Last evening marked the launch of the All-Party Anti-Poverty Caucus. Senator Art Eggleton hosted a reception on Parliament Hill to make the announcement. The newly-formed Caucus will include Senators and Members of Parliament from all political parties.
While the terms of reference of this Anti-Poverty Caucus are not yet set, the scope of the work potentially could be very broad. It might consider certain groups, such as aboriginal Canadians who experience disproportionately high rates of poverty and whose living conditions in many parts of the country are nothing short of shameful.
The Caucus might explore the impact of growing inequality. In fact, Liberal MP Scott Brison introduced a motion on April 25, 2012, that would require the House of Commons Finance Committee to study income inequality. The work would include but not be limited to:
- a review of Canada’s federal and provincial systems of personal income taxation and income supports
- an examination of best practices that reduce income inequality and improve GDP per capita
- the identification of significant gaps in the federal system of taxation and income support that contribute to income inequality as well as any significant disincentives to paid work in the formal economy that may exist as part of a “welfare trap”
- recommendations on how best to improve the equality of opportunity and prosperity for all Canadians.
Affordable housing is a third issue that the Anti-Poverty Caucus might tackle. This area is particularly significant because stable, decent housing provides the basis for healthy childhood development and the foundation for a good quality of life. It would be especially important because of the pending expiry of several major housing agreements.
In July 2011, the federal, provincial and territorial ministers responsible for housing announced a $1.4 billion Affordable Housing Framework 2011-2014. The investment was intended to reduce the number of Canadians in housing need.
The Framework recognizes the importance of supporting a range of affordable housing solutions. These include new construction, renovation, homeownership assistance, rent supplements, shelter allowances and accommodation for victims of family violence.
The Framework also acknowledges that provinces and territories have primary responsibility for the design and delivery of affordable housing. Each jurisdiction worked toward a bilateral agreement with Ottawa, which matched federal funding with provincial/territorial and other contributions.
But a double whammy threatens to hit affordable housing. In addition to the pending expiry of the Affordable Housing Framework is the imminent demise of long-term operating agreements. These subsidies were established by the federal government from the 1950s to the early 1990s. They were meant to pay the debt on social housing mortgages and to assist with operating deficits, covering the difference between rents paid by low-income households and operating expenses. The agreements were struck for periods of 25 to 50 years.
These agreements have started to expire, siphoning an estimated $2 billion a year from affordable housing buildings and units. The funds have not been replaced, despite continued high rates of poverty and homelessness in the country.
Fortunately, the All-Party Anti-Poverty Caucus will be in place in the fall to address these issues. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of issues for it to address.
UPDATE: Subsequent to the posting of this blog, Liberal MP Scott Brison's motion for a new Finance Committee study on income inequality passed in the House of Commons with bipartisan support.