BY BILL PHILLIPS
How can the province reduce poverty?
It’s a simply question with a complex answer. Part of that answer was formed Saturday as about 60 people gathered at the Prince George Native Friendship Centre for one of a couple dozen meetings poverty reduction strategy meetings being held around the province.
Some of the attendees were there to tell their stories, others were there to listen, and all were there to suggest ways the province can develop a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy.
“One of the big things has been an understanding that (many societal issues) are all linked,” said co-chair Dawn Hemingway. “So you can’t really just say ‘we’re going to increase some rates and that’s the end of this.’ It’s not. It’s about doing an integrated kind of process that really changes the way people are allowed to grow up and contribute.”
Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction Shane Simpson created the Advisory Forum on Poverty Reduction in October with Hemingway serving as co-chair. Simpson was scheduled to attend Saturday’s meeting, however his flight was cancelled and he couldn’t make it.
The 27 people appointed to the minister’s Advisory Forum on Poverty Reduction bring a broad range of expertise to their roles, and will provide their insights and guidance to the minister as the Poverty Reduction Strategy is developed. The forum members represent multiple sectors, including poverty advocates, people with lived experience, Indigenous people, academics and experts, along with representatives of the labour and business communities.
Prince George was the 19th stop around the province for the committee, gathering input on poverty issues, which has been facilitated by the Social Planning and Research Council of British Columbia (SPARC BC).
“The question of doing a strategy, and this my view … we need to recognize that there is a basic human right to have the basic necessities of life,” Hemingway said. “And we have to recognize that it just isn’t financial. It’s not just about money. It’s about the way we raise people in our society and that they have the breath of things we need to contribute to society.”
Having a poverty reduction strategy isn’t the be-all, end-all of ending poverty, Hemingway said, but rather it’s the beginning of the province saying it is serious about tackling the issue of poverty.
After formulating a poverty reduction strategy, she said, is to actually implement poverty reduction strategy recommendations.
And the benefits are economic, she said.
“It will cost a bit up front,” she said. “But in the end it will really make a difference and it’s going to be far more beneficial economically.”
Poverty increases the cost of health care, judicial issues and others, she said, so dealing with poverty will reduce costs overall.
The advisory forum:
- Identifying causes of poverty and innovative approaches to poverty reduction;
- Recommending priority actions and principles for the Poverty Reduction Strategy that governments and all sectors of society can collectively work on and support;
- Discussing ideas for poverty reduction generated through the consultation and engagement process;
- Offering expertise and advice on how best to implement the Poverty Reduction Strategy in the context of other government priorities;
- Working within communities to encourage full participation in the Poverty Reduction Strategy; and
- Providing advice on legislation, including targets and timelines.