I was honoured to receive an invitation to speak to HUMA later this morning, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.
They are studying poverty reduction strategies, which is decades overdue.
You can submit a brief yourself or for your organization at the HUMA link.
Below is the text of my speech. Only 7 minutes, but I could have gone on for an hour, easily.
As we pivot to a new world of respect, dignity and economic equality, we need to stop studying things and start doing things, and that means allocating money. Time to get busy!
What do YOU think the federal government should be doing about addressing poverty for real?
HUMA – Maple Ridge
February 17, 2017
Labour Studies, SFU
Thank you very much for your invitation to speak with you today.
While I grew up and taught high school in the Tri-Cities, I now live in East Vancouver, on the unceded traditional territory of the Coast Salish people, and particularly the Squamish, Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh peoples.
For the last four years I have been teaching a 3rd year undergraduate Labour Studies course at Simon Fraser University called “The Politics of Labour.” I spend much of the time in that course exploring the nature of precarious work among public sector support workers in BC, and how intersectionality aggravates an already difficult labour market.
I also have the privilege of sitting on the steering committee of the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition, in the only province or territory that has no poverty reduction plan.
Today I’d like to share four ideas with you, which are framed by something Stuart McLean once said in an interview. He said, “when I’m not writing my stories that’s what I think about all the time – the politics of this country and what we have done together.”
The first idea I have for you today is about what we do together, and that’s building a better Canada by the federal government demonstrating strong advocacy and tangible leadership.
Generally I’m pleased to hear about federal plans for a national poverty reduction strategy, a national housing strategy, as well as collaboration with all levels of government.
But in 1989, the House of Commons voted unanimously to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000. That was a noble goal, but we didn’t solve child poverty by then or by today. Strong federal advocacy and leadership mean doing more than making a pledge.
When the Finance Minister said Canadians need to get used to “job churn,” we feel demoralized that even the federal government has given up on pursuing an economy that works for people, an economy where people have hope and faith in stable, rewarding work instead of precarious work in a world of increasing income and wealth inequality.
The second idea is about collaboration and inclusion. Our country is at an inflection point right now in a world threatening to move away from multilateral cooperation.
Instead of creating bilateral plans with provinces, territories, regions or cities, leadership from the federal government means hosting broad, multilateral dialogue and goal-setting with all levels of government.
Now is the time for the federal government to facilitate a pan-Canadian approach to poverty reduction with universal targets and financial support to the provinces and territories to avoid inconsistent approaches to poverty around the country.
And while the committee is including an analysis of the impact of gender on poverty, I expect you’ll need to broaden your lens to examine intersectionality more fully.
Oppression, domination and discrimination do not only affect people differently because of gender, but also because of race, ethnicity, indigeneity, class, sexuality, geography, age, disability/ability, migration status, religion, etc.
As a university-educated, white male from an upper middle class upbringing, I am uniquely unqualified to speak on behalf of people who experience intersections of power relations and discrimination. So beyond having people who have lived with poverty on your advisory committee, you need to include people who are still living in poverty.
The Single Mothers’ Alliance BC has been running Listening Projects to hear from people’s real experiences. The committee should establish listening projects in all parts of the country if you truly wish to hear how poverty is affecting people.
The third idea is to manifest collaborative and cooperative principles in building more robust and democratic homes, communities and economies. I know that some CMHC representatives have spoken to the committee and that the executive director of the Co-operative Housing Federation of BC will be here this afternoon.
Reinvesting in renewing existing co-op housing as well as helping finance new co-op housing will create more economic and human stability, even in places not experiencing the affordable housing crises like in Vancouver and Toronto.
The federal government can also support co-housing developments that build community resilience right inside a community housing model.
There are other poverty-fighting economic models that deserve federal government support. Worker co-operatives, for instance, provide a structure for economic empowerment for individuals as well as democratic workplaces.
The Canadian Worker Co-operative Federation’s Tenacity Works revolving investment fund helps new and expanding worker co-ops. And with a large generation of business owners in the midst of retiring, the federal government can educate owners to consider selling their businesses to co-operatives made up of their workers.
Unions also play a key role in fighting poverty and creating stronger community and economic resilience. The federal government has a unique role to fight the demoralization of job churn and rising income inequality by being a tangible leader and model for the rest of the country by protecting defined benefits pensions, organizing and collective bargaining rights, and successorship rights.
The fourth idea is to make reconciliation tangible, as part of what Stuart McLean spoke of when he said he thought about what we have done together. The physical and social infrastructure deficit on reserves is appalling because we have not yet fixed this together.
Again, the federal government must lead us all by engaging in multilateral collaboration with First Nations communities. Funding for homes, schools, healthcare facilities, community centres and other physical and social infrastructure on reserves cannot wait for a future generation who feels sufficiently compelled to tackle our complicity in their poverty.
I’d like to end with another way of looking at collaboration. The BC Poverty Reduction Coalition has a 7-pillar approach to a poverty reduction plan: higher wages, welfare, housing, child care, health, education and structural barriers that marginalize people.
All the pillars are connected. Reducing and eliminating poverty means looking at all these policy areas through the poverty reduction lens. We can no longer afford to address poverty in a disjointed manner.
Thank you very much.