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Broadbent says it is ‘laughable’ to think that poverty can’t be eliminated in a country as rich as Canada

By Roderick Benns

Calling poverty “a choice that we make,” Alan Broadbent called it laughable to say that a country as rich and privileged as Canada cannot choose to end poverty.

Broadbent, who co-founded and chairs the Caledon Institute of Social Policy and Tamarack Institute, was speaking at the National Poverty Reduction Summit, hosted by Tamarack and Vibrant Communities Canada.

Broadbent didn’t mince words in his remarks about poverty to a full house which had cross-Canada representation, calling it “an assault on human dignity.”

“Poverty is a choice that we make. It is constructed…by the voices we listen to, by the rights we choose to respect or ignore.”

But if poverty is something that we have built, he added, “then we can also tear it down.”

Broadbent is a believer in the poverty reduction tools already at Canada’s disposal, including the Canada Child Tax Benefit and the Working Income Tax Benefit. The problem, he says, is that they are all underfunded. He points out that the Child Tax Benefit should be funded at about $5700 per child, but it is currently funded at less than two thirds of where it should be. For the Working Income Tax Benefit, it is at less than 25 percent of where it needs to be in order to be effective.

“If we supported these programs well…poverty would begin to crumble,” he says. “It is laughable” in a rich country like Canada to think we can’t eliminate poverty if we really wanted to do so, he adds.

Conversely, Broadbent thinks the Universal Child Tax Benefit is terrible policy. “This policy fails because it is not connected to need. It is neither refundable, nor indexed to inflation. Badly designed programs are a waste of money.”

He notes that in two areas where Canada used to be a leader – public transit and affordable housing – we have let these important social justice issues slide.

There is room for optimism, though, he says, when he considers the great work that has been done by Senators Art Eggleton and Hugh Segal and their two-year, cross-Canada report called In From the Margins: A Call to Action on Poverty, Housing and Homelessness.

Pointing out this report squarely brought poverty issues to the front burner of Canadian policy again, Broadbent says now it’s time to “get the big things right.”

And while he believes that the best course of action is to focus on the “doable things” with “relentless incrementalism,” such as topping up existing benefits that already work well for families, Broadbent says people in the battle against poverty shouldn’t be fighting with one another.

For instance, Broadbent says he is “not going to fight with the people who believe we need a guaranteed annual income.”

“The common ground is making work pay.”

He says it’s important for mayors to speak up across Canada since they have a great pulpit to share their views. He also said it’s important for groups to share data and knowledge with one another.

“Let’s help each other succeed.”

— More stories to come from the National Poverty Reduction Summit tomorrow.

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