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New federal legislation looks at defining the poverty line

'Only part of what needs to be done' says Canada Without Poverty coordinator Michele Biss
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Civil society organizations across the country are calling for an official poverty line in Canada, says Canada Without Poverty coordinator Michele Biss. 

In August, the federal government released its first ever poverty reduction strategy. According to Biss, Canada has big gaps in its data when it comes to measuring poverty, which leaves a lot of voices unheard and unhelped. 

"It's important that we don't get lost from the conversation the fact that when we measure poverty in Canada, its not just about that number, its not just about that official poverty line, it's also about all of the different other ways that people experience poverty," she said in an interview with News 95.7's Todd Veinotte. 

"When we're measuring we have to look at things like how many people are using food banks? What's the wait list time for accessing social housing? How many childcare spaces are available in communities across the country?"

Biss says it's no easy feat: poverty is incredibly complex and diverse, and looks different from city to city. 

"It has to do with childcare, it has to do with food, with housing, and jobs, and health, and a whole number of other areas."

In the past, she explains, there have been three different ways of measuring poverty: low income measure, low income cutoff and a market basket measure. The federal government is currently looking at using the market basket measure to base its legislation on. It's calculated via the cost of goods purchased in different communities across the country. 

"The number is measured by community, so there isn't just one number to capture the cost of goods across all of Canada, because that wouldn't give us a holistic picture by any means," she said. 

Statistics Canada is currently doing a study to ensure that the market basket measure is the best option for the government, and that the numbers will be adequate. For civil society organizers like Biss, the low income measure is favoured. 

"The market basket measure is only going to give us a sense of those basic needs, of those costs of those items. What is going to be missing from that picture is things like, what systemic discrimination barriers exist that perpetuate people's experience of poverty?" 

Biss hopes that the legislation, which will be crucial to ending poverty in Canada, will be able to capture a full picture, and give people who experience poverty a platform to have their voices heard, as well as a way for their government to respond to them. 

"Those who are marginalized, those who are living in poverty, are so often left out of decision making, they're so often on the fringes, so it's so important that we include those voices and understand the multifaceted nature of poverty."




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Danielle McCreadie

About the Author: Danielle McCreadie

Danielle spent a year freelancing for various publications in Halifax and did a brief stint at HalifaxToday.ca before making the move to radio.
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