Lise, a mother with two kids who works at a college, and her brother Dan, a lawyer, compare how the 2017 provincial budget has affected them in the last year.
Category: Poverty and Housing
Saskatchewan budget misses opportunity on rental housing assistance
This budget was a major fail for housing affordability in Saskatchewan.
In the recent Saskatchewan budget, the Moe government made the surprise announcement that it would slowly phase out a rental housing assistance program known as the Saskatchewan Rental Housing Supplement. Given current rental housing market realities, the government ought to have done the complete opposite and expanded the program.
That’s because high vacancy rates create a desirable climate in which to provide rental assistance to tenants, which can ultimately reduce costs for other sectors of government.
More than 50,000 households in Saskatchewan experience core housing need, meaning that, by no choice of their own, they either pay more than 30 per cent of their income on shelter, live in housing requiring major repairs or live in housing with too few bedrooms.
That represents more than 13 per cent of all Saskatchewan households — and for Indigenous peoples, the rate is nearly double.
When rental vacancy rates are low — in Saskatchewan, this was the case when potash and oil prices were high — some landlords can demand more money and be selective. They can charge higher rents because jobs are plentiful and they can be picky because they have more choice who they rent to.
But rental vacancy rates are high right now. Across the province, they’re nearly 10 per cent on average. In such a context, landlords are more desperate to rent their units.
In other words, it’s more effective to fund and deliver rent supplements in times of high vacancy rates because each dollar spent by government gets the tenant more for their housing dollar on the private market.
That time is now.
Yet, as of July 1, the Saskatchewan government will accept no further applications for the Saskatchewan Rental Housing Supplement.
This will make life very difficult for low-income households, especially those receiving social assistance. Social assistance in Saskatchewan provides a single, disabled adult with less than $16,000 annually on which to live (for rent, food and other necessities). That’s where the province’s rent supplement program has been helpful. Households currently qualifying for the program receive between $61 and $364 monthly, which supplements the meager social assistance benefits they receive.
Approximately 13,000 people across Saskatchewan currently use this rent supplement.
To qualify, an individual must have a disability or at least one child in their care.
This is not the time to phase out the program. Rather, it’s the time to expand it. Not only can this help vulnerable people; it can also help taxpayers.
By underinvesting in housing for low-income households, health outcomes for those households can deteriorate — which becomes especially clear when people become homeless.
The most comprehensive health survey ever conducted on the homeless in Canada found that persons experiencing absolute homelessness are more than 10 times more likely than the general population to suffer from anxiety, 20 times more likely to have epilepsy and nearly 30 times more likely to have hepatitis C.
Homelessness and poor health outcomes lead to further health care costs for government. For example, it can cost $1,000 a night to keep a person in a hospital bed — vastly more than it costs in Saskatchewan to provide that same person with a rent supplement for an entire month.
The announced phase-out of this program took community stakeholders by surprise.
And how will it actually help taxpayers? It’s projected to result in short-term savings to the provincial government of $5 million annually (or 0.03 per cent of the total budget) — a meagre amount in the overall budget.
Yet, these short-term savings could well be offset and then some by costs associated with increased homelessness.
Governments need to read market signals, understand the downstream consequences of underinvestment and respond accordingly with good public policy. On that score, this budget was a major fail for housing affordability in Saskatchewan.
Nick Falvo is a research associate at the Carleton University Centre for Community Innovation and an expert advisor with EvidenceNetwork.ca. He has a PhD in public policy and is based in Calgary.
Why We Need An Act to Eliminate Poverty in Saskatchewan
Saskatchewan is a wealthy province with a poverty problem. More than one-in-ten people live in poverty and our child poverty rate is above the national average. Dig into the data and you find that some populations disproportionately bear the brunt of poverty in Saskatchewan. Single parent families, new Canadians, persons with disabilities and Indigenous peoples are all more likely to live in poverty. Indigenous children are particularly vulnerable, with Saskatchewan’s rate of First Nations child poverty running as high as one-in-two, a number virtually unchanged over the past ten years.
Poverty means making choices between healthy food, safe housing, school supplies and transportation. It means poorer educational outcomes for children, higher demand on public services and reduced economic productivity. The 2015 Poverty Costs campaign calculated that leaving people in poverty costs Saskatchewan 3.8 billion per year, more than three times the current provincial budget deficit. Investing in affordable housing, accessible childcare, and adequate income can save our province money and improve the health, happiness, and quality of life in our communities. The family and social costs of poverty can be avoided, if we choose to act.
As individuals, we can support employees who pay a living wage and elect representatives who want to reduce poverty. Government commitments to poverty elimination can be fickle, however, with campaign promises forgotten once power is obtained. Ending poverty in Saskatchewan requires sustained action across multiple administrations. This issue is too important to be left to partisan politics.
Legislation would make sustained action the norm. By enshrining a goal in law, defining how success is measured, and setting out some initial actions, Saskatchewan can achieve the lowest poverty rate in Canada. Cabinet should be responsible for reporting on progress every year, the goal being to reduce poverty by 50% by 2024 with continuous reductions in the depth of poverty in the meantime. A similar target was recommended by the Advisory Committee on Poverty Reduction in 2015. The provincial government convened that expert group but failed to heed their advice, illustrating why we cannot depend on promises and good will to drive poverty elimination.
Over the past year, a coalition of anti-poverty advocates from across Saskatchewan has been developing An Act to Eliminate Poverty in Saskatchewan. It draws on existing work by reiterating the calls to action of Saskatchewan’s anti-poverty community, while also building a framework for implementation of those actions. It is modeled on similar pieces of legislation in other provinces but adds a human rights lens which highlights commitments our government has made under international law. This act would make poverty elimination a core responsibility of Cabinet, no matter who forms government.
All governments need to be held accountable for eliminating poverty and promises made during elections are too easy to break. We need our government to be bound by legislation if we want to end poverty in Saskatchewan. Review our draft anti-poverty act online.
Peter Gilmer is an advocate with the Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry who writes on behalf of Saskforward.
Anti-Austerity Activist John Clarke: Fighting Back
John Clarke speaks on Saskatchewan’s austerity budget and how to fight back.
As an organizer with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP), John Clarke has been involved in poor people’s movements for over 25 years. He first became active in anti-poverty struggles in 1983, when he helped form the Union of Unemployed Workers in London, Ontario. In 1989, he was among the organizers of a province-wide March Against Poverty that helped force the Liberal government of the day to increase social assistance rates. Since 1990, John has been a Toronto-based organizer with OCAP, which has played a leading role in mobilizing against policies of economic violence. OCAP has close links with the Irish Housing Network, and John recently traveled to the UK to observe and learn from anti-austerity movements there.
Saskatchewan Speaks: Policy Recommendations for Transformational Change
In December, SaskForward began an online public consultation process that asked people across the province to answer the question, “What ‘transformational change’ would you introduce to make Saskatchewan a happier, healthier, and more prosperous place for all?”
After receiving over one hundred submissions from individuals and organizations and hosting a policy summit and discussion with over 120 participants, SaskForward releases Saskatchewan Speaks: Policy Recommendations for Transformational Change. This report puts forward a series of policy recommendations based on the ideas and suggestions Saskatchewan people shared with us.
Three key messages emerged from the ideas shared with us during the consultation process. The first is that public spending that addresses the root causes of social problems needs to be viewed as an investment that will save us money in the long run. While cuts to social spending may improve balance sheets in the short-term, they will create long-lasting health and social impacts that outweigh any initial cost-saving. Indeed, there was widespread consensus that social program cuts – even in spite of the current deficit – were ill-advised and counter-productive to the overall health of the province.
The second message that emerged from the submissions was that respondents want to see much more emphasis on new revenue streams and sources. Saskatchewan’s revenues as a share of GDP have declined from 22.4 percent in 2007 to 17 percent in 2015. Respondents were unified in their call for the government to consider new revenue sources, with a strong preference for increased progressivity in the provincial income tax system.
Lastly, there was a real appetite for a grand vision for the province, particularly in regards to energy and the environment. Many respondents believe that Saskatchewan – with its ample renewable resources and provincial crown corporations – is uniquely situated to take advantage of the nascent green energy economy given the appropriate direction and investment by the provincial government.
Despite the province’s current economic woes, there was a tremendous optimism in the ability of the province to become a more just and sustainable place in the future. We want to thank the people of Saskatchewan for sharing their visions for the province with SaskForward. We certainly hope the government and the rest of the Saskatchewan public will seriously consider the thoughtful and inspiring ideas we have collected in this report.
Download the full report: SaskForward – Sask Speaks (03-15-17)-4
Summit Panel: Peter Gilmer
Peter Gilmer of the Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry identifies how the Government of Saskatchewan’s cut-backs are impacting the province’s most vulnerable residents.
Transforming Migrant Work Conditions by Migrant Worker Justice for Saskatchewan
They are cooks, cleaners, wait staff. They are welders, electricians, and construction workers. They are nurses, physicians, and live-in caregivers. They are manual labourers in greenhouses and throughout the agricultural sector. Residents of Saskatchewan have direct and indirect encounters with them on a daily basis, whether it is each time they order a double-double, access health care, or purchase some locally grown produce.
They are migrant workers: thousands of foreign workers who are in this province on temporary work permits. They are legally allowed to work here, but there are no guarantees that they will be allowed to stay.
The number of Temporary Foreign Workers in Saskatchewan has increased by 310 percent since 2005, yet there is little systematic understanding of their actual experience of work and residency in Saskatchewan. In 2014, there was an estimated 11,000 TFWs in the province (Citizenship and Immigration Canada, 2014). If we include permanent residents and workers employed in the province through company transfers or the International Labour Mobility program, the number of newcomers and foreign workers is at least double.
Why are workers from all corners of the globe coming here to Saskatchewan to work jobs that are often low-wage and lack security?
These workers are just part of an estimated 232 million migrants worldwide crossing international borders in order to find work pushed by the rapid pace of economic globalization that has resulted in high unemployment and increasing poverty in their home countries (International Labour Organization, 2016). These conditions have resulted in a demand for foreign workers in low and high-skilled occupations here in developed economies, like Saskatchewan. The end result as Choudry and Smith (2016) describe it: “with Economic restructuring, labour market deregulation and the erosion of union power, increasing numbers of workers – and especially immigrant and temporary migrant workers – have suffered disproportionality from low-wage employment and welfare state retrenchment.”
Our two, linked research teams are attempting to better understand this population’s health needs, employment conditions, and housing situations. We are studying the issues migrant workers encounter on the job, whether it is about workplace safety or the complex relationship they have with unions. It is critical that researchers, service providers, policy makers and, most importantly, the general public learn more about migrant workers who are making positive contributions to our communities and our workplaces.
Throughout North America, migrant workers are recognized as especially vulnerable to factors affecting health such as poor housing conditions, workplace safety, and access to health services (Preibisch & Hennebry, 2011; Preibisch & Otero, 2014) – all which can be considered modifiable determinants of health, and all of which are affected by various forms of legislation and regulation. It’s also been well-documented that the legal status of migrant workers makes them particularly vulnerable to workplace exploitation and abuse (Faraday 2014; Faraday 2012; Auditor General of Canada 2009). We are comparing the migrant worker realities in Saskatchewan to experiences in other provinces.
This research also seeks to understand the relationship between migrant workers and their respective unions. Although a substantial number of TFWs are employed in industries, like food services and accommodations, with low union density rates, many work in occupations like healthcare and construction where labour organizations have a significant presence (Stevens 2014a). This component of the project also investigates the interaction between migrant workers and employment standards, and how they navigate the existing complaints-based system governing hours of work, minimum wages, and other basic workplace rights.
In order to get a clearer picture of migrant worker life and health-affecting circumstances in Saskatchewan, the first phase of our study reached out to a variety of community partners who work directly with migrant workers. Our Community Advisory Panel (CAP) draws on a wealth of experience and knowledge amongst professionals and community leaders who interact with migrant workers and migrant worker issues. The purpose of the CAP is to help identify stakeholders we could interview and recruit participants for our study. In total 15 key informants were identified and interviewed in 2016. Collectively our interviewees represent a broad spectrum consisting of faith groups, settlement agencies, employers, government regulators, and workplace safety organizations.
Our preliminary findings shed light on the various ways provincial legislation and regulations affect the well-being of migrant workers. Through the interviews we identified gaps in the established systems (provincial and federal) that are designed to protect the health of these foreign workers. Drawing on and reflecting on our research, questions surface about the design and effectiveness of the provincial mechanisms, particularly related to enforcement provisions, that are supposed to protect migrant workers in Saskatchewan in the areas of employment standards, housing, occupational safety, and accessing health care services.
Accessing Health Care
Our interviews reveal that even if migrant workers are entitled to health care, they have difficulty accessing healthcare services due to language barriers or because they might lack the knowledge of how to navigate the provincial health care system. What is also apparent is that migrant workers are hesitant to report illness and or seek medical attention because they are fearful doing so may compromise their employment and result, ultimately, in deportation. Unfortunately, this fear is not unfounded. The service providers and migrant worker advocates we spoke to provided accounts of this actually occurring:
I know one guy who had his appendix removed, after he was released from the hospital shortly he was sent back home because his recuperation would take longer. So the employer don’t want to risk it because the reality is it’s money that they are investing and they need to get some return so they don’t want to have workers that aren’t healthy or they don’t work. (migrant worker advocate)
These health care realities have even changed the human resource practices in companies that came to rely on the Temporary Foreign Work Program.
We actually partnered with a doctor’s office. And in the doctor’s office there’s like a doctor, a chiropractor, a massage therapist – you know there’s whole bunch of different practices all practicing in one practice. And so for a lot of our people they don’t have a doctor, right? Like they don’t have somebody that they’ve seen ever since they were born. Like a lot of them, when you’re new to the country, you haven’t had that exposure to somebody that may not have just been a walk-in clinic. You know like if you weren’t feeling good. So we never force anybody to go to our doctor, it is always up to them. And the doctors that we work with are very familiar with our processes and that – we want to accommodate. (human resource manager)
Housing surfaced as an issue among migrant workers according to settlement workers and migrant worker advocates in the community. This includes migrant workers who are free to secure their own housing as well as those who live in accommodation provided by their employers. Access to affordable and safe housing in close proximity to services and sources of employment is limited, especially in Saskatchewan’s two main urban centres. Many interview participants mentioned that affordable housing was often restricted to what they perceive as unsafe neighbourhoods or in poorly maintained properties. It is important to recognize that this is a problem facing many low-income residents in Saskatchewan, and sheds light on the limitations of existing municipal and provincial housing strategies.
Many critical questions surface when examining the effectiveness of the regulatory bodies that are tasked with conducting housing inspections for employers who hire and house migrant workers. Interview participants frequently summoned examples of over-crowding, housing supplied with insufficient number of appliances, and infrastructure that is in poor to inoperable condition. Employers often approached Regional Health Authorities for housing inspection documentation, which they can later submit as part of their application to hire foreign temporary workers:
We would report only on the conditions that we would see the time and the day of the inspection. Which means if they ask for the inspection in the middle of December, and everything is frozen and boarded up because they aren’t going to have [the workers] until summer, all we would say is, this is the time we were here and this is what we saw.
Often time the inspection is before the migrant worker actually shows up because it is part of the approval process to actually get them on site. So often times they are not even there when I am inspecting. (housing inspector)
This reflection is problematic because it does not assure the housing adequately meet the needs of the migrant workers, and sheds light on the limitations of the inspection regime as applied to housing for TFWs. It is also not an accurate assessment of the actual living conditions of the migrant workers once they actually arrive, and fails to prevent the examples of over-crowding summoned during interviews.
Occupational health encompasses the physical and psychological well-being of workers. Saskatchewan has one of the highest work-related injury rates and the highest workplace injury-related fatality rate among Canadian provinces (AWCBC, 2016). Common occupational health issues cited by our interviewees include migrant workers being over-worked, not being trained properly in workplace safety, lack of proper safety equipment, and/or unsafe working conditions. As one interviewee noted:
Vulnerable workers will often overlook safety, just to keep their job. They’ll often overlook any safety concerns, and that’s the same with migrant workers, or with new Canadians is [that] safety isn’t important. They’ll do whatever they have to do or are told to do and that’ll be it. (union representative)
The consensus among interviewees was that there are significant obstacles to migrant workers reporting workplace injuries, and materials related to OHS rights and responsibilities and OHS training need to be translated into different languages. A key informant had this to say:
Their own situation isn’t stable yet in Canada. They worry that if they complain, there’ll be retribution. And in some cases they come from a country where there was retribution if they were injured at work. Not in all cases but in some cases. So that is the number one thing; the tendency is to not report at all; they’re too scared to report. (member of provincial safety association)
These gaps result in unreported injuries, and migrant workers not getting the support they are entitled to from the Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation Board. Furthermore, because of injury under reporting, safety associations, the Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety, and other injury prevention partners, may not have an accurate picture of the types and frequency of injuries experienced by migrant workers.
Employment standards and labour relations legislation in Saskatchewan has always been a politically charged issue. In the last decade, major legislative overhauls resulted in the introduction of the Saskatchewan Employment Act, which, by some accounts, has tilted the balance of power in the favour of employers and businesses in the province (Stevens 2014b). However, some improvements to the basic floor of employment rights have been established, not least of which is legislation focused on protecting migrant and immigrant worker rights. Some of these legislative changes surfaced in response to hundreds of reported cases of abuse and exploitation.
Interviewees discussed at length the ways in which the precariousness of status makes migrant workers more vulnerable than their Canadian counterparts. The combination of possible workplace exploitation, mistreatment and abuse combined with a lack of understanding about rights in general is identified as a major issue:
The stories I’ve heard from my clients they’re – they were treated very, very badly. They were called even slaves. You came to Canada because I give you these option. I wanted you to come to – and you have to do whatever I tell you otherwise I just kick you as from this place. (settlement worker)
Proclaimed in 2013, Saskatchewan’s Foreign Worker Immigration Rights and Services Act (FWRISA) is designed to police recruiters, immigration consultants and employers, and offer migrant workers legal avenues through which to address instances of harassment and exploitation in the workplace. The province describes this legislation as the most comprehensive of its kind in Canada. In fact, our province’s legislated protections for migrant workers have been given a B+ by the Canadian Council for Refugees in that organization’s 2015 national Report Card (CCR 2015). However, there is room for improvement. Our findings suggest that the legislation does not go far enough in auditing employers, or providing migrant workers with adequate assurances that they will not lose employment or be deported should they choose to file a complaint.
Although FWRISA can conduct investigations regarding abuse or mistreatment of workers, there are only three Integrity Officers plus an Executive Director who are responsible for the entire province of Saskatchewan. This shortfall is reflected in the federal management and enforcement of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. With over a thousand organizations accessing the TFWP, the sheer number of employers who hire migrant workers makes it difficult if not impossible for even a quarter of employers in Saskatchewan to be audited. The question raised here is whether this creates a scenario whereby abuses may routinely occur, go unreported or are underreported. Since FWRISA also operates as a complaint-based system, it means migrant workers themselves who have a workplace issue, or their allies in the community, must contact the FWRISA hotline. Problems with this complaint-based system have long been documented in Saskatchewan and across Canada (Faraday 2014; Leo 2014). As our evidence shows, it is apparent that the fear of dismissal or deportation is a very real one for many of these workers, and therefore, there is great reluctance to report to authorities and instead continue to tolerate a situation with no reprieve or resolution.
There have also been unintended consequences stemming from FWRISA, which have hindered the capacity of public servants to offer assistants to migrant workers. This also ties into the lack of English language competencies amongst some of these newcomers and the lack of multi-lingual information about services.
One of the big limitations is …you know, there’s so many forms. And everybody says “can you help me do this form? Can you help me do this form?” and actually with the provincial legislation, we cannot help them do the form. We can give them the same information that there would be on the website about the form, and about the categories but we can’t say “if I was you I would put this here. Or I would put it like this”. We cannot interpret their information for them. According to the new provincial legislation that came in February of 2014, where you cannot act as if you are an Immigration Consultant. (settlement worker)
Future Directions for Research and Policy
While this paper represents a short summary of our preliminary research findings, and while there are still many unknowns about the experiences of migrant workers in Saskatchewan, our data raises the questions about the self-regulatory and complaints-driven regulatory model of migrant worker rights. The evidence suggests there is a need for greater resources for migrant workers than what already exists, and that there are not sufficient supports exclusively tailored to the unique needs of migrant workers. It also suggests the protective mechanisms in place ought to be strengthened. Going forward, our research team has highlighted the following issues:
- In recognizing that many migrant workers originate in non-English speaking countries, all three levels of government need to consider the translation of documents related to accessing public service, employment rights, and occupational health and safety into languages commonly spoken by these newcomers (e.g., Spanish, Hindi, Tagalog, Arabic).
- Consideration needs to be given to making publicly accessible the number of cases investigated by the Ministry of the Economy’s Program Integrity Unit, which oversees the FWRISA, as well as the outcome of these investigations and parties involved. Immigration recruiters and agencies that have been banned from practicing in Saskatchewan need to be included on a government-maintained list.
- With legislation already in place for housing, employments standards and occupational health/safety, but gaps in enforcement revealed in this research, Saskatchewan needs implementation of a more robust inspection mandate in these areas. Relatedly, this requires an examination of the existing self-regulation and complaints-based models in these respective areas. Proactive approaches (e.g., random audits and inspections) may help identify those employers that regularly flaunt OHS and employment law. Here, cooperation will be required between Ministries and with municipal levels of government.
- Recognizing that issues surrounding access to safe affordable housing are similarly faced by thousands of migrant and non-migrants, local municipalities need to be empowered with a provincial affordable housing strategy. The principal focus should be on the two major urban centres, Saskatoon and Regina, where about half of all TFWs are located. Challenges faced by migrant workers in rural areas and smaller municipalities also need to be considered.
By “Health Wanted: Social Determinants of Health Among Migrant Workers, and “Saskatchewan in the Global Division of Migrant Labor” research teams at the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Regina.
Farha Akhtar, Dr. Michael Schwandt, Dr. Lori Hanson, Dr. Sean Tucker, Dr. Andrew Stevens
AWCBC (Association of Workers Compensation Boards of Canada). (2016) http://awcbc.org/?page_id=14
Auditor General of Canada. 2009. Report of the Auditor General of Canada to the House of Commons. Chapter 2: Selecting foreign workers under the Immigration Program. Fall.
CCR. 2015. Report card: Migrant workers in Saskatchewan. http://ccrweb.ca/sites/ccrweb.ca/files/sk_report_card.pdf
Choudry, Aziz & Smith, Adrian. 2016. Unfree Labour? Struggles of Migrant and Immigrant Workers in Canada. April. Oakland: PM Press.
Faraday, Fay. 2014. Profiting from the precarious: How recruitment practices exploit migrant workers. April. Toronto: Metcalf Foundation.
Faraday, Fay. 2012. Made in Canada: How the law constructs migrant workers’ insecurity. Toronto: Metcalf Foundation.
International Labour Organization. 2016. International Labour Standards on Migrant Workers.
Leo, Geoff. 2014. Complaint-based systems failing abused foreign workers. CBC News, May 27. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/complaint-based-systems-failing-abused-foreign-workers-expert-1.2651413
Preibisch, Kerry and J. Hennebry J. 2011. Temporary migration, chronic effects: the health of international migrant workers in Canada. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 183(9), 1033–1038.
Preibisch, Kerry, and G. Otero. 2014. Does citizenship status matter in Canadian agriculture? Workplace health and safety for migrant and immigrant laborers. Rural sociology, 79(2), 174-199.
Stevens, Andrew. 2014a. Temporary foreign workers in Saskatchewan’s “booming” economy. Regina: CCPA-Saskatchewan.
Stevens, Andrew. 2014b. Is the Saskatchewan Employment Act ready of modern realities? Rankandfile.ca, May 13. http://rankandfile.ca/2014/05/13/is-the-saskatchewan-employment-act-ready-for-modern-realities/
Angelina and Daniel Beveridge on an upstream diabetes/obesity strategy
Upstream: Toward a Provincial Strategy on Obesity Prevention
We have heard that Saskatchewan has a financial deficit of about $1 billion. We know that a large proportion of our Saskatchewan budget, perhaps 40 percent, is devoted to what is called “health care” although more correctly it should be called illness care and treatment. A significant portion of that cost is what the provincial government pays for treatment of diabetes and other obesity-related illnesses. We also know that prior to 1960, diabetes of type II was relatively rare in Saskatchewan whereas now it is considered an epidemic.
What is called for here is real “transformational change,” not just continuing the current treatment approach, but an upstream approach, a prevention approach, dealing with causes, and gradually reducing treatment costs over time.
In this submission we claim that obesity is preventable, and with it, many obesity-related illnesses, such of diabetes and the complications associated with diabetes. We claim that in our society we presently have the knowledge and skill to prevent obesity but we are not putting a sufficient priority on prevention. We claim that increasing the current health promotion and disease prevention budget to 3 percent from the current 1.4 percent of total health expenditures by Saskatchewan Health would have a major impact in reducing obesity and reducing overall “health care” costs. We suggest that the following claim be pondered, at least briefly, rather than dismissed as outrageous:
“…if all residents of Saskatchewan had healthy weights (BMI = 20 to 24.9) the province would save up to $260 million a year… If all Saskatchewan residents had healthy weights and did not smoke, the province could save up to $570 million a year.” (Colman 2001: 20)
Finally we claim, if we do not increase substantially the current efforts at prevention, that obesity, diabetes and related costs shall continue to climb dramatically, with major negative impacts on all Saskatchewan residents.
“Widespread increases in physical inactivity and caloric intake have led to a global epidemic of overweight, obesity and diabetes. The reasons for these trends are multifaceted and complex. However, major drivers include the ubiquity of high-calorie, low-cost convenience foods, increased portion sizes, and a way of life that encourages sedentary behaviour, such as sitting at computers, in front of television screens, and in cars” (Booth 2015).
For the first time, in 1997, the World Health Organization (WHO) referred to obesity as a “global epidemic.” For the first time in human history, the number of overweight people in the world now equals the number of underfed people, with 1.1 billion in each group (Colman 2001).
Obesity and diabetes have reached epidemic proportions in Canada. Obesity is a major risk factor for diabetes and many other chronic diseases, all of which place major costs on the health care system and the economy as well as the individual and family involved. For example, obese Canadians are four times more likely to have diabetes than those with healthy weights. Obesity was not a problem several decades ago. Obesity is preventable. A cost-effective strategy must take an “upstream” approach, aiming at prevention of obesity, focussing primarily on adequate physical activity and a healthy diet from an early age and secondarily on the physical environment.
Obesity is a sensitive subject. Our intent here is not to cast blame, to make overweight people feel bad about themselves, or to allow healthy weight people to feel smug. “On the contrary, it is to suggest that Saskatchewan could take the lead in turning around a highly destructive global trend, and to encourage communities, schools, policy makers, health professionals and ordinary individuals to work together to improve the health and well-being of all our citizens” (Colman 2001). Pursuing healthy weights should not be viewed as simply a purely individual responsibility but a challenge calling for a “whole-of-society” approach (Obesity in Canada, Canada Senate Report, 2016:18).
Extent of Obesity and Diabetes
The extent of obesity in Canada is “high and rising:” even more alarming is the recent increase among children and youth. Two-thirds of Canadian adults are overweight (BMI= 25.0 to 29.9) or obese (BMI=>30.0), (where BMI or Body Mass Index = weight in kg/height in cm squared). This has increased dramatically over the past 25 years, roughly doubling in adults. One quarter of Canadian adults and 8.6 percent of children and youth aged 6-17 are obese according to measured height and weight data from 2007-2009 (Obesity in Canada, p. 4). Another source states that in the period 1985 to 2011 obesity tripled from 6 percent to 18 percent of the Canadian population.
Other sources show similar findings: obese Canadians are 20.2 % of the population; overweight and obese men are 62 % and women 46 %. Another source shows that among non-aboriginals, age 18 and over, 2009-2010 data, the percentage who are overweight or obese is 51.9%; among First Nations on-reserve it is 74.4%; among First Nations off-reserve it is 62.5%, 2008-2010 data (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2011).
In Saskatchewan, nearly two-thirds of residents have an unhealthy weight, second only to New Brunswick (Colman 2001). In Saskatchewan, approximately 57 percent of adults and 20 percent of youth are either overweight or obese. Regarding diabetes, it is estimated that the number of people living with diabetes in Saskatchewan will grow to 100,000 in 2017, up from 97,000 in 2016, and will increase by 35 percent in the next decade. In addition, a further 176,000 are expected to be living with pre-diabetes and another 43,000 living with undiagnosed diabetes (Canadian Diabetes Association, 2017??). Not only is the number of people with diabetes growing, but so are the serious complications they experience such as heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, blindness and limb amputation, all of which incur serious costs on the individuals, families and the province.
Obesity is a risk factor in many chronic diseases. Obesity significantly increases the risk of Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), high cholesterol, osteoarthritis and certain types of cancer. In turn, diabetes leads to serious complications as listed above. Estimates of the cost of obesity in Canada range from $4.6 billion to $7.1 billion annually (2006). For diabetes alone the cost in 2000 was $2.5 billion a year (Diabetes in Canada, p. 47).
In Saskatchewan obesity is the second-leading preventable cause of death after cigarette smoking. It is estimated that more than 960 Saskatchewan residents die prematurely each year due to obesity-related illness, compared to 1,200 deaths due to tobacco and about 100 road accident deaths.
Obesity-related illnesses cost the Saskatchewan health care system an estimated $120 million dollars annually, or 7.3% of total direct health care costs. When productivity losses due to obesity, including premature death, absenteeism and disability are added, the total cost of obesity to the Saskatchewan economy was estimated at between $230 million and $260 million a year, equal to 1% of the province’s Gross Domestic Product. If present trends continue, these costs could surpass the direct and indirect costs of tobacco smoking, currently about $311 million a year (Colman 2001).
A recent study indicates that diabetes alone costs Saskatchewan’s health care system $99.8 million a year in direct costs including hospitalization, doctor visits, dialysis and inpatient medications.
Although obesity represents a burden for some, it is a boon to economic growth and the GDP. The obesity epidemic is a boon for the pharmaceutical industry. New factories need to be built to produce more insulin and other anti-diabetic drugs to meet the skyrocketing demand from those with diabetes, as global incidence of diabetes is expected to double to 300 million people by the year 2015. Like war, crime and pollution, illness can make the economy grow more rapidly than peace, health and a clean environment. In the USA, liposuction is the leading form of cosmetic surgery; diet and weight loss industries contribute $33 billion to the U.S. economy annually (Colman 2001: 23).
Obesity involves a wide and interactive range of behavioural, biological/genetic, and societal factors. Health behaviours or lifestyle factors, primarily eating healthy food and having adequate physical activity, are themselves influenced by deeper societal factors like stress and work patterns.
Poor eating habits (including low consumption of fruits and vegetables and high consumption of refined carbohydrates and sweetened beverages (Bray 2003), particularly high-sugar, high-salt, fast food, show a strong association with the prevalence of obesity. Eating habits, healthy and unhealthy, are learned at an early age, like developing a taste for vegetables or for foods with sugar and salt: much food marketed as baby food has considerable levels of salt and sugar. Access to healthy food also is important: low income and distance from a food store may lead to more use of closer convenience stores with poorer food choices. For those with higher incomes, sedentary lifestyles, longer work hours, rising stress levels, may all contribute to increasing unhealthy weights. In Saskatchewan residents eat out more often than they used to and one quarter experience high levels of chronic stress (Colman 2001).
The food industry contributes $30 billion in advertising to the U.S. GDP (Gross Domestic Product), more than any other industry does, and much of it promotes the very foods that cause obesity: much of it targets children and youth. In Canada, current support for education or information programs aimed at nutritional illiteracy is infinitesimal in comparison: it appears that we are simply leaving this topic to the food industry.
Physical inactivity also has a strong association with obesity for both men and women. In the USA, which does not have universal Medicare, some HMOs (Health Management Organizations), finding that people who are more active use fewer medications, encourage their clients to participate in physical activity by subsidizing gym fees,
Less than half of Saskatchewan residents exercise regularly (three or more times a week), the second lowest rate of activity in Canada, and a quarter either never exercise or exercise less than once a week. Saskatchewan residents watch an average of 3.25 hours of television each day (Colman 2001). Television watching often begins at an early age, followed by video games and smart phones.
Although lifestyle is the major risk factor for obesity, societal factors such as family history, ethnic background and socioeconomic status, as well as the physical environment also play a significant part. Obesity is correlated with low educational level, poverty and rural residence; obesity also is generally higher in Aboriginal (37.8%) than non-Aboriginal people. Climbing obesity rates are less the fault of individuals and more a consequence of changes in the food environment (e.g. a huge increase in fast food outlets) and a decrease in physical activity demands in daily living, resulting in an “obesogenic environment” making it too easy to eat poorly and remain sedentary (Obesity in Canada, Senate Report, 2016:8)
A more recent consideration regarding obesity that is gaining momentum among public health officials, at least in urban areas, is the potential to design or redesign the built environment in which we live—including buildings, parks, transportation systems and overall communities—to promote active, healthy living. Numerous studies have suggested a link between neighbourhood characteristics – including urban design, the presence of recreational spaces and “foodscapes” –and the physical activity and dietary patterns of local residents. Thus there is growing evidence from large, observational studies that neighbourhoods that provide more opportunities for walking and cycling have lower rates of obesity and diabetes. Collectively, this evidence suggests that population interventions targeting the built environment may have long-term health benefits (Booth 2015).
Saskatchewan Ministry of Health
- That the Ministry increase the health promotion and disease prevention budget to 3% from the current 1.4% of total health expenditures (currently 98.6% of Saskatchewan’s “health care” budget is actually comprised of illness-treatment expenditures. Currently we spend substantial amounts to make Saskatchewan roads safer and reduce the likelihood of about 100 road accident deaths annually: a fraction of that invested in nutritional literacy and physical education programs might yield significant dividends both in lives saved and in reducing the annual quarter billion dollar drain on the Saskatchewan economy due to obesity-related illness (currently about 960 lives lost yearly).
- That the Ministry develop performance indicators that reflect upstream preventative measures as well as downstream treatment measures like wait times.
- Encourage improved training for physicians regarding diet and physical activity.
- Promote the use of physician counseling, including the use of prescriptions for exercise.
- That public funding be increased for treatment of obese adults and youth: counselling, medication and surgery.
Saskatchewan Ministry of Education: Children and Youth
- Mandating and funding school boards to implement the existing policy that children and youth engage in 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily at school. (Inspiring Movement 2010). This is not necessarily the same as
- Monitoring to what extent school boards have implemented the 2010 policy on physical activity.
- Limiting foods and drinks sold in schools to healthy choices: these should provide healthy meals as well as educational opportunities for children to participate in meal planning and preparation.
- Nutritional education.
Other Public Policy
- Regulation of marketing to children particularly of the energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods and beverages
- Warning labels and taxes on unhealthy foods and beverages (akin to current anti-tobacco strategies)
- Community planning that promotes active commuting and recreational physical activities
- Financial incentives, similar to the Children’s Fitness Tax Credit, for low income adults and seniors affected with chronic conditions, to attend a fitness centre that provides supervised physical activity.
- Dependable funding for programs such as ParticipAction.
- In view of the correlation between stress, long work hours, poor dietary habits and gains in overweight, consider creating jobs by reducing work hours as European countries have done (Colman 2001)
- How much currently is spent by government and non-governmental organizations like the Canadian Diabetes Association on prevention?
- What research has been done on the possible cost-effectiveness of prevention measures such as those suggested here?
- Why do Saskatchewan governments of all political stripes continue to spend so little on prevention?
- How much could we save in the cost of anti-diabetic medications with a nation-wide pharmacare plan involving bulk purchases?
- How much attention is given in Saskatchewan schools to (a) learning healthy eating practices, cooking, and vegetable gardening? (b) physical activity? (c) community alternatives to school bussing?
- What lessons have been learned from the reasonably successful anti-smoking campaign in Canada?
Beveridge, Angelina. Resolution by Saskatchewan Registered Nurses Association (SRNA) at Annual General Meeting 2008
Beveridge, Angelina. Resolution by Saskatchewan Registered Nurses Association (SRNA) at Annual General Meeting 2008
Beveridge, Angelina. Toward a Provincial Strategy on Obesity Prevention and Management, SRNA Newsletter, August 2013
Booth, Gillian. Lifestyle, the built urban environment and social engineering. International Diabetes Federation Conference, Vancouver 2015.
Bray, GA. Low CHO diets and realities of weight loss, JAMA 2003, 289. pp.1853-1855.
Canadian Diabetes Association. The Cost of Diabetes in Saskatchewan: the Saskatchewan Diabetes Cost Model. (from CDA, An Economic Tsunami: the Cost of Diabetes in Canada, 2009)
Canadian Diabetes Association/Diabetes Educator Section, Saskatchewan Newsletter, Update for members, Winter 2017, “New 2017 – Saskatchewan Diabetes Rates Rising, Report indicates urgent changes needed”
Colman, R. Cost of Obesity in Saskatchewan. Glen Haven, NS: GPI Atlantic, Jan. 2001. Retrieved 2013/08/12, http://www.gpiatlantic.org/pdf/health/obesity/sask-obesity.pdf
Obesity in Canada: A Joint Report from the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Canadian Institute for Health Information, 2011. http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/hp-ps/hl-mvs/oic-oac/assets/pdf/oic-oac-eng.pdf
Obesity in Canada: A Whole-of-Society Approach for a Healthier Canada. Report of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, 2016. Retrieved 2017/01/30, https://sencanada.ca/content/sen/committee/421/SOCI/Reports/2016-02-25_Revised_report_
Diabetes in Canada 2011: Facts and figures from a public health perspective. Public Health Agency of Canada, Ottawa, 2011. http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/cd-mc/publications/diabetes-diabete/facts-figures-faits-chiffres-2011
Saskatchewan Ministry of Education, Inspiring Movement: Towards Comprehensive School
Community Health: Guidelines for Physical Activity in Saskatchewan Schools. Feb. 2010. http://www.education.gov.sk.ca/inspiring-movement
Saskatchewan Ministry of Education, Nourishing Minds: Towards Comprehensive School Community Health: Nutrition Policy Development in Saskatchewan Schools. Oct. 2009. http://www.education.gov.sk.ca/nourishing-minds
Angelina Beveridge is a retired diabetes nurse educator with the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region. Daniel Beveridge is a retired University of Regina professor.
Daniel M. Beveridge firstname.lastname@example.org
Angelina Beveridge Angelina.Beveridge@gmail.com
Tanya Andrusieczko on gender equality in policy-making
Women disproportionately fare worse than men under conditions of austerity.
Of course, women aren’t a unified group with internally coherent identities, and women don’t experience inequalities in the same ways. Indigenous women, women of colour, new immigrant and refugee women, settler women, queer women, trans women and non-binary folks, women with disabilities, working class women face various forms of inequality and have different priorities, challenges, and ambitions.
Broadly speaking, gender-based social and economic inequalities are exacerbated by austerity. When the government makes cuts to education, affordable housing, health care, social service, and legal aid, care is re-privatized, women’s unpaid labour is entrenched as a normal course of action, and conditions of poverty and precarious labour are intensified. The unpaid work required to make up for these services puts women in a position of having to pick up the pieces, often at a huge cost.
In Saskatchewan, the gendered implications of austerity are substantial. This province has some of the highest child poverty rates in the country, at 24.6%. On reserves, they’re a staggering 69%. This ongoing colonial legacy means that cuts to health, education, affordable housing, social services, and legal aid only intensify the demands on family networks, and women in particular.
We cannot accept gender inequality in this province.
We need an intersectional governance approach that builds social infrastructure, rather than undermines it. We need a progressive childcare strategy and equitable parental leave structures; a poverty reduction plan and a housing strategy; uninhibited access to health care – including reproductive and sexual health – in the North and rural communities; equal funding for on-reserve education and child and family services; provincial transportation networks that improve access to services; universal access to higher education; flexible job training programs; compassionate and responsive elder care and long-term care; and a $15 minimum wage.
But how can we ensure such goals are consistently pursued at the highest decision-making levels?
One transformative possibility is to create a permanent, independent office of gender mainstreaming that ensures that principles of intersectional gender equality are present in all legislation, regulations, and policies. Gender mainstreaming, an approach to building in gender equality lenses into government offices, units, and agencies, would ensure that all governmental decisions (on policy, budgets, taxation, and so on) promote gender equality.
Sweden serves as a great example of a jurisdiction where gender mainstreaming has been supported and implemented in all aspects of governmental work. In the 1990s, the government of Sweden passed a bill that “clarified the responsibility of the government agencies to implement the Government’s gender equality policy in their activities.” Gender policy expert groups and committees work with all government agencies to shape the ways that policy and regulations respond to the overall goal of ensuring “that women and men have the same power to shape society and their own lives.” (Check out Sweden’s gender mainstreaming manual and this video of the ways that gender mainstreaming has affected services like snow ploughing.)
An intersectional, outcome-oriented approach to gender mainstreaming would demand interventions in those policies and laws that perpetuate this province’s colonial past and present, and class-, race-, sexuality-based inequalities. These discussions need to happen at each step of the policy- and regulation-creation process. If every governmental agency and office were accountable to a mandate of gender equality alongside its other work, maybe we would see an end to austerity logic as a default approach to deficit reduction.
Poverty Free Saskatchewan on a Transformative Approach to Poverty Elimination
The Government of Saskatchewan’s announcement following the budget of 2016 to launch a “transformational” agenda in response to a massive deficit was a puzzling and confusing political move. What exactly did Premier Wall have in mind? What magnitude of change was the government considering? Transform has two different meanings, “to change the outward form or appearance” or “to change in character or condition/potential”. (Webster’s) Within a few months and after several government announcements it has become clear that the government is intent on changing the character of governance in the province.
Poverty Free Saskatchewan (PFS) has been advocating for a systematic approach to poverty elimination since 2009, identifying six pillars for addressing poverty: housing access and affordability; income security for vulnerable groups; education, training and early childhood learning and development; enabling and rewarding work and participation in our communities; improving access to and quality of services for low income people; and, promoting health and preventing illness. PFS has also been advocating for a provincial legislative Act on poverty elimination.
Aboriginal children experience poverty at much high rates than others in the province. Of the 55,000 children living in poverty in 2010 31,000 were First Nations and Métis. How will the province ever transform their lives unless Indigenous people are fully included in anti-poverty planning and response?
PFS proposes that the government missed a huge opportunity to undertake positive transformational change when it failed to move forward on the anti-poverty file. The government ignored some important recommendations of the Advisory Group on Poverty Reduction and has not come forward with a real poverty reduction plan, instead implementing cutbacks contrary to poverty reduction. Yet the provincial government says it is committed to implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action. PFS is calling on government to transform its approach to poverty and include more initiatives that address Indigenous child poverty. If the government were to construct a well thought out anti-poverty plan and included the TRC Calls to Action then it would be finally on its way to reaching its poverty reduction target. If it just gives lip service to TRC, anti- poverty gains will not be made.
Saskatchewan Government Poverty Reduction Strategy
In December 2014, the government of Saskatchewan initiated the development of a Poverty Reduction Strategy and appointed an Advisory Group on Poverty Reduction (AGPR) to guide the process. The AGPR was mandated “to review past and ongoing initiatives that address poverty, identify key gaps and opportunities to reduce the incidence of poverty in Saskatchewan, and make recommendations to government to inform the future development of a Poverty Reduction Strategy.” (1) From the outset, it was clear that the AGPR was not empowered to produce a poverty reduction plan, instead it was to merely inform the government about identifying ways forward. Most importantly though, the AGPR report did recommend that the government utilize a comprehensive, integrated approach, and create an implementation plan with targets, timelines and a budget aimed at reducing poverty. This is an important and necessary structural approach to attacking poverty; moreover, this template has been put forward many times in the past by various community groups and academics, including Poverty Free Saskatchewan.
The AGPR report also acknowledged the recommendations of the federal Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The AGPR report stated, “Respecting the dignity of First Nations and Métis people includes addressing the consequences of colonialism, residential schools and ongoing racism.” Recognition of the TRC’s Final Report was an important step forward by AGPR and identifies ways in which the provincial government could support the TRC report’s recommendations.
The government reviewed the recommendations of the AGPR report and in February 2016 released the Saskatchewan Poverty Reduction Strategy (SPRS).
The Minister of Social Services at that time, Donna Harpauer, in the introduction to the SPRS report, set forth the long-term poverty outcome of the government. She stated, “We have set an ambitious goal to reduce the number of people who experience poverty for two years or more by 50 per cent by the end of 2025.” (2) The report, however, failed to provide a working definition of “people who experience poverty for two years or more”; nor did it identify any methodology for establishing this metric and calculating it on an ongoing basis. Thus, one of the key measurements of progress toward poverty reduction is just a vague political promise.
Under housing and homelessness, the SPRS recommends no specific targets for the increase of social housing that would be needed by 2020.
The early childhood development and childcare section does not provide any actual numbers of child care spaces required or how to develop a high quality affordable child care system.
The education section puts much emphasis on increasing the number of students attaining a grade 12. This has been a government target for many years. Increasing investment in public, Catholic and band schools to help attain this target is long overdue. Also, there is little emphasis on a job creation strategy, or how education and employment targets for First Nations could be improved.
The health and food security recommendations lack targets and justification for the limited measures identified.
Although the SPRS report identifies six key components of a poverty plan, it does not identify any changes to government structures to carry out the policy and program changes necessary to affect the lives of those most affected by poverty. The report suggests an independent review body but does not indicate whether this work could be accomplished by a task force, a special poverty office or a new government department. Without a pathway to move the recommendations forward they can easily by lost in the complex relations among ministries.
Unfortunately to date an actual plan, which is needed to implement this Strategy, has yet to see the light of day. Instead of an expansion of social and economic benefits and protections we are seeing announcements of broad-based funding cuts to social, health and education programs that support our most vulnerable citizens.
Addressing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action
In December 2015 after six years of study and deliberation of the history and legacy of Canada’s residential school system the Truth and Reconciliation Commission tabled its report along with 94 Calls to Action. The report estimated that 3200 (5%-7%) of enrolled students enrolled in the residential school system died from tuberculosis, malnutrition and other diseases resulting from poor conditions. Separation of Indigenous children from their parents resulted in lifelong negative impacts on both children and parents and destabilized indigenous culture for generations. While its recommendations are comprehensive, the Commission was set up to address the damages related to residential schools. First Nations people were provided some compensation for those harms. The TRC could not recommend any damages for other impacts of colonialism such as loss of land, loss of control over resources or any other losses at odds with Canadian sovereignty. (3)
The TRC urges all levels of government, federal, provincial, territorial, and Aboriginal to work together to change policies and programs in a concerted effort to repair the harm caused by residential schools. Call to Action 53 recommended establishment of an independent national oversight body to monitor, evaluate and report to Parliament on implementation progress to ensure government accountability. To date no such body has been created thus it is difficult to ascertain what implementation progress is being made by the federal or provincial governments, despite all the verbal commitments. The Assembly of First Nations promised to develop an action toolkit and a progress report to present at the 2016 annual general gathering. Prime Minister Trudeau announced a five-point plan in response to the TRC including: setting up a public inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, lifting of the two per cent cap on funding First Nations programs, making significant investments in education, implementing all 94 recommendations including the United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples and finally, agreeing to meet with the four First Nations leaders after the final report was tabled. The public inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women is underway but progress on other Calls to Action is unclear.
The TRC Calls to Action related to the justice system require wide ranging responses from the provincial government that are closely correlated with poverty elimination. These include “eliminating the overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in custody, provide sufficient and stable funding to implement and evaluate community sanctions that will provide realistic alternatives to imprisonment”, address and prevent Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, “ work with Aboriginal communities to provide culturally relevant services to inmates on issues such as substance abuse, family and domestic violence, overcome the experience of having been sexually abused” and finally, commit to eliminate the over-representation of Aboriginal youth in custody over the next decade. (4)
Call to Action 55 requests all levels of government to provide annual reports on such indicators as number of Aboriginal children in care, compared with non-Aboriginal, reasons for apprehension and total spending on preventative and child care services, comparative funding for education of First Nations children on and off reserves, educational income and outcome attainments of Aboriginal people, and progress on closing the gaps between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities with respect to a number of health indicators such as: infant mortality, maternal health, suicide, mental health, addictions, life expectancy, birth rates, infant and child health issues, chronic diseases, illness and injury incidence and the availability of appropriate health services. (5)
There is much overlap between the TRC funding, monitoring and reporting demands and what would be automatically evaluated and rolled up into a high quality, well integrated anti-poverty plan.
Canadian Premiers voiced their support for the Call to Action, including Premier Wall. The Government of Saskatchewan’s media release and web page stated “the government committed to meeting this task (TRC Calls to Action) through the adoption of practical solutions. We will create a multi-ministry team to carefully examine this report and the full report once released. We will look to build on successes, such as teaching Treaty and First Nations and Métis histories in the classroom and the Joint Task Force on improving education and employment outcomes for First Nations and Métis people. The recommendations and the stories conveyed throughout the Commission’s work will be critical to informing Saskatchewan’s future efforts toward reconciliation.” (6)
The Saskatchewan government’s web page sets out the inter-ministry strategies to implement the TRC and highlights the following achievements:
Joint Task Force (JTF) on Improving Education and Employment Outcomes for First Nations and Métis People
- The government has made good progress in addressing the JTF’s recommendations; many of those recommendations are echoed in the work of the TRC.
What does good progress mean? To what extent has the gap closed between Aboriginal education an employment outcomes and non-Aboriginal employment and education outcomes?
How has the Saskatchewan Poverty Reduction Strategy addressed the poverty of Indigenous people?
- The Advisory Group on Poverty Reduction heard from a wide range of community stakeholders, including persons from First Nations and Métis organizations.
- The advisory group’s recommendations include the principle of respecting the dignity of First Nations and Métis people, which also includes addressing the consequences of colonialism, residential schools and ongoing racism.
- The recommendations also include enhancing early childhood services and educational and employment outcomes for First Nations and Métis people.
- Although, the government has produced the Saskatchewan Poverty Reduction Strategy, but a real implementation plan has not been released.
- Unfortunately, the recommendations of the AGPR have not been fully recognized. The government’s Poverty Reduction Strategy did not accept AGPR’s more stringent poverty reduction target; it has not established a basic income pilot project; it has not supported living wage initiatives, nor has it advanced new policies and programs to overcome structural causes of poverty such as assessing health outcomes in all new anti-poverty policy development.
Saskatchewan Disability Strategy
- A key recommendation in the Disability Strategy is to ensure that First Nations, Métis and Inuit people experiencing disability are well-supported regardless of their home communities.
- Responding to this recommendation will require discussion with the federal government and First Nations.
In 2016, unfortunately we have seen funding cutbacks to benefits programs. While some people who previously received benefits will continue on, others who are new to programs, or change housing locations, will not receive the same level of benefits. These include cuts to: the Saskatchewan Assistance Plan, Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability, the Seniors Income Plan, and the Saskatchewan Employment Supplement. In addition, the Saskatchewan government is now counting the federal Guaranteed Income Supplement as income after the age of 65
Mental Health and Addictions Action Plan
- The Ministry of Health is leading the development of cross-ministry implementation of the 10-year Mental Health and Addictions Action Plan.
- One of the plan’s key recommendations is to partner with First Nations and Métis people in the planning and delivery of mental health and addictions services, to better meet community needs.
- This is one of 10 recommendations that have been prioritized to take place over the next four years.
Has the government provided any monitoring, funding, reporting of mental health outcomes? Are there any government reports on TRC Calls to Action 33-38?
Child Welfare Transformation Strategy
- The Child Welfare Transformation Strategy has three themes:
1) Work differently with First Nations and Métis people
2) Increase prevention and support for families; and
3) Renew the child welfare system.
- The Ministry of Social Services is committed to working differently with First Nations and Métis people to provide the best possible child welfare services and outcomes for children and families.
- First Nations and Métis people have been engaged in the strategy and will continue to be engaged as the child welfare system is transformed and continually improved.
- The focus of Saskatchewan’s current practice is to strengthen the family home to support children to remain safely at home and/or to safely return home from being “in care” with the ministry.
- A review of child welfare legislation has taken place with new legislation anticipated in 2017.
The Child Advocate and others have documented many issues related to the child care system in Saskatchewan as it relates to First Nations children.
A recent study by the University of Regina, Department of Social Work revealed for the first time the extent of child poverty among Indigenous and other Saskatchewan children. (7)
- For children in First Nations families, the poverty rate in 2010 was 59.0 per cent. Among those families indicating they were Métis, 25.9 per cent were in low-income households. In 2010, of the 55,000 poor children in Saskatchewan, 31,000 were in First Nations or Métis families.
- The child poverty rate for children in immigrant families in 2010 was 27.1 per cent and for those in non-immigrant visible minority families was 19.3 per cent.
- Depth of poverty was greater in the Prairie provinces than in other Canadian provinces. In Saskatchewan in 2014, the income for one-half of families in poverty was at least $12,000 to $13,000 below the poverty lines.
It is abundantly clear that if the province wishes to create a positive future for all we must greatly reduce the numbers of children in poverty and particularly indigenous children. The TRC Calls to Action demonstrate that redressing the legacy of residential schools and advancing reconciliation will only occur if the root causes of poverty are addressed. The AGPR report suggested some ways forward; however, the government continues to ignore the report’s most important recommendations.
Poverty Free Saskatchewan’s publication Budget 2016: Transformation or Austerity? documents the negative effects of the government’s diminishing social expenditures, which inevitably create increased social exclusion and inequality and higher longer term costs to government. Most recently the government has decided to centralize all the regional health authorities and has recommended amalgamation of Saskatchewan’s school boards creating confusion and disruption and an unknown number of job losses. Governance is about how power is distributed and shared at the provincial and local levels and how accountability is rendered. Therefore, a redistribution of more power to the provincial government at the expense of the regions and local communities will produce minuscule savings and merely create more disaffection toward the current provincial government system.
Since 2009 Poverty Free Saskatchewan has advocated for a poverty elimination plan and since 2014 for a Saskatchewan Anti-Poverty Act which entrenches the human rights the province is committed to in the United Nations International Covenant. Such legislation is the essential ingredient of an effective anti-poverty plan and would allow us to once again play a leadership role in pioneering progressive social legislation. Most importantly it would provide needed protections for our most vulnerable and disadvantaged citizens, especially children in poverty.
Real transformation would occur if the government would undertake the following:
- Pass legislation to establish an Anti-Poverty Act.
- Set up a multi-discipline anti-poverty office and develop a comprehensive and integrated anti-poverty plan that takes account of the TRC calls to action.
- Implement a multi-year plan, with a dedicated budget, that is in full compliance with the Anti-Poverty Act, with a dedicated budget and reporting of annual progress to the legislature.
1. AGPR report http://publications.gov.sk.ca/documents/17/87896-Poverty-Reduction-Strategy.pdf
2. SPRS report Minister’s statement http://publications.gov.sk.ca/documents/17/87896-Poverty-Reduction-Strategy.pdf
4. Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Calls to Action http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/index.php?p=890
6. Premier’s Statement on TRC Calls to Action https://www.saskatchewan.ca/government/news-and-media/2015/june/05/commission-report
7. Child and Family Poverty in Saskatchewan 2016 http://campaign2000.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/SASKReportCard2016.pdf
POVERTY FREE SASKATCHEWAN: OUR BELIEFS
PFS is a network of individuals and organizations working to eliminate poverty in the province since 2009. The province has many other individuals, businesses and community organizations working to alleviate the harmful effects of poverty and address the root causes of poverty. Working together more closely, we can eliminate poverty.
Poverty has serious consequences. The Poverty Costs campaign estimated spin off costs of poverty to be $3.8 billion, about five per cent of the province’s gross domestic product.
The guiding principles underpinning PFS’s anti-poverty strategy are:
• A focus on vulnerable groups;
• Community involvement carried out through meaningful province-wide engagement processes that hears from all vulnerable groups and includes them in planning and implementation of strategies and programs;
• Anti-poverty targets timelines for achievement and performance indicators to be met; and
• Adoption of government accountability mechanisms that are clearly set out in a Saskatchewan Anti-Poverty Act.
PFS’s strategies to eliminate poverty were developed and have been communicated to the public and government. These strategies must cut across key issue areas and be supported by investments in the following:
• Housing access and affordability;
• Income security for vulnerable groups;
• Innovation in education, training and early childhood learning programs;
• Enabling and rewarding work and participation in our communities including support for a living wage;
• Improving access to quality services for low income people; and
• Promoting health and preventing illnesses among vulnerable groups, including food security initiatives.
Poverty Free Saskatchewan, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada