Bill 7: Social Development and Poverty Reduction Statutes Amendment Act (2024): Entrenching poverty

Mar 7, 2024 | 42-5, Bills, Blog, Governance, Legislature, Video

The BC NDP has long promised that as social democrats they will stand up for the most vulnerable people in the province. They always point to how terrible the former government was as a way to distract from their record.

This government is not seeking to eliminate poverty but rather reduce it and at the same time they are maintaining a highly bureaucratic and discriminatory process that is extremely difficult to navigate.

The BC NDP have been bitterly disappointing in for the most vulnerable and people with disabilities in British Columbia.


A. Olsen: Thank you for the opportunity to speak to Bill 7. I think it’s important to just acknowledge that despite what the member for Powell River–Sunshine Coast described this bill as, this government’s goal is clearly not poverty elimination. Otherwise, the name of the ministry that’s responsible for it would indicate that. It is the goal of the reduction of poverty.

So my response to a member who stands and suggests that the goal is something other than actually what is articulated by the ministry and that is actually supported by the efforts that are taken, clearly not efforts to eliminate poverty….

They are efforts to reduce, however modestly, poverty. I, in no way, suggested that that should not be the goal. In fact, yesterday in the media, I said the cost of living, just the cost to be alive, is really having dramatic impacts on people, particularly on Indigenous people.

[4:50 p.m.]

We’re not talking nearly enough about the quality of life. The provincial government is not setting targets to create a greater quality of life for people. They’re simply setting these targets to manage the truly unaffordable cost of living. This government should be setting the goal in order to create an equitable society, and that includes poverty elimination, not poverty reduction.

See, that was the promise…. My colleague previously mentioned the 2016 NDP. Mentioned it a couple of times. That’s because that’s an NDP that I, and we, had some experience with, because we sat in those rooms at that time in which the people of British Columbia returned here a balanced House with three Greens sitting in between.

The promise of the B.C. NDP was not to be modestly better than the B.C. Liberals. That was not the promise. It wasn’t even close to the promise. In fact, we heard…. The people sitting at those tables negotiating with us pled with us and told us that they would do much, much better than the crew that the members on the government side of the House now, the comfort of being in those seats for seven years now, continue to compare themselves to — a government almost a generation ago.

For the first three years of this government’s time in office, we heard about making life more affordable. Everything had the tag line of making life more affordable. You go back and take a look at it; we must have heard that a million times — making life more affordable. That’s gone from the rhetoric now, post-2020. No more conversation about making life more affordable.

So it’s a little challenging, frankly, to hear a government that’s been in power now for seven years that has had the opportunity to actually put in place policy that could move us. If the goal was to get us to elimination, then we wouldn’t be seeing ten-year targets that get us to not eliminating poverty, partway there. That’s even the ten-year goal.

As my colleague mentioned before, the budget doesn’t indicate, over the next three years, poverty elimination. It indicates less money being invested, slight and modest increases for people with disabilities, but other than that, it shows a decrease in the amount that this ministry is going to get in order to actually deal with the reduction or, if this is the way that the government wants to paint it, the elimination of poverty.

The goal is not for this government to do that. Otherwise, we would be happy to see the letterhead change and the mandate of this minister change. We’d love to see the ten-year targets change to indicate that that is the goal — elimination. If it is going to take 20 years to do it, then let’s set those targets. But it’s rich for this government to come in and suggest, and to have members stand up here and suggest, that the poverty reduction plan is also a poverty elimination plan when it’s far from that.

The member also mentioned the accessibility, the member who spoke before me. I had an incredibly ill constituent — incredibly ill; doctors were working to try to find the source of the illness — locked at home, trying to navigate a health care system that was, basically, breaking apart underneath them.

Do you know what that constituent was met with?

[4:55 p.m.]

That constituent was met with the most intrusive response from government, needing access to bank accounts to monitor the amount of money that was going in and out, and supports that were far less than what it would cost them to live.

So when the member stands here and pretends like somehow this government has become less intrusive, the fact of the matter is the intense pressure that was placed on that constituent added a level of stress at a time when their illness was already high.

I will not sit here and listen to this government pretend, create an illusion that somehow the accessibility is being improved. As my colleague points out, the wheel of pain, basically, for people as they’re trying to navigate programs and services and understand all of the programs and services that should be there to support them. Standing in here and creating an illusion that somehow it’s improving. People in the depths of an illness that they have no idea what it is, already fearful for their lives, handing over their bank accounts so that somebody in a ministry, one of the people that the minister has delegated their power to, can monitor their bank accounts to ensure that they’re not cheating and deceiving the government. That’s the system that we have–– desperate people having to prove themselves to a government that they really are incredibly sick.

You know, it’s important that as we hear this government compare themselves to the clearly awful policies that came in the 2000s from the former government, this B.C. NDP government should not be judged based on how modestly better they were than those terrible decisions. They need to be judged based on their own actions and the promise of a social democratic government to actually support people. Do not monitor them, watch over them, create these mazes of bureaucracy for people who are already in an incredibly challenging situation to navigate, to prove themselves, to prove their worth. That’s not the promise.

I sat and I watched and I listened to the B.C. NDP members when they were on this side of the House. That wasn’t the promise. That wasn’t the information that I used when I sat there in those negotiations that got this government to this position that they’re in now with their comfortable majority. Far cry from the questions that they were asking and the demands that they were making of the government before them.

So as we see this government bring forward these modest changes and actually bring them forward as if they’re making a remarkable and substantive impact, I grew up watching and seeing what intergenerational poverty does. I saw it firsthand. And as my colleague mentioned with respect to the basic income report that came in, the basic income report didn’t say, “Make a basic income for everybody,” but it did say: “Make a basic income for three specific groups.” This government has failed to deliver on those areas, and there are tragic consequences of those decisions. Children leaving care, absolutely no resources. Women fleeing abusive relationships.

The reality of that is not supporting those folks. If those women have children, we know what the likely outcome for those kids is going to be, right? A call to the Ministry of Children and Family Development. That’s what that’s going to be. Because those women might not have the resources to support their kids. So what else, what other options are left for us? We must call them. We must get them in a better position, and then they’ll become the kids that are leaving care. People with a disability. It did say create a basic income for those demographics and those groups.

[5:00 p.m.]

A government that is truly on the path to the elimination of poverty would have done that. Not a government that’s looking at the cost-effectiveness of basic income overall, but a government that is looking at the elimination of poverty would have looked at these demographics, would have taken the recommendations and would have implemented them.

But we know that this government does the reports, it does the investigation and then ignores them. There’s a bunch of us in here that have made recommendations to this government only to watch them fritter time away and not listen to them.

I’ve seen what the impact of institutionalized poverty has. It’s devastating. I’ve seen what happens when people don’t have housing. It’s horrifying.

I’ve seen what happens when we don’t look at these situations with a systems’ mindset and an understanding that the lack of support in the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction usually ends up in an increased caseload for the Ministry of Children and Family Development, feeding into the next generation of the spiral downward. The trap my colleague talked about.

I went into a family event…. Actually, I’m going to say this — 13 percent child poverty in British Columbia, 31 percent in First Nations.

And we wonder why those statistics are so much higher in all of the other times that those families and those children interface with this government, right? Interfacing with the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General. Interfacing with the Attorney General’s ministry. Interfacing with the Ministry of Children and Family Development. Interfacing with the Ministry of Education. Interfacing with the Ministry of Health. All of the statistics dramatically worse for Indigenous people.

If we’re not going to, as a government, do everything we can to provide First Nations the revenues that they need, the source of revenue that they need, without the government watchers holding and controlling them either, we’re not going to get that poverty rate up. We’re not going to address it.
That’s the trap. We can see the trap in our own communities. It’s terrifying. It’s horrifying. It’s intergenerational. It’s incredibly sad. We have good people in our communities that are fighting to make it better.

And yet, what do we have? We have a government that continues to hold on to all the revenues, not providing the opportunities that a government…. We call them Indigenous governing bodies. We don’t treat them like governing bodies, do we?

We don’t give them access to the revenues that they need. We collect a ton of revenue from their territories, put it in general revenue: property transfer taxes, natural resource taxes. We collect billions and billions of dollars from Indigenous peoples in Indigenous territories right across this province, and yet 31 per cent child poverty in First Nations. More than double the child poverty rate everywhere else in our province.

We can’t go back ten years and say: “Oh, that’s a result of ten years ago.”

[5:05 p.m.]

Yeah, okay, the former B.C. Liberals, the big bad B.C. Liberals. They probably had a lot to do with that. But what about the B.C. NDP government of the 1990s? What about them? What did they do, if we want to turn this into sort of, “We’re just better than they are, modestly”?

It doesn’t help this conversation at all to just continue to knock the ball back and forth, especially when the same kind of governing decisions are being produced. We’re not talking about structural change. We’re not providing the actual resources to deal with the 31 percent child poverty. We’re not actually doing that in this House. We could barely even have a conversation in here about the land question without it turning into an absolute nightmare.

The access that people have to the programs and services to help them actually out of poverty are a complex maze. When we take a look at this bill, and we see the targets that are set, fine, we’re setting new targets. We’re not addressing the actual supports that people need in order to be in a better position tomorrow. The budget paints that picture for us clearly.

We have people with a disability in this province living $10,000 or more below the poverty line. Yet what we hear is: “Well, we increased the rates.” Sure. Okay. If what you need is for me to celebrate you increasing the rates, great. Excellent. Thank you so much.

Except the problem is that people are still $10,000 below the poverty line, when the basic income report said that people with a disability should get a basic income, not a modest increase. The government didn’t want to do a basic income for everybody, but it was very specific. I actually lament the fact that the party that was sitting at the table with us, promising to make remarkable change, is now sitting alone over in government with the majority, consigning themselves to being okay to defend modest change, change far from good enough for people living $10,000 below the poverty line. Those are the supports that we’re offering.

When I was at the missing and murdered Indigenous women’s march in the Downtown East Side a few weeks back, one thing became very clear to me. The number of our seniors that are living in the Downtown East Side is shameful. We know the supports for seniors, the Safer program, are far below. Seniors can’t retire, because they can’t afford to retire.

Is modest enough, from a government that frames itself as a social democratic government? No, it’s not good enough. Is it something? Yes, it’s something. But it’s far from good enough.



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