05/06/2014 01:58 EDT | Updated 07/06/2014 05:59 EDT

B.C. NDP introduces poverty-reduction act, seeks to make poverty history in B.C.

VICTORIA - British Columbia is one of two remaining Canadian provinces without a legislated poverty-reduction plan, a failing the Opposition New Democrats say needs to change.

NDP social development critic Michelle Mungall introduced in the legislature on Tuesday a private members bill that she said aims to fight poverty and improve economic realities for needy people.

"This Poverty Reduction and Economic Inclusion Act seeks to take the needed action to look at the way government can reduce, rather than contribute to poverty. For example, government could begin by reducing child poverty by allowing children of single parents receiving income supports to keep their child-support payments," she told the legislature.

Mungall said B.C. has had the highest overall poverty rate in Canada for the past 13 years and in the last decade has had the highest child poverty rate.

"Sky-high poverty rates are directly tied to B.C. Liberal policies such as the child support clawback that takes money from B.C.'s poorest children," said NDP Leader John Horgan.

Horgan said he was the product of being raised in poverty as a young child.

"And I now stand before you because of the opportunity that was given to me by faith communities, by neighbours, by community and by government, to say that I want to be the next premier of British Columbia," he said.

"That speaks to opportunity and hope to people who are living in poverty and mired, in some cases, in cyclical poverty."

The law, if it were enacted, would see the government develop a comprehensive poverty-reduction strategy within a year and legislated specific targets to reduce poverty.

Social Development Minister Don McRae said the government has already implemented poverty-fighting measures that include raising the minimum wage and cutting taxes and medical services premiums for the poor.

The minister told the legislature his government has cut child poverty by more than 40 per cent since taking office, and its always looking for new ways to decrease the poverty rate.

"We realize that we can always do a little bit better, and so, as we go forward, we consider new changes," said McRae.

"At this stage though, we have to make sure that we balance what we can afford to the policies that we have, and yes, a stroke of the pen is very cheap in ink, but there are costs attached ... we also have to have the ability to fund them because that is the responsibile thing to do."

Peggy Wilmot, a member of Faith In Action, a diverse faith organization that supports the poor and vulnerable in B.C., said that government policies can ease poverty or make it worse.

"That's why Faith in Action supports a poverty reduction plan for British Columbia as the first step towards a government that recognizes the inherent dignity and worth of all citizens."

The B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition said it supports the bill, and noted that the legislation calls for extensive community consultation and outlines how government should be held accountable.

Ted Bruce, co-chairman of the coalition and also the president of the Public Health Association of B.C., urged all parties to support the bill.

"We know that the costs of health care alone in relation to poverty are $1.2 billion per year. Tackling poverty up front is the single biggest factor in improving health outcomes for everyone, not just those living in poverty," he said in a news release.