February 6, 2020

Honourable senators, I rise today to draw attention to the issue of poverty in Canada.

Next year will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Senate’s landmark Croll report on the subject. Poverty costs Canada between $72 billion and $84 billion each year, including lost tax revenue, and health care, prison and legal system costs. Indeed, as former Senator Hugh Segal reminded us yesterday, 85 per cent of those in prison are impoverished.

Yesterday, a Nunavut court decision and Niigaan Sinclair’s column in the Winnipeg Free Press provided windows into how, instead of addressing poverty and marginalization, we too often respond with criminalization and imprisonment.

The Croll report, as well as former Senators Segal and Eggleton, has called for the implementation of a national guaranteed livable income to help alleviate poverty. Last month, the Basic Income Canada Network outlined ways that a fully funded guaranteed livable income could be implemented — not as a pilot, not as a promise, but as a present-day national reality.

We also need federal action in support of Indigenous governments to address the particular needs of Indigenous peoples. As the Arctic and Aboriginal Peoples Committees know, as many as 46 per cent and 70 per cent of households in rural, remote and, particularly, northern communities are food insecure, and this number is rising. The lack of access to basic necessities, as well as educational and employment opportunities, are significant barriers to young people living and surviving, let alone learning their culture and their languages. Add to this social assistance requirements that individuals do nothing but look for non-existent jobs and is it any wonder that they are not able to access traditional languages, educational or vocational training or get out on the land?

A guaranteed livable income of the sort recommended in the report last month could provide increased stability.

As we approach the fiftieth anniversary of the Croll report, it is time to continue this work. I encourage you to review the decision, column and reports I have mentioned, and urge all of us to reflect on how guaranteed livable incomes can contribute to rebuilding our social safety net and help us create healthier, fairer and more resilient communities for all.

Meegwetch. Thank you.

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