POLITICS

NDP, Liberals Must Focus On Reducing Poverty: Citizens For Public Justice

07/21/2015 03:44 EDT | Updated 07/22/2015 09:59 EDT

OTTAWA — A faith-based group concerned with poverty is urging the NDP and Liberal parties to look to one another for inspiration and focus more of their efforts on programs that help low-income Canadians.

Karri Munn-Venn, a policy analyst with Citizens for Public Justice, told The Huffington Post Canada Monday that none of the opposition parties has done a good job addressing the growing income gap and the needs of those who make less than $30,000 a year.

“Everybody is out for a vote, and I understand that we are getting close to an election, but I would like them to have a good hard look at what is really in the best interest of Canada and Canadians across the income spectrum and to work to address poverty and see how that makes a better situation for all Canadians.”

Citizens for Public Justice is critical of NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair’s support for the Conservatives’ enhanced Universal Child Care Benefit (UCCB) — an extra, taxable, $160 a month benefit for kids under six and the $60 a month for those age seven to 17 — which the New Democrats have promised to keep if they form the next government.

Because the money is given to all families regardless of their income level, the group believes the Tory plan “diverts significant resources away from low-income families in favour of upper-income families.”

Mulcair has also said that he would close a stock-option tax loophole that the NDP estimates costs the government $750 million and pledged to invest dollar for dollar in programs that help low-income Canadians. The NDP told HuffPost it plans to boost programs such as the National Child Benefit Supplement and the Working Income Tax Benefit.

Munn-Venn, however, likes the NDP support for a $15-a-day child care plan. The spin off benefits of investing in child care not only include early learning and child development but also more options for parents to get meaningful jobs and contribute to the local economy, she said.

Citizens for Public Justice is calling for an increase to Canada Child Tax Benefit — a progressive, refundable benefit that includes the National Child Benefit Supplement — to $5,600 a year for each child, as well as increased access to to affordable and high quality child care.

This move, the group says, could bring child poverty rate down by 15 per cent, lifting 174,000 children out of poverty.

Justin Trudeau’s Liberal plan addresses this to a certain degree. The Grits’ Canada Child Benefit starts at $6,400 a year, tax-free, for every child under the age of six and $5,400 a year, tax-free, per child six to 17 years old.

Spokesman Cameron Ahmad said that, under the Liberals’ plan, nine out of every 10 Canadian families would receive more in monthly child benefit payments than under Mr. Harper’s system.

He said that the base benefit would be much higher and would provide more meaningful support to low-income families. “The Canada Child Benefit would lift over 300,000 children out of poverty,” he said.

The Liberals won’t say when they will announce funding for childcare. Ahmad said Trudeau would have “more to say” in his platform.

The Liberal plan is tied to family income and slowly phases out, but only at the $163,000 mark for children over six and $195,000 mark for children under six.

That concerns Munn-Venn, who thinks families with six-figure incomes don’t need the help.

“It seems like there is going to be less for the very, very rich, but a little bit more for the very rich, so there is a shift, but it doesn’t go quite far enough in terms of really serving the people who need it most.”

“At the end of the day, the six-figure families don’t need these resources and those under $30,000 really really do,” she said.

“There is good in both the Liberal and the NDP plan,” she said. “But there is a lot more than could be done. Something that combines ideas from both of them, could be really useful.”

Statistics Canada figures from 2013 suggest that 16.5 per cent of children younger than 18 are living in low-income households — of which 42.6 per cent are living in female lone-parent families.

A two-person household is considered low income by Statistics Canada if their after-tax income is less than $29,604. For a four-person household that number is $41,866.

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CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled reporter Cameron Ahmad's name. This version has been updated.

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