Election Needs To Focus On Solving Poverty
By Randy Hatfield
We haven’t heard enough from the federal parties during this election campaign on how they would address the issue of poverty. While we have had lots of talk about the middle class, there has been little said about those on social assistance or the working poor. Saint John has its share of both.
Nine of the province’s 10 ridings had child poverty rates in 2013 that exceeded the national average of 19 per cent. New Brunswick’s provincial rate was 21.3.
The New Brunswick riding with the lowest rate of child poverty was southern New Brunswick’s Fundy Royal riding – 15.8 per cent. The adjacent riding of Saint John had the highest rate of child poverty in the province - 27 per cent. That first place showing includes data from the Town of Rothesay.
The Human Development Council took national infographics from the Canadian Council on Social Development that ranked income poverty rates in 35 of the country’s Census Metropolitan Areas (CMAs) and applied a local lens. In other words, we took the data for the Saint John CMA and stripped out the suburban “towns” of Hampton, Quispamsis, Rothesay, Grand Bay-Westfield and the village of St. Martins. The relative affluence of these communities dilutes the elevated rates that prevail in Saint John.
The income poverty figures for the City of Saint John should shock us. According to 2013 Taxfiler data, 31 per cent of the city’s children 0-17 are living in poverty. That rate is higher than any of the country’s CMAs. In Saint John’s Ward 3, the child poverty rate is a shameful 49 per cent.
The sharp contrast between the CMA and city level data is consistent over a range of cohorts. For instance, the poverty rate for adults 18-64 in the Saint John CMA is 14.7 per cent, 14th out of 35 CMAs and lower than the national rate of 15.2 per cent. The poverty rate for that cohort in the City of Saint John is 19.7 per cent.
Both the CMA and the City of Saint John stand out for their levels of lone parent poverty. The CMA leads the country at 38 per cent -- the city’s rate is even higher. According to the 2011 census, one in four families (24.3 per cent) in the City of Saint John was headed by a lone parent. Taxfiler data for 2013 says that 42 per cent of them are living in poverty.
Saint John needs a federal government that is committed to poverty reduction. The province has a poverty reduction strategy. Last year it announced its second five year plan. Numerous local organizations provide programming and offer services to address the needs of our poorer neighbours. But it’s time for federal action.
Things might change if more people voted. But far too few in the province, and particularly Saint John, show up at the polls.
The Saint John riding had the lowest voter turnout of any of the province’s 10 federal constituencies. In 2011 only 58 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot. It was the only riding with a turnout rate below 60 per cent. The provincial turnout rate was a relatively respectful 66 per cent, the second highest provincial rate in the country. The national turnout rate was 61 per cent of the registered population.
Along with the turnout rate, it also matters who votes. Politicians and political parties, with their focus on electoral success, tend to target their platforms to the people who vote in large numbers. Moreover, if those who stay home are concentrated in certain groups, then, over the long term, their interests and concerns are likely to be ignored.
In 2011 82.6 per cent of New Brunswickers between the ages of 65-74 voted. The turnout rate for younger citizens between 19 and 24 was half that – 41.6 per cent (the national rates were 75.1 and 38.8 per cent), respectively. It’s probably not a coincidence that platforms and political advertising seem to focus more on seniors’ issues rather than on those affecting first time voters.
Along with age, turnout rates have been shown to vary depending on education. Statistics Canada reports that in the last federal election, the voting rate among people with a university degree was 78 per cent, compared with rates of 60 per cent or lower among those with a high school education or less.
The study also found that employed individuals were significantly more likely to vote than the unemployed. Public sector employees were more likely to vote than those working in the private sector.
Turnout data for the Saint John – Rothesay riding in the last election showed that the highest turnout rates were in Rothesay, Millidgeville and parts of the east and west side. Polling divisions in portions of every one of our priority neighbourhoods had turnout rates of under 36 per cent.
This is an election when we will choose how far and how fast we head in addressing social and environmental issues like poverty, affordable housing, sustainable health-care (including pharmacare) and a workable strategy to address climate change.
We’ll either stay the course or embark on some modest change. Voters should get informed on the issues – particularly the parties’ platform on poverty reduction – and get to the polls in large numbers.
Randy Hatfield is executive-director of the Saint John human Development council
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