Quebec tables legislation to fight poverty, increase assistance to poor

June 12, 2002
Vivian Labrie, spokeswoman for a coalition seeking the elimination of poverty

QUEBEC (CP) -- The Quebec government introduced legislation Wednesday that would see it spending $1.5 billion over five years to fight poverty. But the province's poor likely won't see any effect until 2003, when the law is expected to be passed after committee hearings in the fall.

The full details of the plan aren't yet known but the government said in a news release that the roughly $1.5 billion additional funding should ensure that in 10 years Quebec is among the group of industrialized nations to reduce poverty.

"This legislation is written with the collective will to make the fight against poverty an enduring priority," Premier Bernard Landry said. "To do this, we put our commitments in the vehicle which is the most sacred in our democracy -- a law that will be voted on in the legislature."

An estimated 14 per cent of Quebecers are considered poor and don't earn half of the average income. The program hopes to change that for 200,000 families who are judged to be unable to work.

For example, those receiving $776 monthly in social assistance, or $9,300 a year, will see a $1,300 annual increase to $10,600.

The law also removes penalties for those who share housing, and increases the value of assets recipients can have without affecting benefits.

Family Minister Linda Goupil said the law proposes a social contract that people can't ignore. "It's a unifying project that's a first in the world," she said.
"Poverty is not fate. It's a call to act, and the state and its partners must account for their actions to fight poverty and ostracization."

Landry rejected suggestions that political and electoral considerations forced the government to act. He said the fight against poverty started long ago, with more than $1.3 billion being spent in the past year to build or renovate 40,000 apartments for low-income earners.

All spending by the poor is immediately reinjected into the economy through purchases, Landry added. Ultimately, he said poverty must be fought because it costs society in health care and social services. But Christos Sirros, a Liberal Opposition member, described the plan as "political marketing."

"The bill is offered in response to their electoral needs," he said, noting that at the same time the anti-poverty law is being tabled, the legislature is being asked to vote on increases to fees for the province's prescription drug plan.

Anti-poverty groups were also skeptical about the law.

"It's still too far from where we want to be," said Vivian Labrie, spokeswoman for a coalition seeking the elimination of poverty. "But it's a start."

She added that Quebec should first raise social assistance payments to cover such basic needs as food, shelter, clothing and medicine and then pursue measures to get people back to work.