companies, which conduct major campaigns, which exhaust resources and the financial capability. The best organizations for gathering more donations are the ones that go back to the community looking for them. The problem is that there is less money and thus less ability to give. There is also the problem of an aging population. Statistics Canada states that, for the first time in 200 years, the death rate is higher than the birth rate. That is an important factor. Those statistics are very costly. What are we going to do with that? Our regions are losing the ability to meet needs. The best example is our budget, which has remained the same for the past 10 years, and our operating costs have increased by about 100 per cent during that time. People do not understand the impact of a 2 per cent rise in the inflation rate. If we bought $10,000 worth of electricity last year, 2 per cent of $1 is nothing, but 2 per cent of $10,000 adds up. That is a problem. Even though we are a non- profit organization, we have the same responsibilities and the same concerns as businesses that exist in order to make money.

We have two income sources: government assistance for our finances and the community. Just to compare urban versus rural regions, on a per capita basis, there is as much poverty in the rural regions as in the urban regions, if not more. In urban areas, they have financial capability because they have businesses that are making a lot of money. Corporate headquarters are very often in urban centres. That said, do not go looking for any headquarters here. Wal- Mart does not have its headquarters in a place like Edmundston. They have a warehouse. Very often the assistance of those major companies is national, and they have only very little involvement locally. When we say capability, we obviously mean the capability of our communities. The government often says that the community has to take charge of itself, but, if the community is poor, if there is no money and the illiteracy rate is high, how can it take charge of its affairs? That is the actual capability. Do not ask someone who has a broken leg to run a 10-kilometer race in one hour. He will not be able to do it. Somewhat the same principle is involved here.


Senator Peterson: I would like to thank our presenters. Their comments have been very insightful and will certainly help us in getting our final report completed. They have been very thorough.

Cathy, on the delays on the EI, do you find that these people are going to Money Marts to get money ahead and pay an exorbitant rate?

Ms. Mailloux: No, people are falling behind. I know for myself, I have already called unemployment and told them, ``Okay, it has been 12 weeks. I am going to take my kids, I am going to sit them on your desk and you can feed them.'' I do not have the way to get there and get money in advance. You are never ever sure if you are going to receive your unemployment and you do not want to take the chance. I am a woman fisherman. My employer is my husband. Every year I always go through this bureaucratic tape and I am always under stress that I am not going to receive my unemployment. It has to go through studies. This year they sent it to Revenue Canada because I am paid a percentage instead of being paid a weekly salary. You cannot go ahead and start borrowing money because you do not know if you are going to be accepted or not. What you do is you start falling behind in your payments and then, once you do get your unemployment you get one week. You start off with one week. Usually we apply in the fall. The shop workers and the forestry people have the same problems. You get maybe half a cheque before Christmas. That is the reality of being on unemployment. People think, ``Oh well, they like being on unemployment.'' We lose half of our salary. We loose salary while we are waiting. We lose half of our salary during the winter months when it is more expensive for us to live. The reality of it is you just get behind.

Senator Peterson: Claudia, I just want to get your situation straight on this early retirement. Are you saying that the provincial government is forcing you to take early retirement to save paying you so they can claw back what they are paying you?

Ms. Parks: Yes, sir. They are clawing back my Canada Pension Plan.

Senator Peterson: They are forcing you to take it.

Ms. Parks: They are forcing me to take it.

Senator Peterson: I find that unconstitutional.

Ms. Parks: I know. I do too.

Senator Peterson: We should check into that.

Ms. Parks: I am hoping that I could afford at age 60 to take the government to court.

Senator Peterson: That would be great.

Ms. Parks: I would probably be the one to do it. I have talked to many, many people that this has happened to. One woman and this is so sad; her Canada Pension Plan was $23 and they forced her to take it. They told her. She said, ``No, I am not taking it.'' She is this little spitfire thing. She would have taken up the whole thing. She is hilarious. She would not do it, and then she starts getting her monthly welfare cheques and she has physical problems, and here was this $23 that was being deducted off her cheque. They were forcing her to apply. I was saying to her that this should not be happening because you are creating the situation. You are creating a very bad situation. I am sorry, but this is my way of thinking. As a Canadian, I have rights. I have rights as a Canadian.

Senator Peterson: I agree.

David, you talk about the food bank having difficulty with volunteers and trying to keep up with your supplies and that, but I think I can comment on that situation. You are probably like me with the number of telemarketing calls you get on any given evening, which just indicates how much everything is being downloaded onto individuals that governments largely seem to be abdicating the responsibility of looking after their citizens in this regard. It is just tragic and it just goes right throughout the system, not just you, and that is unfortunate. Maybe we can put some light on that.

John, on your study here, this report, how do you move forward? Is this it or will you keep going on this?

Mr. Gagnon: What we have done successfully, and David spoke about it at the conference, we want to keep all people involved. We want to be an inclusive organization. What we have done was get the people in poverty to work on this. Now, that we have had the conference we have started this postcard campaign. Without Frank's signature on it, maybe that would help, I do not know. That explains the very beginning. That is the first step of the campaign, to make the politicians aware, to make society aware. These are some of the three components that we will be working on. As you read the report, you will see there are other things. We talk about the guaranteed annual income, which is a long-term solution. We discuss the whole question of pay equity that I talked about a little while ago. These are not the only causes of poverty. After that, we are going to re-assess, where we go from here and work with governments. These cards will be delivered to the local members of the legislature, and then we will do a campaign after this is done. Yes, it is going to be an on-going campaign to eliminate the causes of poverty, especially these types of causes.

Senator Mahovlich: You are talking about seasonal work, and we talk about seasonal work as not a very good thing. I was a hockey player and it was seasonal job. When I started 50 years ago — 50, it is scary, you know — I had to work in the summer. I was not getting enough money and I was just a single boy, but I had to go out and get another job for the four months in the summer because they were not paying us enough. They were paying us minimum wage. I walked in there, and they said, ``You are going to get this, Frank, and we are taking you out of Timmins and you are coming down to Toronto,'' and they told us how much we were going to make and that was it. Eventually we formed an association and after 10 years of struggling, we had the president of the league come in and tell us what our pension was going to be, and you could not survive on that pension. If I had to depend on that pension, I could not survive today.

This is not going to be easy for the seasonal worker. You are right; we have to come up with some other work because the seasonal work is not enough. Hockey players today do not have to work in the summer. We fought tooth and nail. We had to go to court and all of sudden a young hockey player is making a million dollars a year now.

Now, I do not know whether the fish are ever going to be that expensive. They may be some day. Who knows? We have to process the products right here in New Brunswick if we are going to find time to build it up. I think you are right about that, but there is another problem too. We are doing a lot of world trade now. You are competing with China and the Chinese workers are not paid.

My father always told me, it is always about circulation. It sounds like the circulation is cut off with the $8.55 per hour. This is what has happened here. You are right; we have to get this up so you can afford the circulation, to get involved with the communities and to operate properly. Our minimum wage is too low.

Now, Cathy, did you want to say something? I know you are anxiously writing things down.

Ms. Mailloux: I would like to come back to where you were talking about Japan and China.

Senator Mahovlich: Yes, the world trade.

Ms. Mailloux: The world trade. I think the world trade brings harm to our fishing industry. I will give you an example. I am a fisherman and this is my passion. The Japanese have come in, and they want our roe. They started paying big money to have our roe for the herring. The Canadian government does not understand yet, and I do not know if they are ever going to understand it; we are destroying our stocks for this product to go overseas. All this big money is coming in and the fisherman are saying, ``Oh my God, they are paying big money for the barrels,'' but where will we be in 10 years?

We have lived this with the cod. We are cod fishermen. We left 100, 000 pounds of cod in the water this summer because we had nobody to purchase it because they are taking the cod from Russia that is less expensive. It is understandable, seeing that since 1992 we had a moratorium on cod. The shops and the equipment are no longer functioning and there is not enough quota to come back to start the shops back up. We are looking at an industry that people from outside are coming in, and they are harming us.

The Canadian government has to wake up in the fishing industry and realize that quality over quantity has to become the top priority in the fishing industries. It is as if the Canadian government has a mentality that is quantity, quantity, quantity, but our quantity is going down and down and down. We have to change. We have to think like the Europeans. We need quality products. It is like our lumber that is going to Japan. We have to stop these things because that is why we are living in poverty.

Senator Mahovlich: We are losing our natural resources.

Ms. Mailloux: Yes, we are losing our natural resources to other places. Other places are stealing our resources and they are taking them for cheap labour. It is terrible.

Senator Mahovlich: They can build a house in China cheaper than we can here in Canada, and we could build a house here and ship it but they could do it cheaper. This is another big problem.

Mr. Gagnon: I wish to respond to some of your comments and I think that it is important, and it is hard to respond after Cathy because she has an in-depth knowledge of the fisheries.

I believe like many that the free trade agreements have had a very, very big impact on our economy. We are contracting all of our work overseas for the second and third transformation. Some of the best fish come from Caraquet, but you will not see canned oysters from Caraquet; they are processed in Japan. When the Japanese come here, they inspect the shops. They even buy the shops in order to process the fish overseas. We are leaving our fish to be processed.

Senator Mahovlich, what you were saying earlier about when you were a hockey player and had to work in the summertime, the jobs that are available in Northern New Brunswick and the peninsula are not sustainable jobs. You have heard many governments say that it is not the responsibility of the government to create jobs; I agree, but it is their responsibility to create the right economic environment and climate to create jobs. They have not done that in this province. They have not done that in the northern part of the province. If they claim there is a dependency on unemployment insurance, it is because they have created that dependency where they have industries that promote part-time work, where meaningful full-time jobs where people can make a living do not exist. That is the reality in these communities.

You have heard the talk about the rich millionaires and the boat plants, if they make X amount of million dollars, and Cathy is not one of them, over 14 weeks there is no incentive for them to do the second and third transformation. There has to be some political will to do that.

Senator Mahovlich: In Japan, do they have unemployment insurance?

Mr. Gagnon: I am not sure. They must have some form of insurance.

Senator Mahovlich: Or in China?

Mr. Gagnon: I am not sure. I cannot answer that. I am not that in-depth.

Senator Mahovlich: Maybe we could search for a sample country that has some of the answers.

Mr. Gagnon: You mentioned and so did my colleague about bringing up the minimum wage and social assistance. It was mentioned at our summit. If you bring up the minimum wage, if you bring up social assistance, inflation, it claws back and he has a valid point. In reality, I think it is a band-aid and does not resolve the problems.

Even if they raise the minimum wage or give more social assistance, the people receiving the amounts will still be far below the poverty line. What we need is a long-term goal, which the previous Liberal government flirted with. The guaranteed annual income, it sounds like a bad word and there are many people who have some preoccupation with it. I am from the labour movement, and even the labour movement is a little leery of that guaranteed income.

I believe we have to have a guaranteed annual income that will supply people with an income that is above the poverty line. That is where we have to go. That is what we have to do. Then, you do not have to ask these questions. Look, I have seasonal work; I have to get another job in the summer. Here is a guaranteed minimum you are going to get. Now, the repercussions of that could be many things. Many people will say, ``Well, if you are going to do that, maybe social assistance will end up paying for it, or maybe employment insurance will end up paying for that.'' But if you have a liveable wage for somebody, then, I think we can start, I am not saying eliminating these other programs, but we can start looking at how we can pay for it, if it meant that or not. I am not promoting eliminate these programs, but there are all kinds of ways to look at that to make sure you have a liveable wage above the poverty line. That is the solution.

Senator Mahovlich: If everybody had a minimum wage, you would get rid of the food banks.

Mr. Gagnon: A liveable wage, yes.

Senator Mahovlich: You would not need food banks. And Wal-Mart and these stores would make more money. It is just circulation. We are not circulating properly.

Mr. Gagnon: It boils down to whole question of distribution of wealth.

Senator Mahovlich: Claudia, you have shown the courage of Rosa Parks. She was an American that showed great courage, just like you. I want to commend you on that.

You said you had car insurance, and I was doing my math. How did you ever get to buy a car or did you steal it?

Ms. Parks: That is a very good question. Actually, when I came back to the Province of New Brunswick in 2003, I had just come off a very, I would not consider it high paying job, but I had good money coming in, and I had just gone on to unemployment insurance. My mother, who is 87 years old, was living in my home. I can save money obviously, if I can live on a very small amount. What I did was I saved a few bucks every month starting when I came home in February and by June, I had enough saved up to buy the car. Believe me I did not pay $5,000 for it; I paid $500 for it. Then I thought, okay, my plan was to save again. I had to save money to get it licensed, I had to save money to get the insurance, get it fixed up, get it repaired, and gradually by the time Christmas came around the van was on the road, and it is still on the road. It is a 1988 Dodge Caravan and I have a very good mechanic who has allowed me to make any major repairs and give him just a few dollars to pay for it. People are very kind. It is still on the road.

Senator Mahovlich: Do they have a home that maybe a doctor could recommend to you? You are saying you have a sore back and you are not able to do things. You have to get someone to shovel the snow. Do they not have here a home here for disabled?

Ms. Parks: There is no room at the inn. This is one of the problems because of time constraints and things like that. One of the problems, especially in rural New Brunswick, is that there are not enough placements or units available to people who would need temporary care. My mother right now is in a very good residential home where she is cared for. Her basic needs are cared for, her washing and little bit of laundry. She still makes her own bed and she will be 88 years old. She washes her own hair. There is a very long waiting list. So that is a problem.

Senator Mahovlich: David, you mentioned that some people that earn minimum wage go to food banks. Are you finding that there are less people going to food banks, or do they continue? Do they get off the food bank, or do they continue going to the food banks?


Mr. Couturier: That is a very good question. On the contrary, demand for services continues to rise from year to year. Increasing numbers of workers call on our services because they cannot meet their needs. In addition, there are people receiving their pensions who need our services. We cannot meet all these needs because we do not have the financial resources. Even though the community is very generous in providing non-perishable goods and cash, our ability to offer our services is very limited. We would like to help a lot more people. Today, for example, we can only give out seven boxes of food per family per year. Before, when we had a program, we could give them tips for getting seven boxes of food for 12 months instead of 10. They had trouble managing their financial and material resources well. As I told you earlier, poverty is not just a matter of money, it is a matter of capability. It is a matter of common sense and intelligence. The program was subsidized by the provincial and federal governments and enabled families to manage better. They became less poor, less dependent on the system because they were learning. I have a budget. I have a certain income; I have certain expenses. I have to deal with that. That said, that enabled them to better manage their resources, even a box of food that normally can last an average of 10 days. Some boxes of food last three days because people do not know how to cook with what they have. For example, with a pound of hamburger, you can make a cheeseburger and there is nothing left. But you can also make a lasagna, spaghetti sauce and cook three meals. It is somewhat in that way that we are talking about poverty. We are having trouble providing our services because of a lack of money. There are costs involved in operating a food bank: we have to pay employees, electricity, heating and insurance. We have the same financial responsibilities as a business. At the end of the year, we have to balance our books, or else the government tells us that, if there is a surplus of $1,000 — and we cannot put that in a reserve fund — it will cut our funding. I would like the Province of New Brunswick to let us do financial management, and perhaps we could help them manage better.


Senator Gustafson: I have been taking all of these proceedings in. You leave the hard questions for me.

The Chairman: That is because you are such a good farmer.

Senator Gustafson: I think these questions have to be asked. This one has not been asked so far on this trip, but I think it has to be asked. Dave, is the Salvation Army active in the community with food banks?


Mr. Couturier: The clothing counter is one of our income sources that brings in about $55,000 a year. That money is redistributed throughout our organization and goes toward buying food for the region. We are an excellent economic partner. Every cent spent and every cent received from the community is redistributed 100 per cent in the community. Recently, the Salvation Army opened up as a clothing counter. Two years ago, they came to see us in order to help us. I explained to them that we were a food bank, a community kitchen, a clothing counter and an emergency service. They asked us if we had any shelters. No, that is the only service we do not have in the region. However, the people who go and shop at the Salvation Army will not be coming back to RADO, so they are, in a way, our competitors. Money spent at the Salvation Army is not spent with us, and the Salvation Army's funds do not stay in the region. It is like Development and Peace. The Salvation Army is an important organization, but the money does not stay in the community, unlike our organization, which keeps 100 per cent of it in the region. It is a vicious circle. A turnover rate is being established. Will we get the same amount of money from the clothing counter next year? We do not know.


Senator Gustafson: The question that has not been asked and I have a lot of sympathy for these people, and these are people suffering from substance abuse and alcohol abuse and so on. I want it understood; I have sympathy for these addictions because I have experienced some very difficult things in that whole area. Is there a lot of substance abuse, especially in our younger people? When I was a kid, it did not exist. It just was not there. And now we have people coming to our schools and warning us about this, and concerned about this. I mean it is something that if we are going to do our job looking into poverty, we have to look into it. I would just like to hear your comments on that. I wish I had answers.

Ms. Parks: I know from personal experience and from what I have seen on the Acadian Peninsula, witnessed, and shared with others is that definitely, there is a drug and alcohol problem, especially in rural New Brunswick. It seems to be worse, for some reason, because it touches us close to home.

Senator Gustafson: It is hard to find a family that is not touched by some sort of substance abuse.

Ms. Parks: Yes, some people have these little scanners to listen to what the RCMP are doing, listening to where the ambulance is going. I remember a few years back, and this is just to give you an idea of how serious the problem is, the RCMP officer was driving, I think it was on Lamèque Island, and he was driving and said, ``Oh God, we have another Christmas tree decoration.'' That was a signal to the people in the community, in the peninsula; we knew right away that someone had committed suicide by hanging. It is very sad. It was a young person and it still happens. It is really serious.

I guess it all depends on how you look at addiction. A person can become addicted to alcohol, yes definitely, and all their investments and all their energies will go into it because it is a disease that progresses. The other side of addiction is that there is gambling that has gone awry too. Because they are living on such small incomes, they desperately want more money, and if they happen to win $20 or $100, oh my gosh, you know. We had video gambling terminals, and I saw people go down the hill with that. I know people that have sobered up and gone downhill with the gambling. It is a serious problem. I am talking about rural New Brunswick.

I have also seen people who lived in rural New Brunswick, in my area, and I have met them in Fredericton, living at the shelter and they cannot get ahead even though they have been sober for two or three months. What happens is the government, or the shelter's regulations to be able to have enough money to care for these people, take their whole welfare cheque and only give them a small amount. That is why I invited the senators to just go and look in Notre- Dame-des-Érables just to have a look at the conditions. There is a lot of alcoholism there, and many people who suffer from drug problems. This is what happens.

Over the years, the Province of New Brunswick decided to start cutting back on spaces in treatment centres. They cut back on the beds in Tracadie, and you have to understand, this is for the entire Acadian Peninsula. There are 10 beds at the detox centre; that is all. I know that they cut back all across the province and it is really sad that they have cut back. They are discovering, because I read a lot, I can get on the Internet, and I am discovering that in the courts more and more there are violence situations that are happening. We had a murder in my little small village the first of January. This is something that never happens. It is getting pretty serious, and it is something that maybe you should look into.


Mr. Couturier: We work directly with poor people and indirectly with other non-profit government organizations. When a primary need is not met, there is a void, and the person tries to fill it with something else: tobacco use, drugs and alcohol. I told you about the case of a person who was earning $495 a month, spending $400 on rent; of the $95 that was left, $80 went toward cigarettes. I tried to make that person understand by saying, ``Try to stop smoking cigarettes, and buy proper food.'' The answer was: ``David, good food costs too much.'' In addition, the food banks are criticized for food quality. We cannot give what we do not have, so we cannot buy very high-quality food. That is relative to the donations we receive. Some people ask why the food banks cannot provide for special diets. We are even criticized by doctors, who tell us to try and give out sugar-free juice, and so on. We cannot. We do not have the means. When it gets to the point where a non-profit organization is asked to meet the needs of someone who is sick, there is a problem.

At one point, a provincial government manager told us: ``Don't bother this client because tobacco is a sedative.'' In what sense? Because it helps him calm down. Two or three cigarettes help to round out a meal. That is the reality. At some point, cigarettes are no longer enough, and drug and alcohol use starts because alcohol and drugs give a better buzz. So the vicious circle starts. People stop eating, lose weight, get sick and, afterwards, go back to the food banks, and people tell us: ``Why can you not give this person good food?'' We do not have the money, and that is another part of the vicious circle.


Mr. Gagnon: We talk about people getting sick and needing medication. It is proven that people on social assistance and people living in poverty get sick more often, die younger and get more diseases because of the system.

I want to talk about some of the comments you made and some of the comments people make. You posed questions about people living in poverty. We have to be very careful not to stereotype people living in poverty as substance abusers. There is domestic abuse. I do not think that there are any studies that dictate what the norm is in society. I can tell you, I live in Bathurst, New Brunswick just down the road, and they wanted to open a low-income housing unit in this residential area where there are medium and upper class people living. In the paper the former mayor of the city and the residents had a petition saying, ``We cannot have this low-income residential area here in our neighbourhood. We are going to have people on social assistance. People are living in poverty. The crime is going to go up, the drug use is going to go up, the abuse is going to go up.'' What they were saying in the paper and what they really wanted to say was their house value was going to go down. We have to be very careful when we talk about people living in poverty. Yes, there is abuse. Is it more than what the norm is? I do not think so. But what happens, because you are living in poverty and you have to go to food banks and say that here is the guy who is an alcoholic, here is the guy who is a drug user, here is a person that smokes, then they are all like that because he is stereotyped because he should be spending his money somewhere else. Maybe he is not spending his money right, but I know many people living in poverty that manage their money very well because they have no choice. They have two or three children, both of them are working, or both of them are on social assistance, and let me tell you they manage their money better than some banks and some people in this country.

The Chairman: On that note, this could go on indeed for the entire day. It has been an extraordinary discussion. It has been the kind of thing that we were hoping very much that we would have an opportunity to do. We want to thank each and every one of you. These are not easy events to talk about, but nonetheless, you have opened many doors for us, and we appreciate it very much indeed. All the very best to each one of you in what you do. And just hang in there, Claudia. And you too. Thank you very much.

The committee adjourned.