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Bill to eliminate poverty by 2035 passed by P.E.I. legislature

Green MLA Hannah Bell, who introduced the Poverty Elimination Strategy Act, said it was important to have legislated targets in place to hold government to account.
Green MLA Hannah Bell, who introduced the Poverty Elimination Strategy Act, said it was important to have legislated targets in place to hold government to account. - Stu Neatby

P.E.I. MLAs have unanimously passed a bill that sets hard targets for the reduction of poverty, including the goal of ultimately eliminating poverty by 2035.

The Poverty Elimination Strategy Act sets binding targets over the next decade and a half for the reduction of poverty in P.E.I. The bill requires regular reporting from government on progress towards these poverty elimination targets and establishes a poverty elimination council, appointed by cabinet, to advise the appropriate minister on bill’s goals and government progress.

Green MLA Hannah Bell, who introduced the private member’s bill, said she was “pleasantly surprised” that the bill passed without opposition. She believes the bill’s goals, which include eliminating chronic homelessness and food insecurity for all children by 2025, are achievable.

“We shouldn't be choosing who has to remain in poverty,” Bell said.

“That basic human right is that nobody should be. Many have called that aspirational but I'm pretty confident that's a goal I feel quite comfortable with."

Food insecurity refers to people who lack access to adequate food due to a lack of money.

The bill would require P.E.I. reduce poverty by 25 per cent below 2018 rates by 2025. Youth poverty and rates of food insecurity would be reduced by half by that date as well. The bill also mandates P.E.I. eliminate rates of food insecurity among children and chronic homelessness by 2025.

By 2030, the bill requires poverty be further reduced by 50 per cent below 2023 levels, with poverty among children reduced by 100 per cent. By 2035, the bill sets out a goal for eliminating poverty altogether.

"I guess the other balance is if we don't have targets at all then we're not doing anything.”

    - Hannah Bell



The bill recalls a 1989 all-party commitment from the House of Commons to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000. Canadian policymakers missed that target by a mile.

Bell said it was important to remember past failed attempts to eliminate poverty. But she said this should not dissuade action.

"I guess the other balance is if we don't have targets at all then we're not doing anything," she said.

"We don't know for sure that we are going to get to those targets, but by working towards them, we're improving the lives of Islanders every single time."

Social Development and Housing Minister Brad Trivers said staff members in his department have talked about the bill’s goals and believe the targets are achievable. But he said the answer to poverty may not necessarily be about money alone.

Social Development and Housing Minister Brad Trivers supported the Poverty Elimination Strategy Act. - Stu Neatby
Social Development and Housing Minister Brad Trivers supported the Poverty Elimination Strategy Act. - Stu Neatby

"If you look at some of the root causes, the core one – really, we're finding – it's some sort of trauma that results in mental illness – and then addictions," Trivers said.

“It's not about necessarily spending the money in Social Development and Housing to try and eliminate poverty. It's about addressing these root causes."

On Wednesday, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released a report that found the total cost of poverty in P.E.I. adds up to $273 million per year. This amounts to 4.1 per cent of P.E.I.’s GDP.

The report found that the majority of these costs – $202 million – are due to lost productivity and lost taxation incomes from individuals currently in poverty. The report found that poverty results in $29.8 million in excess health-care costs each year, $9 million in excess costs related to crime and $31.4 million in costs due to intergenerational loss. This means the costs born due to children who grow up in poverty.

"We often don't do projects like this because the first thing to push back is 'we can't do that because it would cost too much.' I think what that report does is tell us it would actually cost more to not do anything at all,” Bell said.

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