B.C. Family Day, February 10, 2014
When I became Premier of British Columbia, I said that two of the things I wanted to accomplish were supporting families and listening to people.
Today is BC Family Day, which I established as part of this commitment. This is the 2nd year of BC Family day and I wanted to use today to share some important news with the families and the people of BC.
I know that many families are unable to enjoy fully Family Day because they cannot afford to take their family to places like Science World here or the Aquarium. These families love their children as much as I do.
These are families whose lack of finances is not their failing:
- they may be working hard at their job or even two jobs;
- they may have lost their job;
- or they may be living with a disability due to a serious illness or an accident.
I know from the Annual Child Poverty Report Card from First Call that when I became Premier I inherited a sad record of BC having some of the worst child poverty in Canada. These children are in poverty because their parents are in poverty.
I have said before that when people are not working we have to support them through those times of crisis. It is a stressful time worrying if you can make your mortgage or rent, and the stress of wondering whether or not you can send your child to school with a full lunch box.
I do not want to the Premier of the province with the worst child and adult poverty in Canada.
I have been listening to the people of British Columbia. Over 75% of the people of BC want a provincial poverty reduction strategy
My friends in local government have made their views clear. I know from conversations with local municipal leaders that they are forced to respond to many of the immediate problems caused by poverty in their communities.
At last year’s convention of BC Municipalities, they unanimously passed a resolution calling for the province to “provide adequate and accessible income support for the non-employed, and improve the earnings of the low-wage workforce”.
I have heard the social and human case for tackling poverty.
The government has to balance many genuine demands and pressures. We have to think carefully before we act and we always have to think about the economic impacts of our actions.
I had hoped that with the BC Jobs plan people would be able to find well-paid jobs. However, it is clear that this is not enough.
The reality is we are now living in a world where economic growth is slow. Our Jobs Plan has hit a rough patch and we cannot rely on exports alone.
Much of our economic strength and vitality comes from our homegrown economy; one of the best ways to strengthen our economy is right here in British Columbia.
There is a strong economic case for tackling poverty. I have listened to Surrey Board of Trade and others in the business community who want action on poverty.
I have listened to the medical experts and dietitians who explain that people cannot live a healthy life on social assistance. The health professionals have told me that poverty costs the health system alone over $1 billion every year. That is a lot of money, which could be much better spent.
The last increase in Social Assistance was in 2007. Therefore, in real terms it has fallen 10% in value since then.
I wrote to Raise the Rates last year and stated, “I promise you that the fight against poverty continues”. It is now time to make that promise a reality.
I have gone to help at Food Banks. When I was at the Food Bank in Port Moody I praised the work of food banks in helping people in hunger, and for showing such tremendous community leadership.
The community is doing its part to help. I have said it before and I say it now, I want to be in province where government does things with people.
My government needs to do its part. I am determined that we will do our part. My government will do the right thing. We will take action to tackle poverty in BC.
- It is the right thing because every woman, child and man in BC should have a decent standard of living.
- It is the right thing because it is what the people of BC want.
- It is the right thing because it is what the health experts and dietitians say is needed.
- It is the right thing because it is what local government says is needed.
- It is the right thing because it is good for the economy and many in the business community say it is needed.
I cannot give details before the budget speech but I wanted today, on Family Day, to give an assurance to the people of BC that change is coming. I promise the 153,000 children in poverty and the 700,000 people in poverty that change is coming.
1) We will take action immediately to raise Social Assistance starting with the budget in just over a week.
2) We will then roll out ideas for a full plan to tackle poverty in British Columbia.
3) We will talk with and listen to the people of British Columbia and
4) We will bring forward the best poverty reduction plan in Canada.
5) We will share the prosperity of British Columbia with everyone.
British Columbia will be a better place for everyone.
First Question: Won’t raising welfare and tackling poverty bankrupt the province?
We know that the total costs of poverty – in health, in the criminal justice system, in education and in the wider economy – all add up to an astonishing $8 to $9 billon dollars every year. I have been told that a comprehensive strategy to tackle poverty in BC would cost around $4 billions a year. Tackling poverty would save every woman, child and man in BC around $900 a year.
Of course, in the short term there will be up-front costs. Like every investment, there is a short-term cost to win long-term benefits. To cover the initial investment we will review some other expenditure and increase taxes on the top earners.
After all, the community is doing their part and government is joining in, so the well-off can afford to contribute. Due to the tax cuts of the last few years, the richest 1% of people are, on average, $41,000 per year better off. This is more than many people in BC earn in a year. If BC’s income taxes were comparable to the average of Canadian provinces, this would generate $2.4 billion a year. We also know that the vast majority of people in British Columbia support fair taxes where the richest people pay their share.
Raising the income of people on social assistance and on lower wages would mean they would spend that money in their local stores, in their local communities. Some of it would even come back to the province in tax revenue. The increased income for people, and the savings on expenditure due to poverty would flow through the economy.