Practicing medicine, I saw every day how not having enough to live on led to stress, illness, and lost opportunity for my patients. This daily encounter with the devastating consequences of poverty is what drove me into electoral politics — because that’s where the lasting solutions lie.
One in four Saskatchewan children live in poverty. Poverty costs us nearly $4 billion per year in additional costs in health, justice and social services and decreased economic activity. And this says nothing of the human cost, measured in shortened lives, greater suffering, and frustrated potential. We can and must do better.
We’re often told that we can’t afford to address poverty. The truth is, we can’t afford not to: the consequences of poverty cost us far more than proactively addressing it would. Fortunately this idea is increasingly understood, including by leading economic and business organizations in documents such as the #transformSK report.
In 2015, I joined a group of community experts and senior civil servants in advising the Government of Saskatchewan on a poverty reduction strategy. We produced a comprehensive set of recommendations. Unfortunately, the current government has chosen not to act on them, and we remain the only province that has not committed to such a strategy.
As premier, I would undertake a comprehensive poverty reduction plan with a commitment to reduce poverty in Saskatchewan by 50% within 5 years. This plan would use a whole-of-government approach to reducing poverty, guided by the best evidence on what interventions have the greatest impact, the experience of those who work on the frontlines, and the voices of people who experience poverty.
Major elements of such a poverty strategy would include:
- The introduction of an anti-poverty act based on the understanding that people have a right to an adequate standard of living;
- The development of a public strategy with clear targets, timelines and accountability, with an independent office established to collect data and monitor and evaluate progress;
- Ongoing consultation to ensure representation of people with lived experience of poverty help make sure policy meets their real needs;
- In keeping with the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, use a Jordan’s Principle approach that would work with the federal government to ensure that services are available wherever people live in Saskatchewan, regardless of jurisdiction.
The strategy will require collaboration across government ministries and investment in the following key areas:
- Move away from the cycle of poverty through a progressive basic income program that would build off of pilots in other parts of Canada and around the world. Key principles for this program would include: adequacy to provide an acceptable standard of living, universality so that all who need it can access it without stigma, and adaptability to address those with special needs.
- Immediately end social assistance clawbacks on child support and spousal maintenance payments. Increase earned income and asset exemptions and expand access to health benefits for low-income workers.
- Increase the minimum wage to $15/hour and promote a living wage, including making the Government of Saskatchewan a certified living wage employer.
- Increase and index food and shelter allowances, with particular emphasis on Northern Saskatchewan where food costs are much higher.
Housing and Homelessness
- Eliminate homelessness through a dedicated triaging program, with a registry to coordinate supports and the expansion of the Housing First model province-wide to help those with the greatest needs.
- Increase the supply of safe, affordable and adequate social housing, particularly for people with health challenges, large families or other barriers to access.
- Improve protection for renters to ensure safe housing and prevent steep escalation in rental costs.
- Work with the federal government to increase the availability and quality of housing on reserve, employing local people in the design and construction.
Investing Upstream in the Wellbeing of Young People
- Implement a comprehensive early years plan, overseen by a new Ministry of the Child. Provide universally accessible, affordable, and high-quality child care that incorporates early childhood education everywhere in Saskatchewan, and invest in high quality, equitable K-12 education throughout the province. (See our full plan for upstream investment in our future here.)
- Increase the number of family supports such as KidsFirst and the Early Childhood Intervention Program.
- Perform a review of child protection services, working with families and communities to reduce the number of children in care and to provide safe, culturally appropriate care to kids in need.
- Make high-quality post-secondary education affordable and accessible for everyone.
- Roll out a nutritious school lunch program so that no child goes to school too hungry to learn.
Paving the Way to Work
- Increase training opportunities for people under-represented in the workforce, including women, rural and northern residents, Métis and First Nations people, new Canadians, people who have been incarcerated, people living with disabilities and others groups facing barriers to education and employment.
- Work with employers to recruit and retain a representative workforce, including giving an advantage in government procurement processes to contractors who can demonstrate this commitment among their employees.
- Offer training to entrepreneurs to start businesses, enhancing local economic activity.
- Ensure employment programs take into account barriers to employment such as housing, child care and transportation.
- Make sure workplaces are fair and safe through improved labour policy, including pay equity, paid sick days, and increased access to collective bargaining. See our full labour policy here.
Health and Food Security
- Use a Health in All Policies approach to guide ministries in achieving the best health outcomes through poverty reduction and smart public policy, including the use of health equity impact assessments for all major government initiatives.
- Prioritize reduction of illnesses associated with poverty through targeted health promotion and disease prevention with at-risk communities.
- Expand support for Community-Based Organizations that prevent or address illnesses related to poverty.
- Provide equitable team-based primary health care services, increasing services in the highest need communities.
- Introduce health equity as an element of all quality improvement initiatives.
- Integrate a trauma-informed care approach into all human services to better respond to the needs of people who have experienced adverse events.
- Restore provincial bus service to allow better access to health, employment and education.
- Develop a provincial food security strategy, including a plan to ensure northern communities have access to affordable, healthy food.
- Recognizing the interplay between poverty and mental health, implement a mental health and addictions strategy that includes increased access to emergency supports and psychological counselling services.
Addressing poverty in Saskatchewan requires a creative, whole-of-government effort. It may also be the single most important thing we can do to ensure a healthy future for Saskatchewan people. British Columbia is currently designing their poverty reduction strategy, which will leave Saskatchewan as the only province without a plan. This is an embarrassment, but also an opportunity to learn from the successes and failures of other jurisdictions and create the most effective plan in Canada. Poverty is costing us all far too much. For the sake of everyone’s wellbeing, let’s invest wisely, save money and improve lives by tackling poverty once and for all.