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The Pallister government has released its anti-poverty strategy so late that its central goal had mostly been achieved by the time it was made public Monday.
"It’s really a strategy without its essential bones," said Sid Frankel, a University of Manitoba social-work professor, and the provincial representative for the national anti-poverty group Campaign 2000.
The province’s poverty-reduction strategy, called Pathways to a Better Future, came 15 months later than the Pallister government had planned, and past a legislated deadline.
It calls for a 25-per-cent drop in the 2015 child-poverty rate by 2025. Yet last week, Statistics Canada reported that Manitoba’s child poverty rate had dropped 20 per cent between 2015 and 2017.
Two years ago, the Pallister government’s second budget said its strategy "is anticipated to be launched in late 2017," yet the province only kicked off its consultations in November of that year.
The office of Families Minister Heather Stefanson said it set its goal weeks ago, and noted the NDP's previous strategy, All Aboard, did not set clear targets or timelines.
"The poverty report was at the printers before Stats Can released its latest numbers last week and we wanted to share this important, comprehensive work with Manitobans," wrote spokeswoman Andrea Slobodian.
"We hope to exceed our target and sustain it. The commitment to reduce poverty does not end in 2025 and we will strive to eradicate all poverty in Manitoba."
Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew called on the PCs to aim higher.
"The delay is a straight reflection of this government's priorities," Kinew told the Free Press, saying that any anti-poverty policy "appears to fall off their desk for years at a time."
The strategy rejigs the indicators the province uses to measure poverty, putting it more in line with federal metrics, such as replacing a survey of kindergarten teachers with 15-year-olds’ math and literacy scores, as well as replacing teen birth rates and college enrolment with a metric of young people not in jobs or school.
The province narrowed 21 indicators down to 13, which it said was based on the advice of 2,000 respondents, largely through online submissions but also in meetings held by local groups.
But Frankel, and other anti-poverty advocates, warn that both Ottawa the province are relying on the wrong metrics to assess who is actually poor.
Both use the Canadian Income Survey (CIS), which Frankel says is based on a smaller survey pool and vague criteria, compared with the data from income-tax forms that advocates and economist pay Statistics Canada to use.
He said that could explain why shelters and food banks remain so full despite Ottawa claiming poverty’s on the decline.
"If you drive through the inner city in Winnipeg […] we’re not seeing the changes you would expect to see, if the reductions in poverty were really of this size," he said.
"It saps away public support and public pressure for adequate poverty reduction. Because it’s really telling the public ‘the job is already done.’"
Further, the CIS does not count reserves, which Frankel called "a real slap in the face to First Nations, as if poverty in their communities is not a concern."
Frankel was also critical of the Manitoba strategy for talking at length about investments in daycare and health services, without quantifying the initiatives needed to close the poverty gap, such as the number of needed daycare spots.
"They confuse the effects of poverty with the causes of poverty," said Frankel.
The Pallister government has touted its tax credits as benefiting low-income Manitobans, and its strategy uses an income-inequality metric. But Frankel said those won’t help those most in need nearly as much as a taxation system that redistributes from top earners, nor the glut of low-paying jobs.
Last June, Campaign 2000 assessed all federal ridings and placed Manitoba’s north as the area with the highest child-poverty rate in Canada. Winnipeg Centre came third — that area does not include the North End — while the Dauphin area ranked ninth.
The Manitoba Federation of Labour chided the PC government Monday for its delayed report, and "keeping our minimum wage at poverty wage levels," asking them to raise the hourly rate to $15 an hour.
Last summer, the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce instead suggested the province consider a minimum universal income.
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