One of my top election issues has always been poverty. Why? My bias shines through – I grew up very poor (in the bottom 5% somewhere), and it sucked. It’s that simple. (Now an economics professor living somewhere in the top 10-15% or so, I think I’m among the few Canadians who have never identified with the middle class.) So I pay attention to what each party has to offer our poorest citizens – especially those who don’t have a dime to donate to the party, and probably won’t even vote.

Here’s an overview of what I’ve noticed, and my honest impressions.


The NDP has been my go-to party when it came to poverty. On September 16, the NDP released its fiscal plan, outlining their spending plans up to 2019-20. There was an unfortunate lack of detail. For 2016-17, they allocated $572 million to a line item titled “help where it’s needed most.” In earlier announcements, there was a commitment to spend an additional $400 million on the Guaranteed Income Supplement that is included in that line item (which I discussed here). What exactly they will do with the money allocated to GIS has not been announced. Funds in this category will also go to “poverty reduction, housing support, and other measures to help children and families.” I’ve heard the NDP plans an expansion of the Working Income Tax Benefits – effectively a wage subsidy to lower income workers with great potential – and an expansion of the NCBS – a supplement to the lowest income families with kids.  I have not seen details.

Overall, I think its clear the NDP cares about issues of poverty. I am, however, bothered by a lack of clarity and detail in their plans.

The Conservative Party of Canada

For the Conservatives, I haven’t seen any great proposals this election season. In the past they have made some good moves for seniors – expanding the GIS slightly and raising the GIS exemption for earnings in 2008. While the Universal Child Care Benefit will help low-income families, I don’t tend to think of this as a poverty strategy since those cheques are sent to all families, including mine (and like I said, I’m not even middle class).

When I last visited the party website, I couldn’t find anything even mentioning poverty. Notably, the recently announced tax expenditures for single seniors exclude low-income seniors.


The Green Party

The Greens clearly care about poverty. Their platform includes clear commitments to “eliminate poverty and challenge inequality.” Among other things, they propose a Guaranteed Livable Income – which sets an income floor for all individuals, with lower benefits offered to those with higher income. Such programs can be incredibly costly, but the Green Party plans to roll in all other federal transfers, reducing the incremental cost slightly.

I’m not sure this plan is realistic, but I like the focus.


The Liberal Party of Canada

There have been two major policies announced by the Liberals that affect poverty. First is the CCB – Canada Child Benefit – which is really an expansion of the existing Canada Child Tax Benefit and National Child Benefit Supplement. The program offers the highest benefits to the lowest-income families with kids and is gradually phased out as income rises. The program is in part paid for by eliminating spending on kids in high income families. Projections for taking more than 300,000 kids out of poverty are realistic and easily backed up.

The more recent announcement is an expansion of GIS benefits for single seniors. I’ve made the case before that there is an obvious gap here – while seniors benefits for our married seniors are enough to bring them up to poverty lines, unmarried seniors are left far behind. So, good plan.

These are both very good policies – with detailed plans – that can accomplish a lot when it comes to reducing poverty rates.

What’s missing?

I don’t recall seeing a lot to help poor singles with no kids, and I suspect the average Canadian does not have this on their radar. An expansion of the Working Income Tax Benefit (which the NDP has talked about) could gain popular support.

Tammy Schirle
Tammy Schirle is an associate professor of economics at Wilfrid Laurier University. She completed her PhD at the University of British Columbia in 2006. She is currently director of the Laurier Centre for Economic Research and Policy Analysis, chairs the Waterloo Region Collaborative Economic Research Group, and is a member of the C.D. Howe Institute Pension Policy Council. As a labour economist and applied econometrician with interests in Canadian public policy, her research has focussed on seniors' work and retirement, women's labour supply, and organization of the family. Twitter @tammyschirle

You are welcome to republish this Policy Options article online or in print periodicals, under a Creative Commons/No Derivatives licence.

Creative Commons License