The Common Front for Social Justice had asked all political parties to share their platform on reducing poverty in New Brunswick.
“All of the political parties provided the Common Front for Social Justice with their proposals and we thank them for it. We believe that political parties need to be open regarding their proposals before and during election time so that citizens know what they are voting for,” stated Linda McCaustlin, co-chair of the Common Front.
The Common Front for Social Justice believes that some of the initiatives would go a long way toward reducing poverty. Such initiatives include raising people’s income, implementing pay equity, having a publicly funded non-profit child care plan, developing a public housing strategy, increasing seniors’ pensions, emphasizing literacy and improving social assistance rates and policies.
Regarding poverty reduction, the responses received from the Liberals and the Conservatives were quite similar since they are both saying that the Economic and Social Integration Plan is sufficient to make a major inroad toward the alleviation of poverty. The Common Front is very critical of this Plan because it is putting in place a new Crown Corporation to administer it, taking away precious resources from people on social assistance. The Plan is, in effect, downloading the delivery of programs to the community and the private sector, reducing the ability of delivering programs to everyone at the same level throughout the province and in the language of choice of the clients. Only three proposals were implemented so far and all the others will take one to five years before they are put in place.
“For the immediate future, the Liberals are not saying anything specific regarding when, or by how much they would raise social assistance rates. The Conservatives are also silent on the date of future social assistance rate increases,” stated McCaustlin.
“We are pleased to read that the NDP makes the distinction between justice and charity in program development,” said Ms McCaustlin.
The NDP wants to build on the expansion of services called for in the Poverty Reduction Plan by eliminating the bureaucratic structure, a position which the Common Front for Social Justice strongly supports. However, we would argue that the expansion of services proposed in the Poverty Reduction Plan is relying too much on the community and on the private sector for delivery. The Common Front does not agree with that aspect of their platform. The NDP does say that they would fight to preserve core social programs which are so essential to people living in poverty. The NDP is supporting our demand for increasing basic welfare rates to the Atlantic average. The NDP, as well as the Peoples’ Alliance of New Brunswick, are both supporting the Common Front’s demand for changes to the Employment Insurance program and for increases in the Canadian Pension Plan, Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Annual Supplement. These are programs that would help reduce poverty.
McCaustlin continued, “the Green Party’s decision to put people and families first is something we certainly support. We are very pleased that they consider getting people out of poverty as their first priority for new spending.”
The Green Party, along with Common Front for Social Justice, believe that the dividends on this commitment would be enormous. Their endorsement of an Annual Guaranteed Income is also welcomed. The Green Party is proposing a livable wage which would help working poor of this province. The Green Party is proposing a gradual step approach in increasing the current appalling low social assistance rates. The Common Front agrees with their proposals.
The People’s Alliance of New Brunswick supports some of the Common Front’s initiative but has concerns with others. Regarding a living wage, the Peoples’ Alliance feels that moves to implement a living wage should be done in consultation with small business; a sector that has always been against any minimum wage increases. In terms of pay equity, the Peoples’ Alliance supports the present legislation, which covers pay equity in the public sector but not the private sector. The Peoples’ Alliance agrees with the Common Front’s proposals on housing, changes to Employment Insurance and seniors’ income.
The NDP and Greens are very clear on supporting a public housing program, pay equity, a public child-care program and initiatives on literacy. The Liberals are proposing changes under their five-year plan to reduce poverty but are against pay equity legislation in the private sector and a public childcare program.
“All parties except the Peoples’ Alliance (it did not address this issue) are placing emphasis on the development of Social Enterprises as a way of delivering programs and addressing local issues. The Common Front has been critical of this concept as it can become a way of reducing public programs and services, which people living in poverty depend so heavily upon,” continued McCaustlin.
There are presently 100,000 New Brunswickers living in poverty. They can be divided in three categories: men and women working full-time or part-time but at minimum wages in all kind of low-paying jobs; individuals and families (40,000) who have to rely on social assistance to survive, and seniors, especially those eligible for the Guaranteed Annual Supplement. A high percentage of people living in poverty are women and children.
“In New Brunswick, one out of seven citizens are poor, which is a very serious situation. The Common Front for Social Justice is disappointed that the political parties, except the Green Party, have not made it a central election issue and a priority in their platform,” said McCaustlin.