2010 Legislative Session: Second Session, 39th Parliament
SELECT STANDING COMMITTEE ON CHILDREN AND YOUTH
MINUTES AND HANSARD
SELECT STANDING COMMITTEE ON CHILDREN AND YOUTH
Friday, May 21, 2010
Strategy Room 320, Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue,
Present: Joan McIntyre, MLA (Chair); Maurine Karagianis, MLA (Deputy Chair); Stephanie Cadieux, MLA; Marc Dalton, MLA; Mable Elmore, MLA; Douglas Horne, MLA; Leonard Krog, MLA; John Rustad, MLA; Nicholas Simons, MLA; Jane Thornthwaite, MLA
1. The Chair called the Committee to order at 9:01 a.m.
2. The following witnesses appeared before the Committee and answered questions:
1) Dr. Evan Adams
2) First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition
Dr. John Millar
3) Dr. Paul Kershaw
4) Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
3. The Committee recessed from 12:04 p.m. to 1:06 p.m.
4. The following witnesses appeared before the Committee and answered questions:
5) BC Healthy Living Alliance
6) Dr. Michael J. Prince
7) Dr. Carol Matusicky
5. The Committee adjourned to the call of the Chair at 3:25 p.m.
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
REPORT OF PROCEEDINGS
select standing committee on
children and youth
Friday, May 21, 2010
Issue No. 6
* Joan McIntyre (West Vancouver–Sea to Sky L)
* Maurine Karagianis (Esquimalt–Royal Roads NDP)
* Stephanie Cadieux (Surrey-Panorama L)
* Marc Dalton (Maple Ridge–Mission L)
* Douglas Horne (Coquitlam–Burke Mountain L)
* John Rustad (Nechako Lakes L)
* Jane Thornthwaite (North Vancouver–Seymour L)
* Mable Elmore (Vancouver-Kensington NDP)
* Leonard Krog (Nanaimo NDP)
* Nicholas Simons (Powell River–Sunshine Coast NDP)
* denotes member present
Ralph Sultan (West Vancouver–Capilano L)
Dr. Evan Adams (Office of the Provincial Health Officer)
Mary Collins (Director, B.C. Healthy Living Alliance)
Barbara Kaminsky (B.C. Healthy Living Alliance)
Dr. Paul Kershaw (Human Early Learning Partnership)
Steve Kerstetter (First Call: B.C. Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition)
Seth Klein (Director, B.C. Office, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives)
Dr. Carol Matusicky (Burnaby Family Life Institute)
Dr. John Millar (First Call: B.C. Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition)
Julie Norton (Provincial Chair, First Call: B.C. Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition)
Dr. Michael Prince (University of Victoria)
Noelle Virtue (B.C. Healthy Living Alliance)
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FRIDAY, MAY 21, 2010
The committee met at 9:01 a.m.
[J. McIntyre in the chair.]
J. McIntyre (Chair): Good morning, everyone, and welcome to our meeting today. I want to just make some introductory remarks. I'm Joan McIntyre. I'm the MLA for West Vancouver–Sea to Sky and Chair of the Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth in the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia. I thought I would just sort of give you an explanation of how we got to this day and of our procedures.
The committee in the Legislative Assembly has a primary mandate to examine elements of the provincial child welfare system. In our terms of reference we also have a specific mandate to foster awareness and understanding of the provincial child welfare system among legislators and the general public. The issue of children living in low-income families is multifaceted, complex and does appear to have an impact on our most vulnerable and at-risk children, both aboriginal and non-aboriginal.
In planning our meeting today, given the complexities and the wide range of studies focusing on this subject, we asked our witnesses to focus their presentations and their remarks on three key questions. What are the systemic causes of persistent low incomes, and how do they affect families in British Columbia from one generation to the next — again, both aboriginal and non-aboriginal alike? Are existing methods of measurement accurate, suitable and relevant to British Columbia? Then, which reduction strategies appear to be successful or unsuccessful in other jurisdictions, and how do we best measure the success?
Turning to the meeting format, the presentations will strictly be limited to 20 minutes to allow for a sufficient question-and-answer period for our committee members in the 45 minutes that we've allotted to each presenter. We have a very full agenda. We have seven expert witnesses who the Deputy Chair and I believe represent quite an interesting cross-section of perspectives, although I must say that in delving into the topic by preparing the reading list, we recognize that there's a great deal of work — programs, papers and studies — that is being conducted right across the country.
In addition, I want to point out that in the last few weeks we had several unsolicited groups interested in the topic approach us. They were very keen to participate. Unfortunately, we were not able to accommodate those, but I wanted to reassure those who did submit something that it will already have been circulated or certainly will be circulated in the next short while to all the committee members.
Before we begin, I wanted to also comment briefly on the outcomes, partially in order not to create some unrealistic expectations about where the committee might land. Our focus, as I noted, is strictly on children at risk and children receiving designated services. But given the interest expressed by the Representative for Children and Youth and by a number of organizations, as well as by members of the public, we wanted to respond to this by organizing this meeting to foster awareness. I wanted to also clarify that developing a strategy or even providing a written analysis does go beyond our terms of reference and crosses over into the realm of government-policy-making.
With that said, after quite an extensive literature search we've compiled a reading list, which will be considered a deliverable. Plus there'll be both a verbatim Hansard transcript and a brief summary of today's proceedings when the committee reports to the Legislature.
Our intent here today is to shed a spotlight on the good work that's being done on this subject, specifically with regard to those three areas of interest. We have a full schedule, and as Chair, I'll undertake to see that we adhere to the timelines as closely as possible. So I'll ask for everyone's cooperation and thank all the witnesses in advance for the time and effort that they put into assisting us in raising awareness on this issue.
I would now like to move to the introductions. I'd like the other committee members to introduce themselves. I thought, just for ease, that I'd start on the far right, with Nicholas.
N. Simons: On the far right, with Nicholas. That's always what I hear.
J. McIntyre (Chair): On the far right, yeah. [Laughter.]
N. Simons: I'd like to just say I'm Nicholas Simons. I represent Powell River–Sunshine Coast, and it's a pleasure to be here. I'm looking very much forward to hearing the comments of the witnesses that have been called.
M. Elmore: Hi. My name is Mable Elmore. I'm the MLA for Vancouver-Kensington. I very much look forward to the presentations and discussions.
L. Krog: Good morning. I'm Leonard Krog. I'm the MLA for Nanaimo. I'm delighted to see you all here.
M. Karagianis (Deputy Chair): Hello, I'm Maurine Karagianis. I'm the Deputy Chair. I'm the MLA for Esquimalt–Royal Roads, and I'm also the opposition critic for Children and Families.
J. Rustad: Hi. I'm John Rustad. I'm the MLA for Nechako Lakes and Parliamentary Secretary for Silviculture, and I'm very much looking forward to the proceedings today.
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J. Thornthwaite: I'm Jane Thornthwaite. I'm the MLA for North Vancouver–Seymour. Welcome, and thank you very much for taking the time to come out.
S. Cadieux: Hi, I'm Stephanie Cadieux. I'm the MLA for Surrey-Panorama.
D. Horne: And I'm Douglas Horne. I'm the MLA for Coquitlam–Burke Mountain.
M. Dalton: Hi, I'm Marc Dalton, MLA for Maple Ridge–Mission. It's good to be here.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Also joining us today is Clerk Assistant and Committee Clerk Kate Ryan-Lloyd, who's been extremely helpful, I must say, and diligent in helping us to organize this meeting today. There's been a lot of work behind the scenes. Thank you for that, Kate.
Also, we have staff, as you can see, from Hansard Services, who have made the trip from Victoria to assist us.
With that, I'd like to go to our first presenter. We're delighted to have Dr. Evan Adams with us, who is the B.C. aboriginal health physician adviser.
Feel free to add to the introduction in terms of the work you do, Dr. Adams, and welcome.
E. Adams: Absolutely. It's really nice to see some of you. I've known some of you for awhile, and some of you I've just met recently but have had a chance to work with. Today I'll be presenting from a public health point of view on the issues of aboriginal poverty, particularly for children and families.
I'm a family doctor. I also did my master's in public health at Johns Hopkins. That was really quite a lovely experience, particularly because you get to have this very high-level view, which I think will helpful here, in looking at huge populations. It was really great to study in the United States because you get an external view, and it's much less personal. That, I think, helps a lot. I'll develop that idea a little further.
It's nice to see Nicholas. Nicholas is from my area. I'm from the Sliammon First Nation, which is near the town of Powell River.
Demographics of the aboriginal population in B.C. We're approximately 200,000 out of a population of 4.3 million at last census, so here in B.C. we're almost 5 percent of the population. We're one in 20, so a significant proportion of the population.
There are 203 First Nations, basically villages, in the province. Those villages are not representative of the entire aboriginal population, because of course the Métis don't live on reserves. Also, all of our population is not necessarily based in community. They can be in urban areas. And about 60 percent of the First Nations languages or tribal groupings in Canada are here in this province, so tremendous diversity here. That's really quite important.
In fact, this is a representation of our tribal groupings here in the province. It's really quite important to note that this is a picture — it's a portrayal, a snapshot — of aboriginal lives and aboriginal realities. Many of us grew up within our language groupings and within tribal groupings that were really quite important to us. These are our ancestral territories as well.
If you can imagine — and I find it easier to imagine — Central and South America around the time of colonization, the Aztecs and the Mayans, the Quechuas and the Incas had a very different world view before the coming of the Spanish. Their picture of themselves would differ from how we picture them today.
It's just a way for us to remove ourselves from the kind of old ideas of what we might have of aboriginal populations, because they're definitely diverse, and they're definitely changing. This world view of ourselves still continues and informs who we are and where we're going.
Yet another pictorial representation, showing the aboriginal population at last census. Just under 50 percent of B.C.'s aboriginal people are under the age of 25. This is different from the other residents of B.C. Their under-25 population is about 39 percent. So our population is young, but I think you knew this.
Something that we've known for a long time, and this is from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, is that aboriginal people hold a very distinct place in Canadian society at the bottom of almost every available index of socioeconomic well-being, measuring educational levels, employment, housing, per-capita incomes and almost every other condition that gives non-aboriginal Canadians one of the highest standards of living in the world. Aboriginal people are the last to benefit from the economic power of this country, unfortunately.
This is all background. The World Health Organization defines the social determinants of indigenous health. When I was in medical school, I thought doctors were the centre of health. I really thought that contact with physicians was a huge determinant in people's health and well-being. Well, lo and behold, there are lots of other things that make people well and make them happy.
This is a list from the World Health Organization. It's certainly not a complete list. There are certainly personal factors that people would describe that give them health and happiness and well-being. But here are some large overview issues.
As you can see, the social determinants…. As you know, poverty or income or meaningful work, education and housing are incredibly important factors in our health and well-being. Those factors can literally change your flesh. Being poor and eating low-quality, high-calorie
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foods changes your very flesh. Your ability to have safe access to activity, your housing, your physical environment or the contamination of your physical environment can change your very cells and change your very body.
There are also specific social determinants for indigenous health. One of them is around self-determination, having an internal locus of control. Self-determination has a personal definition and a political definition: the right of the individual or the right of the nation to determine its own course or his and her own course without interference from other parties.
Self-determination and the ability, for instance, just to give a very simple example, to teach one's own language in a school system can really change outcomes for students and change their sense of buying in, their completion of education. So self-determination is very real. It's not just a nice idea; it's actually a very sensible one. We'll develop that one as well.
Our culture is an important determinant in that I think diversity is in all of us. We all have parts of ourselves that are affected by our culture of origin. In the worst-case scenario we've not made peace with that culture of origin. In the best-case scenario we're very proud of where we're from and who we are. That can change our world view or be a very important part of our world view and our sense of accomplishment.
The worst-case scenario is that we take very superficial cultural mores, and we want to be thin and bubble-headed movie stars. Or we can take another cultural endowment that says we should be kind, that we should work in the service of others and that we would like to have higher learning and a strong world view, etc.
Aboriginal people are also the original inhabitants of this land. Their attachment to their land and their ancestral territories is an important consideration. Access to those lands or lack of access to those lands, access to water and the like does again change people's health and their outcomes. The continuing onslaught against natural resources means that more and more of us are impoverished by our lack of access to our environment. The diminishing resources in our environment impoverishes us all.
Gender is an issue. The best example I have of this is of aboriginal women in the Downtown Eastside. The exploitation of aboriginal women here in downtown Vancouver is a very real issue with significant morbidity and mortality. The lives of women and children, in particular for aboriginal women and children, are slightly different than for women from other cultures in Canada. Again, I'll come back to that.
No look at aboriginal health would be complete without looking not just from a public health point of view and not just from an individual point of view but from the point of view or perspective of the family and our very real and very natural concerns for the well-being of our children.
This is just a picture, just a reminder to me, when I get bogged down by looking at children's health, that there are many, many issues in the social investment and social development of children. There are many, many arenas and very many places where we can intervene, and there are literally thousands of interventions that we can propose to improve the lives of children.
In these boxes are really large groupings of places where we might work. For instance, in the bottom centre, "Youth positively connected to school" has literally thousands of interventions that we can do. All children go to school, so their buying in, their completion or success at school, is very, very important, and it's a really great place for all of us to invest in the betterment of children's outcomes. That's just one arena.
You can look around the slide if you like for a moment. I know these are areas that you know quite well, but it's always nice…. I have this sitting on my wall to remind me of the complexity and the simplicity of supporting children.
I work at the office of the provincial health officer. We monitor the health of British Columbians, including children. My job is to monitor the health of aboriginal people specifically, and we published this report just recently. It's a 2007 report, but we issued it in 2009. We're certainly one of the better provinces, if not the best province, in tracking aboriginal health.
Here are some of the things we found. Yes, there certainly are lots of problems with tracking aboriginal health, but we do know a few things from what we see. Let's have a look, a little snapshot.
Maternal and pregnancy characteristics amongst First Nations and non–First Nations mothers in urban areas. You can see here that there are a significant number of aboriginal women who are pregnant living in the poorest neighbourhoods. That means that these children are being conceived in poverty. It's a very good showing of the relationship between economics and families. So women are starting families — or starting their pregnancies, at the very least — in very poor neighbourhoods, with very low incomes.
You'll see in First Nations communities, as well — in the far right — that teen pregnancies are high. I don't want to put a value judgment on teen pregnancies, in that there are certainly problems having children later in life. For instance, in the last ten years we're seeing infant mortality rates going up because women are choosing to have children later. So certainly there are problems with having children in one's 30s and 40s, physically.
Here, physically, women under the age of 20 having children…. You see that this is much more commonplace in First Nations communities than in other populations in B.C. The reason this is important is because very often young people are poor people.
Here we see income distribution of aboriginal populations. We see here that a significant proportion — over
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61 percent of the adult population — lives with an income below $20,000. It's really quite staggering. How anyone can achieve this we're not sure.
Labour force participation. This is a little bit difficult to read. Really, the two columns you should concern yourself with are the bright purple and the white columns, if you just compare them with each other. The purple column is the employment rate. The white column is the unemployment rate. In the best-case scenario you would have a really large purple column and a really small white column.
You see here that for aboriginal people on reserve that the boxes are very similar in size. For other residents of B.C. they're really quite divergent. Basically, employment versus unemployment is unfairly skewed against aboriginal people. But we knew this. What we should note is that labour force participation and employment and unemployment are all getting better.
We've been tracking this for a number of years. If we compare employment, particularly employment and unemployment for aboriginal people, from 2001 to 2006, we see considerable improvement. It was quite sad to have an economic downturn. We don't know how much ground we've lost with these improvements.
Here are graduation rates. This is first-time graduates only, those getting their GED, their grade equivalent. Our graduation equivalent is not on this slide; these are first-time graduates. And you can see graduation academic success for aboriginal people is quite low, still hovering around 50 percent — really, really quite unacceptable graduation rates.
These are young aboriginal people in this. I've said before that many of us are young. In provinces like Saskatchewan, where these young aboriginal people will be a significant part of the workforce, having them marginalized — out of the education system and thus out of the job market — doesn't make a lot of economic sense.
And of course morally, having one racial group overrepresented in graduating classes and another racial group underrepresented just isn't morally right. We can certainly find more equity here. There certainly must be strategies to increase these graduation rates.
Here are successful grade transitions from grades 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11, and you can see that there are diminishing returns for grade transitions, with a significant drop around grade 10. Starting as early as grade 8 we see diminishing involvement. We're starting to lose the battle when people are trying high school.
What is it we can do here, then, to support successful grade transitions? This slide, around foundation skills assessment scores, is really testing the ability of students that are grade-appropriate. If we rank schools by their competency…. I'm trying to remember off the top of my head how that was done. It wasn't done, actually, with test scores. It was done with a whole different set of criteria.
If you rank them into tenths, or into deciles, with the highest-ranking schools on the right and the lowest-ranking schools on the left, you can see that aboriginal success or high foundation skills assessment scores, in the purple, are better in the higher-performing schools. This really shows us that aboriginal success is not just related to their economic background. It's not just related to their poverty. It's related to how well their schools are doing, how functional their schools are.
The highest-functioning schools have the same outcomes for their aboriginal students as they do for other residents of British Columbia. You can see that the trend is upward, so the trend is not accidental by any means. The better-equipped the school is, basically, the better the outcomes of their students, and particularly their aboriginal students.
We're talking about some really complex ideas. I really should leave room for questions, so if you'd like to discuss anything, please do interrupt.
This is a summary slide. The previous figure shows a direct relationship between FSA scores, foundation skills assessment scores, and school ranking and that aboriginal students tend to do better in schools with higher rankings. As school rankings decline, so does the performance of all students, but particularly aboriginal students. The poorly equipped aboriginal students do proportionately worse. So outcome is not solely determined by income.
A Voice: Joan, I've got a question. Will you take a list?
J. McIntyre (Chair): You know what? I think it will be better, if you don't mind, Dr. Adams…. We've allowed this 25 minutes at the end for Q and A, if that's okay.
E. Adams: No problem. And I'm really terrible about keeping track of time, so if you could help me. You can certainly flash me a little sign saying five minutes. I really can't speak and keep track of time. I've tried.
J. McIntyre (Chair): That's okay. Maybe five, eight more minutes.
E. Adams: And if you have questions, maybe you could write them down, and we could come back to them. All right.
Here's another really important concept around youth suicide, by band. We've all heard the stories and the populist notions around suicidality, particularly aboriginal teen suicidality on reserve. However, Lalonde at the University of Victoria…. If you placed all of the bands here, ranking them with those with zero to little suicide on the left over to the ones that had the highest suicide, what they showed is that over half of the bands hadn't had a successful youth suicide — this is not suicide attempts — in about 15 years. This shows some diversity in outcomes for aboriginal youth.
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All reserves are not the same. They're just like patients. Some are doing really well, some are doing okay, some are doing not so well, and some are doing very, very poorly. What they also showed is that 90 percent of the suicides happened on 10 percent of the reserves.
So what's happening on these 10 percent of reserves? Well, one thing we do know is that suicide is infectious. It catches. If one young person is having a suicide occur near them, whether in their family, maybe intergenerationally, maybe because their peers are committing suicide, then their likelihood of committing suicide is much, much higher. So what we're seeing here is clustering of suicidality.
Youth suicide interventions are best focused on at-risk populations rather than on the general aboriginal population. So you can see that over half of the reserves are doing really quite well.
Chandler and Lalonde then wanted to look at protective factors. They said: "Okay. What's happening here? Why are these bands succeeding?" And so their study went on to look at issues of what they called cultural continuity.
I think the title of cultural continuity is a little bit misleading in that, really, the protective factors they looked at were around issues of bands taking steps in aboriginal title, their involvement in self-government, control over their educational services, police and fire protection, health delivery services and whether there was a cultural facility or not.
Really what they were showing is that self-management in a number of areas and having physical endowment on reserve made a difference in outcomes of suicidality. They called this cultural continuity; I would call this an internal locus of control. I would certainly call this having a number of resources that they're determining for themselves.
These are the same conclusions that were reached by the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development by Cornell and Kalt, which was a project to look at what fostered social and economic development in American-Indian communities in the United States. They found that economic success was related to sovereignty in their natural resources, related to their governance, related to their leadership and the involvement of culture — actually having culturally grounded institutions. So this Harvard project is actually a really important milestone in looking at aboriginal economic development.
And if you think about it, self-management and having aboriginal people involved in their own governance and their own care of themselves is not just a nice idea — we see that it bears out when we do an evaluation process — but it's also really quite sensible. Many of our efforts, then, are around supporting self-initiatives in many of these areas.
Gosh, I'm trying to remember the name of the economist that we consulted for our PHO report.
In describing issues of economic development or barriers to economic development in aboriginal communities, what's standing in the way of aboriginal communities and families acquiring wealth? No bankable land title — reserve lands are held in trust and are Crown lands and can't be pledged at a bank for economic leverage. There's no equity accumulation in home ownership. It's interesting that aboriginal people don't actually own their own land. There's no land title; no asset accumulation; no inherited wealth, which is significant; and no banking ability.
They have extremely limited access to economic infrastructures and economic development infrastructures. Access to capital is limited due to no accumulated equity through home ownership. On a personal level, their ability to use real estate or use the land itself to further their economic gain doesn't exist. This is problematic. So how do we develop real estate and housing and home ownership on reserve in a way where equity can be collected, where they're actually acquiring wealth rather than having homes that are deteriorating in value over time?
Economic development funding for First Nations is often classified as non-essential. We don't really invest in it necessarily, unless we find someone with goodwill. It's not, basically, formal policy. And our land development approval process is extremely bureaucratic. We find this a lot in health — that, for instance, the health system wasn't developed in a sensible fashion, that it was developed in an ad hoc fashion. We've inherited a system in land development and in health that is bureaucratic and not very sensible or pliable for the user to use.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Dr. Adams, just a couple more moments, if you don't mind. I know you're getting to the very important part here about what needs to be done.
E. Adams: Yes, it's time to wind up. That's no problem. I've actually almost reached the end of my PowerPoint.
Our economic development model that we recommend, then, through the PHO's office is around understanding First Nations communities. We really need to hear their own concerns and their own understanding of their economic development — that their land and ancestral territories offer opportunities as well as their natural resources. Of course, we need to make a plan. It's not just enough to have a nice conversation.
We need to develop leadership, corporate governance, capacity. We need to have benefits and revenue-sharing agreements. Perhaps there could be agreements between communities that are aboriginal and those that aren't aboriginal, partnership and access to capital. I'm sorry. This is based on the work of Ted Williams.
The PHO has a number of recommendations. They're in our book here, Pathways to Health and Healing. I don't really need to go over them, as we've run out of time. I'll just leave them up here. I'll leave the floor open to questions.
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J. McIntyre (Chair): Thank you very much. It was very, very interesting. With that, I'll start to take a speakers list. I saw that Nick had earlier mentioned one.
N. Simons: Thank you, Dr. Adams. It was very interesting. I'm just sometimes troubled by the fact that when we talk about this issue, we need to make some very broad generalizations.
From the statistics and the graphs you showed us, there's obviously a vast diversity within the First Nations and aboriginal communities. Sometimes when we see the successes in some communities, it's important to identify their proximity to economic opportunities, whether that be in the land or in a nearby community. I wonder if the same can be said for educational achievements, and when we talk about success of aboriginal kids in well-funded schools, whether they are living in more economically advantaged areas.
Ultimately, when we say, "How do we improve housing and physical environment for aboriginal people? How do we design our health plans?" we do recommit to attempting to improve the standard of living.
I'm just trying to get to the point where…. I've worked with families in First Nations communities as well as non–First Nations communities, and what I find is the similarity when we talk about poverty. The difference is not always the ethnic-racial issues as much as it is to do with the poverty.
I think that maybe the solutions we can identify for First Nations communities are the same we can identify for non–First Nations communities: increased access to education and to employment. But there's something else. I'm still trying to figure out what that is.
E. Adams: Okay, sure. I think for aboriginal communities, because they are distinct…. First of all, as founding nations, they are distinct in that they live in ghettoized areas or reservations; in that they don't have inherited wealth which some other communities have; in that very often First Nations are self-determining, so an imposition of, say, an economic system or an education system won't necessarily be as fruitful; in that in the social hierarchy and/or social isolation and barriers to access economic development and education, the barriers need to be identified and acted upon.
So yes, I think general measures are really important to do, but actually, general measures can even widen disparities. If we enacted, say, a fitness program and we didn't include at-risk groups — we just, you know, aimed it at the general population — then those who are already athletic would have more athletic opportunities, and those who aren't athletic maybe wouldn't participate. So those who are well would get even better, and those who aren't well wouldn't move forward. There is a danger in kind of treating everyone the same.
Actually, if you think of that cultural value of treating everyone the same, it's really not helpful when it comes to disparities. You wouldn't spend the same amount of time on a 21-year-old who is incredibly well as you would with an 89-year-old who has multiple illnesses, and the like. Taking measures for at-risk populations are really important to do. Hopefully, in reviewing the PowerPoint it will be much more evident that there are places where there can be really, really good returns — for instance, in education.
N. Simons: Can I just have one quick follow-up?
J. McIntyre (Chair): You know, it's just that we're very short, and I've got a number of speakers. Is that all right? Maybe if there's time, I'll come back.
J. Rustad: First of all, thank you very much for your presentation. There's no question that this is an incredibly complex issue. I've got just a couple of things I wanted to mention and then kind of one question in particular that I want to put to you.
When you're looking at, I guess, the stats on schools and results on schools and better-equipped schools…. I used to be a school trustee before becoming an MLA. We had a wide range of schools, some that were quite a bit more successful than others. I found that within our school district we actually had put more resources and more equipment, if you want to call it that, in some of our more challenged schools, but the results often weren't as noticeable from a broad measure as you would have seen on a graph like that.
For example, one of our most successful schools took kids that came into the school with perhaps as few as a 400-word vocabulary, and they have done absolutely fabulous work with these children, but they still ranked very, very low. The progress of the child is phenomenal. Measured against where other children are, I would say, the progress has been even greater than other schools, but it still hasn't gotten to the level.
One of the other things that you might want to consider…. We have a policy in the province of mandatory moving children through grades up until they get to grade 8. So when you see that success of children moving through from K to grade 8, all at a high level, I'm wondering sometimes if that stat isn't somewhat skewed because of children moving through as opposed to whether they're really at those grade levels.
Sorry. That's a long way of getting around to the question that I have, which is not really related directly to that. A lot of what you were talking about in terms of capital and in terms of the conditions in the background have been brought about, or may have been brought about…. I believe, and with your eyes, that they've brought about by our policy in over 150 years of working with First Nations.
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I think that when you look at the Indian Act, when you look at particularly what's in there, it actually could potentially disadvantage First Nations. Or I wouldn't say potentially; I would say that it has significantly disadvantaged First Nations.
I think there's a need to look at that core as to what is causing a lot of those challenges, and what that core root is that is putting First Nations, and in many cases non–First Nations, in that position where they're fighting a battle, that they don't have the same kinds of tools or the same kinds of opportunities that could be otherwise.
I'm just wondering. Have you looked at those systemic problems or those issues that have really caused the root thing, and have you any suggestions as to how we can perhaps move beyond where we were into a better or a positive environment for being able to help resolve the issue?
E. Adams: Sure, okay. There are a few points. I'll try and address them really quickly. The first one is around that sometimes our measures don't work. Sometimes we'll try and shore up a school, and the outcomes aren't necessarily different. That's certainly true, I think, for many of our efforts in many of our different areas. That doesn't mean that we must cease to try and engage.
A simple example is trying to change maternal-fetal outcomes. There is a lot more that we can do to support a simple issue, like women in pregnancy. We must continue to do the best we can to make sure that they continue to have good outcomes — better or, if not, stay the same. Certainly, not investing or saying, "Oh, we tried this one and, you know, the woman's behaviour didn't change or the infant mortality didn't change," doesn't mean that we should stop trying.
Foundational skills assessment scores and any other kind of assessment of the education system is certainly flawed. We should be having hundreds of educational outcome measures. Measuring the ability of a student with a low vocabulary count and getting it a bit higher could be one way that we could do that, and that wouldn't show in a foundational skills assessment.
In fact, the FSA score is really quite flawed. I really don't actually personally like it as an educational outcome. It's not inclusive enough. Its denominator is not complete, so it's not a complete survey of all children — so perhaps not reflective of the entire population.
The Indian Act is, yes, actually quite a ridiculous piece of legislation. If you and I were trying to look at policy for aboriginal people today, we would not write the Indian Act. It is a very, very dated document. I don't know why we still adhere to it. It's an odd piece of legislation for a particular racial and ethnic group. Would we do that today? Would we enact an act of its kind for any other racial group today? No, we wouldn't. So we've inherited it. We must examine it, examine it, examine it. I think some people here would say, "Let's just completely disassemble it," but it certainly needs to be revised. It's a very….
A Voice: I would be one of those people. I would support that position. It is something that I think that has caused a lot of damage over a lot of years.
E. Adams: Yes, and many of the structures that we see for support of aboriginal people and the support of our children are really inherited anachronisms and, I think, need constant refinement and re-examination. I'm certainly for re-examining health policy. I'm not sure about policy in other areas, but I think health policy should be reviewed yearly, at least.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Maurine, mindful of time, unfortunately.
M. Karagianis (Deputy Chair): I'll keep my question quite short. Thank you very much, Dr. Adams. I was quite fascinated by this issue of access to capital. At one point in the early 2000s I was working with the First Nations communities, the Cowichan Tribes in particular, to build supported housing, a variety of housing options, and we ran into this issue of no title, of no ability to actually access capital, which surprised me greatly — this huge dependence on somehow the federal government's largesse, or lack of.
You've only touched on a little bit — the jurisdictional issues here around federal and provincial responsibility in working with communities. I would like you to elaborate a little bit more. At the provincial level, we continually run into the barrier that so much jurisdiction is federal. This absolutely ridiculous Indian Act and all of the barriers that have been put up there are very difficult. So if we, as a province, want to look at ways of working with aboriginal communities to improve outcomes, I'd like to hear where you think would be a good place for us to put some focus and some attention and some pressure.
E. Adams: Housing and real estate is a really good example of how the system for First Nations is incredibly different than for other populations. It's an odd inheritance, again, and one that needs to be revised, and certainly the responsibility of the First Nations themselves for their real estate and their lands and their housing for their peoples is incredibly important to develop.
I think that creating housing, particularly creating social housing for disadvantaged First Nations people, is a really difficult proposition. It's expensive, and so it's one that really probably needs a number of stakeholders at the table to try and improve it, and yes, absolutely, First Nations themselves, First Nations' governance need to be there. They want to be there. It's a complete no-brainer for them to understand that they need to
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develop real estate and housing and social housing and address the issues of homelessness and overcrowding in their communities.
I think that only by cooperation can that kind of issue be solved. I would like to leave you, because I know that I'm at the end of my time, with a bit of hope that we're asking for changing intermittent care, perhaps neglect, of certain aboriginal children and increasing that care to kind of a Cadillac of services. That's incredibly difficult to do.
If we think of our own parents and the care and support and the social services available to them and their children, it was very small. Now we're asking to change that up incredibly. So building up their infrastructure is hard to do.
But we mustn't give up. Even if we make small changes to the lives of some children who are at risk, then that's an incredible contribution. We must continue to get better. I dare say, I hope, if nothing else, that we do see that aboriginal people, particularly aboriginal children, are deserving of our support and development and social investment.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Thank you very, very much. I totally appreciate your expertise and the work you've done. The whole purpose, as I said at the beginning of my opening remarks, was to shed some light on this and some information. I think this is all very invaluable. So thank you kindly. We all have copies of the presentation.
E. Adams: Yes, and my contact information is there. Please feel free to drop me a line — any of you.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Okay. Sorry, Dr. Adams. One quick question, then, from Mable.
M. Elmore: Thank you very much, Dr. Adams. I appreciated your presentation, particularly in the context of the social determinants of health.
I think, certainly, that I can see that B.C. ranks across Canada and, certainly, around the world in terms of excellence in recording these measures due to the work in the offices.
I'm particularly interested in the relationship you made between the high poverty rate, the low graduation rates and the young mothers — so children born into poverty. I'd just like your thoughts, briefly, in terms of the need for supports for these young mothers, number one, to ensure that they are able to graduate and have access to the workforce.
I think that's important in terms of remedy — looking at ending the systemic poverty and support for their parenting. If you could comment…. We had some programs like GAP, Options and also Artemis in terms of supporting these young mothers. Just to speak to that — notwithstanding the need for a broader economic program in self-determination, but specifically on that issue of support for young mothers.
E. Adams: You know, a pan-provincial economic development plan for all First Nations is incredibly large, but something simple that we can do that's low-tech, low-cost is to support teen pregnancies wherever they may occur and ensure that we invest in those at-risk families so that they have the best outcome possible. That's a very, very sensible solution.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Sorry, I have a clamouring for questions here. They're not letting you leave. One to Jane — if it's too long a question, maybe we could ask you to submit it in writing — and Marc, I guess. There's great interest here.
J. Thornthwaite: As my colleague here, John, had mentioned, I was also a school trustee before becoming elected to the provincial Legislature. I also have friends that have experience on reserve and actually have lived on reserve.
I'm asking about children, education and what your opinion is with regards to having aboriginal kids in their own education system versus full integration into the non-aboriginal education system. There seems to be a difference in opinion in the aboriginal community about that. I just wanted to get your professional opinion on that.
E. Adams: Sure. One thing I'm sure of, and that is that aboriginal people live in duality. We are absolutely bicultural. I think very few of us live solely as integrated Anglo-Canadians. It's very hard for us to do.
On the other hand, we're not living completely in social isolation, so I am very much in favour of independent schools. But of course, independent schools still need to adhere to certain policies and outcome expectations that are set by the province or by the school district.
On the other hand, I know that aboriginal education can't really be owned by other institutions than aboriginal people. It's very, very hard to do. It's hard for an institution to own an aboriginal lens or an aboriginal viewpoint.
For instance, I can't, as a public servant, necessarily speak for aboriginal people. They can speak for themselves. I'm representing another viewpoint. So when it comes to aboriginal education or independent First Nations schools, I'm very much in support. I hope that they would be well resourced and partnered with other educational institutions.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Okay, so I'm going to probably just have to draw it off there. It's 9:50, and we've got a
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very full day. But thank you again. It has been very, very informative.
E. Adams: Come to Powell River. This is Texada Island. Oh sorry, it's not Texada. It's Savary Island.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Before we go on to our next presenter, I just want to make sure that several people in our audience are introduced today. We've actually Ralph Sultan, who's my colleague on the North Shore and MLA for West Vancouver–Capilano. The Representative for Children and Youth — thank you, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond — is with us. Also, I see Grand Chief Stewart Phillip. So thank you very much. Welcome. I hope I haven't missed anybody else. Those were three I recognized right away.
I'd like to call our next presenter, please. We're hearing from First Call, which is the B.C. Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition. I understand that Julie Norton, who's the chair, will be speaking and also Dr. John Millar and Steve Kerstetter. Welcome.
J. Norton: Thank you very much to the committee for being here. I can't express how happy I am to be here in front of a panel that is looking at poverty in the province of British Columbia. First and foremost, I think this is a courageous and important act, and we want it to go forward.
First, I'd like to introduce my colleagues: Dr. John Millar, many of you have known for probably years — he's a former provincial health officer — and Steve Kerstetter, also with First Call and a former executive director of the Canada Council on Social Development. Both of them are volunteers with First Call, as am I. I am the provincial chair with First Call.
What we do, a little bit…. It's a coalition, and I think you'll be receiving the B.C. Child Poverty Report Card, which is a document that we develop each year as part of a national campaign to highlight poverty, particularly child poverty, although not only child poverty because, of course, children live in families.
We're pleased to be here before the committee today, and we're hoping that the information you're gathering will help you to move forward to make significant changes on this issue.
At First Call we have been focusing on policy and legislation changes in the province of British Columbia to truly make it the best place on earth to live for all children and youth in British Columbia. Our coalition represents over 90 organizations, groups from around the province. That includes literally thousands of citizens from around B.C., most of whom work with children and families — immigrant families, aboriginal families, families in remote communities, families in large urban centres.
We are a coalition. The purpose of it is to bring people together to share information on trends so that we see things as they're emerging, very early on, and try to bring that to the attention of people where differences, where changes can be made before there are serious problems that arise. We look at research. We participate in research. We bring research forward to the community, to practitioners, to families, so that people know what the issues are, what's working and what's not.
We certainly try to bring forward best practices, because there is a lot going on. The government does support various programs, and some things work better than others, we all realize. I would like thank Dr. Adams for very interesting and important information that highlights not only what is happening in aboriginal communities but what is happening in nonaboriginal communities too — by giving us that comparison.
We will not be talking specifically about certain groups, because we know that our colleagues are here and will be speaking after us — Dr. Paul Kershaw and others — later today and will be giving you important information.
What we want to do…. I would like to start with one of the trends and issues that we have certainly seen over the years, but these are the most recent statistics. In Vancouver, families serving in the family preservation program…. Just surveying two organizations that deal in the family preservation area, 87 percent of the families that were accessing services in the family preservation area were living in poverty. The other 13 percent were considered with adequate income. That spans…. It could be very high income; it could be moderate; it could be low. But it was considered adequate.
Within that, 39 percent of those — their first language would not be English. British Columbia is changing. The face of British Columbia is very different now than it was 20 years ago, and we have far more complex issues that families are struggling with.
You know, 30 or 40 years ago one income supported a family; 20 years ago two incomes supported a family. Today we're seeing families that are working at three and four jobs to support a family, and they're still living in…. That's just to survive. It's very expensive for….
Many of you are parents. You know that raising a family is expensive, and it's hard. I don't think the inflation rate is actually a good indicator of what it actually does cost to raise children today. There are a lot more fees, and access to services and supports and just legislative documentation is far more expensive.
I want to highlight that. But one of our other colleagues, Cheryl Mixon, is also here. She works with Family Services of Greater Vancouver. She, because of her work with Family Services, has a lot of statistics and could elaborate on what I was just talking about. So when we get to the question period, I would like to also offer the expertise of another member.
For over a decade we have been publishing the Child Poverty Report Card. I'm sure copies have just been circulated to you. Every time it is published, we send it out
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to all MLAs. We send it to media. Heck, we send it to anybody who wants it, because it's very important.
Child and youth poverty is a significant issue. Children are only young once. That's it. It's a limited-time offer, and we have to take that seriously. Tomorrow or ten years from now…. The issues that we're seeing with children now are critical issues. It is complex.
The schools have been trying to do things differently, and I was happy to hear about your experiences and your understanding of trying things, seeing whether they work or not. We have to try, and I think the issue is that more and more things need to be attempted.
That requires a political commitment. It doesn't always require more money. Unfortunately, that's what is seen. You know, when we talk about poverty, people get uncomfortable, quite frankly. They don't want to hear about that, because automatically it's assumed that: "Oh, if we're talking about poverty, we need more money."
More money is a part of the solution, but it is not the complete answer. It's a leadership perspective. It's creativity. It's working with people who are in poverty. It is not criminalizing them or their children because they are living in poverty, which does happen.
We debate over poverty statistics. We have brought these statistics forward in the past. We have, unfortunately and sadly, been told by some of your predecessors who are MLAs that: "The data is old. It has improved. Things have changed. If we increase minimum wage, income assistance, affordable housing — take your pick — it will kill job creation. It's too expensive. It's unnecessary." Then, of course, my personal favourite: "Oh, the government has already addressed this."
Sadly, that's not the case. Poverty continues to increase. Yes, demographics show that there are slight increases. Nonetheless, 18 percent of the children and youth in British Columbia are living in poverty — deep poverty. Not just superficial poverty — can't get the $200 running shoes. Don't have shoes. Have to go get secondhand shoes that are donated. I don't know if any of you have gotten secondhand shoes. They really feel weird. It's just not your foot.
We have raised this issue with our government, as citizens of British Columbia. I take that very seriously. I am a citizen of this province. When I'm dismissed about issues that are important, that hurts. I feel disrespected. I don't think that's fair, and so I speak to you on a level of equal respect here today. I am pleased that you are listening.
I'm happy that the Representative for Children and Youth has courageously brought this forward, too, and is steadfast enough to make sure it's moving forward and that we are here today. So I also thank Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond. She's a hero in the community sector for many, many people.
What we want from First Call is a poverty reduction plan that covers the province, includes targets and outcomes as well as regular, systematic reporting to the public. It is no more than what is asked of publicly funded non-profits. We do this, and so we ask the same of our government as a publicly funded non-profit, so to speak.
The question is how we can work together to tackle child poverty in British Columbia, remembering always that poor children live in poor families, Sometimes we get caught up in punishing or trying not to reward the parents of poor children. We say: "Oh, it'll create dependency if they're getting an adequate welfare rate or if we have a guaranteed income."
Quite frankly, that's unacceptable. The children are the priority. If we can invest $500 million in the roof of a stadium with the argument that in the long term it's going to bring economic prosperity, then why can we not make that same argument for our children? If we invest in our children, our economic prosperity increases in the long term because we have active, engaged, educated, prosperous and healthy adults in the future. That's what we want, and that's what we need.
Eliminating poverty is a major challenge. We're asking you to tackle it and start to address it and set realistic targets for its reduction. You can leave the elimination for a future government, so don't take it all on. But we do want something, and we want movement.
We've addressed the fact that particular groups of children have higher levels of poverty. Dr. Adams has covered the issue of aboriginal children. Having worked with teen parents for a number of years, that is a huge issue.
The housing situations for so many teen parents are beyond what any of us can imagine sometimes, because the housing allowance is so low and people don't want to rent to teenagers if they're not living with their parents. If they're living with their parents, often their parents are supporting them, so they don't show up on the statistics. So there are many things going on there, truly, and you know that under the surface there's always a lot more.
I want to say that the province has some programs that could be expanded, that could be altered and that would have more impact. For example, the B.C. tax reduction program. It's a good program in principle, but one with a maximum benefit of only $390 a year. That doesn't make a lot of difference when you have children.
Another program is the B.C. rental assistance program. We reported to this committee last year, and that was one of the questions that came up: what kind of access were poor families making of that program? We know that 8,200, approximately, are housed through the RAP program, but significantly, it excludes people who are living on income assistance.
The poorest of the poor don't have access to supports for adequate housing. We also know that because of inadequate housing, children are being removed from their families because of concerns about neglect. That has a lot to do with inadequate housing. Safe neighbourhoods
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and safe housing make a huge difference — and support parents. When we invest in that, communities support each other. But when you're living in an impoverished community and nobody has anything extra, how do they support each other?
Communities are there. They're organic support systems. We need to support those instead of creating our community development projects that we then inflict on other people without listening to them. We need to listen to families.
We need an overarching poverty reduction plan. We need leadership. We need you to take risks. We need you to be accountable. We need you to stand up and say: "This is unacceptable. Poverty in such a wealthy province is not necessary." We don’t want to work at cross-purposes with you. We don't want to say that, you know, "Okay, it's us and them," and I think that's how it seems sometimes.
We're all adults. We can have these kinds of hard conversations. When it's about children, it is our responsibility — all of us, as adults — and we can't put it off to somebody else. We can't say, "There isn't enough money. We'll do it next year. We already did it," when we have the information, the statistics that show it's not working. Whatever we're doing isn't working, and we have to put all of our best energy and our smartest minds to figure this out, because it is important.
Finally, I want to make the point that children and poor people in general…. We need the assistance of the government. We are the people. You are the government. You work for us. And we're asking you to take this seriously. Children and youth — they're the most impoverished, and they have the least opportunity to speak for themselves. We're here speaking today. You are listening, and you are also supportive. We know that. I've seen you nodding your heads and smiling. We get it; it's a serious issue. Let's all work together to make this change.
I'm going to now turn this over to my colleagues. Steve Kerstetter is going to speak first.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Okay, if you don't mind, again, being just mindful of this very strict time we have. We wanted to move to questions at 10:15. Just under ten minutes.
S. Kerstetter: We’ll do our best, thank you.
I want to talk today about two areas of provincial public policy that affect literally hundreds of thousands of British Columbians. One area is welfare incomes, and the other area is low-wage jobs. At the National Council of Welfare, we have done research on welfare programs with the assistance of provincial welfare officials ever since 1986.
When you look at that record for British Columbia and you take a typical case…. The case I'm going to cite is a single parent with a two-year-old child. The lowest welfare rate — this is welfare incomes from all sources, both federal and provincial — for that family was in 2005. It was $14,869 a year, the lowest over the entire period that was surveyed by the council.
Things have gotten a bit better, yet the rates are still what I would consider abysmally low. For a single parent with a two-year-old child — $16,808 a year in 2008. That's the last year the council has calculated. If you divide that by 12, you get about $1,400 a month.
To me, the acid test on welfare incomes is not how they relate to welfare incomes in other provinces, but whether they're livable or not. We've had no real indication over the years, looking at provincial programs across the country, of how provincial cabinets actually set rates. The rates are set, but there appears to be no apparent relationship to the cost of living.
So the challenge, the acid test is…. If, for example, you have one child at home, try to live on a welfare income for even one month — $1,400 a month. I can honestly tell you that I've never heard of anyone that has tried one of these experiments over the years that has talked afterwards about how generous welfare rates are. It's just not true.
The second issue I want to mention is low-wage jobs. Wages and salaries are a very important source of income for poor families with children. As of the last report card, 55.7 percent of all poor children in B.C. had at least one parent working full-time, full-year. A recent study for CCPA, the B.C. office, showed that there were 346,000 B.C. jobs that paid $12 an hour or less in 2008. That's almost one of five employed workers in the province.
Most of the debate in recent years has been on a minimum wage of $8 an hour, which First Call and others believe is very, very low. Our position is that we believe it's impossible to argue that in a traditionally poor province like Newfoundland and Labrador they can have a minimum wage of $9.50 an hour, and yet if we did that in B.C., it would devastate the economy, destroy small businesses and wipe out thousands and thousands of jobs. We just don't think that's a credible argument. Just by the by, the minimum wage in Newfoundland and Labrador is going up to $10 an hour as of July 1.
So increases in the minimum wage are needed to bring up minimum-wage workers, who are fairly small in number, and also to fix the bottom of the wage scale so that people in lower-paying jobs also get a boost as a result of the general increase in wages.
We also know from Statistics Canada data that 20 percent of B.C. families with children have total family earnings of $25,000 or less a year, and that's way below the poverty line in most parts of the province. Just by way of comparison, the living wage campaign that's being hosted by First Call estimates that parents with two children would each have to earn $18.17 an hour, 35 hours
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a week, every week of the year, to reach a reasonable income to support their family in Metro Vancouver.
One related issue that we need to mention is the issue of indexing welfare incomes and indexing the minimum wage so that they keep pace with the cost of living. I've lived in Vancouver for the past ten years. I can't recall anyone in government ever talking seriously about considering indexing as good public policy, and I can't recall anyone ever making a sensible case opposing indexing. We would argue that not indexing welfare rates and not indexing the minimum wage is just bad public policy — period, full stop.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Thank you, Steve.
J. Millar: Thank you very much. I'd like to add my congratulations to you for taking this issue on. It's extremely important. My voice will be primarily focused about the health aspects, as you might expect.
The issue of child and family poverty is causing people to be unnecessarily ill, and dying. I might not have said this so definitively ten years ago, but the evidence is now in. If you haven't seen the WHO Commission report on the social determinants of health, I would recommend it to you. It makes a very clear statement that the health inequities we see in our society are caused by — they're literally using those words "caused by" — the inequitable distribution of money, resources and power.
What we are seeing in British Columbia — and there's a full report on this that I can make available — is that people on low incomes have three, four, five times the prevalence of all the chronic diseases. Whether it be diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, mental health issues, you name it, they're all many, many times more prevalent. That's a direct causation issue. It does go a little bit the other way, granted. If you get sick, you're more likely to become poor. But most of it goes from poverty to poor health.
We are seeing a huge burden here of increasing prevalence of disease, which you all know is driving our health care system into the ground and is absorbing money out of every other ministry that can do things to improve the health and well-being of our society. So we have a major problem here, and the only way we are going to get at it is to do something about the underlying socioeconomic problem here, which is…. "Poverty" is an easy word, but it's not just income poverty. It's food poverty. It's housing poverty. It's lots of social isolation.
We have a major issue here where we are driving up health care costs. We are getting increasingly unwell. That's going to compromise our productivity and, therefore, our ability to compete economically and sustain economic growth, so it's a vicious downward cycle that we're in. It's costing us. The point here is that it is costing us a great deal not to take action to invest in a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy.
I've been asked just to comment quickly on approaches that other provinces have been taking. I assume you're well aware of this, but just to refer to it, there are six other provinces that have action plans in place or are developing one. Three provinces — Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick — have poverty reduction legislation that drives a plan. Newfoundland and Nova Scotia have poverty reduction strategies in place, and Manitoba is developing plans.
Just a few of the common features one sees when you look across those six provinces. It's led by vision, strong leadership and commitment, often unanimous and non-partisan commitment, by provincial governments.
Provincial governments are not the only answer, but they are key to this. They all have a comprehensive strategy with goals, targets and agreed-upon measures. They've got over all this fussing about: "Do you use them before tax or after tax — LICO or the LIM or whatever?" They just say: "It doesn't matter. We're just going to choose one, because they're all reliable data that comes from Stats Canada."
It makes sense. They all have substantial funding, and they all have an accountability measure, often led by a minister or a ministerial committee.
Further, they recognize that the answers here are a combination of economic growth, more paid employment, and measures to mitigate poverty and unemployment for those who simply can't get into the workforce.
Furthermore, they recognize that this problem cannot be solved by the provincial government alone. It'll have to be resolved with cooperation from the federal government — very importantly, from local government, and UBCM is here today — but even more importantly, by somehow engaging the business sector. That's a very, very important principle that we have to think about, moving ahead.
Some of the measures you're well familiar with. But in terms of increasing paid employment, they all have job creation and economic growth ideas: investments in job training and early childhood development — which you're going to hear about in great detail later — but also going beyond early childhood through increasing investment in education generally. Primary, secondary, post-secondary, adult education, literacy — these are all key to improving our human capital. Increasing the minimum wage we've already alluded to, and increasing earned income benefits, income tax reductions for low-income earners and so forth.
Then a bunch of measures to mitigate unemployment and poverty, like increasing and indexing income assistance, not clawing back child tax benefits, universal access to child care, affordable housing, youth employment, disabled employment, immigrant assistance and so forth.
The important thing, I think, is that they have plans. What we can do is to learn from them.
In summary, we have before us…. We have, by any measure, the highest child and family poverty rates in
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the country. It's a profound embarrassment, a social injustice issue. But beyond that, it's a business case. I mean, we can't afford not to do something about this. We have other provinces pointing the way.
I think we have a huge opportunity in this province, working between all levels of government and all sectors, where we can truly create a more prosperous, healthy province where everybody is benefiting from the growth that we could experience.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Thank you all very much. We'll move to questions now. Again, I hate to be the taskmaster all day, but because we have such a full day, I will. We're allotted this time now, from 10:15 to 10:35. I've already got a growing list here. So I will ask everybody to please keep your questions fairly brief so that we can try and accommodate — and, I guess, answers as brief as possible, although we totally appreciate how complex this is.
L. Krog: To some extent, you've answered these questions already, but I just want to emphasize that these are the three questions we're looking at: what are the systemic causes of poverty, are existing measures accurate, and what strategies are successful? To some extent, you've answered that.
I was amused when you said: "Money is not the solution." My old campaign manager always says: "What's the solution to poverty? It's money." She means in the broad, redistributive sense.
I'm looking at Chief Stewart Phillip. I mean, money is not just going to do it. I say that because we have some unique problems in British Columbia because of the incredible level of poverty amongst First Nations, which I think requires a more specific measure than dealing with it in the broadest sense. It's just not a homogeneous society. This is not Norway or Sweden, in a sense.
I just ask you to comment on those questions and my remarks about First Nations, please.
J. Norton: I think Dr. Adams covered that very well. I think that we have to come at it targeting certain areas, remote communities. Certainly, the poverty is documented in First Nations communities. However, First Nations people live everywhere, as they should. Many urban aboriginals without status are living in Vancouver in serious poverty, or they have status, but there's no employment on reserves. I mean, there are a number of issues.
The off-reserve aboriginal population is very significant. It isn't aided by…. The statistics are not always…. Because of the jurisdictional issues, we don't always have the best information.
But sometimes we can get caught quibbling over, you know: "There might be another 3 percent there, or maybe not." The point is that there is poverty. There is great disparity. The information is available, if we want to look at it and break it down. The government has huge resources and does research, as well as other sources.
The new Canadians coming to British Columbia who contribute to a great extent, particularly in the service sector, are working very hard. For many of them, their children are suffering because they're not home. They're having to work several jobs, and that has a huge impact on those children, on the families. On the health of a community, that makes a huge difference.
I know other people are going to be speaking to this as well, but I think yes, the answer is there. We do need to have specific strategies to address particular geographic and demographic groups that are identifiable, and we can make a difference. They're not always that difficult.
J. Millar: If I could just comment, because I think Leonard also asked about what works. It's hard to attribute to what's caused it, but certainly in the provinces that have led, which are Quebec and Newfoundland, with very comprehensive strategies — I think that's the key, that these are very carefully thought-through strategies, both to improve paid employment and to mitigate poverty — we have seen their rates of poverty drop much more quickly than B.C.'s has. B.C. isn't the last just because it hasn't done anything, but it hasn't dropped as quickly as these other provinces.
I think we can say with reasonable confidence that those strategies have resulted in a drop. So the answer is a very comprehensive, organized strategy, I think. That's what will work.
J. Thornthwaite: Thank you very much. I do have a bit of experience with First Call, because I was the B.C. School Trustees Association rep when I was a trustee. Also, I'm familiar with the market basket survey and measure from my life as a dietitian, so thanks. I appreciate that.
I have two related questions. I've read your recommendations. I appreciated Dr. Millar's comments about what other provinces are doing. Your recommendations about increasing or getting the family bonus minimum wage…. You had mentioned, even, the living wage. You talked about welfare, the rent supplement eligibility. You even talked, in your report, about having a special cabinet minister — I don't think we want to increase bureaucracy in that way, but anyways — and then you had made some specific recommendations.
Leonard, actually, had also reiterated what you say, that this is more about leadership taking risks and being accountable than money. If we have the same money, what programs that we offer would you consider we could either change, adjust or get rid of that would then free up the resources, the money and the expertise to provide what you are recommending in the points that I just mentioned at the top? That's the first one.
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Then the next one is related to that. You had mentioned Quebec and Newfoundland. Are those the two models, the two provinces that you consider have the best programs? Because I know they've got higher income tax than we do.
S. Kerstetter: Can I answer briefly? If the goal is to redirect other money to fight poverty, it's not going to work. It's just not going to work. There's just not enough money that you can redirect that's going to make a difference.
We're talking about a poverty gap in B.C. that's in the order of about $2 billion. Somehow we've got to fill that hole, and part of the hole would be filled by employers that paid higher wages for their employees, and part of it would be filled by government programs. But it's a big chunk of money, and it's not going to be done by redistribution. It's just not going to work. That's the sad answer to a very good question.
J. Thornthwaite: Okay. Then do you have a response to my comment about the provinces as well, about what model…?
J. Millar: Having just reviewed them, those would be two good ones to pick. Quebec, probably, is the most comprehensive, but Newfoundland is pretty close. I would say Quebec has the most comprehensive strategy, if you wanted to take a look at one.
N. Simons: Thank you very much for the presentation. My question has to do not so much with what the specific answers are, because I think that any strategy government employs, any comprehensive plan with measures and timelines and such, would be the forum where we would actually discuss the specifics, the very minutiae of the plans. I think what we need to overcome at this point is the stumbling block of the poverty deniers.
People talk about partisanship or non-partisanship. I'm not going to mention parties, but there are many people in that Legislature who believe that poverty is not a problem in British Columbia.
I have some quotes. "I urge all of us to take with a grain of salt the assertion that B.C. has the most poverty in Canada." Again, another one: "There's something seriously misleading about numbers which are bandied about. I'd be very cautious about accepting such claims, and I'd be suspicious of those who tout them."
That's you — right? I'm assuming….
J. McIntyre (Chair): Nicholas, excuse me for just a sec.
We're mindful of the time for succinct questions. So please, is there a question?
N. Simons: My question is: how do we overcome…? How do we stand up to the poverty deniers?
J. Millar: I would say to get past the arguing about numbers and accept that there are unacceptable levels of poverty and that it's a disgrace.
J. Norton: I think that by arguing about the numbers too, it suggests that there is an acceptable level of poverty. When we're talking about children and youth, they are our responsibility as adults, regardless of what your personal opinions are. They should be put aside. We have a responsibility to give children and youth…. First Call — the basis of our name is that children and youth should have first call on society's resources and that we all want children to be healthy and prosperous and successful in the future.
Our responsibility today is to make that possible. We have to have foresight and commitment and not get caught up in these…. We can argue all kinds of niggling little points. The reality is that poverty is significant, and our government has a responsibility to act for the citizens of this province.
I guess it's up to us to take those uncomfortable positions again and say: "I don't agree, and there is no acceptable level of poverty."
I know I've heard many of these arguments. One of them is about the black market and how many people are making money under the table. Well, unfortunately, sometimes people are forced to do that. I used to work with women coming out of prison, and the number who were in the provincial system for theft and fraud because they couldn't feed their families was there. We criminalize not only families, but we criminalize youth as well, when we don't have services for youth for a variety of reasons.
I know that in the Hazeltons, where there was that huge number of youth suicides…. Following up on that a year and half later, there was $5,000 that went into that community for an arts project for youth, and that was it. I was appalled that that was all that happened after that media report. There wasn't any kind of special program. We're saying that that's acceptable. Basically, by doing nothing we're saying it's acceptable, and it's not.
I'm sorry that some people feel that, but it's not about your personal views. It's about what is the right thing to do for the people of British Columbia.
J. Rustad: Thank you very much for the presentation. As I said to the previous speaker, obviously this is an extremely complex issue.
I want to start off just by making, once again, a couple of comments, and then I want to ask you around a particular issue.
Child poverty. There's no question we have child poverty issues. We have poverty issues. In the 1990s, according to the stats you've given here, child poverty rates increased by 34 percent between 1991 and 2000. That's a shocking fact that it has increased by that.
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Since 2000 to 2007, we've seen a 14 percent decrease. Yet it's still well above the Canadian average, and we do need to do some work there.
Having said that, we asked about somebody living under $1,400. This was many years ago now, but I can remember living on employment insurance at one point. I was just out of high school, had some jobs and spent about a year living on that — it was on substantially less money than that, of course — paying rent and going about life.
I didn't enjoy it. Certainly, it was not easy to do that. It was one of the things that sparked me into going on and doing other things. I was fortunate in that I had a good family support system to be able to help me move beyond that particular situation. But I do remember what the mindset was, living in there and having friends, of course, that were on either welfare or employment insurance at the time.
You mentioned dependency, and increasing rates would increase dependency. Dependency is something that…. There are two sorts of things about dependency. One is that you get used to a lifestyle. You get used to the money that comes in, and inertia makes it tough to overcome. But the second issue is a gap between kind of the level of income you're at and how much more you would have to earn to get above that in terms of a lifestyle.
Many people are unwillingly to take the job to get the experience to be able to start moving up the chain because they feel: "Well, I've got lots of free time and stuff." I'm wondering, on that dependency issue, in terms of how we try to close that gap and how much dependency really does play on the psyche of people caught in that situation.
J. Norton: That's a good question. The way legislation is set up particularly around income assistance, disability and in fact employment insurance, there is a disincentive — the idea that you can't afford to take that job unless it's significantly higher. And training jobs, those early jobs, don't pay enough. So we create an obstacle there where people…. If they could start earning a little bit of money and transition into employment, it would work. But then there are those who say: "Oh well, no. Now you're rewarding people for being on income assistance."
The point is: how do people get off income assistance? If you haven't worked for a number of years, you don't have the skills to walk into a $25-an-hour job. Those jobs aren't there anymore. You can't afford to. So we trap people there.
Now, other provinces…. I'm not sure which one, but it has increased the allowable earnable income — I think it might be Quebec — as a strategy. I know there are a lot of people who are against that, but if we keep putting obstacles there and stop people from moving out of poverty, we've limited the amount of education they can get.
It's all an investment. A lot of the people, if they had a bit more education or a university degree…. Let's face it. People want to be working and want to be independent. As you said, it wasn't fun. It's beyond not fun when you have children and you're worried about child protection being an issue because you can't feed your children or can't afford your rent and you're homeless or potentially homeless. There are many reasons why people get stuck there.
The dependency piece…. I mean, we have far more corporate dependency on public welfare, quite frankly. I think we have to get away from looking at families as the deadbeat family and stuff like that.
There are some people who are going to take advantage of that, but I think the reduction in income assistance over the last number of years has really made it so that the people receiving income assistance are the people who, for the most part, are not going to be able to hold down a full-time, progressively more responsible job. They have too many issues and a lot of mental health issues and a lot of other health issues.
We want to make it possible for people to prosper. They will; they want to.
J. McIntyre (Chair): I've got a longer speaker list than time. We're at 10:35. I'm sorry about that. I can only suggest that those who haven't had a chance to ask questions, I'm going to make sure that you're at the top of the list as the next person.
M. Elmore: It's quick. I want to ask on the multicultural aspect.
J. McIntyre (Chair): There are three people I have here. There are three questioners still.
M. Elmore: I'll be quick, Joan.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Okay, then there's going to be another question. That way, there are two quick questions — one to Mable and one to Marc — but no preamble.
M. Elmore: Thanks for the presentation. We've had the picture on really the systemic problems of poverty from the aboriginal committee. You've mentioned some of the statistics in terms of new immigrants.
I'm interested if you have resources or if there is research or papers from the perspective of immigrant communities, communities of colour, the racialization of poverty and, in the context of certainly this changing demographic, where we're seeing more of that.
S. Kerstetter: The most telling story I've seen in recent years has been one that's done on recent immigrants. What it shows is that recent immigrants have lower incomes than the Canadian average. But it takes
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not five, not ten, not 15, but about 20 years for those incomes to catch up with the Canadian average.
It strikes us that that's a very, very long time for newcomers that we're trying to welcome to Canada to wait to achieve parity with the rest of the population.
J. Norton: I believe, too, that the Immigrant Services Society has extensive information. I was looking at the list and thinking that it would have been good to have them here, because there is a large amount….
Increasingly, immigrant families are moving to other communities outside of the Lower Mainland because they just can't afford to live here. It's being spread around. We need to look at this, because the families are working a lot. They're taking jobs in the service sector, and they're not….
One of the things we hear most from new Canadians and immigrant families is that they don't have time with their families. They don't have time with their children. They're already living in a double bind, because it's a new culture for them. They don't have the direction from their families, and it causes problems and family breakdown and children leaving home early, getting involved in gangs and crime.
This is what we're hearing from parents. They don't have time to go to groups and counselling. They're working. So the minimum wage is an issue for these kinds of families. Many of them are making under $12 and $10 an hour.
D. Horne: Thank you for the presentation. Obviously, we're short on time, so I'll be fairly quick.
One of the largest difficulties that we face in this province and, obviously, across the country…. Poverty is a real concern, and it's something that we need to address.
I think that specifically in our province, and actually specifically here in Vancouver, one of the major issues we face is housing. Well, we have statistically one of the highest poverty ratings. We also have statistically the highest cost of housing. I would say that those are probably much more tightly linked than sometimes we are led to believe. It's one of the real difficult things that we do face here in Vancouver — the affordability and where the jobs are.
We have some difficulties with the forest sector over time. We've had that — so many people moving here to Vancouver. We have programs in place, and we do spend money for rental assistance, which we've talked about in other programs.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Question, Doug.
D. Horne: All right.
What are your thoughts when it comes to…? Obviously, we have the rental assistance program. In dealing with housing, how do you think specifically housing should be…? What would be the strategies you would employ to deal with housing?
S. Kerstetter: I think that's probably a subject for another day, but I did want to make one comment.
The poverty statistics are based on incomes. They're not based on the cost of living. They're done nationally, so the fact that we have high housing prices in Vancouver is certainly a very real problem for individuals, but it's got nothing to do at all with the poverty statistics. Poverty statistics are based on income alone, regardless of what the cost of living is in any particular sector.
J. Millar: I'll just quickly mention that if you haven't seen it, there's been a very good business case, particularly on homelessness. I'm sure you're aware of it, but the numbers are that it's costing us $50,000 a year to keep somebody on the street. It's about $40,000 to house them adequately with all the services they need, so it's like a no-brainer.
J. Norton: Finally, I think working together with your colleagues at the federal and municipal levels is a critical piece. It's a group effort, as well as private business and community organizations. We all have ideas. We all have ways of addressing this — and the families who are affected. It can be done.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Thank you very, very much. You can see the interest.
J. Norton: Well, thank you very much. I wish you well. Again, we are available for other consultation, other information. We can make other resources available, so if you have any questions, please feel free to contact us. Our website has a lot of information available, so you can access it there.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Our next presenter is Dr. Paul Kershaw from the human early learning partnership at UBC.
I want to welcome you, Dr. Kershaw.
I will ask, actually, that when we get to the question section of this — and I hate to again be the taskmaster here…. Because the time is so short, I have to ask that we limit some of the preambles and get to the question — on everybody's part, please. I'd like to even it out so that people have a chance to ask a question. So whenever you're ready, I guess.
P. Kershaw: I recognize that you asked your presenters to address three questions. I am going to jump right to the third for the time that I have available. I'll aim to end around that 20-minute period that you asked for. Then I'll encourage you to raise specific questions.
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I want to talk about something called 15 by 15 and frame it in terms of remedying three poverties in order to create strong families in B.C. and a strong economy in the province.
The question that you posed in your invitation to me is: which poverty reduction strategies appear to be successful in other jurisdictions, and how can we best measure that success? Well, there are a lot of data showing how poverty plays out internationally, and it is no surprise to probably anyone in this room where the countries are that do it best. You've got your Denmarks, your Swedens, your Finlands and your Norways that have about a quarter of the poverty that we have in Canada.
The question is: what do they do to achieve those outcomes? The answer is: they have smart family policy. They have smart family policy that addresses but has a much broader focus than income poverty alone. The key thing they do in these other countries that actually nearly eliminates child poverty, or poverty for families with young children, is put in place policies that support adults to synchronize caregiving and earning.
We are dreadful at doing that. Who on the panel knew that Canada was ranked last when it came to family policy amongst rich, affluent countries in the OECD? I mean, in terms of supporting families with young children, who knew that statistic? A few of you.
N. Simons: That's very, very broad.
J. McIntyre (Chair): The speaker has the floor.
P. Kershaw: Supporting families with children. Who among you would have also known that the places that actually rank top in terms of putting in place family policy — as acknowledged by UNICEF, as acknowledged by the OECD — also happen to be the countries that rank gold, silver and bronze when it comes to gender equality?
There is a strong association between family policy and gender equality. Supporting families, and ultimately reducing the poverty that children are suffering from, is about enabling parents to synchronize earning and caring. That in large part is about facilitating moms to have strong access to the labour market and dads to have stronger access to time to care at home.
I would urge you, rather than asking questions specifically about family poverty in British Columbia — or child poverty, which risks taking children out of their familial context — to reframe the issue. Recognize that in British Columbia 29 percent of our population is vulnerable as it transitions into our formal school system.
When I say "vulnerable," I don't mean that we're expecting kindergarten children to be the next Einstein or Mozart. Rather, we're asking kindergarten teachers to look for very age-appropriate benchmarks. Does the child have the fine motor skills to hold a pencil, the gross motor skills to climb stairs around the school, the social and emotional competencies to follow instructions from teachers a reasonable amount of time and the pro-social skills to get along with peers on the playground? Does the child know just ten letters of the alphabet?
These are the kinds of age-appropriate benchmarks by which 29 percent of British Columbia's population is struggling as it transitions into the formal school system.
Here is my question to you: are the bulk of those children who are vulnerable poor? The answer to that question is that the bulk of vulnerable children actually are in the more populous middle-income and upper-income households in neighbourhoods across this province.
Yes, statistically speaking, if you are poor, you're more likely to be vulnerable. But again, the majority of vulnerable kids are going to be found across the socioeconomic gradient. I'd like to pause for a moment to ask: what does it mean for a society to have nearly a third of its population vulnerable even before it reaches the formal school system?
Something very fundamental is failing in Canada and in British Columbia. We've come out of the warm afterglow of the Olympics, where we celebrated in slam poetry that we are more than lumberjacks and whale watchers, more than clean snow and maple syrup, that we are the "what" in "What's new?" and that we are a vineyard of good year after good year.
I love the poetry. It's inspiring. But at best, it's a partial story. At worse, it's absolutely misleading. It's certainly misleading when it comes to how we support families with young children, because we have organized ourselves socially and economically such that the majority in our society can understand at least two of three kinds of poverty.
The first is time poverty. The majority of families in B.C. feel stretched thin when it comes to finding time to care personally. When they try and mediate that time poverty, they run into a second kind of poverty — service poverty. They cannot find the services out there to facilitate that synchronization of earning and caring. If they can find things like child care services or early learning and care services, often the cost is akin to a second mortgage. And despite that, we still see quality concerns in the available support services.
Then for a minority but still very important part of the population, that work-life conflict, which is not mediated by enough services, is exacerbated by the kind of income poverty on which you've been focusing — and rightly so — here.
Fortunately, we live in a province that is increasingly concerned with child vulnerability. Who on this panel — I beg you to allow people to answer the question — knows what the government of B.C.'s target for reducing early vulnerability is? You're all MLAs representing the government. This is your target.
J. McIntyre (Chair): It's 15 by 15.
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P. Kershaw: That's exactly right. The first benchmark in the service plan coming out of the Premier's office measuring the great goals and our progress towards them calls upon our increasing school readiness. Recognizing that presently just about 70 percent of kids are school-ready as they transition into kindergarten, we leave almost 30 percent of kids vulnerable. The aim is to increase that school-readiness rate to 85 percent by 2015, leaving just 15 percent of kids vulnerable — 15 by 15.
That's your goal — not my research institute's goal, not any of the goals of other organizations that are coming before you. That is the goal coming out of this government of British Columbia, and it's been in the service plan for many years.
Unfortunately, just 7 percent of neighbourhoods in B.C. currently meet that target, while 93 percent of neighbourhoods across the province do not. There are about 480 neighbourhoods or so, and the problem is that biologically speaking, there's absolutely no reason for a neighbourhood to have vulnerability above 10 percent. I ask you: can you see green anywhere on that map in British Columbia?
The answer, for the sake of Hansard: it's darned difficult. There are only a handful, less than ten neighbourhoods that actually have vulnerability rates below 10 percent, where biologically speaking, it ought to be.
Here's the really big question: what the heck is that costing us as a society? We are making choices right now to tolerate that level of child vulnerability that is imposing dramatic costs. We in British Columbia are uniquely positioned with research to know just how much. Why? Because with the support of kindergarten teachers in nearly all kindergarten classrooms in all school districts around the province, we monitor how children are doing, using the early development instrument, as they transition into school.
Then we managed to watch an entire population of kids move from kindergarten to grade 4. Then we managed to watch an entire population of children move from grade 4 to grade 7, and — wait for it — we have watched an entire population of children move from grade 7 to grade 12. It takes a lot of the guesswork out of how vulnerability, when entering school at kindergarten, relates to later success, relates to the quality of the labour supply that our schools are producing at the end of high school.
Presently we know that so long as we tolerate 29 percent of kids being vulnerable as they transition into school at kindergarten, just 41½ percent of kids are going to be graduating with the sort of grades that allow them to go to our best post-secondary institutions. Now, I don't care if they actually go there, although I do think I teach well at the university. Nevertheless, getting a trade certificate, etc., can be actually much more lucrative than getting an arts degree, so whether or not people go is not my concern.
Getting the grades to go signals the quality of our labour supply, and that matters if we're going to be in an information economy, in a knowledge economy, and able to adapt the technological innovations from elsewhere or create our own. All the economic evidence is suggesting that's absolutely critical.
Were we to meet the government of B.C.'s goal and reduce vulnerability down to 15 by 15, you'll see that the proportion of kids getting the grades they need to go to university rise above 50 percent. If you reduce vulnerability down to 10 percent, where it ought to be, say, by 2020, you'll see the proportion of university-eligible grade achievement rise to over 55 percent. You'd go from 41 percent to 55 percent — that's a growth of about a third — just by getting it right in kindergarten, doing nothing else and watching it play out.
There's a mass of econometric literature that talks about: how does the average cognitive ability of a population influence economic growth? This is definitely a messy slide, not made by my shop. It shows that in 1960, four decades ago, Canada was muddling in the middle in terms of the average cognitive achievement of our kids aged nine to 15.
What did that mean? Well, we were quite a ways behind other places like Israel and Finland and France, and way behind Singapore, Taiwan, Korea and China. Ignore the really strong performers, cognitively speaking, and think about the gap between Finland and Canada, let's say.
In 1961 that gap made the difference of two-thirds of a point of GDP growth. In 1962 another two-thirds of a point of GDP growth, and two-thirds again in the year after, the year after — every year thereafter, on average, for four decades.
Now, two-thirds of a point of GDP. What's one point of GDP in B.C.? I won't give you any more pop quizzes. It's $2 billion in today's dollars.
Let me show you what it will mean for our economy. By tolerating 29 percent vulnerability — as opposed to having 10 percent, where we ought to be — we are allowing ourselves to still suffer the kind of gap that Finland had relative to Canada four decades ago. If we were to bring vulnerability down to 10 percent, you would see us improving the cognitive ability of our population by the kind of way that Finland had four decades ago — and get all the additional growth, if education remains as important as people think it will be.
We know in B.C., by your own numbers coming out of your own budget documents, that over the next decades we expect to see growth. That's what this blue line plots — exactly what you're projecting, so long as we tolerate a third of our population being vulnerable as they come into kindergarten.
But imagine that we imagine differently, and think about bringing vulnerability down to 15 by '15 and
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eventually 10 by '20, and we're patient enough to allow children to enjoy the childhood they deserve. Then they start to become a part of the labour market, and then a larger and larger part of the labour market. Suddenly the red line is very different from the blue line. The gap between the red and blue lines is the difference between 20 percent of GDP growth over the next five to six decades.
Since you're not good at answering my pop quizzes, I'm just going to tell you what 20 points in GDP growth over those decades means. It is akin to throwing away, right now, $401.5 billion. That's how much money you would need to invest now at 3 percent interest. Take that capital and all the interest it would gain over the next six decades to grow our economy by 20 percentage points.
In other words, the early vulnerability debt dwarfs the cumulative provincial debt by a factor of 10 to 1. All of the economic growth I'm talking about spurring by bringing vulnerability down for young kids would give returns to the provincial and federal governments that are enough to pay off all of the provincial debt and B.C.'s share of the federal debt before those kids retire.
So how do we do it? How do we capture that economic value that we are currently throwing away in our early vulnerability debt? Well, we have to address those three poverties. We have to address time issues, we have to address resource issues, and we have to address community service issues. Let me just briefly water-ski over what we're recommending.
On the time side. One of the most time-consuming moments in any life core stage is after the birth of a child when caregiving responsibilities are particularly acute. Right now in British Columbia if two parents share a year outside of the labour market, they give up almost $12,000 of income compared to the year before when they didn't have that infant. Some countries — known as Denmark, Germany and Sweden — actually provide that family with more money during the year.
What we're proposing to close the gap is to play with our parental leave system — to extend that leave period by six months per pregnancy, so that the total leave period would be about 18 months; to reserve all of the extra time for dads, to facilitate dads being more involved in caregiving; and to increase the total monetary value of the benefit to 80 percent of about $60,000 over the year. That would be the maximum insurable benefit, which would have a tremendous impact on lower-income families because instead of getting 55 percent of their income, it would bump up also to 80 percent.
After that leave period ends, then we need to grapple with a real reality. Did you know that in British Columbia, the average worker puts in 300 hours per year more than the average Norwegian, German or Dutch person? That's over eight weeks of additional full-time work. That's a huge drain on the opportunity to care personally. We want to start at least a debate about: what do we mean by full-time work when the best defence against poverty is two adults in the labour market?
Second, how do we address not just the time poverty but the service poverty? Well, the key missing piece in the family benefit puzzle in British Columbia is without doubt the absence of child care services or early learning and care services. If you want to call it full-day kindergarten, that's good for me too. I don't care what you call it, but here's the reality.
This is where we rank dead-last internationally. Canada puts about a quarter of a percent of GDP into this issue. The top countries put in close to 2 percent. B.C. ranks worst in Canada because, of course, Quebec brings up the Canadian average. If we go and do as we should — put in place full-day kindergarten, which will be one small step towards the most important social policy innovation in a generation — it still only brings up the cumulative spending to about 0.28 percent of GDP. That's a long way to go to get to the OECD average, and where we need to be is closer to what the EU and UNICEF are recommending — one point of GDP.
That's what we're recommending. That would allow us to put in place from age 18 months, as a seamless transition after parental leave into a seamless transition to kindergarten and grade 1, a set of early learning and care services that provide part- and full-employment-day options for all who want or need them at costs that are affordable, provided by people who are well-trained, so that they can put in place quality services, and appropriately remunerated.
I want to tell you about a range of much less expensive recommendations, where we need to build on some of our strengths around women's health, pregnancy and parenting such that during the leave period on a monthly basis, by putting together our StrongStarts, our family resource programs, our community centres and our community health nurses, we have a comprehensive way in which in-home and outside-of-home parents have a chance to interact on a monthly basis with professionals and paraprofessionals.
It will allow us to pick up special needs earlier and capture vulnerability when it's a better time in the life course to address. Since no federal or provincial plan will ever be adequate on the ground to the specifics of the local community, we need some local ECD coalitions to tailor the provincial framework for their lived reality.
This brings me to the last kind of poverty, and this is where I will begin to wrap up the resource side on which you've been focusing. We need to acknowledge, actually, as Steve Kerstetter pointed out, that in B.C. we have the highest rates of child poverty, or what I prefer to call poverty for families with young children, in the country. Although my stat is out of date now, Steve was saying
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that almost half of those kids who were poor live with an adult who works full-time, full-year.
It's true. The wage system in British Columbia is not bringing up a large part of our population out of poverty. Now, this puts in play a very polarizing debate in B.C. We saw it in the last election. Either you're for an increase in minimum wage, or you're against an increase in minimum wage. There's not a lot of talk about it in a really substantive way. I don't want to go there, although it merits discussion, because we do have the lowest minimum wage, by a long ways, in the country now.
We have another tradition in the country of dealing with this issue. We can use smart family policy to supplement income and low wages at a life course stage that it is particularly tough to bring in income — when people have young children.
What was one of the very first universal programs in Canada? Answer: the family allowance. We did that. If you go and look at the cabinet documents, they put it in place because there was wage pressure. Rather than increasing wages across the board, they thought: "How can we support families to have more of a family wage that gets supplemented at life course stages that are particularly expensive?"
At the end of the day, using smart family policy to supplement low wages means something like doubling the national child benefit supplement — doubling it — or using the same amount of money and putting it into rental assistance.
There is also a part of the population now that is relying on non-income supports to get by. You need to know that in British Columbia, Canada, in 2008 for a lone mom and a toddler, after a very conservative housing assumption and getting access to routine medical care, we expect our lone moms and toddlers to get by on $5,343 a year.
It's about $400 a month to meet all other necessities. That's not even half of what they do in the U.K. and Australia, and barely a quarter of the most generous countries.
Now, you know, we tend to want to be stingy with our income support. We worry that if it's too generous, it will attract people to rely on welfare and not work — because we know that a good social policy means employment — and this is partly true, without doubt. But then you might think: "Wow, lone moms in Norway must never work." The reality is that more Norwegian lone mothers work than British Columbian lone mothers. So we need to think more carefully about what a welfare wall really is.
When we have so little income on income supports and we leave moms having to go to one food bank line to another school lunch program to another — constantly moving around without transportation — think about getting organized to get back into the labour market.
So 15 by 15 is a made-in-B.C. plan to reduce B.C. poverty among families with children. We have the plan here, and I'll wrap up and say: these are the kinds of questions you should ask me. Ask me: "What's it going to cost? How are we going to pay for it? Why is the business community increasingly interested, and what are business leaders saying? What do British Columbians, more generally, think about the policy recommendations? And what about being Canadian in B.C. is really getting in the way of our acting and putting in place smart family policy?"
J. McIntyre (Chair): Thank you very much, Dr. Kershaw. Most informative. We can either go through those questions, or I've already got a couple.
A Voice: I think go through his questions.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Okay. We've got 25 minutes for questions, so if you can answer some of those questions. And I've also got a couple of people already.
P. Kershaw: The punchline on the cost is that all of us need to become more savvy consumers of policy announcements, from both the standpoints of consumer and producer, because the costs of doing this are not inexpensive. You don't end up with a third of your population being vulnerable if it's just that we have some incremental change to make. Other countries have been acting for four decades. We have not yet started.
On the time side, to really get the parental leave program right, we're talking about an additional $585 million a year, and on the resources side, doubling the national child benefit supplement. We're proposing a 50 percent increase to both the support and shelter allowances.
M. Dalton: This is just B.C. — right?
P. Kershaw: This is just B.C.
That's going to cost $820 million a year. For the community service standpoint — and the bulk of that is investing in early learning and care services — it's $1.6 billion. Half of the total $3 billion per year is going directly to parents, and half is going directly to services — no more of this either-or debate. You know: "We should support either parents directly or services." We need to do both.
Now I know you're freaked out by $3 billion. But you need to bear in mind the prize. The prize is reducing the early vulnerability debt, which dwarfs any other debt you can think about, and the returns at the end of the day are 6 to 1 — a 600 percent return. I ask you: find for me another economic investment that generates it.
We're talking about spending less than half of what we put into place for old age security and subsidies for registered retirement savings plans, and we're talking about 12 percent to a fifth of what we do with health care, and we're proposing doing health care differently — preventing problems before they happen, rather than
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waiting for disease to set in. You heard Dr. Millar talk about that.
Also, I wanted to tell you. You might think it's impossible. But twice in the last decade in this province, by people like you, we have seen social spending rise by $3 billion a year. Between 1998 and 2001 health care spending went up by $3 billion a year. If you didn't think that was exciting enough, between 2005 and 2008 it rose by $3 billion a year again. So we can do it there. The question is: why can't we do it elsewhere, and what are the relative priorities?
Okay. How do we pay for a smart family policy in B.C.? Now, I have slides. Do you want the five-minute version or the ten-minute version?
J. McIntyre (Chair): Five, yeah. Quick, quick.
P. Kershaw: Quick, quick. It says five things. You can talk about reallocation. For instance, we have a spousal and common-law partner tax credit at the provincial and federal levels. It costs us cumulatively $220 million a year. It's there, regardless of whether a child is in the home, regardless of whether an 18-year-old or younger child is in the home, let alone a young kid. I would say that's an anachronistic public policy that merits redistribution.
The policies that we're talking about will save the child welfare system an estimated $157 million, really early on. I think that's part of the way where you'll be reallocating relatively quickly.
And we're talking about doing health care differently. We have seen health care spending grow — as we should expect. Our economy has been growing. Our population has been growing. But do you know that the rate of health care spending growth per capita has outpaced our economy growing per capita by about $500 per person? If you take $500 per person and you multiply that by the 4.4 million of us who live here, you get about $2.2 billion.
Some of that, I would argue, is open to do health care differently — get over our disease fetish, which means we're waiting for problems to happen and/or we're willing to put in hundreds of thousands if not a million dollars into, let's say, one preterm baby in a neonatal intensive care unit but then put in place no services thereafter to support them. All the while we're not willing to invest in housing, in poverty reduction, in food support for the population. We need to take more of a population-level health promotion perspective.
If you don't like any of those redistribution ideas, we can raise more revenue. Let me just quickly go to a slide here. In 1984 as a share of our economy, you or your former representatives were collecting about 17.7 percent of our gross domestic product in revenue. If you flash forward to today, we are collecting 15.3 percent of our gross domestic product in revenue. Now, 17.7 minus 15.3 gives us 2.4 percent. Each point of GDP is worth $2 billion. So we are talking about almost $5 billion in revenue we're not collecting now that we were just two and a bit decades ago.
That's enough money to pay for everything I'm talking about now and most of the deficit. Now, hold on. Wait one second. Notice the people right now…. In 1991, the last year of the Vander Zalm government, we were collecting 18.1 percent of GDP in revenue. Yet he is one of the most vocal critics against a tax that actually is not going to raise that much more money, when he was collecting considerably more revenue as a share of our economy. So not wanting the current government to be able to do nearly what he was doing.
Even when you think about 1999, the last year of Glen Clark, the share of revenue as a percentage of GDP was considerably higher. So I don't know. The people who are the most opposed to some of the tax policy we're talking about these days, I think, need to look back on what they were doing when they were last in power.
You should also know that on the taxation side of things, KPMG, an international firm, acknowledges that we out-compete American cities regularly when it comes to being the best place to do business — having low corporate taxes for a range of industries, inexpensive labour and cheap energy costs.
If you don't want to raise revenue, there are two other options. You can do what baby boomers have long done: deficit finance. Heck, baby boomers inherited next to no debt relative to GDP and now are retiring, leaving over a third of our economy in debt at both the federal and provincial levels. They inherited next to no environmental degradation but are leaving us, Canada, identified as the fossil fuel dinosaur internationally.
It's the same baby boomers, who really are a political and business elite, who are tolerating — wait for it — a third of the next generation being vulnerable, through no fault of their own, before they even get to school. But wait. We should also know that our provincial government documents show that our debt-to-GDP ratio is in a good, healthy position.
The last option is we do nothing. It's an option. But then you have to tell me: what are your priorities? Is your priority crime reduction? Because I can show you if you reduce early vulnerability, you'll bring down crime. Is it to promote a strong economy? Well, I can show you the link to early child development. Is to promote health? Well, I can show you that link too. Is it to make your education spending from K onward stretch further? Well, I can show you the relation to that too.
Find for me something that doesn't link to early child development, and then I think you'll see that doing nothing makes no sense.
J. McIntyre (Chair): With that, thank you very, very much. Totally appreciate your view. It's very interesting
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as we see from each presenter — right? — some of the themes and the differences and the similarities.
I already have a couple of people on the list. I just want to make sure if everybody…. I will please ask you to go quickly and succinctly.
J. Rustad: First of all, thank you very much for your passion and what you bring to this. I will be very quick, because I don't disagree with your argument around funding and resources. Particularly, it would be great if we did have a real tax discussion as opposed to the rhetoric that is out in the community. That would be a good thing to have.
I do want to ask you this question. You created a bunch of cases and used a bunch of examples from European countries, other countries of the world, around their spending policies on family policy, around how they did that. They've been in place for four decades. You've talked about how in 50 to 60 years there'd be this GDP payoff, that with the increase, we'd be able to get rid of the debt, yadda, yadda. Sorry. I'm trying to go as fast as I can.
The bottom line is that they've had those policies in place for four decades, and most of those countries that are up there are on the verge of bankruptcy. Norway, for example….
J. Rustad: Just please let me finish. Norway, for example, is at a 1,200 to 1,400 percent debt-to-GDP at this particular point. Many of those European countries have no chance at all of being able to pay off their debt, let alone even trying to get out of deficit. The austerity measures that they're going through…. You've seen the protests in the streets in Greece. There are about another half a dozen countries right now that are going to have to look at that and have those kinds of challenges because of their overall policies and the challenges they're facing.
What I'm wondering is: if in four decades they've managed to ring up all of that debt, with the challenges that they currently face today and having to have austerity measures, how does that formula work with regards to what you're proposing and the challenges we would have if we to start taking on those kinds of levels of debt here to provide those services?
P. Kershaw: Well, first of all, I'm not in favour, actually, of the deficit-financing approach. But notice the Greece case is a lovely example. One of the things there that people are most arguing about is that, well, we're used to retiring at age 50.
What this smart family policy is about in terms of synchronizing earning and caring is really an individual responsibility model in many ways. It's talking about: "Look, we want to support the majority of the citizens of British Columbia to make their way through a strong attachment to the labour market, but we need to put in place some enabling conditions." That's what the smart family policy does.
And then it gives rise to returns to our public coffers because of an additional labour attachment, especially by women. Now, we're wanting to reconsider the number of hours in any given year that people are working, but we are definitely very committed to people working well beyond age 50, and since we're living longer, people — whether or not our retirement age is 65 — are having to work longer.
Where is the reduction in employment hours most debated these days? Baby boomers. They want to phase into retirement. Well, if it's good at that end of the life course, why not think about it earlier on?
That's what we're putting in place — enabling conditions to synchronize earning and caring. That's the way that they reduce poverty in the Scandinavian countries. It's not just that their welfare is more generous. It's that more lone mothers, more people who are more likely to be poor there have strong attachment to the labour market because there's a culture of child care in place. There's a culture of other enabling conditions in place.
M. Elmore: Thanks for the presentation. Just a two-part question. No. 1 is on the issue of a productivity measure. Often our discussions on a strong economy have to do with our tax regime, certainly very competitive, and also in terms of the need for investment in machinery and technology. But I think there needs to be more discussion in terms of the investment on the social side, in terms of the social capital, to boosting our productivity measure, which has traditionally been very low in British Columbia. Just some comment on that.
Then the second aspect is in terms of an early learning and care sector and how that contributes to a sustainable green sector in terms of the economy. Sustainable and green — just in terms of framing it in that context.
P. Kershaw: Okay. Well, first, can we do a bit of show and tell? You all have blue packages in front of you.
You were talking about the productivity argument, Mable. This is a really important piece. You can open your folder, and you will find a piece there on the front that says: "Fast facts." I want you to turn it over and learn what business leaders are saying about smart family policy. Then I need a volunteer from the group to read into Hansard what, let's say, the president of the Business Council of British Columbia is saying so it gets into Hansard. I know you're good at reading quotes.
Do I have a volunteer?
L. Krog: Virginia Greene, president of the Business Council of British Columbia, says: "Business leaders
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recognize the importance of investing in early childhood development as an effective business strategy to create a strong, knowledge-based economy of the future. The evidence is compelling. Investing in early childhood education is the foundation for creating the skilled workforce our province needs to prosper and grow in the future."
P. Kershaw: That is a productivity argument about getting human capital built early on. You can see themes like that echoed by Sue Paish, chair of the board of trade; Warren Beach, CFO at Sierra Systems; Tamara Vrooman, former Deputy Finance Minister, now CEO of VanCity, our largest credit union; etc.
The business community is increasingly paying attention, because they buy the productivity argument. They buy the economic argument increasingly.
M. Elmore: And the early learning and care…. The sustainable green sector of the economy.
P. Kershaw: Well, you know, green issues…. The one time it's hard to bring back to early child development, with the exception that it's got to be that next generation that's really going to deal with the problems. So if we're already rendering them vulnerable as they transition to school, that's crazy.
The early learning and care system puts in place one of the key plans to bring vulnerability down, and then we have that much more talented and innovative society to address some of the technological, not to mention social justice, challenges that environmental degradation is bringing.
J. Thornthwaite: Thank you, Dr. Kershaw — very entertaining.
P. Kershaw: Hopefully, substantive as well.
J. Thornthwaite: Yes — very good.
Just a couple of questions. I've actually read your report. I talked about it, actually, in the Legislature. So it's already in Hansard.
P. Kershaw: Fantastic.
J. Thornthwaite: The point I wanted to make was what…. Can you give me specific examples of how we can get your average business person on board with regards to this policy? And what examples of the local early childhood development coalitions are you talking about?
P. Kershaw: Okay — so two questions.
Well, are you saying that Virginia and Sue Paish are exceptional in the business community as leaders, and how do we get the average business community member increasingly buying in? I think that means we need to take the leaders of that community to increasingly convene groups.
One thing to happen as a result of a symposium sponsored by the city of Vancouver a few weeks ago is that a number of the people on this list actually came together to spearhead a panel where they talked about why it's important, and then they have been working with myself and colleagues to bring together business leader, business representative breakfasts that are being hosted at a range of places.
That's underway. We're thinking about the next steps — about how to formalize that, to have a bit of a business community, you know, on an annual basis weighing in on the state of childhood in British Columbia.
J. Thornthwaite: So we could do, like…. You're talking about chamber of commerce breakfasts, or something like that?
P. Kershaw: Yeah — precisely.
J. Thornthwaite: Okay. And the other question was the coalitions — the local….
P. Kershaw: Oh, well, as a result of things like Success By 6, Make Children First, we have early childhood development coalitions in districts and municipalities across the province. Those places right now are largely volunteer based. Some are more formalized than others. Sometimes — like Surrey — they actually put in a paid position. That's rare, though. Most people are trying to cobble it together.
We're saying that when there's actually smart family policy on the ground, those tables will become critical to tailor the provincial framework to the realities of living in Dawson Creek, as opposed to Quesnel, as opposed to Victoria or Burnaby.
The infrastructure is in place, and then it needs to bring in to a more comprehensive system our StrongStarts, our family resource programs, our community centres, our community health nurses, etc.
M. Dalton: Thank you very much, Paul, for your presentation and making this clear. There's a lot of very good information.
My comments have to do with the slide that you were very excited about — about how this could be funded. You say we have primarily three choices. We could go…. You talked about the taxation difference. What that works out to is about a 35 percent reduction in taxation over the past nine years.
To me, that is taking funds from families and leads to increased time poverty. I know your report does talk about that one of the issues is time poverty. That's just
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one thing that is difficult. If money was just there, I think that this is a vision. This is a vision that you present. It's a vision that we also have as a government.
Then your second thing was on deficit financing. We all know that…. You commented on that. That was just an off-handed remark, is it?
P. Kershaw: I wouldn't be keen on going down that route, but I have heard some business leaders say: "Well, that might be the most realistic in the short term."
M. Dalton: Sure — okay.
We know that it ends up piling up, and it's the future generations that do feel….
P. Kershaw: It's an intergenerational inequity. Part of what we need to do is move beyond boomer centrism, move beyond a focus that is so disproportionally on those who are about to retire at the expense of recognizing where we really have the greatest problem.
We have tackled poverty among seniors in this country. It is one of our greatest policy success stories. Yet at the federal level right now…. We came back after the Olympics. The first policy issue we debated? Pensions again. And, even though the Finance Minister acknowledged that we're ranked well doing it, the key question is: when do we start focusing on things we don't do well and get by the intergenerational equity?
You asked two other things. The 35 percent tax deduction. I'm not sure if that's exactly the right proportion, but let me concede it for the moment. Fundamental to 15-by-15 is a rethinking of what it means to have smart economic policy.
I'm not wanting to debate having competitive taxes, smart capital investment, not too much regulation, etc., but notice that with that strategy alone, between 2004 and 2007 we saw really good growth, record-low unemployment, surpluses federally and provincially. Yet over that same time period, child vulnerability in this province rose by 12 percent. I can show you that child vulnerability will compromise our economic growth in the medium term, so clearly, that recipe for economic growth is inadequate if we really want to grow a strong province over the longer term.
That means that in response to the question, "What promotes strong economies?" we need to add one other answer to the tips of our tongues: smart family policy. Does it mean that parents are going to lose more time because they are going to have to work to pay more taxes? It's not the right way to frame it.
You either pay now, or you pay later, or you pay privately, or you pay publicly. It's one combination of those four options. If you look, we're talking about actually having people pay less now for access to support services at a time when they most need it and then pay it off over their life courses through taxation, which will be way less expensive than paying for it all now.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Okay, then, we're right on time. Anyway, I thank you very, very much. It's very interesting to actually meet you and see you and have you speak to our group. So thank you very much. Great.
Now on to Seth Klein. This is our fourth speaker of the morning. Then we will have a lunch break. So thank you. Seth is the director, actually, of the B.C. office, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, a gentleman who I haven't had the pleasure of meeting, either, so this is an interesting day.
S. Klein: And a tough act to follow.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Are you as funny?
S. Klein: I wish. Paul has more of a background in sales, I think.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Please begin.
S. Klein: I am really thrilled to be here and to have this opportunity. I just want to applaud the committee's decision to hold these hearings and to spend some time focusing on child poverty and how we can collectively act to dramatically reduce child poverty. If your deliberations can aid in bringing about all parties' support for a comprehensive B.C. poverty reduction plan, then you really will have done a great service.
I'm here speaking today in my capacity as the B.C. director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and as lead author of our December 2008 report, A Poverty Reduction Plan for B.C., which has been circulated to you. My comments draw heavily on that work as well as on some of my own research on welfare policy in B.C. and on the living wage, which was alluded to in the First Call presentation.
However, I also serve as co-chair of the B.C. poverty reduction coalition, and I want to share with you some of the efforts of that network. You're hearing from other groups today. First Call and the B.C. Healthy Living Alliance were a part of that. But among the handouts that I've circulated is a little bit more about who we are and the groups that sit at that coalition table.
We are a loose network that came together about a year and a half ago, groups that over time have called for a comprehensive plan with legislated targets and timelines, and we decided to cooperate. We hammered out this two-page open letter to all the B.C. political parties ahead of the last election, last May. Ultimately, by the time the election rolled around, about 300 organizations around the province had signed on to that open letter.
They are a really fascinating cross-section of groups: faith leaders, city councils, United Way chapters from
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around the province, many health organizations, aboriginal organizations, women's organizations, trade unions, businesses. Just a fascinating cross-section of organizations.
More recently we've issued a new open letter. I've circulated that to you, as well, today. If you go to the website that's on the bottom there, you'll see all of the organizations that are now signing on to that new open letter. That open letter also lists some recommended targets and timelines that we would recommend to you and that are bold but achievable.
Back to our work at CCPA. In the time I have with you, I'd like to try to answer the questions that you've posed and to address why B.C. needs a poverty reduction plan, what measures and targets should be used in a plan and what other provinces are doing, in particular.
Paul gave you a nice overview of an international sense of what's going on. I want to talk about what's happening in some other Canadian provinces and the key features of a successful plan, the systemic and multifaceted causes of child poverty that such a plan should seek to confront and also, like Paul, the economic case for such a comprehensive plan.
First of all, then, on why B.C. needs a plan. You've already heard from witnesses today who've made a strong and convincing case for why we need action and who've outlined the ways in which we all pay for poverty.
The price of poverty isn't just borne by the individuals who experience it firsthand. We all pay for poverty. We pay for it in increased social and community and charitable service costs. We pay for it in increased costs to the criminal justice system. We pay for it in lost productivity and decreased school success. Most importantly, we pay for it in terms of increased health costs and reduced health outcomes.
There is a false economy in failing to act when it comes to child poverty in particular. John Millar, who you heard from earlier, and the folks that help have done excellent work that shows the ways in which child poverty represents a kind of poison when it comes to cognitive development.
A little over a year ago Ontario…. For the first time, there was a report in Ontario that tried to put a dollar value on the cost of poverty in Ontario, rolling in all the factors that I just mentioned. They estimated that the cost of poverty in Ontario for the society as a whole was between $32 billion and $38 billion a year, or about 6 percent of their GDP.
We've also had these annual reports from the dietitians that have each year shown that with the income one gets on welfare or in a minimum-wage job, that income is insufficient to afford a healthy and nutritious diet and, therefore, undermines our goals around healthy eating and healthy living.
Too often, inadequate and inaccessible social assistance forces people to make these harmful choices that we all pay for. Here I would recommend to you a paper I co-authored a couple of years ago called Living on Welfare in B.C., where we followed 60 people on social assistance over two years, interviewing them every six months. What emerges from those stories and getting to know those people….
I have to say that among the most shocking findings, even in a small sample size like that, was how many of the women reported engaging in prostitution or survival sex — often they were parents — and staying in or returning to abusive relationships.
In the course of our two years there were seven of the 60 who had been cut off assistance at one time or another, accused of breaking a rule. Yet what we knew from having gotten to know them was that in every one of those cases, they were accused of breaking a rule that was fundamentally inappropriate to them in their circumstances.
None of them were in fact job-ready — not imminently. Every one of them wrestled with addiction issues of one kind or another. Yet when cut off, every one of them lived on virtually no income. Every one of them was homeless. Two of them became homeless because they were cut off. One of them returned to an abusive relationship and was beaten up so badly she was hospitalized for a few months. I mean, this is "through the looking glass" stuff but clearly drives home the point that we're all paying for it.
Too often this issue gets lost in this fruitless debate about how we should measure poverty. The truth is no measure is perfect. I think you've heard that from others.
But by whatever measure one uses, whether it's the LICO before tax or the LICO after tax or the market basket measure, B.C. has the highest overall poverty rate and the highest child poverty rate in the country. So we need a plan to change that reality.
The point is to stick with a consistent measure, or a set of measures, that allows us to monitor progress over time and relative to other jurisdictions. When one compares B.C.'s performance using either the LICO or the market basket measure in this way, relative to either the historic norm or relative to others, what emerges is not good.
Yes, it's true that the poverty rate and the child poverty rate have come down in recent years, up to 2007, which is the last year for which we have data. That's to be expected, because poverty rates tend to track the ups and downs of the business cycle. But for this reason, people are rightly worried that the poverty rate in 2008 and, surely, in 2009, as the recession really hit, will now go back up. Already we know from the annual HungerCount report that food bank use was back up 15 percent last year. That's like an early warning, if you will.
Even within the data leading up to 2007, there are some worrying elements. For example, after a nearly unprecedented period of economic growth, from the
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end of the recession of the early '90s through to 2007, one would have expected to see much more of a decline in the poverty rate. I mean, economically, in terms of the unemployment rate up to 2007, this is about as good as it gets, where you would want to see the absolute bottoming out of poverty rates.
But that didn't happen. Instead, by 2007 the overall B.C. poverty rate had still not managed to attain the level in 1989 — the trough before the recession hit in 1990.
With respect to child poverty, the performance is even less impressive. Of course, 1989 was also the year in which the House of Commons passed this resolution to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000. As we all know, that didn't happen, and indeed, the national child poverty rate by 2007 had registered basically no progress. We were right back where we started.
But those national numbers mask some important provincial differences. In fact, most provinces did see some modest progress in that time. The reason there was no change nationally is because of negative progress in two provinces: Ontario and, most of all, B.C., where, since that ill-fated House of Commons resolution, the child poverty rate was 13 percent higher — between that 1989 and 2007 period.
Also, while the national child poverty rate has consistently gone down since the mid-1990s, B.C. alone saw this disturbing spike in 2002, 2003, 2004. When you look at the disaggregated tables from Statistics Canada, you can isolate that that's primarily with respect to single-mother-led households.
So what was going on? Our analysis would be that that speaks directly to some of the welfare policy changes introduced in 2002. Prior to 2002, single-mother-led households could combine income assistance and employment income and other sources of income over the course of a year in a way that would get them just at or above the poverty line.
As of 2002 it became, first of all, much harder to move on and off. Secondly, a single mom used to be able to work and keep $200 a month in earnings exemption. That was no longer allowed. They used to be able to get $100 a month from an ex in family maintenance. That was no longer allowed. So you roll that all together, and you're no longer able to mix employment income and income assistance in a manner that gets you to the poverty line.
Now let's look at how we do relative to some other provinces — in particular, relative to Quebec and Newfoundland, because they're the provinces with the longest-standing poverty reduction plans.
In the handout that you have, you see two tables. One is the child poverty rate using the LICO after tax, and the other is using the market basket measure. You see, over a ten-year period, the poverty rates in 1998 and 2007 — the national rate first, then those two provinces with the plans and then B.C.
Those rates in that ten-year period have gone down everywhere, but in both cases you see B.C. with the highest child poverty rate. You see us performing below the national average. But look how well those two provinces with poverty reduction plans start to do. In many respects, by the way, on this measurement question, I think the market basket measure is a better measure.
Mr. Horne, to your earlier question, the market basket measure, unlike the LICO, is reflective of the actual costs of goods in each place, and so it does actually capture differences in the cost of housing. That's why B.C. actually does worse under the market basket measure than under the LICO — for that reason.
The problem with the LICO is that it only goes back to 2000. When it was first introduced by HRSDC, they were very inconsistent in keeping up to date with it. In the last two years they seem to now be producing it annually, on more or less the same schedule as StatsCan produces the LICO. So I actually think it's a better measure.
What are other provinces doing? Six provinces now have plans, although most of them are still fairly new and therefore we don't have data to tell us what kind of success they're meeting with, the exceptions being Quebec and Newfoundland. What their plans and results tell us is that poverty is not inevitable, that policy — the work that you do as legislators — matters.
Importantly, the success in Quebec and Newfoundland isn't just about an improved economy and job creation. Notably — and you actually see this in the First Call report card, if you want to look at it, in one of their tables — if you look just at market income alone, the child poverty rate in both of those provinces in 2007 was higher than in B.C. It's after incorporating government transfers that their poverty rates fall below us. So again, government policy makes a difference.
Conversely, when we rely only on the market and economic growth and job creation, the results with respect to poverty reduction are weak. That's what we see in the B.C. case, where we've recorded very low unemployment in recent years but poor progress on child poverty. In B.C. — and Steve Kerstetter made this point — the story of child poverty is primarily a low-wage story.
Fifty-six percent of poor children in B.C. live in households with at least one parent working full-year, full-time in the paid labour force. That's why a plan needs to address issues like the minimum wage and employment standards and a living wage. That's why, when we've called for a poverty reduction plan and the response from the Premier is that the government's goal is to have the lowest unemployment rate that we can, that goal, while laudable, is insufficient.
I want to just talk a bit more about the Newfoundland case. I think it's particularly instructive. Until a few years ago Newfoundland shared with us the distinction of having the highest poverty rates in the country. They were second after us.
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But what strikes me as different is…. For all of us who engage in this debate in B.C., we always get caught up in this fruitless debate about the numbers and the measures. That didn't happen in Newfoundland. Under a Conservative millionaire Premier, they just accepted the numbers. They said: "It's unacceptable, and we will make the goal of going from the highest to the lowest in the space of ten years one of the overarching goals of our government, of the whole of government" — not the ministry responsible for welfare; the whole of government.
Their plan deals with the breadth and the depth and the duration of poverty. It establishes a secretariat and a lead minister with a ministerial committee that coordinates actions, and it has led to specific, concrete policy changes. Welfare rates — even though welfare rates relative to the LICO were superior in Newfoundland than here — have gone up, and Newfoundland became the first province in the country to index welfare rates. They go up every year. They're tagged to the CPI. The minimum wage is about to go up to $10 an hour in a couple of months.
Newfoundland followed Quebec and made dental care universal for children. I grew up in Quebec. We used to just bring our health card to the dentist when I was a kid.
In December 2009 the government in Newfoundland released their three-year progress report. They now have one of the lowest poverty rates in the country, and with respect to the depth of poverty — meaning on average, how far below the poverty line — they actually have the smallest depth of poverty in the country now.
Their plan is comprehensive, meaning it addresses income support, increased earnings, early childhood, education, housing, health.
In Ontario they now have a plan. Indeed, their plan is legislated — a 25-percent reduction in five years. Notably, that legislation, the Ontario Poverty Reduction Act, was passed with unanimous, all-party support one week before our provincial election last May. And at the height of the recession, they did it.
They, too, have a cross-ministerial secretariat with a lead minister, and their lead minister must present annual progress reports. They have struck a welfare review panel with an excellent makeup which has undertaken a comprehensive review of all social assistance rates and rules. They have gone the route of introducing an Ontario child tax credit — so it's modelled on the federal credit — worth $1,300 a year per child. That's another policy vehicle for increasing the incomes of low-income families, whether their income comes from welfare or paid employment.
Most recently New Brunswick has tabled their plan, and the Liberal government there has fundamentally altered the tone of the debate in that province, particularly around welfare. They, too, have legislated their plan in what they call their Economic and Social Inclusion Act. They, too, have all-party support. They, too, have embedded their poverty reduction targets that address both the depth and the breadth of poverty into law. They have enacted some very large increases in welfare benefit rates and indicated that that's only the start, and they have increased and indexed the minimum wage. They, too, have a secretariat to coordinate plans.
Time doesn't permit me to go into more detail about Quebec or Nova Scotia, and the Manitoba plan is still really only in its early days.
But the key common features of these plans are these. First, they have been advanced with all-party support. That's why the work of your committee is important. Second, they have specific targets and timelines which, in most cases, are embedded in legislation, much like the climate action goals. They are comprehensive, meaning that they deal with income, both social assistance and other government income supports, but they also have measures to boost labour market income.
They also address what we'd call the social infrastructure on which low- and modest-income families depend, such as housing, education, child care, community health care, and they have specific measures to address poverty among those population groups where poverty is most acute — aboriginal people, recent immigrants, people with disabilities and mental illness, and single mothers.
Next, they all have accountability mechanisms, such as public consultations, funding for independent monitoring groups and an obligation to report out annually on progress.
Also distributed was our full poverty reduction plan for B.C., and on pages 31 to 32 we've outlined some ideas around where to go with how to structure an accountable plan. One of the simple notions is, really, that when you set a goal, like a ten-year goal, you establish a trajectory line. This, I think, was the curse of that ill-fated House of Commons resolution in 1989. First of all, it wasn't an act; it was just a resolution. You know what that means. Secondly, it had an 11-year target, which in political terms is a lifetime.
So when you establish your trajectory line and you require annual reporting, it means you have a lead minister who annually reports out on progress. If you're above the line you announce what additional measures you're going to take to get back on target so that you don't get to your ten-year goal and then have some future government that none of us know say: "Oh, we're sorry. We missed."
The final thing that is common is a cross-ministry secretariat to coordinate and integrate the plans and ensure that policies don't act at cross-purposes. Let me say a little bit more about the importance of that coordination. I want to acknowledge some of the good things that the government has brought in, in recent years — the rental
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assistance grant, the homeless outreach programs. But in the absence of a comprehensive and coordinated strategy, even these laudable programs are undermined or run up against other policies that work at cross-purposes.
You see this when welfare policies lead to an increase in homelessness that then necessitate the outreach programs. You see this as well in what we call the stacking effect of certain benefits. Steve Kerstetter, who you heard from earlier, has done some excellent work on this. We saw this play out particularly in our living-wage work, where we model this family with two young kids, and we calculate what they need to meet their really very basic budget.
That two-parent, two-child family doesn't get the full child tax benefit, doesn't get the GST credit, doesn't qualify for the rental assistance grant and doesn't qualify for the child care subsidy, because all of those programs have income thresholds that cut out too early. That's why you need the Finance department as part of this interministry secretariat as well.
Incidentally, our living-wage work points to just how many families in our communities are struggling to make ends meet. It really drives home the time-poverty point that Paul was making, because in the absence of that employment income at an hourly wage that meets that budget, people work a second and third job, and they don't see their kids. We all pay for that.
We can talk more about the living wage in discussion if you want, but one of the things that I particularly like about the calculation is that it captures the joint role of government policy and the labour market and who does what heavy lifting to get the job done at eliminating child poverty in our society. For example, in Quebec, the living wage would be much less than in Metro Vancouver. Why? Because housing is less, but more significantly, because they have $7-a-day child care. Child care, in the living-wage calculation, is the second most expensive item in the family budget after housing.
J. McIntyre (Chair): If I could interrupt just for a sec, we're sort of into our question-and-answer period now, so if I could ask you maybe just to end with a couple, or choose your ending.
S. Klein: I'm going to cut just one last point that I was making. Let me just close with this economic point, because I said I wanted to make this, and it came up in the last discussion.
We can do this. We did this calculation for our report a year and a half ago on what the poverty gap is in B.C., which is to say: how much money would it take to take everyone in British Columbia below the LICO and get their income to the LICO? That's called the poverty gap.
The answer is about $2.4 billion, or about 1.3 percent of GDP. You know all these numbers from Paul now. So when I'm talking about this stuff, people wring their hands and think: "You know, we wish we could do something, but can we really?" My response is: in a society as wealthy as ours, with an annual GDP of $200 billion a year, what logic says that we can't close a poverty gap of $2.4 billion? That seems doable.
It's not all the task of government. Remember, most poor children — most poor people, not just children — are in the paid labour force. It's a joint role of the labour market and government programs.
It's a good form of stimulus, and I've noted that in the brief, so I won't reiterate it here. As Paul and others have mentioned, there is a cost to inaction as well, so that has to be part of the equation.
Poverty is not inevitable. We all pay for it. Other places are showing us that when we take focused action, we can get results. But it starts with a plan.
I'll take your questions.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Thank you very much. I totally appreciate the time and effort and work that goes into this, behind all this.
I've got a couple of names, I think a speakers list now, before lunch.
J. Rustad: Thank you very much. I appreciate your presentation and your thoughts. I would like to find a way for us to be able to close that gap.
I have one question for you, though, in terms of statistics with regards to the child poverty rates. I am looking at the child poverty rates from First Call, in their rate. From 1980 to 1991 there was a 38 percent increase. From 1991 to 1999 there was a 40 percent increase in child poverty. From 2000 to 2007 we've seen a 13 percent decrease.
I'm just wondering if you can comment on the different policies, because that was obviously under two very different governments in the '80s and the '90s. They both saw similar increases in child poverty. We've seen a decrease in this decade. There was a spike up in the 2003-04 range, when we had some policy changes.
I'm wondering if you've looked at those three decades and the policy differences between them and tried to determine what is working and what, obviously, didn't work during those periods.
S. Klein: As I was getting at earlier, primarily, as you would expect, poverty rates track the economic business cycle, so the situation improved through much of the 1980s.
J. Rustad: Not according to statistics. The poverty rates increased by 38 percent through the '80s and by 40 percent in the '90s. That's through several economic cycles.
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S. Klein: It's going to depend where you take your markers, but by 1989 we had actually reached quite a low point in poverty rates, and then the recession hits — right? And when the recession hits, you see these dramatic increases in poverty.
J. Rustad: That wasn't what the statistics show. I'm sorry. I shouldn't be going back and forth, and I apologize. It's just that 1989 was at 15 percent, 1991 was at 15.1 percent, versus 1980, which was at 11 percent. So there was a spike up. They came down. There was some variation, but if you look at the statistics, the trend over the economic cycles showed the increase and decrease over those two periods of time which didn't follow the exact economic cycle.
I'm just wondering if you looked at it and did those sorts of comparisons.
S. Klein: I can't speak to the child poverty rates in the '80s off the top of my head. What I was citing to you before was the general poverty rates, not the child poverty rates. In the general poverty rate, you would have seen that trough in 1989. I'd have to look more closely at the child poverty rates. I didn't in the last few days.
I think what's most instructive in answer to your question…. Over this past decade overall poverty rates are going down everywhere, and that's what you would expect. In particular, this was a pretty unprecedented run of economic growth across the country and, as I was getting at before, pretty much as good as it gets. You would expect to come to the end of that period and see poverty rates at pretty much an all-time low. That didn't happen.
In particular, you also want to see how we fare relative to other jurisdictions because that gives you some comparison point. While B.C. would have seen an overall decline over the 2000s, when you compare us to the national rate or the rates in those places that had a concerted plan, it is not as strong.
L. Krog: Thank you, Seth. Just to focus in on the poverty gap — so called — at $2.4 billion. You know, I'm going to say it's more like $3 billion. But just for the sake of argument…. What percentage are you looking at in terms of solving that to be provided, if you will, by raising the minimum wage, which is a cost that gets passed to all the taxpayers — because the price of the hamburger goes up, and we all pay that?
Of that roughly $2.4 billion or $3 billion, whatever the number is, how much is going to come out of that — as opposed to direct government intervention, increasing taxes or whatever — to provide the programs?
S. Klein: It's really hard to say because we don't know exactly…. Of those families that are below the poverty line, some of them have income, are maybe working for between $8 and $10. Others of them may be working for $12 to $14, and it just so happens that, given their household composition, they're still below the poverty line. So you can't say it exactly.
I think when Ontario, for example, goes the route of bringing in the Ontario child tax credit, what they're effectively saying is: "We're going to do this as a joint effort. We're going to increase the minimum wage" — so they're increasing their minimum wage to $10.25 now — "but we're also going to bring in this credit in recognition that the labour market has its role to play but that state programs also have a role to play." In combination, it's going to get the incomes of these families over the poverty line.
To me, and I was getting at this with the living wage, it's all about who does what heavy lifting. Most poor people are in the paid labour force already, in the low-wage labour force. Whether or not we then get them to the poverty line by increasing their labour market income or having government transfers supplement that income — I don't really care at the end of the day.
What it simply lays out for us is: here's who needs to do what heavy lifting in whatever balance. In the living-wage work that we do…. You know, part of my job is I walk employers and CEOs through the living-wage calculation. It's one of my favourite parts of the job. I've never had an employer tell me that they think our calculation is unreasonable.
I have had employers say: "I get it. I understand the connection to child poverty, but I can't do it." We say to them: "Okay, we understand that. Then become an advocate for a higher child tax benefit. Become an advocate for more affordable housing. Become an advocate for less expensive public transit. First and foremost" — to Paul's presentation — "become an advocate for a publicly funded child care plan." If any of those things happened, the cash value of the living wage would be less. That's what we have to figure out as a society — who's going to do what.
J. Thornthwaite: Thank you very much for your presentation. I'm seeing, I think, a trend with the presenters when we look at what other provinces are doing. Correct me if I'm wrong, but you weighed in quite heavily on the Quebec model. Is that your recommended one?
S. Klein: Well, the one I said that I think is the most instructive is the Newfoundland one, actually. But I also like elements of what Ontario has done and what New Brunswick has done. I mean, there's a lot out there to pick from now.
Quebec is the most longstanding one. Their approach is…. I didn't elaborate on the Quebec plan. It's a bit different. They've gone the route of an act that doesn't have targets but rather applies a policy lens, where any new
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policy has to demonstrate that it's doing no harm to the bottom quintile, basically — and ideally, improves the situation. But our civil society partners in Quebec are a bit lukewarm to that, whereas I think, if you look at civil society organizations in Newfoundland and Ontario, they are pleasantly surprised with where their government has gone.
J. Thornthwaite: Does Newfoundland have a similar universal child care, like Quebec?
S. Klein: No, they don’t. But they certainly have elements of building out an early childhood piece of their plan. They're talking about it, but they have not gone that route yet. I'd say that after Quebec, the one that seems to be moving fastest on that front is Ontario. Ontario is moving ahead now with all-day kindergarten, as you are, but also for four-year-olds as well.
M. Karagianis (Deputy Chair): Seth, if you were to instruct government on how to begin to do this…. Certainly, I don't think there's any government that would immediately just write a cheque of $2.4 billion. How do we distribute that?
How would you recommend that we go about doing this in incremental stages? What kind of timelines, and where would you recommend we start if you had to lay out a plan, a comprehensive plan, and say: "Over the next four to five years, here are the incremental steps that we'd recommend"?
S. Klein: Well, the first step, I think, is to establish a signal that we're going to do this together. You do that by saying: "We're going to establish a cross-government secretariat. We're going to appoint a lead minister, and that lead minister will marshal this effort and report out annually on progress." That would start to galvanize agencies within government and society at large.
Next, you want to take those targets and embed them in legislation. This, I think, to the government's credit, is the route we have gone on climate change. We've heard that that's when you know a government is serious about something: you set those targets, and you embed them in legislation. That's what we should do here — targets around poverty reduction and homelessness reduction and deep poverty reduction, and embed it in legislation.
What our friends in Newfoundland tell us is that once those targets are established, it just makes it easier to then have a conversation about what specific policy measures you are going to bring about that then help you meet those targets.
In the CCPA report that you have, we highlight in seven areas of public policy what we would see as the priority actions. So those are there for you — actions for people on social assistance, for those of the low-wage workforce, with respect to early childhood education, with respect to housing and with respect to post-secondary education and apprenticeships.
Beyond those priority actions, I think you want to go through some sort of a consultation process to invite society at large to lay out with you what the plan is. But my caution on why we would highlight those priority actions is because…. What I wouldn't want to see happen is to say we're going to have a plan and then spend the next year to two years consulting on what that plan is. We know what needs to happen right away to get the ball rolling.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Presumably, if I could add to your point about finding out those things, I guess an examination of those policies that might be counterproductive, that might be working against each other….
S. Klein: That would be the benefit of a cross-government secretariat, to make sure that those things aren't acting in cross-purposes. The people I've spoken to who lead that secretariat in Newfoundland tell us that that was really vital to make sure that, particularly, your taxation policies or the kinds of things like where you set these thresholds for different credits aren't undermining what another silo is doing over here.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Yeah, that seemed an important point.
M. Dalton: Thank you, Seth. As far as dealing with poverty, how important in your mind is dealing with the marginal effective tax rates, especially when the clawbacks start to kick in? Is that a real significant factor for you, or is the focus more on below those clawbacks starting to go into place?
S. Klein: Well, it is a huge issue. If you look at Steve Kerstetter's work on stacking impacts — and I can forward some of that to the Clerk, if you want — you do end up with people in a very modest-income circumstance whose incomes start to fall right around where these thresholds operate. Every program has its own threshold. They can end up with marginal tax rates that are actually in excess of 100 percent. It shouldn't work that way.
In the ideal world, if we were doing all of this from scratch, it all makes the case for universal programs. For example, when Paul presented to you just now on the vulnerability index stuff, he mentioned a point that is very important, which is that for low-income households you have the highest concentration of vulnerable kids, but the majority of vulnerable kids are across that gradient, right through the middle incomes.
Anytime you have a social program that's targeted just to certain people, someone is going to lose out. That gradient
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argument that Paul makes, to me, is the most compelling argument for why when we say a service matters, like child care or education or health care, you provide it universally, and then you make sure everyone pays according to their ability, through a progressive income tax system.
That's where the thresholds should kick in and rightly should kick in, and that's where you can ensure that nobody is getting hit with these crazy marginal tax rates. As long as you target a program, at some point someone is going to get hit with some problematic thresholds.
Within that, though…. Take, for example, the HST credit. I didn't mean to wade into this delicate territory, but there is a low-income credit. Our analysis tells us that if a family has a low enough income, they would qualify for the full credit. It probably serves them well. The problem is that the threshold kicks in too early and phases out very quickly, whereas if it were structured more like the child tax benefit, federally, or old age security — which is to say a very gradual phase-out with a long tail — it would operate much differently.
J. McIntyre (Chair): With that, I think we're finished. I see no more questions. We've arrived at lunch, so I will recess the committee for a lunch break.
I want to thank you very much, Seth, for sharing your background in the work and your knowledge on this.
This afternoon we will be hearing from the B.C. Healthy Living Alliance starting at precisely 1:05, it appears, and also Dr. Michael Prince from UVic and Dr. Carol Matusicky. So we have three speakers this afternoon, in the same format that we've been doing, but I'm sure all of us are ready for a bit of a break.
Thank you all and to those in the audience for your attendance and interest in what we're doing here today. I hope you'll be with us this afternoon as well.
The committee recessed from 12:04 p.m. to 1:06 p.m.
[J. McIntyre in the chair.]
J. McIntyre (Chair): We'll bring our committee back to order. For this afternoon's presentations we're delighted to start off with Mary Collins, B.C. Healthy Living Alliance, and your co-presenters, I guess, Barbara Kaminsky and Noelle Virtue.
We're delighted to have you here. Thank you. We've had a very interesting morning — four presenters — and we look forward to hearing your presentation this afternoon.
Just as a reminder for people who are tuning in, each of the presentations will be 20 minutes. I've been tasked with this watchkeeper role, so 20 minutes and then approximately 25 minutes for questions. That's the harder role — keeping everybody and all members engaged. We've had lots of interest and lots of interesting questions, so I will again remind the questioners to try and be brief so that everybody has a chance to ask questions.
With that, if I could turn it over to you, Mary.
M. Collins: Thank you very much, Madam Chair and members of the committee. Barbara and I are going to share the presentation. It's very low-tech. We have no PowerPoint and no big charts. Basically, we wanted to have a conversation with you about some of the issues that we're really concerned about as a healthy living alliance.
First of all, we'd like to thank the select standing committee for this opportunity to present the views and experience of the British Columbia Healthy Living Alliance. As you may know — just a little background about BCHLA — it was established in 2003, and it represents the largest health promotion team in the history of British Columbia.
Our members include NGOs — the B.C. Lung Association; B.C. Pediatric Society; B.C. Recreation and Parks Association; the Canadian Cancer Society, B.C. and Yukon Division; Canadian Diabetes Association; Dietitians of Canada; Heart and Stroke Foundation of B.C. and Yukon; Public Health Association of B.C.; and the Union of B.C. Municipalities. It brings together a very interesting group. There isn't really another one quite like this in Canada.
Our vision is a healthy British Columbia, and we've been working hard to make this a reality, starting off originally with an advocacy report back in 2005 called The Winning Legacy: A Plan for Improving the Health of British Columbians and then to our more recent work. We've been working with a vast array of organizations and communities — in fact, with 105 communities across this province — in the implementation of 15 initiatives for the past three years. Those are just coming to a close — and we've got lots of interesting stories that we'll be able to share with you shortly on those — but basically they're to support British Columbians in the pursuit of healthy living practices.
They've involved unique but evidence-based work on healthy eating, physical activity, tobacco cessation and building leadership and capacity in communities, including many aboriginal communities — and I know you heard about aboriginal issues this morning — as well as vulnerable populations, so that everyone can be in a better position to promote healthy living in the years to come.
I'm going to turn it over to Barbara.
B. Kaminsky: Thanks, Mary.
At first blush, people might wonder: why would the B.C. Healthy Living Alliance have an interest when it comes to childhood poverty? Well, I think probably everyone on this select standing committee can understand that when we talk about the health of British
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Columbians, it's a lot more than just what we provide through the health care system.
I believe at least one of the other speakers this morning spoke to the social determinants of health, and that's one of the themes that we would like to comment on as well. In one of the documents that you were given, Healthy Futures for B.C. Families, I'd just like to draw your attention to page 3. You'll see this little pie chart that talks about the various determinants that will influence whether or not we're healthy or otherwise.
As much as we're very proud of B.C.'s health care system, it probably only accounts for about 25 percent of the likelihood of us being healthy or otherwise, and 50 percent — a majority — probably has to do with the social and economic environments that we are in. If you begin life as a child in an underprivileged environment, it sets the tone for what it's going to be like for the rest of your life because many of the habits that you acquire in your younger years are the ones that take you through your adult years.
Let me go back to the script before I get into trouble here. So, social determinants. As the alliance has proceeded with its work to prevent chronic disease, it has become apparent that in B.C., as elsewhere in the world, it is the underlying social determinants of health that really make a difference in whether an individual is able to enjoy a long and healthy life.
The evidence is clear from the World Health Organization's groundbreaking work by Sir Michael Marmot on this topic and the ever-increasing body of knowledge, both here in Canada and internationally, supporting these findings, that these social determinants include access to income, affordable housing, healthy food, education, early childhood development and recreational opportunities. They influence our ability to make healthy choices and ultimately the state of our physical and mental health. They are responsible for almost half of the variation in health outcomes which exist in our society and therefore act as a significant driver in health care costs.
We're sure that you're aware of the widely acknowledged international and federal studies that disadvantaged populations have increased susceptibility to a broad range of chronic diseases. This is also true in British Columbia, where men from the lowest income group are almost five times more likely to develop diabetes than those from the highest income groups. For women, it is double.
Heart disease in B.C. women from the lowest income group is up to three times higher than those in the highest income group. For men, it's double.
Just an aside in terms of cancer statistics. Although incidence rates when it comes to cancer are quite similar across the various income groups, survival rates vary significantly. So if you're lucky enough to be middle class or better, your chances of survival are better than those in low-income groups.
We assert that it's essential to take action on those factors which influence the health of the people of our province and contribute to ever-growing health care costs. The cost of treating illness requires an ever-increasing percentage of the total provincial budget and will continue to do so if we do not move ahead to provide the programs, the incentives and the tools to enable British Columbians to take the necessary actions to have healthier lives.
Of course, the best place to start is with our children, to ensure that our children have a healthy start in life and that their families have the necessary knowledge and resources so they'll be able to engage in healthy living now and in the future.
It's also been apparent in some of BCHLA's recent cross-provincial initiatives that children living in poverty have reduced access to healthy food, physical activity and smoke-free environments. In fact, recent submissions by BCHLA to the provincial government on tackling overweight and obesity in B.C. highlighted the lack of skills and resources of some vulnerable populations when it comes to preparing healthy foods for their family or accessing physical activity in their community.
We know that much more could be done to help our most vulnerable citizens live healthier lives, whether they are aboriginal, new immigrants or families with children living with inadequate income. Stories from our Food Skills for Families initiatives demonstrate the lack of knowledge and access to healthy foods. Single parents, who did not cook at all for their families before this course, learned how to cook healthy foods on a tight budget, adding vegetables, fruits and whole grains to their diets where before they had bought processed foods.
The power of this program to bring change within the communities was truly inspiring. We all want to do the right thing for our families, and this program shows people how. One participant noted: "Now we know what to do with all those yucky food bank beans."
M. Collins: As Barbara has mentioned, last fall we published the paper Healthy Futures for B.C. Families. That took into consideration input from over 300 individuals representing 202 organizations.
We went around the province and had consultations with government people, with business people, from NGOs, from communities, aboriginal — a really interesting cross-section. We were able to use the richness of those conversations and discussions to really build our platform.
The paper includes a range of recommendations. What we realized, and I think you've also heard this morning,
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is that it's not just little pieces of things that are going to solve the problem. You need a comprehensive, overall approach if you're really going to tackle the issues that impact on child poverty.
Also, in preparing the paper, we took into consideration interviews that we had with children and families in vulnerable situations — quite a number in the Downtown Eastside. Those were really…. Well, they were very touching. They certainly helped us to understand the situations that many of those families are living in, particularly those living with low incomes and very difficult situations. They strengthened our resolve to put forward a full range of recommendations which we feel could bring about real change and opportunities for these children.
In fact, I recall one of the children in the scrapbooking exercise they did. They talked about their futures, and they talked about what they feared. One of them talked about how they feared living in poverty, because that would mean that they wouldn't have food, wouldn't have a place to live. They might end up homeless and lead to drugs. I thought, you know, that this was a child of about seven or eight years old who already had that understanding in her mind.
In the paper I'll start with early childhood development and care. You've heard a lot this morning, of course, from Dr. Kershaw on this as well. We also focused on the importance of that. In fact, it's probably the number one issue. There's such strong evidence that disadvantaged children who participate in quality early childhood development programs have significantly better health and education outcomes.
A study in 2005 which looked at the costs and benefits of universal preschool programs in California noted that for disadvantaged children, quality child care can lead to them staying in school longer, earning higher wages later in life and committing fewer crimes. We know that intuitively, but there's just so much evidence now that is supporting that.
Positive conditions during childhood not only support child heath but also have long-lasting impacts on health and development of disease during adulthood. I mean, some kids are lucky. They get out of that. But so many get caught in that cycle, as Barbara and I were talking about over lunch. If a child grows up and the only foods they're getting fed are macaroni and cheese and Coke and those kinds of things, that's just what they become accustomed to. It's very hard to change that when they become teenagers, or even adults.
Healthy child development is influenced by, and in turn influences, other determinants of health, such as income, housing and food security. So it's really a whole circle of our lives. We believe that if British Columbia focuses its energies on children today, there is hope that this generation of children may attain their full health and development potential as adults.
We know the challenges. We know that's a generational shift, and it's a lot longer than any election cycle. That makes it really hard, I know. But if we don't do it, we're going to suffer the continuing rates. If you look back retrospectively, the fact that we haven't done it is that we're still living with it. So somehow we have to find a way of doing better.
We're going to keep suffering the consequences of higher rates of chronic disease and the resulting health care costs to society. Health care is taking almost 50 percent of the budget. I know, Minister Falcon — we see the charts. It's 70 percent if we don't do something. There won't be room for anything else, and we'll really get caught in this vicious cycle.
The recommendations that we have made regarding early childhood development include the following. I won't read them all, but certainly one is extending parental leave benefits. We realize that's federal, but we would hope the province could help to influence that and help to advocate for that as well.
Providing comprehensive, quality and affordable early childhood development. Parenting — that's really important too. Prenatal health. Family wellness services and programs. Ensuring that priority is given to those neighbourhoods and communities with the highest numbers of vulnerable children. Yes, universal child care, delivered by early childhood educators, should be considered as the ultimate goal, but we all know that you have to start somewhere too.
We need to reinvest in child care capital and operational funding to provide incentives for the creation of more quality child care spaces, afford more preschool and after-school programs. We know that for kids that don't have those opportunities, there are too many other opportunities for them to get involved in unhealthy activities — or, ultimately, in criminal activities too.
Of course, supporting the Aboriginal Head Start programs in B.C. for aboriginal children from birth to six years.
Increase training spaces and remuneration for early childhood educators and child care workers. We need to have their valuable human resource. We need to be supporting them and providing incentives for people to pursue, stay in and value these careers and to reduce the turnover, which is very high in that field. We need to change that.
You've heard a lot about income today. That's also something that we're concerned about. We don't consider poverty only to be about income, but obviously, that is vital. If we're going to address the issue of children with their families living in poverty, we need to do it more broadly.
We need to understand that if families cannot afford to buy fresh food or to access physical activity…. That was one of the things that came through time and time
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again in our interviews. People said: "We just don't have enough money to even go to the recreational centre or engage in physical activity." Or they live in cramped and unhealthy living quarters or in neighbourhoods where safety is a concern — they don't feel they can go out for walks — or where the only retail outlets within easy walking distance are fast-food restaurants and stores.
If you go along the poor neighbourhoods, even in Vancouver and other cities, it's fast-food restaurants, 7-Elevens. It's really hard. You don't have a car. It's hard to get on a bus and carry, you know, grapefruits and apples and the things you need to eat, and you just get into a pattern. Often you're ending up spending more money than you really should be on your basic groceries.
Some B.C. communities, especially aboriginal ones, lack local recreation facilities, and parents cannot transport their children for these opportunities. Youth, in particular, are being left behind and turn to non-productive activities.
Again, there are really cost-effective strategies to improve these opportunities. For example, in one of our initiatives, through our community capacity work, First Nations communities in the Interior came together and helped to build the first outdoor hockey rink, and they provided the opportunities for the young people to play hockey in the winter.
Another First Nations community worked with its neighbour, and together they were able to get a van and be able to transport the kids. You know, not every community could have all the facilities, but at least they could have access to them. Those things didn't cost a lot of money.
You're going to hear today, as you have from many other groups, about some of the challenges that children in low-income families face, and their expertise is much greater than our own. We don't pretend to be the ones that really crunch all those numbers. But when we look at the issues through a population health lens, we know that more needs to be done to improve healthy outcomes for those children who spend their childhoods in financial deprivation.
Other jurisdictions, if you heard, both in Canada and elsewhere, are doing things. Just quoting one from the United Kingdom, where in a recent report that they've put out called Tackling Health Inequalities: A Programme for Action, they appear to have successfully reduced gaps in infant mortality, child poverty, housing quality, heart disease and cancer mortality.
In order to redress the issues of family poverty and the consequent impacts on children, we believe, as you heard this morning, that a comprehensive, cross-government approach is needed, as many ministries are involved. As in other provinces, it requires a commitment from the Premier and the cabinet to establish an overall strategy and a plan with specific goals and timelines. We've set out our specific recommendations for those with some timelines there.
With respect to food security, recently we've been paying a lot of attention to the growing issue of overweight and obesity, and food security is a key priority. Again, as we mentioned, it's hard if you don't have the money to buy healthy food.
We have a number of recommendations: introducing a substantial new tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, adjusting income assistance support rates to account for the actual cost of fresh and healthy food, and providing tax incentives to encourage local agricultural production.
Here we get to the Ministry of Agriculture. They need to be a player in all of this, too, and apply disincentives for those using agricultural land for residential use only. Supporting initiatives which increase supplies of local, healthy, sustainable and safe food for all, with a particular emphasis on rural and remote communities. We were pleased with the government initiative which is underway as a pilot to look at how this could be done more effectively.
Housing. When we did our surveys, housing actually was the number one issue that the public said they felt needed to be addressed, and 89 percent of those surveyed said that was the really big issue for them. There's a lot going on. The partnerships we've seen developed between government, business sector and NGOs are beginning to make a difference. But obviously, more needs to be done. Again, we believe there needs to be a comprehensive affordable housing and supportive housing plan.
Finally, on mental health, before I turn it back to Barbara. We know that mental health issues are huge in our province. When adults are affected with mental health, this impacts the children of those families, so those children are really coming with a potential double disadvantage which affects their long-term prospects for healthy living.
Again, there are other organizations and alliances that are focusing on these issues, but we have recommended the need to ensure the delivery of a comprehensive approach across the lifespan of prevention, promotion, early intervention, and to develop a provincewide, seamless continuum of care through cross-ministry integration — again, there are so many pieces, and we don't see it all fitting together — improved information-sharing and better integration of services.
B. Kaminsky: Thanks, Mary. My concluding comments will be around the issue of health equity, and this is very much related to comments I made earlier around social determinants of health. We are very proud about British Columbia's record in terms of us being a healthy-living province. Any time we look at statistics, we've pretty much got the lowest smoking rates, highest exercise participation rates, lowest obesity rates, and that bodes
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very well when it comes to our reduction in terms of all sorts of chronic diseases in the country.
Unfortunately, we have huge variations across our population. So if we want to elevate the status of the entire population, we really do have to address these inequities. We believe that is the right thing to do, anyway, in terms of a civil society. So we would very much encourage the B.C. government to develop a health equity plan with, as Mary said, specific actions, investments and targets to reduce health inequities.
We know it'll require cooperation and action right across government, and we suggest that it even transcend government. So we recommend sometimes bringing in the unusual suspects, and we would suggest to you that the B.C. Healthy Living Alliance is a bit of an example of that. It brought together various different organizations who, maybe, years ago didn't sit around the same table. Perhaps get different types of groups together to tackle this problem, because it truly isn't one burden. It's a burden we all should share in the responsibility of solving.
The model of ActNow B.C. is already in place to promote such an integrated approach on health promotion. We're very supportive of that, but it should be extended to address health inequities to ensure that all government policies and programs are viewed through a health equities lens.
We are aware that the government is currently facing challenging financial times. However, I have it on very good authority — I read it in the Vancouver Sun yesterday — that Colin Hansen declared the recession over. Everybody else saw that? Good times come; good times go. Bad times come; bad times go. But, you know, it's getting better.
J. Rustad: If only we could get out of deficit.
B. Kaminsky: Yeah, right. One thing at a time. But let's be clear. There have always been challenging financial times, yet from time to time governments still need to do the right thing. They have to find a way to overcome what seems to be immediate challenge.
You've heard from other jurisdictions that have been able to do these types of positive changes during the time of an economic downturn. It shows that it can be done. As much as I'd like to think that B.C. is a leader in Canada and that we don't have to learn from other provinces, sometimes perhaps we could learn from them. I just really hate it when it's Ontario that we have to learn from.
Let's do the right thing, even though we face some challenging financial times, because of the consequences we'd rather not have. Higher health care costs, increased disparity between rich and poor — these will be long-lasting for years to come.
We do recognize that the investments required to implement these recommendations for improving the outlook of our province's children will need to come from a range of ministries. There needs to be an overarching framework and integration of the work involved to reduce and, indeed, eliminate poverty among children in B.C.
Over time, however, the government and the people of British Columbia will benefit from such investments. The pressures on the health care system can be moderated. Greater equity among our citizens in terms of their health will increase their prosperity, and they will enable more British Columbians to live healthy, productive lives and reduce their risk of early, preventable chronic diseases.
I did have an opportunity this morning at a breakfast meeting to moderate a session that was put on by the Canadian College of Health Services Executives. It was breakfast with the regional CEOs of the various health authorities.
One of the consistent themes that came out from all of the regional health CEOs was that the way that we're going about health care now is not sustainable. We have to look at everything we are doing. We have to look beyond what has traditionally been seen as the health care sector because, typically, in the Ministry of Health Services people have to look at what a core program is.
That then frees us up in terms of other jurisdictions, other facets of government and civil society, to say that we all have a role to play in making this a healthier province — not necessarily things that are within the confines of the Ministry of Health Services.
We'd like to finish with a quote from a participant in an Angus Reid poll that we commissioned for our Healthy Futures for B.C. Families report: "Poverty is my biggest roadblock to being healthy. Nothing even comes close. Poverty creates stress. Poverty makes it tougher to make healthy choices." We do know that we don't want to make healthy choices so simple that it takes away the motivation and the responsibility of each individual person, but for some of us, healthy choices are easier than for others. So let's try to make it easier for more people.
Thank you so much. We do appreciate this opportunity to address the committee.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Thanks very much for your presentation. On to questions. We've got about 20 minutes for questions.
L. Krog: It becomes almost frightening when you find yourself in this stage of life agreeing — and I mean this in a very deferential and kind way — with a former Conservative cabinet minister when they present a paper that I would have happily written myself.
M. Collins: Older and wiser.
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L. Krog: Well, I'd like to think it reflects the maturity of Canadian society. We're starting to focus in on the issues in a very real way, and I think that's very important. I mean that quite sincerely.
I just want to ask…. We have had comments this morning, as you heard already, about the strategies out of Ontario, Newfoundland and Quebec. Do you have a preference, or do you sort of take Seth Klein's approach that we should pick from them? Is there one that's more successful than others, do you think, in terms of addressing…?
M. Collins: I was here for Seth's presentation, and I don't pretend to be an expert in those strategies. I think B.C. has to develop a made-at-home strategy. We do have some issues that are different from any of those provinces, but I think we have been impressed with what Newfoundland is doing. It's early days, but at least the idea that you've got a plan, you've got someone accountable, someone responsible….
The problem is that if no one does that, everybody's just doing their own little thing on their own — working hard — but it's not all fitting together and able to identify where the gaps are and where we really need to make more priorities. We know you can't do everything at once, obviously. But you need someone who has that overarching responsibility to be able to move ahead.
I think B.C. would be more challenging than Newfoundland. We're a bigger province.
B. Kaminsky: Leonard, if I could just make a reaction to your comment about political orientation and how one might embrace this agenda.
It's very clear to us in the B.C. Healthy Living Alliance that this is not about ideology. It's not about what particular political party you're affiliated with. There are occasions, because we believe it can have a huge impact on the health of the population, that we take policy advocacy positions which could be perceived as political, but they're not partisan. So the fact that this spans the House does recognize the fact that it's not about which party you come from.
J. Thornthwaite: Thank you very much for your presentation. My question is going to be different, because you touched on food security. My background is as a dietitian, and I was struck by your connections there, which is good.
My question is…. Your comment about access to healthy, sustainable, local food and the fact that there are many communities in British Columbia that are very remote…. I think, Mary, you had mentioned the Downtown Eastside. Certainly, in a lot of other communities the closest store is a junk food store and also something that would be much, much more expensive.
I'm wondering. You mentioned the term "partnership," but what specifically are you referring to with regards to what we could do as a provincial government with partnerships? Obviously, it would involve municipalities as well. Can you give me an example of what you would suggest to us in our role to alleviate the access for those remote communities to healthier, non-junk-food food?
M. Collins: Well, it's a multifaceted approach. I think, as I mentioned, the program that the government has started — I gather it's just for a year — involves support for transportation, support to communities in the development of community gardens. There are a number of different facets to that program. It will be very interesting to see how it's evaluated.
But it requires partnerships with municipalities. Municipalities have the right to control zoning and density in those communities to try to ensure that they get some healthier food stores. It requires, obviously, linkages with the business community, to try to encourage them to ensure that they can have healthier foods, and the transportation industry, to get healthy foods into those communities.
I think it also requires partnerships with NGOs, community development folks. A lot of that kind of work that we've done through BCHLA's community initiatives has really shown that when you get communities together around an issue, they've often got a huge amount of strengths themselves to find solutions. It doesn't always have to come from outside.
You have to have — and Barbara can speak to this — negatives to build that capacity within the communities and develop the leadership, and that's something we feel very excited about, just based on some of the experiences we've seen over the last couple of years.
B. Kaminsky: Just building on that, through the work that we've done through the B.C. Healthy Living Alliance, we've found that a lot of these sorts of top-down programs and policies that often occur work well in middle-class neighbourhoods, in more urban centres, but as you get to more rural and remote communities, less so.
Very often the solutions will be found from the community leaders within that group, but it takes time to tease out who those leaders are and what's going to work for them. That's why we were very grateful for the money that we had through B.C. Healthy Living Alliance — through the Ministry of Health, originally — to be able to work with some of these communities.
When the evaluations are completed — the Michael Smith Foundation is doing an evaluation of all of our projects — we'll be able to give some quantitative data and also some really compelling stories of what worked.
S. Cadieux: Well, certainly I support all of the social determinants of health and prevention and all of that as I've done work in that for many years as well. I don't
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argue with that, and I certainly don't argue that we should be looking at opportunities for how those things impact in relation to child poverty, certainly, as well.
But when we talk about health care and we talk about the drain on the budget that health care is and is continuing to be, we very rarely want to talk about the fact that the biggest users of health care are seniors. Our population is aging much more rapidly than it is growing at the other end. Although I think the prevention things are all very good and all have an impact, do you think they'll have an impact that in any way balances off the growth at the other end of the spectrum?
B. Kaminsky: I can actually begin that response. First of all, there is not consensus within the health community as to how big an impact seniors are actually having on the health care system's resources. And a lot of this has to do with patterns of practice.
Very often the largest percentage of what we're going to cost the health care system occurs in our last six months to two years of life. For those of us who have not yet had a conversation with our families about how it is that we want to exit and how resource-intensive that should be…. In the absence of those kinds of conversations, families very often are left with, "Well, we have to do everything possible," and the marginal benefits of these very expensive, intrusive interventions at the latter stages of one's life are dubious on occasion.
Some of this we have a power to change, just in terms of societal values and transparency — yes.
As well, we in the Canadian Cancer Society have made a number of comments about…. A lot of money is spent in terms of drugs in the health care system. Again, when you look at what the marginal benefit was of that very expensive, costly drug, and could those dollars have been redirected to something that is more proactive and will have a longer-lasting impact — particularly around prevention, which of course is one of our hobbyhorses….
The question about the drain on the health care system relative to one's age…. It's optional, depending on how we handle it.
M. Elmore: Thank you very much for your presentation. I'd like to ask you a question with reference to your comments on the benefits of investing in early childhood development and care, and in particular your comment about the necessity of directing some capital funding towards child care. That's my deputy critic role.
I've heard, certainly, of the need for more child care spaces and issues of affordability and equality. I appreciate your comments in terms of the need to support salaries for early childhood educators as an important aspect of the system. Currently we don't have a child care plan in B.C., and we don't have an early childhood development plan.
I'm hoping that we would be able to reach a non-partisan agreement in terms of the benefits of an early childhood and care system in British Columbia as a component of a comprehensive plan to reduce poverty. I'm just wondering if you could comment a little bit more in terms of your perspective on that.
M. Collins: We would certainly agree with that. I mean, we've been part of the conversations with Clyde Hertzman's group and in the early childhood development alliance. We're a part of a lot of those groups. It's just so evident that if you don't have the resources to support children in their earliest lives, even with their parents…. A lot more needs to be done to support parents.
I think there are some stories that have shown that where there is active, appropriate involvement with a public health nurse or someone who is with parents with young children on a more consistent basis, it's going to make a huge difference, even in the very, very early years.
We're learning so much about the impact of appropriate early childhood development on the life course. Obviously, that's the future of our society. We need to ensure that it's done well, and that it's done properly. People need to have choices, obviously, but it certainly needs to be available and at a quality level. You need it. It would be part of a plan.
J. Rustad: I have to admit I was a little taken aback about your comment around the choices we'll have to make in seniors care and those sorts of things. That's a much broader discussion, I think, than what we have time here for, as well as being kind of outside our mandate. But wow, it would be an interesting debate one day.
B. Kaminsky: I should clarify that these kinds of topics are not officially positions of the B.C. Healthy Living Alliance.
J. Rustad: That's fine, yeah.
B. Kaminsky: They're probably not even officially the positions of the Canadian Cancer Society.
J. Rustad: I want to say that's a very large can of worms. Wow.
One of the things that we're trying to do, of course, in the province is that we've really been trying to allow people to be able to have more money in their pockets, where we can, to be able to make those healthy choices and to try to help promote that. We've had some success. The disposable income for families has gone up by almost $4,500 over the last eight, nine years, as opposed to dropping by about $1,500 in the 1990s.
I've worked with the group before, actually, as a school trustee, trying to get healthy food and healthy choices
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into schools, trying to get young kids, particularly those that are disadvantaged, to learn about healthy choices and how to prepare food, bringing in parents to the school, these sorts of things.
But the question I've got, and it comes down to this…. I would love to be able to do more, but we have to make some choices. I'd like to ask you the question about how we are going to afford it.
You look at what's happening in Ontario. They're running about a $22 billion deficit. You look at what's happening in Quebec. They have raised taxes, plus they're running a deficit. You look at what's happening in B.C. We've got a tax change in HST, and we've got a tax revolt going on right now. So I welcome positions from parties that are going to suggest that perhaps we should increase taxes, given what's happening with the HST. I think it would be pretty challenging.
J. Rustad: I didn't suggest anything around that. I'm simply stating that in B.C. we currently have a tax revolt going on. So the question becomes: how do we…?
J. McIntyre (Chair): I'm going to bring it to order. I want a question, please, here.
J. Rustad: I am asking a question, thank you, Chairperson.
The question is: what choices would you recommend for us? Increasing deficit and debt? Increasing taxes? A combination thereof? Reallocating funds? How do we get to a point where we can actually put more resources in? Or should we try…? How do we find that balance to be able to do what needs to be done? That's a question, quite frankly, that needs to be debated.
B. Kaminsky: Again, I don't think that the B.C. Healthy Living Alliance has an articulated position, exactly, in response to that question. But among the recommendations that we've put forward have to do with certain selected tax increases. We've talked, for example, about a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks. A number of us have also, in the past, talked about increasing taxation in terms of tobacco products.
There is evidence to show that if you increase taxation sufficiently on unhealthy food and unhealthy consumption of, obviously, tobacco — and it has the same effect in terms of alcohol — that you will see increases in terms of the coffers for government.
Usually there's a reluctance to dedicate the increases in revenue from such a tax to programs that will actually help. You know, you could say: if we tax junk food and sugar-sweetened beverages, could we use that money for proactive programs when it comes to children and healthy living? But that is one option that could be looked at.
M. Collins: And some jurisdictions have done that. I mean, we're quite aware of the dilemma that government is facing. But hopefully, if you heard the presentations this morning too, we also see the links between improving the situation for children and families living in poverty and ultimate prosperity. They're going to become more productive members of society.
Hopefully, again, as government revenues improve, as you make choices about where those revenues can be allocated, even amongst some of the existing programs — I think it's worth looking at what programs; perhaps it may or may not be as high a priority — to try to find some of the resources that are required.
I know you've heard some numbers this morning from Seth, $2.4 billion to sort of get us out of poverty. But that's not all government money. I mean, a lot of that is private sector. Obviously, that discussion needs to go on in terms of how employers can play a role. I know the initial reaction is usually that they can't possibly afford it. But again, understanding that the long-term health of the business community and of their individual businesses will really be improved if you look at a more healthy and, ultimately, a more prosperous society.
They're tough issues.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Yeah, I know. If we had a magic answer or silver bullet, we would have found it long before now.
M. Collins: But some other jurisdictions are doing it, so it's not as if nobody has even tried it at this point.
J. McIntyre (Chair): No. I think that's important.
B. Kaminsky: We recognize that you can't do it all, and you can't do it all tomorrow. But if you're serious about the issue, you'll find a way of making some progress on an incremental basis. We would certainly encourage that.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Thank you very much for the background work and for taking time to share your good work with us — and your thoughts. We're right on time.
We're going to hear next from Dr. Michael Prince, who is Lansdowne Professor of Social Policy at UVic, University of Victoria.
With that, we'll proceed.
Welcome. Interested in hearing your presentation and your perspective on our three questions in particular. Thank you for addressing them.
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M. Prince: Thank you, Madam Chair, and thank you to your colleagues on the committee. I want to applaud you for having these hearings. I encourage you to consider possible sequels to this, both here and perhaps in Victoria and other parts of the province, down the road.
My basic message is in the title of my remarks to you this afternoon — that the time is now for a new strategy here in British Columbia. I'm happy to talk about tax policy and recessions and recoveries later in the question period — on some of that question of now.
Three questions were posed to myself and, I suppose, to the other experts and groups that were invited today as well. I'll try to address each of them, but not all in equal weight. Perhaps if I don't cover things you'd like to hear from me about, I'm happy to do that, again, in the follow-up question period.
Looking at general or systemic causes of poverty or low income. By that, I understand "systemic" to mean those things found in our economic, social and political structures that we live in — not just particularly those that might be located in individuals or in a particular family but those that are more societal.
Persistent. Well, Statistics Canada would define that, particularly in this topic of low income, as someone who over, say, a five- or seven- or ten-year period is defined as being in low income for virtually all those years — so an ongoing, recurrent pattern of financial straitened circumstances in one's life. There are a lot of people in British Columbia and in Canada generally who cycle in and out of poverty over time. There are some people who may experience one or two years in their life or come back and forth, perhaps if they have an episodic illness or other risks that befall their life.
Those who are in persistent low income are a much lower rate than those who are measured in any given year as in low income or poverty. The persistent rate is around 3 percent, and the overall incident rate is around 9 or 10 percent. So depending on…. Behind those numbers are all sorts of other measures, which we can get to in a minute.
You asked me to comment a little bit on methods of measurement — happy to do that — and what reduction strategies appear to be promising. Leonard Krog has raised that question, as have John Rustad and others. So we'll get to that.
I'm going to focus on Canadian provinces. There are lots of materials on international experiences, but I think there's plenty enough within our own country to look at and perhaps draw from, and also within our own province to draw from, in terms of approaches.
With respect to the first question about the systemic causes of persistent low income, I actually prefer the word "contexts" rather than "causes" to try to encompass the ideas of causes, cycles and symptoms of poverty and the different signs, because at some point it becomes a rather blurry chicken-and-egg question as to what came first and what causes what.
Almost everyone will tell you that the causes of poverty are multiple, complicated and interrelated. That's a recipe for paralysis at some point and for just being overwhelmed as to where one…. You've got to plunge in somewhere. But I think, again, that if we're thinking of societal or systemic contexts of poverty, it might be helpful.
Housing. Certainly, affordable or unaffordable housing and a lack of adequate and suitable housing is…. Whether it's a cause…. It's certainly a symptom, but it certainly correlates or occurs at the same time as low income.
We know that the lack of high school education completion is perhaps one the most robust or strongest predictors of poverty in someone's life. If you don't finish high school in our province or in our country today….
Now, we can all think of individual friends and family members who beat the odds and who have grade 10. I think back to two of my old friends — twin brothers in Toronto, where I grew up — who own a very successful electric company. There are always the exceptions, but the general pattern is pretty clear, both for aboriginal and non-aboriginal populations.
If you don't finish high school, and even if you do but with…. We used to have the Dogwood certificate and others. If it's not real education, it's a ticket to oblivion and marginal economic activity.
Whether the recession is over or not — and I think it is; I think it ended last fall — Canada is one of only about six countries in the world right now creating new jobs. We have been doing that now for about eight months. We're in pretty select company around the world on this. Certainly, Europe is still reeling. We hear a lot about Greece, but most of Europe is not out of the woods yet. We have been, now, for several months.
So recession over or not — yes. But if you look back at the recessions of the early 1980s and the recession of the early 1990s in Canada, the lessons are that to fully recover from those takes between five to eight years, in terms of employment rates, income rates, social assistance caseloads relaxing, unemployment going back down and so forth. So that's kind of a sobering statistic. Our work is cut out for us, but we need to do it in a measured way, in a strategic way.
I won't go into all of these. I guess another one I could add is life contingencies. The three Ds — disability, divorce and death — are three profound correlates with poverty. If the main breadwinner or one of the main breadwinners in a family dies or suffers a chronic or profound or severe disability, or one experiences divorce, these are all pretty strong predictors of low income, particularly for women but for others as well.
There are all sorts of other risks that we've tried to insure over the last century, be it around workplace accidents…. We even called aging and retirement a risk, in the old days,
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that one insured oneself against with pensions and RRSPs and so forth. So just life risks and contingencies can be seen as causes of poverty.
Federalism. A real challenge in this area, certainly, because of shared jurisdictions over aboriginal peoples, immigrants, families and housing. That can lead to a lot of buck-passing or pointing at each other's levels of government. For the ordinary citizen or individual, family or community can be a bizarre and bewildering maze to navigate services. We know that. But enough of that.
The second question concerns existing methods of measurement. At the national level…. I'm sure you've heard a lot about this already, so I won't go over it in any great detail. The Clerk and your staff — or staff for the parties — could certainly do digging up on the history of all this stuff. I won't go into it.
The oldest and most commonly used measure is LICO, the low-income cutoff lines. They're both pre-tax measures and after-tax measures. A lot of groups still use the pre-tax, which is not terribly adequate in my opinion. After-tax is a more realistic portrait. There you're looking at the proportion of income that's spent on three key things: food, shelter and housing.
If you spend more than 20 percent of the average, depending on your family size and the community you live in, you're either above or below the low-income cutoff. Statistics Canada does not call it a poverty line. It's never been officially named that, but all the groups, including ones I belong to, use it as that and call it the poverty line. So does the press, and Statistics Canada always rolls out disclaimers.
There are a lot of limitations to LICO, and that's why it has led to Statistics Canada, about 20 years ago, creating what's called the LIM, low-income measure. That's basically a fairly straightforward statistical measure of looking at what the average family incomes are in Canada, adjusting them for size and then finding the median at one-half. If you're below that, you're in low income. That's often the more typical….
European and most countries around the world use something more approximating LIM. No one else uses LICO other than Canada. LICO is a made-in-Canada invention, and no one else in the United Nations uses it. So LIM is more comparable to other world measures.
Another one that the federal department of Human Resources and Social Development Canada, HRSDC, set up about seven or eight years ago now is called the market basket measure. This emerged out of discussions between the federal and provincial governments, and they were looking at, really, the cost of a basket of goods and services in your local neighbourhood. So it gets to questions around food nutrition quite nicely. It ties in with these issues about health.
The other one is around housing, which often we forget about. CMHC's, Canada Mortgage and Housing, measures looking at the adequacy of housing, its suitability and its affordability, so there are those three measures. It has the merit of being…. You can drill down right into communities, right through the province, right across the country. There are monthly rental surveys. The data is up to date, and it's quite specific. Then there are other federal program indicators — Canadian child tax benefit around caseloads and so forth.
Now, they've all got some limitations, and what that's led to is some recent trends in the way poverty and what…. Some provinces are talking more about inclusion now, social and economic inclusion measures.
Some of these developments are apparent within our own province, but most provinces that have adopted — and there are six now — a poverty reduction strategy are all using a suite of measures or a bundle of indicators. The Newfoundland and Labrador one has 15. In Quebec, depending on where you read it and how you count up, it could be 50 or 60. It's just quite impressive there.
Manitoba's rolling out about a dozen. Nova Scotia and New Brunswick — similarly, a bundle of indicators. Other provinces are adapting the federal measures that Statistics Canada has created, and the federal department of HRSDC likes the LICO. It's a provincial reality.
Newfoundland and Labrador is doing some interesting work there, taking some existing well-known statistical indicators. What they're trying to do is to disaggregate or to break down into more specific and useful ways of measuring what's going on, on the ground in Newfoundland and Labrador.
The limitations of these national measures often are that they're at just too high a level of a portrait, too big a picture.
B.C. and other provinces, of course, even before the onset of these new reduction strategies, have been moving somewhat tentatively, somewhat clumsily, somewhat carefully, because there are issues of secrecy around this, in cross-linking data sets — be it workers compensation, income assistance caseloads, tax benefit caseloads — to try to kind of correlate and track someone's life.
There's not just the challenge of trying to get silos or departments that have never talked to each other to do so but, of course, real genuine secrecy and privacy concerns. Unfortunately, anytime there's a bit of a slip on it, that becomes a partisan issue. We can all hop on it and blame somebody, but it does then discourage this trend of wanting to actually try to link up data sets that ought to be linked up.
I think Canadians assume this is already all done. I think there's this belief that Big Brother's out there and that Revenue Canada knows everything about all of your lives. The good news, I always tell my friends and neighbours, is that they don't. Thank goodness for silos sometimes, because that's the protection of human liberties. But seriously, we're trying to do some linking there.
Some provinces are developing new measures. Ontario has something called the deprivation index, which is
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trying to get not just at poverty but at questions of vulnerability — and resiliency, on the flip side of that. There's a lot of information available about that on the Ontario government websites.
Newfoundland and Labrador is trying to take the market basket measure and link it to housing affordability within their own province. That's just under development now. It's not finished yet.
What's happening across other provinces is to try to get beyond the surveys and sample sizes that Statistics Canada does, which are just small subsets and usually have a one- or two-year time lag in when the information rolls out and gets published. So we're always talking about the most recent data available, 2006 or 2007, and here we are in 2010.
These newer efforts are trying to allow provinces to drill down to levels of region, community and neighbourhoods, even, as well as analysis by age groups, by gender, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, family types, and so forth. It will allow it to track progress or results over time. If we're putting new moneys or shifting moneys from one program area or service area to another and tracking it, are we getting results? What are we seeing, for example, in early school performance levels?
Turning to the third question, about reduction strategies. If there's a cycle of poverty, there also has tended to be a cycle of poverty-policy-making in Canada. The classic approach is where we are obsessed with counting people and finding out this group and then isolating this group, targeting it and then occasionally wrapping it around with separate programs with incredibly complex rules.
Not surprisingly, these programs suffer with…. They're not politically sexy or attractive to politicians, parties. Pundits don't even talk much about them, or the mainstream media. Why would they? And there's little connection of social solidarity with the rest of the population. We isolate.
Often what you hear from advocacy groups is, "Raise the rates. Raise the rates. Raise the rates," which in itself is important, but often if that's the only thing or that's the dominant conversation we have, it's a rather poor one. Excuse the pun. It's a rather incomplete and very anemic way of taking about poverty and inclusion. Occasionally governments respond with what tend to be piecemeal reforms and ad hoc responses.
More recent efforts. I'm sure Seth Klein and others this morning have covered this, so I'll just quickly…. Here we see the beginning of a new narrative or a new storyline in Canada in the last eight or nine years that a number of provinces — now six of them, representing about 65 percent of the population of Canada — have adopted.
Now, the Quebec one's interesting, in that it really was about a two- to three-year process of first of all announcing an action plan, introducing legislation, widespread consultations with a wide array of community groups and really then launching the program in 2004. In subsequent budgets of '05, '06, '07, '08 various investments have been announced.
Newfoundland and Labrador's was second. Ontario, similarly, like Quebec, brought in legislation in late 2008, which got enacted in '09.
Then the new, recent arrivals. I think in about April '09 was Nova Scotia. A few months later it was Manitoba then this past winter and early spring New Brunswick, too, bringing in legislation.
A kind of mix of approaches, but some of the highlights that strike me are that most of them — not all of them, because Manitoba's got rolled out fairly quickly without a lot of public consultation…. Most of the others have involved, in some cases, up to two years of prior discussions with communities.
Political commitment, as Mary Collins said. Leadership at the top. Strategic — Mr. Rustad, maybe this gets to your point about short-, medium- and long-term goals — phasing in, making choices and saying to groups: "To make it politically palatable, we might not be able to address your interest in the next 12 months, but you're part of the plan over the next five or seven years, and here are the markers."
So it's not, everyone sees: "If I'm not in there in the very first round, I'm disappointed. I'm going to attack it. I hate." We've got to think more strategically and more inclusively while also making prudent choices. But part of that is to think strategically and have a vision, based on some consultation.
Again, others have told you about comprehensive approaches. Housing is absolutely critical. Early learning, high school completion, training and employment — those are key on the service side, as well as income and tax measures.
Varied approaches to aboriginal peoples. The six provinces that so far have brought in reduction strategies — what they really reflect are their wider policy orientations to the way provincial governments have approached questions of relations with aboriginal peoples and their jurisdictions.
About half of the provinces that have brought in strategies so far are still using the old-fashioned — what I call conventional — delegation. They're bands under the Indian Act, and they're primarily a federal responsibility. There's some lip service in a provincial strategy to that, but there's almost relief, like: "Whew. Go to Ottawa, and talk to them."
The other two or three are looking more towards recognition and partnerships which, even though our province has a strategy, would certainly suggest to me more our approach of what's been evolving in B.C. over the last ten years.
There's been a lot of reference…. I'm sure Seth Klein talked a lot to you about targets and measurements and the whole governance side, which is a feature of them.
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In conclusion, among the options and next steps that might be considered, again, are a non-partisan or cross-partisan endorsement of the idea of a coherent approach to preventing poverty and eradicating or reducing it, where possible, and alleviating it; and this idea of a community consultation with groups and First Nations, business, labour, municipalities.
Many provinces have kicked this off, partly, with a draft action plan which suggests some broad goals and vision. Perhaps some information on what other provinces' strategies have been to date to educate British Columbians about what's been going and what some possibilities are.
One other alternative could be to consult on the idea of legislation. As I say, three of the six provinces so far have said yes to legislation, and three of the six have said no. It's a policy choice there.
I think the lessons across the rest of the country show that B.C. Stats, which is the province's central statistical agency, should play an important role in developing made-in-B.C. measures and indicators, particularly around our housing circumstances, which are so distinctive to most of the rest of the country — to be able to drill down to local communities and neighbourhoods and get up-to-date, reliable and relevant information about the B.C. context.
In terms of immediate choices, I've got two in here. One is what we call a classic safety net idea, which is assisting low-income families with children. The other one is more what sometimes is called a springboard approach, which is improving adult income from employment.
As we know, over half of the kids who live in low-income families have two parents, one of whom works full-time in the labour force in this province, so low wage is one of the things we should tackle either with improving training or education opportunities. It could be other issues around employment supplements or refundable tax credits.
There are a whole host of opportunities there: looking at the adult parent who is already in the labour force, to reinforce the work, making work pay even better where possible; at the same time, for those who through no fault of their own find themselves in low income with young children, looking at other ways of trying to tackle some of the health and early developmental issues that have already been spoken about to you.
I think the time is now for a new strategy, and by now I mean over the next couple of years, because I would think it would be imperative to have a more widespread consultation — with a full range of stakeholders and this committee, perhaps, or another one, playing a lead role in that — to engage British Columbians in looking at what other Canadians have been doing in the last several years and to consider what we need to do that works for us in our circumstances and our context.
Thank you for this opportunity.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Yes, thank you very much. Very interesting. This day has been excellent. I'll move to the question part of it.
M. Karagianis (Deputy Chair): Michael, I know I've heard you talk in the past around these issues of poverty. You didn't touch on it much here, but I wonder if you could just briefly talk about some of the things that we've been exploring peripherally here today, things like immigrant poverty.
We haven't talked about any of the issues around disabilities and some of the things that move up from that. I mean special needs families and some of the other pressures. They haven't really come out today, but I know that you've talked in the past about them. Perhaps you could just touch on those today.
M. Prince: Sure. I'm happy to.
On the immigrant one, we know, of course, that the evidence is pretty clear that the recent — i.e., the last ten or so years…. Even though we've had a fairly hot economy in Canada, including this province, evidence shows that newer Canadians arriving in the last ten or so years are finding it takes longer to find work and to find good work and to what I call hit the Canadian dream of making as much as Canadians born here. Immigrants who came in the '70s and '80s even — even in the early '90s — took four, five, six years and then no difference, really, in earned income. Now it looks like it could take ten or 14 years.
That might not be earth-shattering, but it's a trend that might be worth looking at a little more closely, and also around…. Here's a good case of federal-provincial relations on immigrant settlement services and deciding the number of people coming into the province and language acquisition, the role of school boards. This one's a really big education file, of course.
On the health care side of the older end, with family reunification, I just had a student do her thesis looking at grandmothers coming from the Punjab region to reunite with their families here in greater Vancouver. Again, issues around not just the dynamics within the family with the daughter or daughter-in-law and the grandchildren, which is fascinating in and of itself, but then, if the language skills are not strong and transit isn't easy and they are in large suburban areas, just being isolated.
What kinds of access to health care and other kinds of social services…? Or supports within their own communities, wanting to find their natural ethnic, racial community. There are some issues here. Certainly, they're one of the four or five top at-risk groups, which is a little different from, say, 30 or 40 years ago.
Disability. The committee knows I'm on the board of the B.C. Association for Community Living and have
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been for six years. So I've done a lot of work with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. I work a lot with disability groups generally. I'm also on a special advisory committee to the Representative for Children and Youth on children and youth with special needs.
We know that there are hundreds of thousands of Canadians with disabilities who would like to work who are unable to. One of the contexts of poverty is attitudes and beliefs. I'm worried that if we don't look at something between the sheltered workshops we still have in this province and the day programs where people go to the mall for a little while and a social worker gets paid to take them to the mall and bring them back, and we know they can't "make it" in the regular labour force….
We've got to look at the role of social enterprise, social economy and supportive employment, widen that continuum of choices of work. With our old thinking of, "You're either employable or your unemployable" — by employable, we have a model of a 40-hour week or a 50-hour week — we just deal all sorts of people out of that game quite quickly.
Quite understandably, parents with children with developmental or other disabilities, through love and protection and paternalism, fear putting their child at risk or encouraging them to live the dream through high school, to finish high school and to think about the labour force versus the comfort of the day program, the comfort of the service agency where we just replicate…. This is that cycle of supports there.
There will be some people, quite honestly, who…. Even that option would be pretty challenging to think about with very acute, high-level needs. There are literally tens of thousands of British Columbians who are being dropped in between the old approaches to providing needs and other work opportunities.
We are moving, increasingly, as a service sector economy, rather than the forestry and the mining and the heavy…. Those middle service sectors where all sorts of opportunities with new technologies could open up some chances there. Those are just some quick thoughts on that.
Thank you for allowing me to get that on the record.
J. McIntyre (Chair): I could actually just ask a follow-up on that. I'm sorry it sometimes takes this to happen, but during the labour shortage when the economy was so hot, prior to the fall of '08, I certainly had a sense, through people like Claude Richmond in our government, that there were some serious steps being taken in creating awareness, but even in actually getting — you know his 10 by 10 Challenge for disabilities in municipalities?
M. Prince: Yeah.
J. McIntyre (Chair): I think Abbotsford was one of the cities. Actually, for First Nations, disabled, some of the immigrant community. Hopefully, did we make some progress on that?
M. Prince: Yes, there was. We see that nationally as well. The biggest progress was in Atlantic Canada for some reason. I think that's because their employment rates for people with disabilities was the lowest in the country. So they had more room to grow. A lot of younger people were just out-migrating out of the Maritimes. The old "go to Alberta or go to Toronto" dream, which left behind…. In a way, they got the jobs because others had actually vacated the labour force, which is kind of a sobering comment too. Numbers did go up.
The concern, as we see, is: what will the impact be of the '08-09 in a recession? We know some of the good jobs that got lost in the recession aren't coming back or aren't coming back quickly, so I suspect the numbers will show, again, a bit of a dip. You're absolutely right. There has been progress. We are shifting attitudes. This is a generational….
J. McIntyre (Chair): That's what I would think is important. And also we are coming out of the economy and the economic recession. Again, they're talking about projected labour shortages with baby boomers retiring and everything else. I guess my question really relates to: if we made progress, are those good programs? Is that all moving in the right direction?
M. Prince: Yeah, I mean there is a disability strategy that the B.C. government has had for…. I say sometimes that it's one of the best kept secrets in the province, because hardly anyone has ever heard of the disability strategy of the B.C. government.
It needs to be linked to something like a poverty reduction strategy or whatever else you might want to call it, as with aboriginal policies. This is, again, one of the most vulnerable groups in our country — high levels of unemployment, high desire by literally tens of thousands in this province to want to work. Real work for real pay. That's their kind of rallying cry.
What they need is both an attitudinal shift in a lot of people's views as to what they're capable of doing, and that includes in schools, where we're struggling with, you know, ratios in classrooms and special needs. I won't go there, but that's part of it too. It's attitudes of not just employers. We usually kind of target employers as the obstacle. It's your colleagues. It's the unions. It's the non-unionized. It's all British Columbians and Canadians.
We all carry around a lot of old prejudices and views. Some just look at someone, and we think: "Well, they've got Down syndrome; they won't be able to this or that." We go right to the negative and the deficit versus looking at the person — what gifts and capacities. It's slowly changing. The Paralympics were a recent helpful boost.
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I hope that continues on. We need to not just assume that will stay there in the atmosphere, but we need to work on it.
That's, again, where maybe some tax incentives…. We heard earlier about tax measures on maybe sugary foods or whatever. That's using a tax for bad things. You can use a tax instrument, of course, to reward or encourage good behaviour, and some of that might be around employment and training opportunities, in addition to using taxes for the good old reason, which is to raise money.
I think there are opportunities here to build on the 10 by 10 and others. Those have taken us up a certain level, but they're not going to get us much further beyond, I think, recent increases. We need to kind of consolidate those and think about what additional instruments we need. Bring in the chamber of commerce, bring in the unions in true partnership to work with municipalities and the province to then try to get to another level. That's going beyond the old traditional approaches and trying to think about it more strategically.
To think about it, there are about 80,000 or 90,000 adults with disabilities in this province who want to work, who don't — even if it's just ten or 20 hours a week. But it's the dignity of the work — right? — the real income versus the welfare. They know the kind of society we live in and the kind of values we champion. They want to be a part of that.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Yeah. Exactly. As one would expect.
M. Prince: That's part of inclusion. But it's inclusion with reasonable supports and dignity and also a sense that there'd still be ways of designing the programs so that you can blend the income — that they'd still have some income assistance with some work income.
Again, not these binaries that we've always designed in the old days of either you're on welfare or you're totally off it or we want to get you off as fast as possible. There will be people in our communities who will cycle in and out with blends, and maybe that's not a bad scenario to have. Old thinking would say: "No, it's got to be one or the other, and if you're on welfare, we're going to spend a lot of the money trying to kick you off it."
Why don't we look at other ways of looking at that middle world, where people are going to try to be able to have some work and some dignity and independence that way and the reassurance that if their ailments or impairments flare up, there's a safety net there? They're not going to be abandoned, so they will be willing and their parents or their families will be willing to support them in making those choices. Otherwise, we'll just keep people segregated.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Excellent.
J. Thornthwaite: Thank you very much. I was very interested in what you said under your poverty reduction policies about being strategic, having a vision, an action plan, short-, medium- and long-term goals. You're basically saying that it would be nice to do everything all at once, but you'll take whatever you can get whenever we can get it.
I'm just wondering. If we were going to go forward in this, what would be your number one thing to work on first? I mean, I just getting common themes here about universal child care, housing, homelessness, income assistance, minimum wage, parental leave — just from all of the other speakers that we've had. In your mind, if we could only do one, what would you recommend?
M. Prince: Well, it's not a question of only one, because we know even the old…. It's a mishmash. We've got, you know, 80, 90 programs going on. It's a question of: what're you going to do over here? What're you…? The reality is that you're not going to tell a cabinet of 20 or 30 ministers that only one is going to get something and to the other 29: "Just hold your breath for a couple of years." That's part of the realpolitik of this. Everyone's going to have to have some.
I've seen this in the disability movement, where we've negotiated — and it was tough — within the community. The blind and visually impaired want this, or the deaf and the hard of hearing want that, every impairment championing…. "If we do this for you…." "Well, that's more for the physically disabled as opposed to the developmentally."
We have had to broker a deal and make the hard choices too. So a lot of it is already being done by community groups. Just so you appreciate, often groups will come to you with already a fragile consensus that's maybe taken them three or four or five years to do.
I appreciate your question, but in a way it's a dangerous question, because it immediately can threaten to destabilize a consensus that's been negotiated by the education movement or the housing or aboriginal. But I would say early learning. We know cognitively; we know from neurological research — even in prenatal, never mind postnatal. We know in the fetus the development, the hard wiring and so forth.
That ties in with nutrition, but that immediately gets you linked back up to the family. That's why I just picked two near the end there of improving adult income from employment and, for those for whom that's not a quick, easy answer…. We're just coming out of the recession, and as I said earlier, that will take four or five years to get back to, if we ever do, the good days of '03, '04, '05, '06, when things were churning along quite nicely.
There also simultaneously has to be some looking at assisting the low-income. So yes, those to me would be the…. If I could push you to two, I'd say one would be
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those where there's already a working parent or parents in the labour force. They need assistance because they're working poor. They're trying to play the labour force game and pursue the work ethic. The others are those who again, through various other challenges, may be on income assistance. We need somehow to support them. One's a safety net; one's a springboard kind of.
I'm sure Seth probably had numbers as to how high and how fast. Again, if those numbers scare a government or get a Treasury Board official nervous — and they ought to, because if they're a Treasury Board official, they always get nervous about these sorts of things — to say a series of instalments, you know, with a longer-term vision.
I mean, provinces are saying…. Most of the provinces that have rolled out strategies have said…. They're putting out five-, ten-, 15-, 20-year timelines. I mean, Ontario's is 20 years. Tony Blair — when he was Prime Minister in the U.K., they put out timelines to 2020. If we are talking about systemic and cyclical and intergenerational, these things will take a fair bit of time. But that's no excuse to not do anything in the short term.
Even with deficits, with respect, it's no excuse to not do some modest beginnings of investments, because sometimes those make huge differences. And I think they signal hope, I think the sense that…. And with partners too — municipalities — and leverage the resources; I think you've heard already too.
D. Horne: Thanks for your presentation. That was great.
One of the things…. You obviously spent some time talking about statistics and some of the measures that are in place. It's one of the difficulties because, you know, when it comes down to it, really it's about making sure that the people have what they need to survive. And you know, statistically we try to sort of take a look at it. There are many statistics, and this is the difficulty.
One of the things that was actually, I think, quite good was going through the list and how they're done. Low-income cutoff, LICO, for example. My in-laws, who live in a very nice house with me and have a very nice car and are far from poor — you know, they have their needs taken care of, which sort of goes back to the beginning — would be considered under the LICO measures to be at a very low end of income.
My neighbours who are recent immigrants, who live in a $2 million house and have three Mercedeses, two Porsches and a Ferrari — I helped them with their taxes this year, and they made $8,000. So they too under LICO would be considered low income.
Unlike the United States, Canada doesn't tax on worldwide income. But from what you've seen statistically, obviously, I think, it's important to be able to measure these things in order to be able to figure out whether you're being successful at accomplishing the things you want to accomplish. I think this is an important and good thing.
From your standpoint and what maybe Newfoundland is doing, and others, is there anything that you're seeing that perhaps is a better way to take a look at this, that actually takes into account the needs of people rather than simply how much money they make?
M. Prince: Yeah. I think, first of all, that using a number of indicators…. On school performance, something like a LICO or any of these is no help at all to know how our children are performing in education and learning. We know that's so important. Or if we go to nutrition and food, you'd need different kinds of measures. We didn't even get to that.
In some of the early poverty line debates in Canada in the 1920s and '30s, nutritionists played a major role in that out of Montreal and in the dietitian community. That kind of faded until we got talking again about school lunch programs in the 1990s and that.
So depending on how you turn the prism of "Are we thinking housing, education, work, the parents, the kids, the community…?" We realize that these standard old Statistics Canada ones are pretty crude, in one sense, and we're trying to make them do too many things. They're not multipurpose tools. And that's why I think you're seeing — this slide I've put back up here — most provinces are realizing that they need a bundle of indicators, and they're adapting the housing affordability ones. That's a key issue, certainly for our province, and Newfoundland and Labrador has seized on that.
Education measures — a lot of them are already there that exist within Ministries of Advanced Ed or education departments. And then as I've…. Ontario is taking a series of those and bundling them up and calling it a deprivation index. But if you'd say, "Well what does that really mean?" and you peel that off, really what's in it is a box of about eight or nine indexes or measures.
That's why I said that B.C. Stats could play a key role. I know staff there have already written critiques about the limitations of the low-income measures and why they're not very helpful, and that's fair enough. So what we see the other five or six provinces doing now is using their own data sets that are vast — vital statistics on health stuff and health authorities, the education school boards, etc.
You know, there really isn't a single one measure, and the more we move off — not to abandon LICO or anything like that — to other measures so that we have a more mature, multifaceted conversation and more evidence based on those…. You're quite right. I was in Saskatchewan a few weeks ago. They haven't yet adopted a strategy, but the Premier there is thinking about it. One of his lines is: "Well, I'd want to make sure that it was socially acceptable."
I think that can mean all sorts of things, but it really means: "What plays if I go to Prince Albert or Saskatoon
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or Regina?" — you know, what would strike people as, "Yeah, I get it," rather than LICO, where you've got to take 20 minutes to explain what it is or tell people: "Well, this is a statistical median. You take the whole population, divide it in half and it's this." You've lost people.
The market basket measure kind of gets, I think, at: what are the real products and services in my area? So if I'm in a rural-remote versus urban…. And I think that's the beginning of political wisdom: multiple measures and ones that are made in B.C. but that are not so different from the rest of the country — because there's some wisdom there, too, to look at — and drawing on housing affordability measures and making sure they are part of the equation too, I think. You know, those are the things I'm sure people talk to you about when you go to your constituencies — about housing and food. So why not have indicators that kind of relate to that?
D. Horne: Exactly. As I say, it’s about the people in the end, and it's about what they need and making sure that their needs are taken care of.
M. Prince: Yeah. You know, we all will bring in…. We'll use the LICOs, and we'll…. But I think, in a way, they've kind of run out of steam, quite honestly, in terms of what use they are for us. I think we do need measures. We can look at and learn from other provinces, and it's telling that they are being creative and inventive and grounding them in their own data — their own people's experiences as measured by their vital statistics systems. People would appreciate that, I think.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Thank you for your insights on that, too, in particular. The reason it was one of our three areas of questioning was because it's easy to get lost in all of this — and also to make sure that it's relevant for our province and our needs.
I think there was one last question, unless I hear from anybody else, and then we're on to our last speaker.
J. Rustad: I do know that we're very short on time. First of all, thanks for your presentation. I found it very informative. This is isn't directly in your presentation, so if you'd like to give us a written response as opposed to verbal, I'd be happy if you did that.
Several authors have talked about kind of the cycle — in particular, when people are paid to do things or, basically, paid to do nothing, how that can be very destroying to almost not so much the soul but to their motivation. The drive to kind of the health…. They kind of feel down. It contributes to…. There's a cycle of dependency that gets formed from that, and that's often…. Many authors have related a lot of First Nation issues to that specific problem. And so I'm just wondering what your thoughts are on trying to break that cycle of dependency.
M. Prince: That's a biggie.
J. Rustad: And that's why, if you'd like to do it as a written response, if you have time to do that, it'd be much appreciated, but certainly….
M. Prince: Just quickly, I guess, the cycle's not as big as we often…. The amount of time that academics over the last 50 years have written about it and devoted time to it is probably disproportionate to how big that problem actually is. First as those who…. We should have spent more time studying people that were independent and then got out. How did they get out? I mean, we obsess with those who stay behind in that small group. We spend an inordinate amount of time and money and rules and policing and surveillance and attacking and finger-printing and whatever.
But you're right. And again, that plays to…. I think part of the public opinion is that often there are intergenerational family welfare patterns. That makes it hard sometimes, politically, to sell raising the rates. But it's a small problem.
It ties back again to this comprehensive approach that we need to.… The income by itself is not either helping them get out or be able to succeed for some people. So we have to look at the education, where in the province they live. I think, again, place is really important in terms of their ability to access other opportunities, be it schooling, shopping for nutritious food, looking for work, doing interviews.
Again, in the disability movement, one of the biggest obstacles is the lack of affordable transit or transit that's even there for people to be able to get out and move around. So the paratransit's not there, or even public.
Looking at how, maybe, other services — how they either interrelate or not…. Often they don't interrelate very well. So your question in many ways is illustrative of the classic approach to poverty relief — of looking at and defining it in very specific ways. It's not to disregard that that's not a real issue. It is. For a lot of people, it's perhaps the biggest concern they have around welfare reform.
If we reframe this to be talking about opportunities for inclusion and success and enabling people, then I think we need to look at it — not naively and not to ignore that — in the context of some other possibilities that we can do. That's a quick, off-the-top answer, but let me reflect on it a bit more too.
J. Rustad: I appreciate that. Thank you.
J. McIntyre (Chair): And I'm assuming, Dr. Prince, from what you said, too, that the whole issue of region and those kinds of things — and remoteness; rural-remote — really pertains to on- and off-reserve issues for aboriginals.
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M. Prince: Yes. You know….
J. McIntyre (Chair): I think that has to be addressed. In our province, particularly, when you're talking about something for B.C., we have some very distinct….
M. Prince: Yeah. You know, not to get too political, but it's a shame the Kelowna accord did not survive. It's a shame that we did not have there again, strategically, a multi-year, ten-year — with a series of investments, with targeted areas, with shared priorities, with measures on housing and education — all what we're talking about here.
And then we're back to the old, "Oh, that's your jurisdiction. No, that's yours," and the finger…. "Are they on-reserve, off-reserve? They're not First Nation. Oh, are they Métis or non-status?"
As I think Douglas Horne said, they're real people, at the end the day. This is what Danny Williams came up with. When he launched in Newfoundland and Labrador, he said to his staff: "I know there are the LICOs and the…." You can just hear him with his accent. "All I know is there are a lot of poor people in my province, and we've got to do something about it. It's not a good thing. It's not a good thing."
So at the end of the day you can say: "Is it 9 percent, 9.8, 7.5?" He says: "I know there are poor people out there, and that's not a good thing for the province, and I'd like to do something about it, so let's get on with something. We'll worry about the measurement again later down the road."
One of my colleagues just called it the tyranny of the second decimal point. We can get so caught up trying to get the right number that we never do anything.
J. McIntyre (Chair): If I could be humble here, I think that's why this committee decided…. And thanks to the rep, to Mary Ellen's urging too. We have issues in the province. I am grateful to all the speakers today that took time and effort really to help inform us as legislators, and for those that will go beyond, through Hansard and out to the public.
These issues need to be tackled, and it's very interesting to see and to hear from people who know what else is happening and what's going on. That can be of value to us, so thank you very much.
M. Prince: My pleasure.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Now, very patiently, Dr. Carol Matusicky has been waiting there.
You were actually here in the morning, weren't you? So thank you.
She's been here all day.
C. Matusicky: I brought some other documents along that I just had one copy of, but I'd like to leave them for the committee before I leave today.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Sure. Thanks. Leave them with the Clerk.
Dr. Matusicky is a director with Burnaby Family Life.
I'll let you add any other sort of credentials and experience you want to bring to bear. We're looking forward to your perspective, as well, to round out our day.
C. Matusicky: We've talked a lot about health today, and here we are sitting in a room all day long, hardly moving. We have got to do something about this.
I want to begin by saying…. I want to thank you very, very much for the opportunity to speak with you. I hope to share some perspectives about an issue that is of great importance and concern, I hope, to most, if not all, British Columbians, and that's child poverty.
I commend you for providing a venue to focus on this issue, and I'm very honoured to have an opportunity to meet with you. In making this presentation, I will endeavour to address the three questions that you did ask.
I just want to put it on the table, first of all, that I don't consider myself a statistical expert. Hopefully, what I bring is some 35 years of experience in the area of children, youth and families. I don't do that work for pay anymore, but I am very, very involved in my community and nationally and, in some cases, internationally.
Hopefully, I've learned some wisdom over the years, and I must say that I've learned an awful lot today. Before I knew who was coming here today…. I probably stole a lot of the stuff they've already said, before I knew who was going to say it.
J. McIntyre (Chair): That's right. You just picked some of the right people, though.
C. Matusicky: The people that you have invited I think are some of our best thinkers in the province in terms of a constant, consistent focus on issues that affect the health and well-being of our province.
I'd like to start, because this is an area that I have been very preoccupied with for more than 35 years, with what I would call the social and economic context that all families in our province live in. What's going on out there that impacts every one of us in this room as well as the families in our province?
I just think there are some pieces to this context that we need to pay attention to. One of them is that families in B.C. are smaller today. We have 1.6 children now. That's really changed.
The dual-income family is now the norm. The majority of women with children are in the workplace, and that change alone has created a dramatic shift in both men's and women's roles regarding the caregiving respon-
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sibilities, whether that's for children…. Increasingly, it's going to be for aging family members as well as family members who may have a disability.
I think it was something that Michael said. I forget exactly what you said, Michael, but we do have a growing number of grandparents actually parenting their grandchildren, raising them. I'm a grandparent. I have two young grandchildren. I am not their parent; I'm their grandparent. We have more grandparents raising their grandchildren now than we have children in the care of our province, than we have kids in care. That's a significant thing. That's not how life used to unfold, and I think we have to recognize the impact on that body of people.
Our population is continuing to age, with the median age rising to 46.2 years by about 2031. It used to be, in 2006, that the median age was about 39.8. By 2031 those aged 65-plus will increase to 24.2 percent of the population. That's from 14 percent in 2006. So there are really dramatic demographic shifts taking place.
Our aboriginal population will experience a 13.6 percent growth by 2017, and this increase will be most pronounced in young people and in the under-30 workforce. Aboriginal young families are having babies, which is another point.
I hadn't had it on my paper here, but I remember a few years ago we had a big Work-Life Summit in our province. We had Linda Duxbury, who is at the school of business at Carleton University, do a report on the best places to work in Canada. She has done research that looks at more than 30,000 workers across our country from every sector you can imagine — government, non-government, private, public service. When she got to the best places to work in Canada, Ontario ranked last and British Columbia was the next-last. We were pretty low on the totem pole.
One of the things that emerged in her report about British Columbia and the workforce was that more people here say they cannot balance the competing and conflicting demands of their work responsibilities and their life responsibilities and are choosing not to have children or to have one child.
Now, I'd be the last to say that everybody in the world should have a child. I don't believe that, but I think we have to factor that in. Life has changed, yet we still act as though there's somebody at home doing all of that caregiving stuff, and we know there isn't. I think that kind of says something about our province as well.
Again, another contextual item that impacts all families is that the current economic downturn has increased pressure on families. We are creating a lot of debt per household in our country now, and in our province the debt load is increasing significantly. We're probably going to have a skilled worker shortage in the next decade as the labour market ages and the baby boom generation reaches retirement age.
Health care and costs and concerns about the sustainability of the system — given our population aging, the escalating costs of technology, along with increased utilization of services — highlight the need for prevention, healthy living and other individual efforts to reduce costs and improve health outcomes. I found some of the materials in the B.C. Progress Board reports very helpful in this regard.
There continues to be an educational outcome gap between aboriginal students and the general population on high school completion, and the lag time — and this has been mentioned today — before immigrants are fully integrated into the B.C. workforce has increased over the past 20 years, creating a major earning gap for recent immigrants.
While B.C. crime rates have generally been improving, B.C. rates continue to be higher in many categories than other provinces.
Given this context, within which all the families in our province are affected either directly or indirectly, outcomes for children and families vary. While the majority of children in British Columbia grow up in safe, secure and caring homes and experience healthy development, many of our children live in circumstances that are not optimal. The result: poor lifelong outcomes for their health and well-being.
These less than optimal circumstances could be from issues such as poverty, addictions, abuse, neglect, coping with special needs, living outside their parental home. All of this can result in less stability and less hope for the future. I believe, as a citizen and as someone who cares about the welfare of my province, that we can do better.
The first question that you wanted us, the speakers, to focus on was the systemic causes of persistent low incomes and how they affect families in British Columbia from one generation to the next. Well, it's my observation that most social issues and challenges are the result of a constellation of factors — there's no one cause-effect here — and that the solutions to them require a constellation of responses. In other words, there is no simple cause, nor is there a magic-bullet solution to an issue.
So too with persistent low income. The causes are the result of many factors, and the solution requires an array of responses. As so many other speakers did today, I think one very important way to think about the systemic causes of persistent low income is to take a social-determinants-of-health approach and demonstrate how the conditions in which children and families live and work directly affect the quality of their health, both now and in the future.
It is the underlying social and economic conditions of our lives that influence our long-term health and well-being, and as I hope to show, continuing to address these underlying social and economic conditions is in the long run the most effective way to address the systemic
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causes of persistent low income. I know how challenging it is for us to do long-run kinds of solutions.
I think we are in general a very reactive society. We want to fix things, and I think we know a lot about what causes things to get broken in the first place, but we tend to wait till they're broken till we pay attention. That's why I find the social determinants of health need such a strong commitment to hang in there for the long term. That's, I think, just an important message that has come out quite a bit today as well.
You know, the importance of the determinants of health — whatever you want to call them, living conditions — actually became quite well established as far back as the 1800s. Since the mid-'70s this view has been enshrined in Canadian government policy documents, but I don't think we've talked enough about it.
We've done it, but we don't tend to act on it. The focus tends to be much more on the health care system, and I think all of us want the health care system there when we need it. My family has had to be part of needing the health care system a couple of times in this past year — lung cancer, heart condition — and I'm very glad our system is there.
But I think we need to start acting on the evidence that we do have and know that the long-term health-shaping conditions are greatly determined by decisions that governments make. I'm talking about governments at the municipal, provincial, territorial and federal level.
All of these levels create policies, laws and regulations that influence how much income Canadians receive through employment, family benefits or social assistance, the quality and availability of affordable housing, the kind of health and social services and recreational opportunities we can access, and even what happens when Canadians lose their jobs during an economic downturn. Certainly, the role of government is primary in regard to the social policy we have.
It's often said that the conditions in which we live get under our skin and either promote health or cause disease. Improving the health of British Columbians through a focus on our living and working conditions is possible but requires us to think about health and its determinants in a more sophisticated way, not just as nice-to-have kind of conditions but as essential to our long-term health and well-being.
I know that people have talked today a lot about the determinants of health, and I've looked at many, many lists of the determinants of health, but one that I found most useful and most comprehensive was one that was developed at a conference in Toronto in about 2002. It lists 14 determinants of health. I'm not going to talk about all of them, or we'll never get home and have a long weekend.
The 14 that they list are: aboriginal status, disability, early child development, education, employment and working conditions, food insecurity or security, health services, gender, housing, income and income distribution, race, social exclusion, social safety net, and unemployment and job security. There is an interconnectedness, and I think we've heard that message many times today, among all the determinants of health. In the interests of time I want to focus on two of them, and those are income and early child development.
Perhaps the most important determinant of health is income. The level of a family's income shapes their overall living conditions. It affects their psychological functioning and determines the quality of other social determinants of health, such as food security, housing and education. More equal income distribution has proven to be one of the best predictors of overall health of the society.
I have a few quotes from a little document that I think could be quite useful to the committee. It just came out this April 2010. It was prepared by people at York University School of Health Policy and Management. It is all about the social determinants of health — a very clear reading. The thing that captivated me about it is that the preface is written by Monique Bégin, who at one time was our federal Minister of Health. It was well researched, but it's not so complex that we doze off.
In countries that provide fewer important services and benefits, income assumes more importance. For example, in our country, public education up till grade 12, necessary medical procedures and libraries are funded by general revenues. But other supports and services, such as recreational opportunities, child care, post-secondary education and housing are bought and paid for by individuals.
In many developed countries these services are provided as citizen rights, and "low income" often translates into material and social deprivation, making it less likely that families are able to afford the basic prerequisites of health: food, clothing and housing. Low income also results in social exclusion, making it harder to participate in the cultural, educational and recreational activities of the community.
As Michael was speaking on and mentioning his work in the community living movement, I have just finished doing a piece of work for the Fraser region, Community Living British Columbia, looking at how we can better support parents with a developmental disability. Without sounding harsh here, I think the prevailing view has been that parents who have a developmental disability couldn't possibly raise their children. Very often child protection is there at the hospital taking their children almost as soon as they are born, because the assumption is that they can't do it.
There is a growing, growing movement in the community living sector to say that there are models out there. There are models in Scotland. They're in Great Britain, in California, in our own province — but they
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are not being very supported in our own province. They were at one time; they aren't anymore. With the right mix of supports to parents with developmental disabilities, they can effectively raise their children.
Of course, it depends, and we also have to look at child protection issues. That has got to be primary as well. But with the right combination of in-home support and connection to the community, these families have shown that they can truly raise their children. They love their children. The report I wrote was called We're the Same, Only Different. They want the same things for their families and their children that all of us want for our children as well. Very often, of course, they are very low-income families.
I am just going to skip now, because I am taking a little while longer, maybe, than I should.
J. McIntyre (Chair): I know. If you don't mind, because you had wanted to address all three questions, could I maybe get you to highlight the sections?
C. Matusicky: Okay, fair enough. Again, I think early child development…. We had a wonderful presentation from Paul Kershaw this morning, and I have drawn in my paper on 15 by 15 and the work of the human early learning partnership at B.C. I think the research is absolutely so compelling, and I must say I've discovered it in the last ten years of my life. I probably wouldn't have said this ten, 15 years ago.
Probably, if we could do one thing, it would be to have a sustained investment in the early years of our children's lives. I think the payoff down the road would be absolutely mind-boggling.
I am going to go to the second question, maybe: "Are existing methods of measurement accurate, suitable and relevant to British Columbia?" Well, I guess my flip answer would be that I don't really care what measure we use.
There are many of them, and Michael has listed several of them. Certainly the poverty report, Campaign 2000, that has been issued since the House of Commons in 1989 committed to ending child poverty…. The same measure is used along all provinces, and I guess the bottom-line message for me is that we, in the last six years, have come out at the bottom. I find that very, very unacceptable for a province that has so much resource and so much going for it.
We know that families headed by lone-parent families…. Their risk of living in poverty is significantly higher. I think the other fact about poverty is that for many children it's also persistent, that the number of children who have lived in poverty for at least four years out of six years is an unacceptable number. It's over 55 percent. That persistent poverty is not acceptable. Again, over half of poor children in B.C. live in families where at least one adult in the family had a full-time job. We're also talking about the working poor in our province.
I also wanted to bring in just a little bit about food insecurity, because it has been mentioned several times. I'm on page 8 now. I've skipped a fair chunk here.
Are the methods of measurement used in the Campaign 2000 reports accurate, suitable and relevant to British Columbia? Again, my observation for now is that it's okay. It's working. It's at least telling us where we sit vis-à-vis the other provinces. But other methods are under development, such as the acceptable-living-level measure. That's being developed in Winnipeg, and it's soon going to be delivered to government.
When they asked people, especially in remote parts of Manitoba, to tell what it cost to live, one of the things that was always off the list of things they bought was fresh fruit and vegetables. It was just one of the things they had to say no to, because that cost more than other things. So I think that's an important little point too.
The process for preparing that report involved asking low-income people to tell their stories about what it cost for them to live. And then, as Michael also mentioned, Ontario is developing the deprivation index, and I've talked about that a little bit later.
Question No. 3: which reduction strategies appear to be successful or unsuccessful? We've heard from several other presentations today that currently we have six provincial governments who have committed themselves to poverty reduction plans: Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba.
In fairness, although Newfoundland seems to have really shown that it's working and that the differences are happening there, it's probably too early to determine whether their strategies have been totally successful or not, as most of these have only been in place for a few years. Quebec was the first, in 2002, and others have just followed more recently.
I'd like to focus…. I'm not picking this because it may be the best, but it's a little more recent, and that's Ontario's poverty reduction strategy. Maybe if I just even read this quote from Ken Dryden…. I kind of like Ken Dryden. I sat on a board with him for a few years, and he's a good storyteller. Here's his definition of poverty:
"Poverty can be defined as a pregnant mother just a little less healthy, her newborn baby just a little underweight and a little less developed. It's a young child growing up just a little more sick a little more often, away from school just a few more days than other kids — just a little behind. Poverty is every day running a 100-metre race as if all the other kids are at the starting line and they're ten metres behind. Poverty is that 'just a little' that isn't 'just a little' at all."
So the poverty reduction plan for Ontario…. Michael, again, pointed out some of the components of it, and their vision, which they reiterate time and time again in
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their document, says: "Together we can break the cycle of poverty."
They are very, very clear that government alone cannot do it, that it's going to require partnerships from every sector as well as from individuals.
That conviction is at the heart of their strategy. It's rooted in the understanding that children and families who live in poverty have the potential and the desire to succeed in life. It's looking at the fact that most people want to live a life that they feel is a useful, worthwhile life. But what they often lack is the opportunity to fulfil their potential.
The strategy that's been developed in Ontario is very clear that it has some targeted actions. Their main target is to reduce the number of children living in poverty by 25 percent over the next five years. Now, that's a pretty ambitious timeline. They have decided to measure the following. I'm just going to name the measure and the indicator for that measure, as well as why they've chosen those particular measures.
The first measure is school readiness. The indicator that they're using is the early development instrument. I think that people may or may not realize that the EDI, which was originally developed by Dan Offord in Ontario…. We are probably the province that has used it the longest and has been most consistent in using it, but it is really rolling out across the country now. We will have some fantastic data about how our children in Canada are doing.
Ontario is using the EDI. The reason why they're using school readiness is that a child's readiness to learn at age five is a predictor of future ability in school. We know that.
The second measure is educational progress. They use a score that they get from the grade 6 reading, writing and math assessments. Their rationale for that is that improvement and success in these scores will reflect better achievement results in elementary school and contribute to improved future educational outcomes.
They also are going to look at high school graduation rates. Of course, the indicator is the graduation rates. The rationale is that graduating from high school is an important predictor of a student's future earning power and ability to succeed in university or college, even if they don't go to university or college.
Birth weight is another indicator. The indicator will be healthy birth weights. The rationale is that research shows that infants born to low-income families more often have below-normal birth weights, putting them at higher risk for poor future health outcomes.
The depth of poverty. They are going to use the indicator called the low-income measures — the LIM. That's the one they've chosen. Their rationale for that is that this indicator describes the number of people living in deep poverty.
The other measure that they want to use is the low-income measures. This indicator describes the number of people living in poverty.
The Ontario housing measure is another indicator. They are still working on that measure. They haven't come out with it yet. This is the one about the deprivation index. They're looking at standard of living.
The rationale for using this is that this goes a step further than traditional income measures. It measures the daily reality of living in poverty. It includes the basic needs that an average family would have, as well as other components, including social inclusion and participation. I think that's a very important measure.
It will position Ontario as a leader in measuring poverty, similar to the deprivation index used in Ireland. I think we can learn something from this one. When they work it out, we can maybe steal it from them.
Another key component — and I'll just highlight this — is that the only way to move forward is through collaboration. They are calling upon the federal government to do several things, which is a list that I would support as a citizen of British Columbia. We need to ask the federal government to do that.
They are also calling upon municipal governments to show leadership in reducing poverty. They're focusing on two areas: transportation and recreation. That issue around transportation has certainly come up for people living in remote regions. They are calling for participation from a range of community members — businesses, non-profit organizations, community foundations, other organizations and individuals.
I just wanted to mention that I live in the community of Burnaby, and our little Burnaby Board of Trade has the reputation now of being the fastest-growing board of trade in Canada. They have recently sent a resolution to the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. It was passed at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce annual general meeting that, as a country, the investment in early childhood has got to be a priority. The Chamber of Commerce passed that resolution from the Burnaby Board of Trade in our own province.
They also have a committee looking at social issues, and the two social issues they are paying attention to are housing and homelessness, and trying to better integrate multicultural workers into workplaces in Burnaby.
I'm going to conclude. At the end of the day, I think a lot of what a lot of people have said today comes down to this: health equals a rewarding job with a living wage; health equals food on the table and a place to call home; health equals having options and opportunities; health equals a good start in life; health equals community belonging.
I have focused on just two of the determinants of health. I've tried to show that there are other things happening in other provinces. I guess what I would do is encourage all of us to look at those models and learn from them, but I think at the end of the day we need a
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made-in-B.C. plan drawing upon the best of what we can find from other provinces.
I have found this little quote, and I'm going to end with it — but I found another one as well. This is from Tommy Douglas. It says: "Courage, my friends, 'tis not too late to build a better world." I think you have — and thank you — a golden opportunity to contribute to a better world for everybody in our province.
Then, since somebody mentioned Danny Williams…. I was in Toronto up until last night, and I was with someone from Newfoundland who ended with this quote from Danny Williams: "Let's get going on a move-forward basis." If that's not a call to action, I don't know what is.
I'm leaving these. This is a report on early child development for the township of Langley and the city of Langley. This is one from Richmond, and this is one from Surrey. It's quite amazing to see the level of poverty within a community and in different neighbourhoods. Then there's a lot in there about the EDI and a lot of information about the state of families in just those three communities. I picked those — I stole those — yesterday from a committee that I chair.
Thank you very much, and we're over time.
J. McIntyre (Chair): No, no. Well, we can maybe make it on questions. Thank you very much. It was really appreciated. I know you went to a lot of effort to customize your presentation to our three areas of interest, so thank you kindly for shedding light again on this important and multifaceted issue — absolutely.
We'll go to the questions.
J. Thornthwaite: Thank you very much for your presentation. I'm really pleased. Your presentation kind of summarized everybody's, I think. It was really good with regards to the emphasis on partnerships and that we can't do it alone.
I really like your last bit about the Burnaby Board of Trade and the Chamber of Commerce and the municipalities. It's perfect. If we were to develop a provincial plan, it wouldn't just be a provincial plan; it would be a municipal plan, a provincial plan, a federal plan, a business plan sort of thing.
My question actually is about…. Getting back to the education, when you're talking about the educational progress…. Now, granted, you were talking about the Ontario plan here — right?
C. Matusicky: Yes, I was just giving it as a model.
J. Thornthwaite: Whatever this EQAO score is, would that be similar to our FSAs?
C. Matusicky: I would think it's comparable to that, but it's a grade 6. Ours is grades 4 and 7.
J. Thornthwaite: Then what you're basically saying is to have something that's standardized that would help us in our ways of measuring all of these indicators and getting on with our representative, who is here in the audience and is also supportive of those measurements. This would be of assistance in developing a plan as well.
C. Matusicky: I think so. I mean, there is a lot of data out there, and I think we've got to start linking the data. The EDI shows a slice of a child's life as they enter kindergarten. It's based on five domains of a child's development. That tells us a lot, but if we link that with data that we have on…. Were the children in this particular place…? What was their birth weight?
I think we can do a lot of linking of data and develop an even fuller picture of what's happening to our children. I do think we need to take these snapshots of what's going on with our children.
Another point that came up. When someone was talking, I thought: "I hope I can address this." I've often wondered, with the compelling evidence we have about how crucial the early years are, why we haven't invested more. I've got things in there about the OECD reports. We're at the bottom of the barrel internationally in terms of our investment of GDP in the early years.
I think a lot of it has to do with societal values, quite frankly. I think somehow we still have this old idea that the early years of a child's life are the private domain of their family and that society just shouldn't touch that. I don't think that at all. I think it is a public issue.
We think nothing of investing mega dollars once children hit the school system, but somehow we don't seem to see that it's in society's and development's best interests to invest in the early years. I think we have got to see it as a societal issue that needs the engagement of every sector. Nobody owns any of these issues, and I think there is room for a lot of players in this.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Just as a clarification, did you mean Canada when you were talking about that comparative thing — as a Canadian, from the federal government?
C. Matusicky: Yes, in Canada. The OECD report puts us at the bottom of the list of investment of GDP in the early years, in early child development. We can do better.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Although, if I can interject for a second, I think the issue is actually what Dr. Prince brought up about privacy. I hadn't really thought about that, but as you yourself are now talking about linking, I think we do — and probably even, if I can dare say, as a legislature…. I think that has to be part of the debate in being able to make the best and take the best advantage of some of these things, which…. I mean, we may not all agree on that, but that is a block right now, I perceive.
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C. Matusicky: There is linkage in some provinces between the children in the care of the province — kids in care — plus how they're doing in school. We're getting a fuller picture of what life is like for them. I've often heard Clyde Hertzman say: "No data; no problem. No problem; no action."
We don't have the data. I've been around long enough to have been challenged 25 or 30 years ago, when I would talk about these things. "Yeah, that's nice to say. That's just your hunch. Show me the evidence." Now we have the evidence, and we still aren't acting. Again, I don't know what that magic thing is that says: "We can do something about it."
I guess I'm feeling, at this stage of my life, that as a country and as a province we're not taking the bold, brave leadership that we need to take. I guess I would hope that this table will be able to push the right buttons to get some action on some of these things, and we will have a more vital province.
Another thing that I read on the flight back from Toronto last night was the Globe and Mail insert on the 28 people who have been lured to Canada because they are very innovative scientists or researchers. Every one of them was a man, which is okay — I like men — and the federal government has given each of them $10 million over a period of time. That's $280 million for innovation.
I'm going to be writing a letter to the Prime Minister to say that we don't have to lure people from other places in the world. If we invested even a portion of that money…. We could grow the best brains in our country if we invested that in the early years.
We need to invest. It will pay off. We just have to make that commitment. I know it's hard. I'm not naive about the challenges that government has. There are competing and conflicting demands on resources all the time. But I think we need to be bolder and braver, and I think we could do it.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Actually, your words are reminiscent. I'll date myself. I remember Bobby Kennedy very clearly talking about: "We can eliminate poverty. Where there's a will, there's a way." That was probably in the sixties, my era.
C. Matusicky: There are two…. I forgot to write them down, and I will send them to you. There are two films that have recently come out about poverty that apparently are very great and compelling. It's a seven-year-old child talking about what it's like to be poor. I think Mary Walsh has done one as well, which will be, I'm sure, very interesting to watch.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Mable, sorry. We digressed here. I interjected.
M. Elmore: Thank you very much for your presentation.
I'm interested to hear more of your thoughts from the perspective of data or established research looking at the poverty picture for immigrants, particularly new immigrants. I know you referenced, in Burnaby, integrating, recognizing the challenges, the positive moves to integrate multicultural workers in Burnaby. I know you referenced, also, in terms of one of the social determinants of health as race. I'm just curious to hear what the existing research is on that, or if you could point in some directions.
C. Matusicky: I can't say that I really know, but I know that I would certainly reference finding some data and statistics from AMSSA, which is the association of Multicultural Societies and Service Agencies of B.C. SUCCESS is a very, very important multicultural organization in our province, and the Immigrant Services Society. They would have these stats. I know in the community that I live in, it was quite news to me — the very high level of immigration in Burnaby — and it is very profound. Again, the social isolation that often happens with that….
The Burnaby Board of Trade is starting to take business people to do a round of community agencies in the community to get a feel for what it's like to be an immigrant in Burnaby. I think that has had a profound impact on the awareness of the business community, that these are their neighbours. These are people that they may be hiring one day, and they're really being awakened to the situation.
If we take the position that nobody owns these issues, that there’s a role for all of us, I think we can start expecting government to do it all. But the leadership, I think, absolutely has to come from government.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Thank you very much. That's it. I think we've had a very, very full day, as I expected, but it was great. I know I want to thank everybody. I guess a number of people have already left. But really, it was a lot of work, and again, I want to thank Kate in the Clerk's office, who did a huge amount of work, and her staff, who helped compile the reading lists and then sort of search in terms of how we could get these different and interesting perspectives on the topic.
It's been several months in the planning, I think, since the representative urged us at one of our meetings to take a firmer look at this and a harder look at all this. I think it's been a very interesting exercise. This is really the beginning, parts of the beginning. I know we have steps forward, but thank you very much.
C. Matusicky: I want to thank Kate too. She's been very lovely in communicating with me from wherever I was.
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J. McIntyre (Chair): I realize that you just got off a plane, so thank you for the effort. Thank you to all. Thanks to those who hung in for most of the day, and it was very interesting. Thanks to Hansard Services, too, for travelling over and allowing us to have our day here in the Lower Mainland.
To all the committee members: thank you all for the background reading, the support for the work of the committee and for your questions, good questions. And actually, to Maurine, too, who is Deputy Chair, because we couldn't do this if she and I didn't agree on the importance of these issues and how to structure the day. I'd like to thank you publicly as well.
With that, do we need a motion to adjourn? We have a long weekend ahead of us, so I think there's going to be a "Yippee!"
The committee adjourned at 3:25 p.m.
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