A recent report found the Battlefords-Lloydminster federal riding is in the top 20 of highest levels of child poverty, compared to 338 federal ridings.
Campaign 2000 — “a public education movement” with a goal to build Canadian awareness and support for the 1989 all-party House of Commons resolution to end child poverty in Canada by the year 2000 — found 30.4 per cent of children zero to 17 within the Battlefords-Lloydminster riding aged live in poverty. According to its website, Campaign 2000 is non-partisan.
“The latest data paint a stark portrait of inequality in Canada with high- and low-income families living in close proximity while divided by wide social and economic gaps that leave too many children hungry, sick and stressed beyond their years,” states the 2018 report.
The report collected data from all federal ridings. Data comes from income taxes for 2015. According to the report, poverty statistics take a long time to be released.
The areas with the highest levels of child and family poverty, the report states, “are home to a higher proportion of Indigenous, racialized and immigrant communities and lone-parent led families.”
“This correlation signals the persistence of discrimination and systemic inequalities that translates to higher unemployment, lower labour market participation rates and higher proportions of renters and people spending more than 30 per cent of their income on housing.”
The Battlefords-Lloydminster riding runs north of St. Walburg, including part of OnionLake Cree Nation, along the Saskatchewan-Alberta border south of Dodsland and Plenty (though still north of Kindersley), and as far east as Rabbit Lake, with step-like separations north and south. First Nations in the area include Thunderchild, Little Pine, Poundmaker, Sweetgrass, Saulteaux, Moosomin, Red Pheasant and Mosquito-Grizzly Bear’s Head-Lean Man.
A child poverty rate of 30.4 per cent in the Battlefords-Lloydminster riding was obtained by dividing the number of low-income children by total children. A total of 20,620 children were in the riding (aged zero to 17), and 6,260 were considered to be in low-income situations.
Five of the top 30 ridings with the highest child poverty rates are in Saskatchewan, with Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River, which encompasses much of the province north of Prince Albert, being the country's second highest at at 57.8 per cent.
The Campaign 2000 report proposes a number of solutions: legislating poverty reduction strategies “to prevent undoing by future governments,” stabilizing transfer payments, increasing the base amount of Canadian Child Benefit and increasing EI benefits and dividends for those living below the poverty line.
For eradicating poverty among Indigenous peoples, the report's proposals include full compliance with the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling by providing equitable funding to First Nation child and family services on reserve, implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action, increasing discretion of First Nation governments over poverty reduction expenditures and nation-to-nation collaboration.
Some scholars argue poverty among First Nation people is a result in part of a historical lack of access. Dr. Sheelah McLean, who gave a presentation at Sakewew High School in February, said at various points in Canadian history, First Nation people weren’t permitted to possess title to land, couldn’t sell wheat freely, couldn’t take out personal loans and their lands were dispossessed.
A pass system acted to prevent easy access, and McLean also noted Status Indians couldn’t vote until 1960 unless they gave up treaty rights and Indian status.
Nicole Combres, executive director of the Battlefords Boys and Girls Club, said she isn’t surprised by the comparatively elevated child poverty level in the federal riding, as indicated by the demand for food at the Boys and Girls Club.
The Boys and Girls Club is a nonprofit that’s been in the community for more than 40 years. The organization provides programming to children and youth aged five to 14, in the form of a number of activities after school and during evenings and weekends.
“We help families of our community meet the basic needs of their children and youth that maybe they aren’t able to do due to their personal circumstances,” Combres said.
The Boys and Girls Club also provides nutrition to area youth.
“What we see from the club’s perspective is there are a large number of children and youth that we feed meals and snacks to who are asking to take home food, that say that they’re hungry, [who] make comments that there are family members in the home who are also hungry and that they need food,” Combres said.
The organization recently started a program called Project Backpack, which aims to address food security issues by providing food to youth over weekends. Some area schools have lunch or breakfast programs, and Combres said the goal of the program is to provide when those meals aren’t available.
While providing nutrition to participants is a common goal of most Boys and Girls clubs, often in the form of after-school snacks, Combres said the North Battleford location is “kind of an exception, not the rule” regarding the amount of meals served.
In Combres’ three years as executive director, the amount of meals and snacks the Boys and Girls Club provides has increased. In 2015, 16,256 meals and snacks were provided, the next year numbers rose to 17,146, and to 18,125 in 2017.
Former executive director of the Empty Stocking Fund and the Battlefords and District Food and Resource Centre Bill Hall told the News-Optimistin June that demand for the food bank increased during the time he was involved with the organizations.
Food for the Boys ad Girls Club comes from a number of sources in the area, including the food bank and a number of restaurants. Innovation Credit Union sponsors a home-cooked meal one night a week.
Combres said she thinks part of the rising demand for food has been the effects of the economy in this region, incomes not keeping up with rises in costs of living, job loss and an increased difficulty for some to find jobs.
While demand for food at the Boys and Girls Club has increased, revenues have decreased. Combres said the Boys and Girls Club doesn’t receive core guaranteed funding and receives much of its funding from grants, donations and fundraising. Funding has been denied from some benefactirs “because they now have to spread their dollars to more people,” Combres said, and people aren’t able to donate as much money.
Meanwhile, expenses have increased, Combres said, due to a number of factors including water bills, property tax, groceries expenses and the need for staff as Boys and Girls Club participants have increased.
For Combres, possible solutions to reducing poverty in the area include helping people find employment and retain employment.
The Boys and Girls Club has two major fundraisers per year, including an annual gala event in November.
There are different ways of calculating poverty, including low-income measure after tax, low-income cut off and market basket measure.
In its 2018 report, Campaign 2000 used low-income measure after tax (LIM-AT).
The concept underlying LIM-AT, according to Statistics Canada, is a household is considered low income if its income is less than half of the median income of all households in the country. LIM-AT takes into account number of people per household, so LIM-AT is different for households with one, two, three, four or more people.
According to Campaign 2000, data is obtained from the T1 Family File (T1FF), which calculates low income based on the tax filings of Canadians, 96 per cent of whom file. Such data includes First Nation people living on reserve and residents of collective dwellings such as criminal justice and group home facilities.
Low-income measure after tax isn’t to be confused with low income cut off. Low income cut off is relatively static threshold compared to LIM-AT, according to a 2017 Campaign 2000 document, while not accounting well for relativity and can be arbitrary.
Professor of political science Alain Noel wrote there’s a certain amount of arbitrariness to such poverty measures. Canada determines low income to be earning less than 50 per cent of median household income, while the European Union uses 60 per cent.
Despite the differences among measurements, Katherine Scott of the Christian faith-based nonprofit Citizens for Public Justice has written “no measure can ever capture the experience of actually living in poverty, which is a drain on dignity, potential and hope.”