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We can’t eliminate child poverty if the parents are poor: Elizabeth May

By Roderick Benns

Canada’s three main parties pledged in 1989 to end child poverty before the year 2000, a failed promise that today many are lamenting. But federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May says the answer is not to focus on children, but poor people overall.

“We can’t eliminate child poverty if the parents are poor.”

Among the various ways of ensuring a basic income guarantee, the Green Party of Canada believes the best policy is a negative income tax, or Guaranteed Livable Income.

In an interview with Leaders and Legacies, May points out the Green Party platform calls for this approach, which could “eliminate poverty and allow social services to concentrate on problems of mental health and addiction.”

The Green platform would provide a regular payment to every Canadian without regard to a needs test, with the level of the payment “regionally set at a level above poverty, but at a bare subsistence level to encourage additional income generation.”

“We believe that we’ll need to have negotiations, federally and provincially, and that many other programs can then be wrapped up. We’ll no longer need all the various types of welfare programs” that all provinces have in varying degrees, she says.

May says her party believes that no one should be taxed on income until they (as an individual) earn more than $20,000.

As for paying for such a program, May says the Green platform declares that eliminating poverty while supporting healthy communities “will pay for itself in reduced health care costs, as poverty is the single largest determinant of ill health.”

A reduction in crime would also see great savings, according to the Green’s policy planks.

May believes the best strategy for seeing some form of guaranteed liveable income is for more public awareness by taking the time to have conversations across the country.

“It’s become too acceptable to shrug it off. It will be more supported if people found out why it works and why it makes sense for the economy.”

May says she is “grateful” that retired Conservative Senator Hugh Segal is talking about this, which helps illustrate that a guaranteed income is not just policy for the ‘left.’

“I think it’s important for it to be considered good policy across the country,” says May, regardless of political affiliation.

When May reflects on the Green’s poverty policy seminar in 2007, she recalls connecting with some of the original researchers who worked on the Dauphin, Manitoba guaranteed annual income experiment.

In Dauphin, from 1974 to 1979, the federal and provincial governments provided money to every person and family in Dauphin who were below the poverty line. For a family of five, payments equalled about $18,000 a year in today’s dollars.

Years later, Evelyn Forget, a professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences at the University of Manitoba, took a second look at those results. She found there was only a slight decline in work – mostly among mothers, who made the choice to stay home with their children longer. She also found that young people chose to stay in school longer.

“It was clear that people seized the opportunity to go back to school and improve their skills,” says May of the research.

“The evidence was quite reassuring,” and the fear that people “would just become permanently unemployed” ended up being unfounded.

“It just didn’t happen. People saw it as an opportunity to improve their education and get ahead. It wasn’t shame-based – it was simply a very good approach to improving the health of a society,” says May.

May says any approach that raises awareness on a consistent basis should be welcome. That could be pilot projects, conversations in parliament, and conversations through the media.

“I think this is something that requires federal-provincial collaboration. So many of the programs that put Band-Aids on poverty cost this nation a lot at both levels. We’d be much better off to have a national strategy.”

Leaders and Legacies will conduct an ongoing campaign for the elimination of poverty in Canada, through this news program. From interviewing well-known Canadians, to researchers, to community support workers, to average people across the country, we will work tirelessly for a more equitable Canada through advocacy, policy change, and the power of stories. 

If you are an organization and would like to speak to us about funding or participating in this campaign, contact us here. If you are an individual and can support our campaign, please use the PayPal button on the front page of this news site. 




  1. I can speak from experience. I was a single mother living in oppression. Through no fault of my own. But there I was. I agree completely with all that was said in the above article. You can address child poverty yes but that child still has to go home to poor parents living in oppression. I had been a stay at home mom raising my children when I found myself on my own. I desperately needed a job but no skills. I desperately needed to go back to college. But without the means. I was expected to do all this but had no way to do it. My days were spent wondering where my next loaf of bread was coming from. Where my next roll of toilet paper was coming from. Do you know how hard it is to have a positive outlook and be able to get out there to take steps to improve your life when you don’t even have the basic life necessities They give no hope. I often said “how can someone focus on improving life through job searching or schooling etc when there is no food, toilet paper, shampoo , the basic needs at home for your children”??? So what is said in this article are things I myself have thought about. I don’t believe everything should be a hand out but I was never given enough to live well enough to be able to stop worrying and to focus on education and to take steps to improve my situation. If parents/adults are able to have what is needed for their family then they can get their GED’s, go to college, buy the clothes needed for that job, feel like they are getting somewhere instead of going deeper into oppression. Makes a big difference knowing the home and children are ok. Then you are free to actually (even if mandatory) get knew skills, go back to college, get that GED, instead of being made to feel like you and your children don’t matter. That you are worthless and a burden to society. Do you know how many would love to have opportunity???? In the long run it would save money for the country. In many different ways. By the way I did go back to college . Graduated with honors . Have a diploma that says Medical Office Assistant. Actually still own the government for the osap I got in order to do it. Funny though. Didn’t get hired because I didn’t fit the image. But I am working. Supporting myself. You would find if people living in poverty didn’t have to worry daily about the next loaf of bread they surely would be delighted to do whatever it takes to improve life without having to worry constantly. Oppression destroys in all ways.

  2. Roderick Benns

    Hi Kathy,

    Thank you for sharing from your own experience. We believe that people sharing their stories will help bring about the kind of change we wish to see in Canadian society. By encouraging more people to speak out, we will be able to demonstrate the need for progress and the need for more thoughtful policies to be put in place.

  3. A guaranteed basic income is the only way to go if we are really serious dealing with poverty. Not only would it give people the stable economic plank they need to finally get ahead, but by cutting on the many welfare programs and uniting them under one umbrella it would definitely ease the public purse.
    The argument that such a basic income would incite people to do nothing, be lazy and live on it is nonsense. On the opposite, give people the chance to better themselves and the next thing you know, you’ve got a vibrant society.

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