Poverty Strategies and Provincial Policies

Resource: Audio Seminar | Speaker: Sherri Torjman
Sherri Torjman

In this podcast, Liz Weaver interviews Sherri Torjman about her perspectives on the substantive elements and process highlights of the various provincial and territorial poverty-reduction strategies and the important roles that communities can play in advancing and monitoring them.

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Take the Seminar!

In the final call of the Provincial Poverty Reduction Strategies Series, Sherri Torjman, Vice President, Caledon Institute of Social Policy provides perspectives on the substantive elements and process highlights of provincial and territorial strategies. She explores the important roles that communities can continue to play in advancing and monitoring provincial and territorial strategies.

Learning Objectives:

  • To profile provincial and territorial poverty reduction strategies and progress made
  • To understand the role and relevance of place in each of the strategies
  • To determine the key elements of the strategies and progress that is being made as a result of the focus on poverty reduction
  • To determine the relevance and importance of community engagement in the development and delivery of the strategies

Access Podcast Highlights:

Context and Overview

Sherri began by summarizing some positive events in recent years that have affected poverty:

  • Introduction of national child benefit in 1998
  • Agreements between the federal government and provincial and territorial governments on early childhood development and child care
  • Working income tax benefit

However, she noted, there have also been setbacks, including:

  • Dismantling of child care agreements
  • Tightening of employment insurance eligibility requirements

While the poverty rate has gone up and down with the economy, it remains high, so formal strategies were a welcome way to address it.

Quebec was the first province in Canada to bring in legislation and a strategy to combat poverty. Sherri suggested that several elements in the Quebec strategy set the stage for the ones that followed, The Quebec strategy:

  • Considered poverty and social exclusion together
  • Looked at both the rate and the depth of poverty
  • Took place at the highest level of government
  • Included legislation, meaning that future governments were bound by it
  • Included long term plans, e.g. five year renewable plans in Quebec’s case
  • Included wide-ranging measures in many sectors
  • Included coordination mechanisms
  • Included a commitment to regular reporting

In this clip, Sherri describes the elements of the Quebec strategy and what followed, that is, which provinces and territories introduced their own strategies.

 

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Core Elements

Sherri pointed out that discussions on welfare reform were well underway by the 1980s and that many of the elements that now appear in poverty reduction strategies had their roots then. However, as many low income people are working or on disability or other supports beyond welfare, poverty reduction strategies must and have moved far beyond welfare reform.

Sherri outlined policy areas that are necessary in any poverty strategy:

  • Breaking down “the welfare wall “
  • Making work pay
  • Supports for those who cannot work
  • Investing in essential supports beyond health or income, for example, housing or transportation
  • Prevention, including intervening on root causes of poverty like education and literacy
  • Supports for special populations, such as newcomers or aboriginal Canadians.
  • Support for community work

Here Sherri explains “the welfare wall” and how strategies must interact with employment, benefit and tax systems to break down the wall and spread benefits to a broader population.

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Content Highlights

One of the most valuable aspects of having many provincial and territorial strategies, Sherri suggested, is that there is now a way for different jurisdictions to learn from each other.
Having a body of practice and many policy precedents across the country is very helpful when you want to make something happen - you can point to and learn from the experience of your colleagues. Sherri suggested that the best parts of strategies from across the country, taken as a package, would be a really wonderful set of measures for a strategy.

Here, Sherri describes examples from different jurisdictions of initiatives related to child benefits and “making work pay”.

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Process Highlights

Sherri pointed out that every province and territory that brought in a strategy engaged in some kind of consultation, although methods and strategies for outreach varied highly. She highlighted New Brunswick, who moved beyond consultation to engaging citizens in formulating options, selecting them, and then governing the process. The process was so successful that New Brunswick now has a Minister responsible for Public Engagement. Provinces and territories also varied widely in their approach to to legislation, targets, coordination, and reporting periods.

Here, Sherri describes in detail how different provinces and territories approached the factors above:

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Roles for Communities

Most of the strategies explicitly deal with social inclusion as well as income poverty. Sherri pointed out governments can’t do social inclusion alone, but need communities to help achieve the vision. She suggested that communities play essential roles in the success of poverty reduction strategies by:

  • Raising the public’s awareness and understanding of poverty and poverty reduction efforts
  • Monitoring and following up on announcements to ensure that promises are kept and that the new initiatives have the intended results
  • Policy Development - helping to develop and test the options

In this clip, Sherri relates how a mother’s story about the negative effects of the student loan system on a family’s welfare income, told to the Ontario minister at a community event, resulted in changes to rules that were referenced in Ontario’s poverty reduction strategy.

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GOING DEEPER

Reflection Questions

1.    Do you agree with the core elements that Sherri says should be in a poverty policy? Would you add any others?
2.    Do governmental poverty reduction strategies in the area where you live contain some of the elements that Sherri highlighted as exemplary? Which ones?
3.    Do you agree with the roles that Sherri says communities should play in provincial or territorial poverty reduction strategies? Would you add any other roles?

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Links & Resources

Poverty Policy - This paper from the Caledon Institute discusses ten major policy areas that comprise the core of a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy. Access the paper here.
Welfare in Canada: The Tangled Safety Net - This 1987 report from the National Council on Welfare is a comprehensive national analysis of social assistance programs operated by the provincial, territorial and municipal governments with financial assistance from Ottawa. These programs function as the safety net for Canadians and are better known by their everyday name ‘welfare’. Access the paper here.
The Welfare Wall: The Interaction of the Welfare and Tax Systems and The Welfare Wall: Reforming the Welfare and Tax Systems - These 1993 reports summarize the findings of a study conducted by the Caledon Institute of Social Policy for the Ontario Tax Commission on the interaction of the welfare system and the federal and Ontario tax/transfer systems. They are not available online, but you may contact the Caledon Institute to obtain them.
Community Roles in Policy - This Caledon paper discusses place-based interventions and their unique contribution to tackling complex issues, such as poverty.
Collaboration on Policy – This manual describes the initial lessons learned by the Government Collaboration on Policy, a community of practice that operated from March 2008 to March 2009. The Collaboration on Policy manual is also available in French here.
Provincial Policy Updates - The Caledon Institute publishes monthly summaries of provincial and territorial policy developments on its Special Projects page, under Community-Government Collaboration on Policy.

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Meet Sherri Torjman

Sherri Torjman is Vice-President of the Caledon Institute of Social Policy. She has written in the areas of welfare reform, customized training, disability income and supports, the social dimension of sustainable development and community-based poverty reduction. Sherri is the author of the book Shared Space: The Communities Agenda. She has also written many Caledon reports including Reclaiming our Humanity; Strategies for a Caring Society; Proposal for National Personal Supports Fund; Survival-of-the-Fittest Employment Policy; The Social Dimension of Sustainable Development; The Key to Kyoto: Social Dimensions of Climate Change; The Social Role of Local Government; The Canada Pension Plan Disability Benefit; Reintegrating the Unemployed through Customized Training; and How Finance Re-formed Social Policy.

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