Why is the Minister failing to cover costs of basic grave markers for low-income British Columbians?

Mar 5, 2024 | 42-5, Blog, Governance, Legislature, Question Period, Video

While the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction pays the funeral cost of the lowest income British Columbians, they will not pay for a basic grave marker.

It makes little sense. For more than a year the Ministry has defended the indefensible that they are burying people in unmarked graves. It is inexplicable. How can the Minister justify this decision?



A. Olsen:

Our former social democratic government here claims to look after the most vulnerable people in British Columbia, but their actions fail to meet their rhetoric on almost every…. That includes this bill, actually, that we’re just going through, the one that was just tabled today. Clause-by-clause debate on that bill is going to be interesting.

When a person’s estate and their next of kin can’t afford their funeral, the Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction pays for basic funeral services, but they won’t pay for a grave marker. So this government is burying people in unmarked graves. The cost to the minister is about $850 each, or $3.3 million a year. That’s about 0.004 percent of our $89 billion budget.

Why has this minister failed the most vulnerable people in our society so miserably?

To the Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, why did she fail to secure the funds to provide our lowest-income citizens the dignity of a basic grave marker?

Hon. S. Malcolmson:

All people deserve dignity in death. In the cases when people cannot afford it, then our ministry does pay for the necessary funeral costs. That includes costs of cremation and burial, the services of a funeral home, maybe a small service for the family to mourn. Families and loved ones can choose the funeral home of their choice.

Funeral homes take great care with recordkeeping to treat people’s remains respectfully. Families are able to choose a burial for their loved one, the form of it, and there’s a plot chosen, and families can go to visit their departed family members and to pay their respects.

I have been meeting with the B.C. Funeral Association. I understand their concern about costs, given global inflation. They haven’t raised the grave markers question, but we’ll continue to meet with the industry and to hear from people across the province around how we can best support families who are of low income at the most difficult time.

The Speaker:

House Leader, Third Party, supplemental.

A. Olsen:

This issue was canvassed with the government last year in budget estimates. I believe that there was a story in the Times Colonist about this. The funeral services organization has reached out to our constituency office to raise this issue. We’ve raised this issue with the minister in the weeks leading up to this spring session. We’ve had considerable back and forth with the minister’s staff.

It amounts to about a $3.3 million spend in an $89 billion budget, and the response was that the minister wasn’t able to convince the Finance Minister to be able to provide those funds for the most vulnerable, lowest-income residents in our society to have a basic grave marker.

As the minister said, all of the other costs are covered, and they’re outlined in the legislation. A simple change could allow for people to have, in perpetuity, a grave marker. But this government continues to make excuses. They made excuses last spring. They’re making excuses today, pretending like this is a new issue.

To the Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, why has this minister failed to provide the basic dignity of a basic grave marker to the lowest-income citizens in our society?

Hon. S. Malcolmson:

All people in British Columbia deserve a dignified burial. That is what our existing budget funds, with the funeral service providers taking great care that families are able to visit the grave of a loved one, the family having chosen the place, the funeral service and the decision about cremation versus burial.

We continue to work with the Funeral Association. We’re very grateful to the funeral service providers across British Columbia that continue to provide services to people who are low income at their very most difficult time. We continue to be in active conversation with them about the costs of the existing services, given the terribly increased cost of service provision because of global inflation.

This has not been on their list of wishes. There are other pieces that they have ahead of grave markers, but we continue to hear from people across the province about their priorities and how it is that they want us to invest and care for people at the most difficult time.


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