A Tale of Two Cities: Edmonton & Toronto Launch Bold Poverty Reduction Strategies

Submitted by Paul Born on January 16, 2016 - 9:45am

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, and it was the age of wisdom... we had everythingbefore us, we had nothing before us..." These are the words that open Charles Dickens' epic novel A Tale of Two Cities.  These words also appropriately describe the vision and the pain surrounding the issue of poverty within the cities of Edmonton and Toronto in 2016.

The vision and hope now in cities right across Canada represent the "best of times." The challenge of poverty is being tackled head on through engagement and community planning, and collective impact strategies are being developed to significantly reduce poverty in a growing number of Canadian cities.

People living in poverty represent the "worst of times" with thousands not having the means to live well, and far too many homeless and insecure.

What is particularly hopeful is that mayors are making poverty reduction a priority and many have included this commitment in their bid for election. Mayor Don Iveson and Mayor John Tory are two of Canada's most important and visionary mayors, and both have launched poverty reduction strategies in the first year of their mandates.

The Story of Edmonton

One in 8 Edmontonians live in poverty. Many of them are children and youth, Aboriginal people, the working poor, newcomers, women, and persons with disabilities.

In March 2014, Mayor Don Iveson invited 21 community leaders to be a part of a Task Force with an ambitious goal: to end poverty in Edmonton within a generation. The City of Edmonton is supporting the Mayor's Task Force, its related roundtables and working groups; and, through the development of a 10-year action plan, is ensuring that all Edmontonians achieve their full potential. On September 18, the Task Force unveiled their ambitious strategy. The community will now be consulted and their responses incorporated into a full-fledged governance and implementation plan next Spring. 

Edmonton's Poverty Reduction Theory of Change

Paint the picture. Set the goals. Kick start a movement.

Edmonton's poverty elimination strategy has 28 priorities under 5 primary pillars. They are:

  • Toward True Reconciliation
  • Justice for All
  • Move People out of Poverty
  • Invest in a Poverty-Free Future
  • Change the Conversation: Build a Movement to End Poverty


  • An accessible Aboriginal culture and wellness centre that provides a one-stop shop of wrap-around services
  • People-first and trauma-informed policy and practice
  • Implementation of a community witness program, keeping history based on oral traditions and maintaining relationships face-to-face
  • Eliminating racism
  • Decriminalizing poverty – changing local policy and by-laws that keep those in poverty in a perpetual cycle
  • Building sustainable livelihoods and assets
  • Advocacy to the provincial government to support culturally relevant curricula and school-based wrapped services

Six Game Changers

After a deliberate and intensive research process, six game changers were chosen for inclusion in the Edmonton strategy. The game changers are those areas that will have the most realizable impact in addressing poverty in Edmonton:

  • Eliminate Racism
  • Livable incomes
  • Affordable Housing
  • Accessible & affordable transit
  • Affordable & quality child care
  • Access to mental health services

Read more about these game changers in the full End Poverty Edmonton strategy.

The Story of Toronto

Between October 2014 and September 2015, staff in Social Development, Finance and Administration, and Toronto Employment and Social Services worked with a community advisory committee, resident animators with lived experience of poverty, United Way Toronto & York Region, and a variety of community groups to engage over 1,950 residents from across the City. This engagement took place through: 

  • 11 city-wide public meetings
  • 117 community-led conversations
  • 1 full-day multi-sector dialogue
  • 4 roundtable discussions with sector experts
  • 2 online questionnaires for residents

In September 2015, as per Council direction, the Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy was considered at 11 Standing Committees, Budget Committee and the Boards of the Toronto Public Library, Toronto Public Health, and the Toronto Transit Commission. An additional 117 residents shared their thoughts and experiences through this process.

Toronto's Poverty-Reduction Vision

By 2035, Toronto is a city with opportunities for all: a leader in the collective pursuit of justice, fairness and equity. We want to be renowned as a city where everyone has access to good jobs, adequate income, stable housing, affordable transportation, nutritious food, and supportive services."

Three Overarching Objectives

Toronto's Strategy sets out three overarching objectives focused on the effects, trajectories, and causes of poverty, namely:

  • Address Immediate Needs: Ensure that essential services are effective, well-funded, coordinated, and meet the needs of those living in poverty.
  • Create Pathways to Prosperity: Improve the quality of jobs in the City, attract investments to low income areas, and ensure that City programs and services are integrated, client-centered, and focused on early intervention.
  • Drive Systemic Change: Create a more accountable and participatory government, where reducing poverty and inequality is an integral part of day-to-day business.

Six Issue Areas

Toronto's Poverty Reduction Strategy is focused on the following six issue areas:

  • Housing Stability: The City needs more quality affordable housing so that individuals and families with low incomes do not need to sacrifice basic needs to live in decent conditions.
  • Service Access: Not all residents find the services they need when they need them; the City can do more to make services available and effective.
  • Transit Equity: Public transit needs to be affordable and reliable; it needs to take residents to opportunities and bring opportunities to neighbourhoods.
  • Food Access: Torontonians, especially in many low-income communities, need better access to affordable, nutritious food.
  • Quality Jobs and Livable Wages: Toronto cannot achieve its vision of being an equitable and inclusive city while so many residents are unable to find quality jobs.
  • Systemic Change: Mobilizing an entire city to reduce and ultimately end poverty will take new ways of thinking and new ways of working.


TO Prosperity contains 17 recommendations. Each recommendation is linked to a set of actions to be carried out over a four-year period. Combined, these recommendations and actions comprise the 2015-2018 Term Action Plan.  This Plan reflects key concerns and issues prioritized by Toronto residents during a broad engagement process, as well as knowledge of best practices to address poverty in Toronto and other jurisdictions. Recognizing that priorities, knowledge, and economic landscapes constantly evolve, the City will evaluate and revise the Action Plan every four years.

Annual work plans will identify key City initiatives to address poverty and deliverables expected in the short-term. An annual progress report and a revised work plan will be brought to City Council for consideration each year.

Access Toronto's Poverty Reduction Strategy.


Dickens ends A Tale of Two Cities with these words: "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done... "  Mayors and cities are living examples of this sentiment – as Edmonton and Toronto are demonstrating – to commit to building, implementing and mobilizing bold poverty reduction strategies.

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