Newfoundland & Labrador’s Poverty Reduction Strategy

Resource Type: Audio Seminar | Speakers: Daniel Mason and Donna O'Brien

In this podcast, Eric Leviten-Reid speaks with Donna O’Brien and Daniel Mason about the significant progress made in Newfoundland and Labrador – both within government and in the community – in efforts to reduce poverty.

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In December 2009, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador (NL) released its first progress report on its poverty reduction strategy – Empowering People, Engaging Community, Enabling Success. The incidence, depth and persistence of poverty in Newfoundland and Labrador have seen significant decreases. In this seminar, Daniel Mason and Donna O’Brien share perspectives on the significant progress made within government and in the community.

Learning Objectives:

  • To learn about and begin to understand the provincial poverty reduction strategy in Newfoundland and Labrador
  • To learn what progress is being made on poverty reduction in the province
  • To understand the relevance and importance of community engagement in the strategy

Access Podcast Highlights:

How the Strategy Began

In 2005, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador committed to pursuing a poverty reduction strategy and launched the initiative in June, 2006. Their goal was that Newfoundland and Labrador would be the province with the least poverty in Canada by 2014. Donna explained that the approach was comprehensive, mindful of the special situations of aboriginal people and women in poverty, for example. The strategy involves many government departments and agencies and is overseen by about a dozen different ministries and ministers. Key principles include collaborating with community-based groups as well as a focus on long-term reduction of poverty.

In this clip, Donna explains that a goal of the strategy was to “break down the welfare wall”, so that initiatives would not turn into traps that kept people in poverty.


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Key Elements

There was an extensive consultation process with the community and across government that helped develop the poverty reduction strategy. The first action plan had five goals:

  • Progress towards improved access to and coordination of services for people with low income
  • Progress towards a stronger social safety net
  • Progress towards improved earned incomes
  • Progress towards an increased emphasis on early childhood development
  • Progress towards a better educated population

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Significant Results

After three years, in December 2009, the government released its first progress report. Results include:

  • The incidence of poverty decreased from 12.2 per cent in 2003 to 6.5 per cent in 2007
  • The depth of poverty or average low-income gap in NL decreased, and is now the lowest in Canada
  • The persistence of poverty, or percentage of the NL population that remained in poverty over a six year period, also decreased

In addition, caseloads for income support decreased substantially, and individual and family benefits increased by a cumulative average of 11.6 per cent. Over 4,000 former income support clients started new jobs between 2006 and 2008, partly because of financial incentives included in the strategy.

In this clip, Donna describes several initiatives that were part of the strategy, including the elimination of the provincial portion of income tax, an increase in the minimum wage, and the expansion of prescription drug benefits.

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Performance Indicators

Daniel explained they looked for indicators that would reflect the complex, comprehensive nature of poverty and that could help measure the five goals included in the plan. They settled on 15 indicators - some established, and some newly developed. They wanted a balance between measures that could be compared across Canada and internationally, and those that would be unique to Newfoundland and Labrador. They also wanted a balance between quantitative and qualitative measures. For example, they include a number of profiles and case studies in the progress report, as they are a good way to illustrate how initiatives affect individuals and families, which is difficult to track in any other way.

Here, Daniel explains why demographic data about poverty has limitations for a province with a smaller population like Newfoundland and Labrador. He talks about the benefits of a measure that is tailored to the province, for example, the Newfoundland and Labrador Market Basket Measure, or NLMBM.

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Changes in How Government Works

Daniel thinks that the new way of working across government departments was one of the most important parts of the strategy.

In this clip, he explains why he believes that past initiatives in other places have not been able to move the dial with respect to poverty reduction.

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Role of Community Engagement

The level of engagement with the community in this strategy has been noted by many within and outside Newfoundland and Labrador. Throughout the process the government has intentionally worked at maintaining partnerships and keeping the dialogue and feedback going - not just during the development of the plan. The community has embraced the opportunity; Donna explained that government is now invited to many tables where they weren’t welcome before.

The feedback has come in many forms: by invitation, but also through public events, open forums and written submissions. In places where response to events was small, they sought out individuals as well, to test awareness of the initiatives and seek guidance on what was going well and what needed attention.

In this clip, Donna explains that, despite the challenges of geography and logistics, both the public and the elected officials have appreciated the chance to hear first-hand from citizens.

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Next Steps

Donna and her team are starting to design the next action plan that will guide the strategy until 2014. Because of the level of engagement, she reports that they are learning every day. There have not been major adjustments to the plan since they began, but a changing landscape in Newfoundland and Labrador may mean that the next plan will be different.

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Reflection Questions

1.    Do you think one element of the strategy is more important than another? Could there have been different goals than the five key goals they choose?
2.    How important do you think community engagement was to the success of the strategy? What made the community engagement successful?
3.    If you live outside Newfoundland and Labrador, what differences do you observe between this poverty reduction strategy compared to governmental poverty reduction strategies in the area where you live?

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Links & Resources

Poverty Reduction in Newfoundland and Labrador - This page summarizes and provides links to the major elements and departments involved in the province’s poverty reduction strategy. You can download the 2006 plan: Reducing Poverty: an Action Plan for Newfoundland and Labrador or the 2009 progress report: Empowering People, Engaging Communities, Enabling Success.
Community Accounts – This website is an information system providing users at all levels with a reliable source of community, regional, and provincial data for Newfoundland and Labrador. The site contains the data and background for the NL market basket measure mentioned in the seminar.
Comprehensive Strategies for Deep Outcomes - This audio seminar explains how complex issues, like poverty, where factors are dynamic and inter-related, require comprehensive or ‘joined-up’ solutions.

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Meet the Speakers

Donna O’Brien is a registered social worker who has been working in the provincial public service for 20 years. She has held a number of senior management roles within the Provincial Government and was appointed as the Acting Director of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Poverty Reduction Strategy in January, 2010.

Daniel Mason is Senior Policy Analyst with the Poverty Reduction Strategy. He has also worked with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in Ottawa. With a background in Economics and Political Science, his areas of interest include econometric analysis and data visualization.

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