Election 2011: Fighting poverty – the party platforms

Mother with her childHow we treat our most vulnerable citizens says a lot about our country and its values. The same is true of governments.

Citizens for Public Justice, along with our partners in the Dignity for All campaign, have long called for vigorous and sustained action by the federal government to combat poverty in Canada. We’ve described the measures that we think are necessary to achieve the vision of a poverty-free Canada in the three goals of the Dignity for All campaign:

  • A federal plan for poverty elimination that complements provincial and territorial plans.
  • A federal anti-poverty Act that ensures enduring federal commitment and accountability for results.
  • Sufficient federal investment in social security for all Canadians.

We’ve also argued that eliminating poverty calls for a comprehensive approach that addresses factors including income security, housing, Early Childhood Education and Care, Employment Insurance and job creation.

So how do the political parties currently vying for our votes specifically plan to address poverty in Canada?

Conservative Party of Canada

The Conservative Party’s platform only mentions the word poverty once, in relation to seniors. The Conservatives promise to top up the Guaranteed Income Supplement to seniors by up to $600 a year for single individuals and up to $840 a year for couples.

To encourage employment, the Conservatives have said they will reduce Employment Insurance (EI) premiums for one year for small businesses that hire new employees. For employees, the Conservatives commit to enhancing the work-sharing program that allows people to retain their jobs while receiving some income support from EI.

The Conservatives also promise changes to the Canada Student Loan program to assist part-time students and to make it easier for students to work while studying.

Green Party of Canada

The Green Party’s platform explicitly mentions poverty only in connection with global poverty, however they do offer a number of policy initiatives that would help to reduce poverty domestically. One of the key elements is the promise to create thousands of new green jobs through investment in renewable energy, shifts in transportation and retrofitting of old buildings for energy efficiency. The Greens also commit to expanding access to EI and protecting pensions.

The Greens will implement a national affordable housing program, with funding commitments rising from $400 million to $1,267 million the third year. Related investments in community housing, energy retrofits for low income housing, and improved housing for First Nations people in Canada are also highlighted.

As well, the Greens’ platform budget includes promised investments in early childhood education, more bursaries for post-secondary education, and national pharmacare.

Finally, while they are not specifically stated in this year’s platform document, the Greens’ policy commitments as outlined in their Vision Green document include a Guaranteed Livable Income for all Canadians and a 25% increase in the Guaranteed Income Supplement for all seniors.

Liberal Party of Canada

The Liberal platform promises a federal poverty reduction plan with specific targets, practical measures to achieve them, and collaboration with other levels of government. Several major commitments of their platform will form the foundation for this strategy, including the Canadian Learning Strategy, the National Food Policy and a new Affordable Housing Framework. Together, these policies represent a $5 billion investment over 2 years.

The Canadian Learning Strategy involves investments in learning at different stages of life, including an Early Childhood Learning and Care Fund, the Learning Passport which will provide grants for post-secondary education, increased funding for Aboriginal Canadians in both K-12 and post-secondary education, and expanded language training for new Canadians.

Linked to the poverty reduction plan, the new Affordable Housing Framework also represents a significant commitment to collaborate with other levels of government to create a national strategy with long-term goals. The Framework will seek to reduce homelessness, maintain and renew existing affordable housing, and create new affordable housing. Over the next two years, the federal contribution of a Liberal government would be $550 million.

The Liberals promise a Youth Hiring Incentive to small and medium-sized businesses hiring youth, offering a complete reduction of EI premiums to help create jobs for young people. For employees, the Liberals offer a new Family Care EI Benefit, which would allow people to receive EI benefits while taking time off work to care for a sick family member.

The Liberals also pledge a $700 million increase in the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors and the introduction of a new Secure Retirement Option as part of the Canada Pension Plan for those with no pensions.

New Democratic Party of Canada

The NDP platform promises a national poverty reduction strategy entrenched in legislation. Goals and targets for poverty reduction will be set in consultation with provinces, territories, Aboriginal governments and non-governmental organizations.

As a first step toward poverty elimination, the NDP would combine existing supports such as the Child Tax Benefit in a new non-taxable Child Benefit and increase the support by up to $700 per child over the next four years. The NDP would also invest in a Canada-wide early learning and childcare program to create 25,000 childcare spaces per year for the next four years.

The NDP also commit to legislation ensuring secure, adequate and affordable housing with significant new funding for affordable housing.

On education, the NDP platform details a plan to transfer $800 million to the provinces and territories to lower tuition fees, as well as increased funding for Canada Student Grants particularly targeted to Aboriginal, disabled and low income students. The NDP would also raise the amount of the education tax credit.

The NDP would extend stimulus measures until unemployment returns to its pre-recession levels and modify EI to eliminate the two-week waiting period, establish nation-wide access based on 360 hours of employment and raise the rate of benefits to 60%. The NDP also promise to reinstate the federal minimum wage.

Finally, for seniors the NDP would increase the CPP benefit with the goal of eventually doubling the benefits and increase the Guaranteed Income Supplement to a sufficient level so that no Canadian senior is living in poverty.