CWP on the Hill

CWP on the Hill

Canada Without Poverty is committed to upholding and respecting the fundamental human rights of marginalized groups, especially those living in poverty. To that end, we work at the international level in cooperation with the United Nations as well as national and sub-national level of government in Canada. CWP often meets with policy-makers to ensure that rights of the 4.8 million people living in poverty in Canada are being heard and properly considered in policy.

Some recent examples of CWP’s work on Parliament Hill include presentations to various committees and meetings with groups such as the All Party Anti-Poverty Caucus on poverty and human rights issues.

Details and links to texts of recent presentations on Parliament are described below.

Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology

In December 2016, CWP’s Deputy Director, Megan Hooft presented at the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology to discuss changes to employment insurance and old age security, and what they mean for Canada’s international human rights obligations.

Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities (HUMA committee)

In November 2016, CWP’s President, Harriett Mhuma-commiteecLachlan, and Executive Director, Leilani Farha, presented at the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities (HUMA committee). This presentation was a part of the HUMA committee’s study in preparation for the Canadian Poverty Reduction Strategy (CPRS). CWP’s submissions provided an overview of the need for a rights-based approach to the CPRS.

Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights

In May 2016, on the 40th anniversary of Canada ratifying the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, CWP’s President Harriett McLachlan and Legal Education and Outreach Coordinator, Michèle Biss, presented to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. Their presentation focused on the future of the newly-revitalized Court Challenges Program of Canada (CCPC) and access to justice for people living in poverty. In particular, the presentation provided an overview of the entrenched stigma associated with living in poverty that is often internalized and can result in a fear of reprisal or further prejudice, particularly when individuals try to claim their legal rights – and the way in which the CCPC can be used as a mechanism for Canada to realize its human rights obligations.

All Party Anti-Poverty Caucus

As part of the Dignity for All campaign, CWP recently presented the All Party Anti-Poverty Caucus with thousands of postcards collected from across Canada that call for a national anti-poverty plan. The Caucus, comprised of Conservative, Liberal, and New Democratic parliamentarians, presented the postcards to then-Prime Minister Harper. The postcards were gathered as part of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (October 17) in collaboration with 45 communities from coast-to-coast-to-coast and CWP’s partner in the Dignity for All campaign, Citizens for Public Justice. The postcards were signed as part of an activity known as ChewonThis! which raises awareness about food insecurity and poverty in Canada.

Liberal Senate Caucus

In February 2015, CWP was invited to present to the Caucus on the topic of youth poverty and the implications of it for “generation squeeze”. The presentation began by highlighting the alarming statistics associated with youth poverty (as opposed to child or adult poverty), such as the 17.3% overall youth poverty rate and 19.2% Indigenous youth poverty rate. 20% of Canada’s overall homeless population are youths and almost 300,000 youths use food banks every month; youth unemployment rates are climbing from an already concerning 13.4%. Clearly, youth poverty is a legitimate problem that needs to be addressed. However, as the presentation considered next, the government strategies to address youth poverty have either been cut due to budgetary constraints or far too narrow in focus. For example, the central focus has been on youth employment strategies (still pending results), rather than an inclusive approach that would take other issues (such as food insecurity, education, and housing) into account in addition to employment. Finally, the presentation concluded with two clear suggestions for government action: address youth poverty within a comprehensive federal anti-poverty plan based in human rights; and that youth must be included through meaningful participation in the development of policy and law.

Standing Committee on the Status of Women

CWP has presented to the Standing Committee on the Status of Women several times and on various topics. The President of the Board of Directors, Harriett McLachlan presented to the Committee in November 2014 on the topic of women’s leadership and economic prosperity. She spoke of her personal struggles as a woman and mother to be financially stable while living in poverty for many years and trying to establish a career. She also noted that her experience of poverty as a woman is not unique and called on the federal government to enact a national anti-poverty plan that is in accordance with the regulations set out in the ICESCR. Specifically, her speech highlighted the importance of developing a housing strategy as a necessary part of the process.

Two members of the Board of Directors, Laura Cattari and Brenda Thompson, presented to the Committee in May 2014 on economic prosperity issues. Both women have lived experiences of poverty that they shared with the Committee members and others present before offering their individual specific recommendations. They both identified the need for safe and affordable housing for all women, using a national plan. Ms. Cattari recommended the expansion of the Opportunities Fund for People with Disabilities (and other similar programs) to allow for part-time workers to qualify. Ms. Thompson recommended a national childcare strategy that would make childcare affordable and accessible to everyone, regardless of circumstance.

Standing Committee on Finance (FINA)

On November 18, 2014 CWP staff presented to the Standing Committee on Finance on the human rights implications of passing Bill C-43, specifically sections 172 and 173 of the Bill. The presentation highlighted CWP’s major concerns from a human rights perspective: the role of the provinces, Canada’s international human rights obligations, and the impact of the Bill on a particularly vulnerable group (refugees).

CWP staff explained to the Committee that sections 172 and 173 of Bill C-43 allow the provinces to impose a minimum residency requirement before refugees could apply for social assistance, without the province being penalized through the Canada Social Transfer. CWP suggested that refugees are among the most vulnerable members of society; imposing a waiting period for social assistance forces them to use emergency assistance programs (such as shelters and food banks). Restricting their access to basic needs contravenes Canada’s international human rights obligations to protect refugees.

Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs (PROC)

CWP’s Executive Director Leilani Farha spoke out against the Fair Elections Act (Bill C-23) on April 2, 2014 to the Procedure and House Affairs Committee. Ms. Farha was particularly concerned about the possibility of eliminating vouch voting and curtailing Election Canada’s ability to educate the Canadian public about elections in a non-partisan way.

As Ms. Farha pointed out, the vouch voting system was designed to help disadvantaged people who may not have access to government identification for any number of reasons. It was not the cause of voter fraud, as was suggested by its nay-sayers, but was a method of including the most vulnerable and disadvantaged members of society in the democratic process. It is indisputable that voter turnout in Canada is poor; the vouch voting system is but one way in which participation could be improved, especially among underprivileged groups. For example, 120 000 people used the vouch voting system in the past during a single election.

The limiting of Elections Canada’s abilities to enact public education campaigns and other informational programs about upcoming elections was concerning for similar reasons to vouch voting. The system was designed for the benefit of those individuals and groups that might otherwise not participate in the electoral system. In a democratic society, it is sound to reach out to vulnerable groups and assist them in participating politically through voting.