No plan to improve dismal poverty record

The Clark government believes reducing the number of unnecessary regulations is important.

The Clark government believes reducing the number of unnecessary regulations is important.

It doesn’t feel the same way about reducing child poverty.

That’s the obvious conclusion from the Liberals’ display of government priorities during the legislative session that wrapped up Thursday.

The Liberals introduced, debated and passed a new law — the Regulatory Reporting Act — that requires an annual report on the number of regulations added and removed during the year, and on initiatives to cut regulations.

Why? Because, Finance Minister Kevin Falcon told the legislature, it’s important — vital — for government “to be publicly accountable for progress or lack of progress” on reducing regulations. Only by measuring and reporting can the public be assured that progress is being made, he said.

But when it was reported that B.C. had the highest rate of child poverty in Canada for the eighth consecutive year, Premier Christy Clark rejected calls for a plan to address the problem, with targets, actions and a requirement for an annual report on “progress or lack of progress,” to use Falcon’s words.

Why no plan? Clark and the other ministers never offered a coherent reason.

Because there isn’t one.

The facts are clear. The annual national look at child poverty, released by First Call, an advocacy group, found that 12 per cent to 16.4 per cent of B.C. children were living in poverty in 2009. That’s the highest proportion of poor kids of any province, a dismal ranking B.C. has retained for eight years. (You can debate poverty measures, but the fact remains this province is the worst.)

So some 100,000 to 140,000 children are being raised in poverty, an increase of about 15 per cent from the previous year.

That’s bad for them; childhood poverty is linked to lifelong health issues, educational limitations, unemployment and a variety of other problems. And it’s bad for the province, since a large number of people will never make the contributions they could have.

Any competent manager — a title the Liberals like to claim — knows that progress starts with a plan. You set targets for improvements, develop action plans with expected outcomes, monitor and report on progress and make needed changes as you go.

Clark said the government doesn’t need a plan. It’s doing things like raising the minimum wage and providing housing supports and launching job strategies. Those will help reduce child poverty.

Maybe, though it’s an odd claim since the government has insisted for most of the last decade that raising the minimum wage wouldn’t reduce poverty.

But a bunch of random actions aren’t a plan. There’s no objective, even a modest one like moving B.C. from the worst in Canada to the seventh worst. There’s no estimate of the effect of any actions on reducing poverty.

And there’s no reporting or accountability. Reducing regulations, the government passed a law to make sure there would be real accountability there. Not for reducing the number of children living in poverty.

Children and Families Minister Mary McNeil says the government has “committed to working closely with municipalities” to develop regional poverty reduction plans. That might be useful, if it ever happens. But it should also be part of a provincial poverty plan, with targets and outcomes and public reporting on progress.

There’s nothing radical about the idea of developing a plan to reduce child poverty. Seven other provinces already have plans or are working on them. Alberta is expected to launch a plan. That would leave B.C. and Saskatchewan as the only provinces without a coherent plan to reduce child poverty.

The current approach isn’t working, despite some reductions in the number of poor children in recent years. If it was, B.C. wouldn’t still have the worst record in Canada.

Falcon’s Regulation Reporting Act passed into law on the last day of the session. That mattered to the government.

Poor kids are still waiting.

Footnote: A plan could make quick progress. About one-third of the children living in poverty have parents dependent on income assistance or disability benefits. (A single parent with two children who is deemed employable gets up to $660 a month for housing and another $623 a month for everything else.) Providing enough support to lift those children out of poverty, or allowing their parents to earn some money without losing benefits, would move B.C. into the top half of the rankings.