Social Development Minister Shane Simpson announces poverty reduction committee chaired by Vancouver-Kensington MLA Mable Elmore (left) and Dawn Hemingway, chair of social work at University of Northern B.C., Oct. 30, 2017. The committee has 28 members and started with a budget of $1.2 million. (B.C. government)

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B.C.’s poverty reduction plan has been delayed, leaving us the only province bereft of a government-created anti-poverty strategy for a few months more. This sombre news was delivered by Shane Simpson, social development minister for the NDP minority government, as consultation continued around the province.

The plan now is to release a “what we heard” report in June, and then bring in legislation in the fall. “The poverty reduction strategy will come after that,” says the government website.

The ministry has received dozens of submissions from “stakeholder” groups around the province, and community meetings continue. There is a weary familiarity to these submissions, such as the three (so far) from the B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition.

Who’s that, you may ask. The backbone is of course public sector unions and union umbrella groups, including otherwise unknown outfits like “Streams of Justice” and “Protein for People.”

“First Call,” a core member whose name refers to your taxes, has a page devoted to the struggle against B.C. child labour, illustrated with a ridiculous staged picture of a sad boy of about eight pretending to operate an excavator.

Its key recommendations include increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, raising welfare rates and legislating targets to reduce B.C.’s poverty rate by 30 per cent within four years, and 70 per cent within 10 years.

This longer-term goal is to be accomplished by bringing in a universal $10-a-day child care program among other strategies. Sound familiar? The B.C. NDP campaigned tirelessly on these ideas over the past decade, and some submissions read like NDP campaign brochures from 2017 and years previous.

Indeed, the minimum wage policy is already in place. Welfare rates were raised as soon as the NDP minority took office, a long overdue step in that circumstance. We are assured the universal child care plan is underway, although Premier John Horgan has said the $10-a-day part was a slogan borrowed from those advocacy groups and not necessarily the rate.

The B.C. Green Party wants to go to a guaranteed minimum income system, instead of just imposing increases to the minimum wage that have been shown over and over to push low-wage employees out of work. (An obvious example is the self-serve kiosks being introduced in fast-food restaurants.)

The fatal flaw in these plans is that everyone be given a guaranteed “living wage” and then if they earn money, the dole is clawed back after a certain point. Ultra-progressive Finland recently announced it is abandoning its universal basic income experiment next year.

Why? It’s too expensive. Handing out guaranteed cash to everyone can only be financed by a huge tax increase, which increases tax avoidance the way cranking up minimum wages increases hiring avoidance.

Defining poverty isn’t easy. First Call scrapped its whole methodology a few years ago, after it was pointed out it used federal statistics that measure relative income inequality, something that would still exist if the minimum wage was raised to $50 an hour.

Last year there was a fuss about Richmond being identified as the Lower Mainland’s worst community for poverty, defined as after-tax income compared to average household needs. Critics suggested that the issue in booming Richmond may be under-reported income, given that it’s B.C.’s major centre for Asian satellite families.

There is another anti-poverty plan in place. It’s called market capitalism, and it’s worked everywhere it has been tried, perhaps most noticeably in China. Globally, in the last two decades alone, extreme poverty has been reduced by nearly half.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca


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