Addressing child poverty issues

Recently the First Call organization released the annual report card on child poverty.

Recently the First Call organization released the annual report card on child poverty.

This is a very important subject and as I have done in previous years, I believe it is important to look at these reports in greater detail.  From a historical perspective, from 1976 up until approximately 1984, child poverty rates in British Columbia were below the Canadian national average, unfortunately since the early 80’s B.C. has largely had a much poorer record.

Even those years when B.C. dropped below the Canadian average, our provincial child poverty rates were still unacceptably high.  In the most recent year of reporting, 2010, the BC child poverty rating is estimated in the First Call report at 14.3 per cent (before tax) again above the National average of 13.7 per cent.

From a provincial perspective, Manitoba has the highest rates in Canada at 17.6 per cent while Quebec and Ontario have rates that are basically the same as in British Columbia.

The more important consideration is what actions are being taken in order to help lower child poverty rates.

Over the past five years British Columbia has introduced a number of initiatives intended to assist lower income families.

The B.C. rental assistance program, all day kindergarten, fair pharmacare, increased affordable housing as well as increased daycare spaces and an increased minimum wage have all been aimed at assisting those families most in need.

By the numbers the rental assistance program now benefits close to 30,000 families and there are now 18,000 new affordable housing units constructed province wide with a further 4,000 units still underway.

In terms of daycare there are now approximately 100,000 licensed spaces that are funded and for working families B.C. now has the lowest personal income tax rates in all of Canada.

More recently the minimum wage was raised and the recent B.C. jobs program has been successful in helping to ensure that British Columbia is a leading province in Canada in the creation of new jobs, in fact over 56,000 new jobs have been added to the BC economy since February of 2011.

For taxpayers it is also important to recognize that these programs represent significant investments of tax dollars.

As a result it is also important to review what progress or lack of progress is being made with respect to reducing childhood poverty not just in British Columbia, but all across Canada.

Looking over B.C. childhood poverty rates over the past five years and over the past 25 years provides a context that can be helpful to see what direction our province is headed.

In this case, our current child poverty rates in B.C., although certainly deserving of further reduction, are currently at the second lowest level recorded since 1980, and have dropped 45 per cent since 2003.

Fortunately the Canadian child poverty rate has also been in decline and while both B.C. and Canada are showing lower child poverty rates we must also continue to build on programs that can benefit those most in need.

Before I close this week’s report it also needs to be pointed out that increasing spending and adding programs is in itself not a complicated task.

However finding the tax dollars to pay for increased spending is a challenge and more so given that citizens have made it clear that increased taxation is something a majority of citizens will oppose.

Ultimately as personal income taxes, sales taxes and MSP premiums combined no longer cover just the healthcare budget, other sources of revenue will need to be identified.  The resource sector is currently one of British Columbia’s greatest assets in the ability to promote job creation and also to increase government revenues.

Increasingly there are citizens who campaign against resource development in British Columbia and often they are one and the same who also advocate for increased government spending.

If we are to sustainably increase government spending then we must also be willing to either accept increased taxation or support more revenue generating projects that can be found in the  resource sector.

Bill Barisoff is the MLA for riding of Penticton.