New poverty report card evaluates quality of life in Canada’s 10 provinces 

Vimal Sivakumar
Published: October 7, 2023

In their first-ever poverty report cards, Food Banks Canada has graded all provinces and territories on a variety of measures related to poverty reduction and standard of living.

There are many factors that contribute to the quality of life experienced by people living in any particular country, province, city or community.  What follows will outline how each province and territory performed according to the Food Banks Canada report cards, ordered by the number of new permanent residence landings in 2022.

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Especially for prospective newcomers to Canada and recent immigrants, these measures can provide some valuable insight into the variances in quality of life across Canada.

Poverty Report Card Results

Using a multitude of measures – all under four general umbrellas: experience of poverty, poverty measures, material deprivation and anti-poverty legislative progress – Food Banks Canada recently graded each of Canada’s 13 provinces and territories on the poverty reduction efforts, and results, of local governments.

Some of the measures used by Food Banks Canada include:

  • Financial Discomfort
  • Poor Access to Healthcare
  • Food Insecurity
  • Inadequate Standard of Living
  • Unemployment

As indicated by Food Banks Canada, “these grades represent how well poverty reduction efforts are going [at the provincial, territorial, and federal government” levels. These Report Cards explore the experience of poverty across Canada and where governments can take steps to improve their social policy.” In summary, here is how each province scored overall.

  • Ontario: D-
  • Quebec: B-
  • British Columbia: D+
  • Alberta: D
  • Manitoba: C-
  • Saskatchewan: D
  • Nova Scotia: F
  • New Brunswick: D-
  • Newfoundland and Labrador: D-
  • Prince Edward Island: C-
  • Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut: Incomplete*

*The report card for each of Canada’s three territories received an incomplete grade because, “due to low sample size, data for this region may not accurately real-life circumstances.”

Policy Recommendations from Food Banks Canada

Food Banks Canada outlines four general groups of policy recommendations for the Canadian government in their 2022 HungerCount report, which will be discussed below.

1. Establish a Minimum Income Floor 

While there exists some level of a minimum income floor (MIF) for Canadian seniors and families with children across the country, Food Banks Canada recommends that the government commit to moving towards a MIF for all Canadians.

This, according to Food Banks Canada, should begin with establishing two more “pillars” to Canada’s income floor – for Canadians living with a disability and those of working age in Canada who are single and “unattached”.

Canadians living with a disability, says the report, make up a significantly increasing number of Food Bank visitors. This is said to be a result of the fact that “not a single province” provides single Canadians with a disability “a sufficient income”, even after factoring in federal benefits. Similar trends in Food Bank visitation/usage can be seen among single working-age adult Canadians. This can be taken as a sign of the financial struggles of this group, much the same as the data suggests about Canadians with a disability.

Establishing a MIF for more distinct subsets of Canada’s population, therefore, can help Canada progress towards more income security for people across the country – a move that will aid in ensuring we “pave the way for a more resilient Canada where no one is left behind and no one goes hungry.”

2. Address Affordable Housing 

To aid Canadians in the journey to finding affordable housing, which contributes to the use of Food Banks across Canada, some suggestions from Food Banks Canada include more focus on “building and introducing new affordable units” as well as “helping make the existing market more affordable.”

Citing Manitoba’s rent assist program as an example, the report says that this program allowed beneficiaries to make “smart planning decisions with their funds” as well as “focus on other aspects of their life, such as furthering their education [and] raising ... their children … [also enabling] them to buy healthier groceries.”

Generally, Food Banks Canada points to the following four action items as ways the Canadian government can help increase food security and related positive outcomes by addressing affordable housing:

  • Immediately implement a national rent assist program based on an expanded version of the Canada Housing Benefit
  • Explore community-targeted funding for the acquisition of affordable housing. Food Banks Canada says this could involve “providing capital funding (loans and grants) to non-profits so they may purchase and provide rental properties at or below the median market rent”
  • Develop stronger regulations or taxations of financial entities (REITs, private equity funds, asset management companies, and pension funds) in the housing market

3.  Support Low-Income Workers 

At present, the wages of low-income Canadians are not sufficient to support them as the cost of living and food continues to rise.

In other words, Canada continues to have a sizable segment of its population that can be classified as “the working poor” - employed Canadians who “still come home with too little money to feed themselves and their families.”

To improve the outcomes and financial security of Canada’s low-income workers, here are some of the steps that Food Banks Canada suggests the government take:

  • Extend the maximum duration of EI benefits to 52 weeks, followed by a staggered reduction in cash benefits while retaining access to non-cash EI supports (such as training and education)
  • Permanently broaden the EI qualifying definition of “employment” to include “self-employed and precarious work”
  • Review and reduce the number of employment hours needed to qualify for EI (currently between 420 and 700 hours of insurable employment)
  • Expand the Working While-on-Claim (WWC) provisions in EI to allow workers to retain more of their income from temporary/part-time work while on EI
  • Introduce government incentives to encourage businesses to pay living wages to all employees

4. Combat Food Insecurity in Rural and Northern Canada 

A problem that is only expected to worsen over time with the rising cost of housing and food across Canada, in spite of the development of programs such as Nutrition North, aimed at addressing food costs and insecurity through subsidies as well as other “targeted programs and initiatives”, these regions have not experienced “the [positive] impact on food costs that many hoped for when the program was first introduced.”

According to Food Banks Canada, food insecurity in these regions is a function of multiple factors, including “consistently lower wages among those living in the North, high housing and energy costs, and [other factors] that are preventing the gathering of traditional and reliable food sources.”

By taking such actions as establishing a MIF in these remote communities, reviewing the Nutrition North Canada initiative (to understand why it is not effectively enough doing its job to reduce food costs regionally) and working to expand internet access for the sake of the local workforce and labour outcomes, Food Banks Canada suggests that the government can begin addressing “the long-term root causes of food insecurity in the North” for the betterment of all who live in the affected areas.

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