It’s possible to eradicate poverty in Canada

“Let’s ask for this to be on all candidates’ platforms, regardless of their parties”

The interior of a thrift shop in Baker Lake that the Abluqta Society opened in 2017 to provide clothes and toys to low-income people in the community. (File photo)

By Jack Bourassa
Public Service Alliance of Canada

A homeless person asking for change. An unemployed hopeless youth. A single parent working two jobs. A worker earning a minimum wage that’s way below a living wage. A child deprived of nutritious food. A family striving to find an affordable place to call home.

Poverty is real and we witness it every day.

Defined as economic deprivation, poverty is more than that. Poverty is an assault on human rights.

People susceptible to poverty experience it differently, but for many there is one shared factor: it’s hard to get out of the cycle of poverty. Sadly, poverty could be passed to the next generation as well.

It doesn’t help to turn a blind eye to the social and political factors that contribute to poverty.

But there is one simple concept that we can all adopt: by lifting each other up, we will all have better economic and social standards. However, this requires political will.

The good news is that eradicating poverty in Canada is possible, and you can take the steps to make this happen. If there are many of us concerned, poverty will be history.

A federal election is around the corner and there is a chance for eradicating poverty to be a top priority— with collective action, let’s ask for this to be on all candidates’ platforms, regardless of their parties. Eradicating poverty must not be partisan.

What are your plans to eradicate poverty? This is the classic question asked to candidates during debates, forums, town hall meetings, etc. It is an open-ended question that might divert the attention away from the real solution.

In order to be informed about the candidates’ commitments towards eradicating poverty, we need to have a better understanding of what solutions would help.

Canada’s poverty rate is 9.5 per cent. That’s 3.4 million Canadians deprived of economic resources and, thus, deprived of living a decent dignified life.

Poverty is a concern in the North, particularly in remote communities. The market basket measure (MBM) is used to measure Canada’s poverty line. MBM is a measure of low income based on the cost of a specified basket of goods and services representing a modest, basic standard of living. This, certainly, differs from region to region and from community to another.

For instance, Statistics Canada has yet to determine how the MBM would be adjusted to represent areas of the northern territories beyond the capitals. This means that the poverty rate could be higher than the current estimates.

There is no one solution to lower, and to later bring an end to poverty. A system that lifts individuals and communities up has to be an integrated one with sustainable models that complement each other. Let’s explore ways in which governments (federal and territorial) could work together to improve the standard of living in the North.

There is no doubt that access to affordable housing would help. This could help people who would otherwise have to choose between paying rent or buying groceries.

Being employed does not mean being immune to poverty. With the high cost of living in the North, the minimum wages in the territories are way below living wages.

In addition to that, an individual working for a minimum wage often does not have access to work benefits. For example, they might not have medical benefits that cover prescription drugs.

The World Health Organization identifies poverty as the single largest determinant of health, and “ill health is an obstacle to social and economic development.”

Universal pharmacare comes to my mind as a solution here— this program is going to ensure that everyone with access to health care will also have access to prescription drugs.

Addressing poverty also means addressing food insecurity in northern remote communities. Improving access to affordable nutritious food reduces poverty in northern remote communities.

There is one model that I want all of us to look at: the universal basic income. I believe that if implemented, this will have the greatest impact towards eradicating poverty.

For this solution to have a concrete effect, it has to be introduced by the federal government and implemented nationally.

Under this model, low-income households will receive a monthly stipend. This income will need to take into account diverse needs, realities and geographic locations.

Can we afford that? Investing in people and lifting individuals, families and communities above the poverty line is more affordable than dealing with the implications of poverty.

Enacting policies that help end poverty is a long-term investment that will not only benefit those who are below the poverty line, but future generations to come.

Helping a family doesn’t only mean helping the parents, but helping their children get a better education and better health care and be productive citizens giving back to their communities in the future.

Poverty must be history; child poverty must be eradicated urgently. Let this issue unleash the activist within each one of us and motivate us to take an action.

During the upcoming federal election, let’s be vigilant about poverty. We need a system that prioritizes the welfare of our communities.

This will not happen unless we as individuals and communities prioritize ending poverty. Let’s recall what Nelson Mandela said: “As long as poverty, injustice, and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest.”

Jack Bourassa has been a member of the Public Service Alliance of Canada since 1999, and has served as regional executive vice-president for the North since 2014.

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(17) Comments:

  1. Posted by Hollywood dreams on

    this only happens in movies too many people ready to attack people especially when they have not grown up here! even then many outsiders stay within their own group and the ones that help are encouraged to help only specific groups and not Nunavut in general

  2. Posted by REALITY on

    J. Buorassa I believe you mean well, but what on earth do you
    expect people to do ?
    I live a good life in Nunavut because I plan my life in a good
    way, although my income was never very large.
    No matter what I say, drugs alcohol pop chips & candy will
    always take priority.

  3. Posted by Philosopher Stone on


    Universal basic income will happen, or society as we have come to know it will end with the death of most people within 50 years.

    Unfortunately, universal basic income will not bring an end to the effects of poverty.

    Universal basic income is necessary, but it is not sufficient. People need meaningful things to do. Meaningful to them, not to me or you.

    A change in attitudes is also needed, and I’m not sure that will happen.

    Without a change in attitude, some people will continue to try to exploit others, either for profit or just for the “fun” of it.
    Without a change in attitude, some people will continue to be controlled by addictions.
    Without a change in attitude, some people will continue to see their self-worth in terms of their ability to get ahead of others, by any means possible.

    There are people who see one answer to the problems of the world. They think that all the problems of the world would be solved if 90%, or 95%, or 99% or 99.9% of the people on earth were eliminated.

    That would certainly postpone pollution problems for several generations, but it would result in economic collapse because the markets for most goods and services would also disappear.

    Are you planning to be a candidate in the next federal election? If so, how do you plan to bring about universl basic income?

    • Posted by Ummmm on

      Wait, mass genocide is the answer to all of life’s problems, but only for a few generations?
      Not sure you should be running philosopher stone.

      All the free income and prescriptions in the world won’t help those who can or will not help themselves. Before poverty can be solved social and substance issues must be, this is not an issue one term of government or mass killings can tackle.

      • Posted by Sid the Kid on

        We never hear about this on Russia northern peninsula. We should join our northern counter part, they understand the North exactly like us Nunavummiut.

        • Posted by Sid the Kid on

          They get the exact same animals we get, beside the famous toughest pony.

  4. Posted by Solomon on

    If we join Russia, they understand the north like us, if we join them-Canada taking advantage of the Norths profit. We can prosper like the southerners, not to mention all the immigrants taking all the jobs away. PM thinking about us again now that election season come up, he did that last elections to get our votes then just left us when he came to power.

    • Posted by Leah on

      Yes, you never hear about poverty about Russias North.

      • Posted by Troglodyte on

        Yea Russia, no poverty there!


  5. Posted by Silas on

    At the Northern Store the prices vary according to time (just before pay week, not a pay week) popularity of product, and the cost of transport. The prices are not according to market basket measure (MBM) making it difficult for anyone, including Consumer Affairs to determine the proper MBM.
    The federal government spends millions of dollars on Nutrition North but has no real affirmation about the prices of nutritious foods. One such example is the price of fresh blueberries, the price will go up in price, then be reduced in price another week/month. To determine MBM at a specific time and the following week the prices change. There is no accountability by the stores to allow anybody what the MBM should be.
    As for those who complain/talk about those who do not plan nor spend wisely. I liken it to those from the city going on the show that takes people into the wilderness without any prior experience in the wilderness and trying to survive. Most are complete failures.
    Inuit have been forced into living in a southern man’s world for a period of sixty years or less and trying to figure out their way of life. A complete cultural, language, systematic change without proper instructions on what it means to live and survive in that world.

    • Posted by Inuk on

      Silas, are you serious !! What part of Nunavut are you talking
      about ?
      Everywhere I have lived & worked in Nunavut ,people go out
      on the land loaded down with Southern food and machines.
      Folks carry a lot of junk food and come back for more.
      I have seen no one live a truly traditional style, so lord knows
      where your ideas & thinking are coming from.
      If white people or southerners wanted to hurt Inuit people,
      they could have done it years ago by not sending food or
      supplies north. Made you really happy – HUH?

      • Posted by Silas on

        Inuk, You have not read nor understood my point. The people you are talking about are the well to do if they have machines.
        The people that you see buying all that junk food do not know any different as they have learned it from their parents who didn’t know how to cook the white man’s food, nor do they have any concept of their nutritional value. That is exactly what I mean by Inuit having lived in communities for the past sixty years or less. The majority of the people are now the the second and third generation of Inuit and most did not complete high school.
        When the MBM is determined at a particular point and time but the prices of such nutritional items are waved up and down depending on those I mentioned previously, then I believe nutrition north is being abused by those who receive millions of dollars to meet the needs of the poor.
        By the way I live in Baker Lake.

      • Posted by Monaksie on

        Like yourself I have worked in many Nunavut communities.
        I did meet many Inuit women who were good cooks and
        I also met Inuit men who were good providers and husbands,
        they worked very hard for their families.
        SILAS : We cannot tell people who to treat their families or in
        what way to spend their money. I tried once and I was told to
        mind my own business, so that’s what I did.

  6. Posted by Putuguk on

    A universal basic income would be an excellent initiative for Nunavut. As it stands, the non-decentralized communities are located in places where it is not possible to develop local economies to the point where there are opportunities for the majority.

    For Nunavummuit in these communities, a person is left with the the same life expectations of an indigenous person living on a reservation. The main objective of a reservation being to shuffle people off to little chunk of land somewhere out of the way so that everyone else can get on with having a full productive life.

    The government has shown that they will not get serious about supporting people to move to where there are opportunities, like in the case of Newfoundland. They have also will not get serious about supporting our traditional economy so that a person can support themselves through harvesting, and arts and crafts, like has been done with and for the Sami in Scandinavia.

    Therefore, the next best thing that then can be done is to take care of a person’s basic needs. The current system of Income Assistance in Nunavut does not accomplish this.

    If it takes political will to eliminate poverty, it also takes acknowledgement that the lack of political will has in fact created poverty.

  7. Posted by Piitaqanngi on

    Universal basic income would most likely perpetuate low education levels and dependence upon the Government. With no longer a need to work for incomes, the cycle of reliance on handouts and apathy among low income families would continue.

  8. Posted by “Has Been Hunter” on

    Universal Basic Income has been working too well in Nunavut to the point there is no incentive to live beyond welfare. To make wages means the welfare cheque will get reduced and the rent will rise beyond $63 so it is best to not work and the dole remains larger. There are very great rent amounts based on income. A duplex where one works and one lives on welfare, the one who lives on income support pays like $63 and the wage earner pays excess $1000 depending on income level. The incentive to educate youth to become viable income earners and thus carry on northern based employment is near impossible to achieve since social passing does not give youth proper education to succeed in the wage economy. There should be active measures to ensure northerners become part of the viable economy and unfortunately would mean changes for betterment.

  9. Posted by Cambridge Bay Inuit on

    So like all good socialist / communist plans, the way to eliminate poverty is to take money away from those who have it, those who have invested time, energy and money in education and work experience, those who work hard for it to provide for themselves and their families and give it to those who don’t have money. If I spend years in school, work hard, sacrifice my home life to earn big money, instead of buying a nice big house for my family, instead of buying a vacation home, vehicles, travel etc, I should work just as hard and have the government take that money away and give it to someone who sits on their couch all day drinking, or someone who is too stupid to get a good job….What exactly makes anyone think that I would keep working?

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