Child poverty is on the front burner in Port Alberni.
Much of the discussion at a poverty forum Nov. 24 at the Port Alberni Friendship Centre cited a report called Vital Signs, commissioned by the Alberni Community Foundation.
The forum, hosted by Alberni-Pacific Rim MLA Scott Fraser, was also attended by new Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns, Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District chair Josie Osborne and Mayor Mike Ruttan of Port Alberni.
The forum happened on the same day child-advocacy group First Call BC released its 2015 B.C. Child Poverty Report Card.
Echoing some figures from Vital Signs, the report card showed Port Alberni has the highest child-poverty rate in B.C.
The city is tied with Duncan at 31 per cent for the worst rate for children younger than 18 in low-income families. The two communities are also tied for worst place with 37 per cent of children five and younger in low-income households.
On average provincially, one in five children lives in poverty.
“Nationally, one out of seven children lives in poverty. That goes up to one out of three in the Alberni Valley. That is not acceptable,” Johns said at the forum, reports First Nations’ newspaper Ha-Shilth-Sa.
In an interview, fellow NDP politician Fraser agreed wholeheartedly with Johns’ assessment.
“Nobody was accepting the premise that we had to have this level of poverty … it wasn’t acceptable to any of us at any level.”
The causes of high Alberni poverty include the demise of many high-paying forestry jobs that once gave Port Alberni the highest per-capita income in Canada.
First Call’s report card also identified a relationship between lone-parent families and child poverty. Statistics Canada reports 37.5 per cent of Port Alberni families are lone-parent families, compared to 31 per cent on Vancouver Island and 27 per cent province wide.
Other factors include children with disabilities, visible minorities and First Nations. Seventeen per cent of Alberni Valley residents are First Nations, compared to seven per cent on the Island and five per cent province wide.
The pervasive effects of child poverty last well into adulthood, lowering educational, nutritional, health and employment standards.
Children who grow up poor are more likely to be wards of the state than contributors, which serves nobody.
What can be done to reduce child poverty?
Most of the 21 recommendations in First Call’s report card involve money. The first three call for a higher minimum wage, a “living wage” and higher income and disability assistance rates.
First Call wants a comprehensive poverty reduction plan with legislated targets and timelines. It seeks a goal to reduce B.C.’s child-poverty rate to seven per cent or lower by 2020.
B.C. is the only province without a poverty-reduction strategy, observes Fraser, frustrated by Victoria’s tendency to produce “voodoo statistics that say everything is just great.”
One of the measures of a society is how it cares for its most vulnerable members.
The B.C. Liberals, who plan to cut the PST by one point in 2018, reducing revenue by an estimated $900 million per year, clearly have other priorities.
Mark Allan has been an editor and publisher at Vancouver Island newspapers and now writes about B.C. and federal politics for the Alberni Valley News.