Vol. 20, #2 - Time For A Civic Declaration On Decent Work and Basic Incomes For All



November 2014

Community Development Halton is an active member of the Social Planning Network of Ontario (SPNO). SPNO was instrumental in making child poverty a major issue in the 2007 Ontario General Election and in mobilizing Poverty Free Ontario, with its network deep in communities, to keep poverty eradication alive as a critical social issue. I share with you a reflection piece prepared for SPNO by Peter Clutterbuck and Marvyn Novick. It explores where to go with the poverty eradication agenda under the new political reality. They outline SPNO's journey toward poverty eradication in Ontario and offer 'new thinking' on reframing decent work and basic income through the life cycle. They raise a series of questions that should be an essential part of any dialogue for inclusive and healthy communities.

Joey Edwardh
Executive Director

Retrospective on Impact of SPNO’s Poverty Eradication Strategy

Seven years ago, SPNO set an advocacy agenda for active promotion among its member organizations’ in their respective communities across Ontario in the provincial election scheduled for October 2007. The intent of this initiative stipulated timelines and targets to be established, first for the reduction of child and family poverty within five years and then a plan for its elimination in Canada’s sesquicentennial year 2017. Several major strategies in a poverty reduction and elimination plan were proposed:

  1. sustaining employment, so that no families in which a member worked full-year, full-time remained living in poverty; and
  2. a full child benefit ($5,400 per child in poorest families) to supplement employment income in recognition of the public interest in supporting the costs of raising children.

In addition, the SPNO members reaffirmed the importance of strengthening the community support base (e.g. early learning, affordable housing and community support services) as an important component of a poverty reduction strategy.

SPNO recognized decent work and putting an end to working poverty as the cornerstone of its child and family poverty reduction agenda. SPNO rejected the false contentions of the “welfare wall”, where it was assured that people had to be kept in destitution as an incentive to leave social assistance and to accept low wage work.

While the $100/month Healthy Food Supplement (HFS) proposal and the Put Food in the Budget (PFIB) campaign would not be shaped for two years, the SPNO meeting in the spring of 2007 laid the groundwork for new benchmarks to end both working poverty and deep poverty, calling for a “just differential” between social assistance rates and the minimum wage. By 2017, the goal would be to get working people 20% above the poverty line and people on social assistance up to the poverty line, first by making sure no social assistance recipient lived in deep poverty (below 80% of the poverty line).

These commitments became the central messages for a cross-community awareness campaign over the summer and fall months running up to the election. Along with SPNO’s report naming Ontario the “child poverty centre of Canada”, the community meetings and media coverage contributed to Premier McGuinty’s promise to develop a child and family poverty reduction strategy within the first year of his new administration, if re-elected.

Since 2007, SPNO’s positions on sustaining employment supplemented with essential income supports to reduce and eliminate poverty have been incorporated into major campaigns focusing on raising the minimum wage[1] and moving social assistance rates towards adequacy[2]. The Liberal Government has shown movement towards the demands of the Minimum Wage Campaign. And, persistent cross-community advocacy since 2009 has resulted in resolutions expressing support for the $100/month Healthy Food Supplement (HFS) in 25 Ontario municipalities and recommendation by the Social Assistance Review Commissioners, leading to the first real income increase in social assistance rates in the 2013 provincial budget in twenty years.[3]

Decent Work and Basic Income Strategies through the Life Cycle

In recent years, the debate about a Guaranteed Annual Income or Basic Income has re-emerged as it has periodically since the 1960s. The prospect of some kind of clear, simple universal income security program is alluring. Expressions of interest from all parts of the political spectrum suggest a potential political consensus on a guaranteed income, which is as unusual as it is attractive.

Where does SPNO’s position on poverty eradication and inequality fit in this current discourse?

Does the Basic Income approach require us to abandon or rethink our public policy stance since 2007?

How should SPNO position itself on this issue as the new provincial government takes office and the federal election approaches in 2015?

If “basic” income means establishing a floor of income adequacy that enables individuals and families to maintain their health and dignity by meeting the cost of daily living needs, then clearly SPNO supports such policy. Some part of the population disconnected from the labour market temporarily or permanently by their situation and personal circumstances (e.g. single parents, persons with disabilities) will require income support programs at basic, adequate levels to ensure that they do not live in poverty. Most will depend on some form of paid work to get by. Too many of these community members in part-time and precarious employment at minimum wage levels cannot meet their basic daily living needs with their earnings.

Social policy emphasizing the workforce as the route out of poverty subjects people to low wage and precarious work and promotes “workfare” for those dependent on income supports, while reliance on income support programs only inevitably sets rates well below adequacy in terms of basic living requirements.

How can labour market and income support policy work together to ensure that poverty is eradicated for all in Ontario?

We already have income support models that recognize the relationship between work and income for vulnerable parts of the population. Old Age Security (OAS) and the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) for retiring workers introduced in the 1970s to supplement private pension income and Canada Pension Plan (CPP) benefits had a major impact on reducing seniors’ poverty to below 4%, and were indexed to protect their purchasing power against inflation. Granted, the GIS and CPP need enhancement now to maintain these gains.

It is possible to extend this supplemental income support approach to other stages of life in which people have varying attachments to the workforce. We can think of strategies for decent work and basic income across all stages of the life cycle, which recognize an appropriate and mutually reinforcing relationship between labour market participation and income support requirements as the following suggests:

  1. Children and youth (0-25 years of age) – Income support for this stage in life is important largely in the context of supporting young people in their families. A full National Child Benefit for families recognizes the need for lower income families to have help with the additional costs of raising children (Campaign 2000’s call for increasing the current maximum of $3200/child up to 18 years to $5,500 is consistent with the Basic Income approach suggestion). A Youth Income Benefit for young people 18 to 25 years would enable “debt free” learning and training opportunities and transition to work in their formative years.
  1. Early and middle adulthood (25-55 years of age) – Working age and family adults need positive work experiences in their early adult years and social engagement through employment that allows them to make important civic contributions. It should be a requirement of public policy that decent work with living wages and sound social protections (pension, health, and other social insurances) be available to all working age adults. Working age adults without decent work should have the assurance of community and civic employment at living wages through the nonprofit and local public services sectors. Decent work is becoming less available in the low wage labour markets of the corporate sector.
  1. Later adulthood (55+ years of age) – Begin to extend eligibility for the GIS down from full retirement years to this stage of adulthood. This would protect incomes as needed for adults phasing down from active engagement in the labour market prior to full retirement. The GIS must be upgraded for those fully withdrawn from the workforce when their incomes after OAS and CPP and other pension incomes are inadequate. This would restore full poverty elimination for seniors, a Canadian legacy first achieved in the 1970s.
  1. Appropriate income and service framewrks must be available to support the extraordinary social circumstances for persons with disabilities and persons with chronic physical and mental health conditions.

This approach does not substitute income for employment earnings, nor does it compel workforce participation in order to receive income support. It recognizes that earnings from employment are an important component of maintaining a livelihood, but that labour market detachment at any stage of the life cycle should not condemn one to poverty. Both wage protections and income guarantees are required.

Reframing Decent Work

Since 2007 (and for many of us a decade or more before), SPNO and its cross-community partners in the Poverty Free Ontario (PFO) network have focused a lot of attention on income adequacy – increasing social assistance rates to end deep poverty; raising the minimum wage to get full-time, full-year earners above the poverty line. This concentrated attention has led to some gains and movement of the policy debates in a good direction but we may be allowing ourselves to remain confined to “minimalist” positions when it comes to framing what we think decent work should be. Notably, more communities are not just advocating for raising the minimum wage but are also for work at a “living wage”.

The availability of good and decent jobs should be seen as much of a challenge today as it was at the height of the industrial revolution in the 19th century.[4] Today, in a post-industrial society, good and decent jobs seem a faint hope. Our youth in particular struggle to establish any secure foothold in the labour market, and even with higher levels of education, youth remain subject to mostly short-term and precarious employment. In the face of increasing tuition and living costs for post-secondary education, many youth accumulate high levels of debt and graduate into an economy that offers mostly poor paying service jobs. We are at risk of condemning our younger generations in particular to dismal, unfulfilling futures and chronic spells of poverty and exclusion. Productive employment in these formative early years of their labour force participation is critical.

While good jobs in the traditional economy appear to be scarce, there is no lack of work needed to create a truly sustainable society. It is time to reframe the notion of good jobs in terms of work that needs to be done to build and strengthen our social and civic infrastructure. We need to rebalance our economy from one tilted heavily towards private wealth creation and concentration to one of collective stewardship of our human and financial resources offering shared opportunity for all.

Quality employment guarantees are critical for youth and younger adults as they enter the workforce supplemented with income programs as they make transitions through their working lives. Government incentives and partnerships with the private sector (retail, commercial, industrial) should be directed toward the creation and support of decent, well paying, career development jobs. There is hope that the private sector might recognize its role in contributing to a collective purpose that adequately compensates workers while securing a fair return on investment.

Realistically, however, we should look to city governments and the community sector to show leadership, as the City of Seattle is doing by making a commitment to the highest minimum wage ($15/hour) in North America in response to a strong community advocacy movement.[5] Even recently here in Ontario, the Put Food in the Budget campaign mobilized across communities to secure resolutions in support of the $100/month Healthy Food Supplement (HFS) in 25 city councils, which was cited by the Social Assistance Review Commissioners in their own recommendation in support of the HFS.

After forty years of market-driven neo-liberal social and economic policy, it is time to disengage from the tyranny of global capital and restore social justice from the ground up with a Civic Declaration on decent work and basic incomes for all. As in Seattle, city governments and the community sector must join their voices to demand senior government support for good jobs in business and in public services. The continued importance of work by nurses, teachers, firefighters and librarians as well as in the social, environmental, recreational, arts and culture sectors must be respected. Governments should support community and civic employment strategies in the public and nonprofit sectors that enable youth and younger adults to start life with a solid foundation of productive employment that builds and strengthens our social, cultural and environmental infrastructure. Civic Declarations directed to this collective purpose would both stimulate economic development and grow the next generation of an active and engaged citizenry.

We have a common stake in creating communities of shared opportunity for all. Investing in work that protects and enhances our environment, supports civic and community wellbeing, and grows local economies will produce social and economic benefits for all. Pursuing this path will demand the activation of a collective stewardship that engages all parts of the community in a discussion of how to work together for the common good.

What work needs to be done to create and sustain the kinds of communities that we want to live in?

What can business, labour, and civic community leaders do to contribute to that shared purpose?

How can the role of the nonprofit sector be expanded as a source of decent work and sustainable development?

Creating Communities of Shared Opportunity

We need to reframe decent work and basic incomes in terms of solidarity, with a mission to create communities of shared opportunity for all across Ontario, while recognizing the complexity of actual human experience through different stages of the life-cycle. We have an obligation to offer other guarantees, most critically that our younger generations will have the opportunity to make their contribution to sustainable social and economic development through the application of their energies, skills and talents in the public, civic, nonprofit, and corporate sectors.

We call on cities and communities to lead the way in framing Civic Declarations for decent work and basic incomes to eradicate poverty within this decade, and to create communities of shared opportunity for all across Ontario.

To this end, it is proposed that the Social Planning Network of Ontario join with its network of community leaders and organizations in Poverty Free Ontario to engage our communities in a discussion of the central tenets of a Civic Declaration, to test its resonance as a herald for structural change, and to explore its implications for both local and cross-community ground-swelling action for social justice in Ontario.

Peter Clutterbuck

Marvyn Novick

Social Planning Network of Ontario (SPNO)




[3] A 4% increase to the OW Basic Needs Allowance in the 2013 provincial budget ($26/month) was the first real income increase for OW recipients since the 1995 cuts of 22%, all other 1%-2% adjustments since 2003 being for cost of living, and at that were below the annual rate of inflation in several of those years.

[4] Industrial manufacturing jobs in the 19th century were low paying and conducted in unsafe and unhealthy working conditions until unions organized for collective action among labourers and social reformers introduced public controls and regulations for improved employment

[5]http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jun/07/seattle-minimum-wage-fifteen-dollars-fight; http://prospect.org/article/revolt-cities


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Vol. 20, #1 - Celebrating 30 Years Of Community Impact



October 2014

Community Development Halton recently celebrated 30 years of social planning and volunteerism in Halton. At this event, CDH paid homage to Walter Mulkewich with an award that is called, the Walter Mulkewich Community Development Award. This award will celebrate those extraordinary people who come together to take collective action and generate solutions to common problems in their community. It seems so fitting that a man who has brought people together to build a healthy, creative community should have an award named in his honour. Walter’s imprint on this community is profound and lasting. He has worked and is working for change in our small place in this world, the totality of his acts have rewritten the history of this community and are influencing its journey into the future.

In this Community Dispatch, I would like to share with you his remarks at our Annual General Meeting, celebrating 30 years of impact.

Joey Edwardh
Executive Director

Walter Mulkewich: A Celebration
Good evening and thank you for the work of Community Development Halton on behalf of the citizens of Halton.

Anniversaries are an occasion to look back, reflect and learn from the past and also to reflect about the future. I would like to share some personal memories and reflections about the past along with some musings about the present and the future.

Your history is actually longer than 30 years because there were active Social Planning Councils in Oakville dating to the early sixties and in Burlington to the early seventies and before. For many years the Social Planning Council of Hamilton included Burlington in its work, until 1971 when a community meeting established the Burlington Social Planning Council, a meeting I recall attending. From the beginning, this new Council in Burlington was community driven, responding to local community social needs. It started out with a part time Secretary and a small room for an office at Port Nelson United Church.

It was around 1973 that I had lunch with Larry Ogden and Roly Bird, and Roly would later become Mayor. We decided to stand for election to the Board of the Social Planning Council and very quickly Roly became President and I became Vice President.

I recall two of the first issues tackled were the huge need for affordable housing and subsidized childcare – sound familiar? I think these issues are still current? Volunteer committees led both projects. I chaired the housing task force and Rob McKenzie chaired the childcare task force. I mention this because I think there is a lesson here in involving citizens in research projects and advocacy.

One of the early tasks of the Board was to tackle funding – sound familiar? I should note that historically, the Hamilton United Way included Burlington in its catchment area and at first did not understand why a separate Social Planning Council was needed for Burlington. We did our homework, consulted with Burlington agencies, and then met with the Hamilton United Way Board. We argued our case that it was underfunding the Burlington Social Planning Council and Burlington agencies and threatened to set up a Burlington only United Way – and we got increased funding. We also went to the City Council and got a larger grant. Our goal at the time was to establish sustainable funding with municipal contribution at 60% and United Way at 40% – currently CDH is at 44% and 30% leaving 26% to be raised elsewhere. The connection to the United Way is important not only because of the funding but because traditionally Social Planning Councils have been important research arms for United Ways and I hope continue to be so.

With increased funding we hired our first Executive Director, Ted McMeekin, now Minster of Municipal Affairs & Housing and we established a real office on lower Brant Street.

The drive towards a Regional Social Planning Council was partly initiated by the Burlington and Oakville Social Planning Councils having joint discussions regarding cooperation. But mostly, it was a forced marriage by municipal governments saying continued funding to both Burlington and Oakville Social Planning Councils depended on going Regional and also including the fledgling Social Planning Council established in north Halton.

Mayor Bird led the way by taking the position that the Region was responsible for social services and regional planning and that the appropriate place for funding was at the Region not the local municipalities, a position I supported. And, other social services were forced to do the same. The next Executive Director was Susan Goodman followed by Elaine Eastman and then Joey Edwardh.

I recall being appointed Regional Council representative on the first Halton Social Planning Council and Volunteer Bureau Board – and if you don't have a Regional Council representative on your Board now you might wish to consider that because that is an important link. It was not an easy process bringing together people from four municipalities, merging two Social Planning Councils with different cultures from south Halton, and bringing in the social planning group from north Halton.

Councillor Mulvale, later Mayor Mulvale of Oakville, who succeeded me as the Regional representative on the Board, we had a late breakfast last week and shared some memories of the challenges in those days:

  • We recalled that Dundas Street was like the Mason Dixon Line separating north and south Halton and Bronte Creek the line separating west and east Halton.
  • We recalled that there was not only quite a large Halton Social Planning Council Board, but also additional Advisory Boards for each of the four municipalities, a concept that has disappeared - for good or bad?
  • And, there was no Halton United Way as attempts to establish a Halton United Way did not succeed. But, United Ways were established in Milton and Halton Hills, although these two United Ways have never been significant contributors to the Social Planning Council, which represents a real gap for a Regional agency. The Hamilton United Way changed its' branding to be the Burlington Hamilton United Way and paid more attention to Burlington. The Oakville United Way continued to be a major player.

At an early point, Volunteer Bureaus were established in both Oakville and Burlington in the seventies as part of their respective Social Planning Councils. I should note that combining Volunteer Bureaus and Social Planning is not a trend across Ontario, but it has worked in Halton. I should also note that the role and challenges of the Volunteer Bureau in the seventies was somewhat different than it is now. In the seventies, very few organizations had their own Volunteer recruitment staff and recruitment procedures and I think there was a more robust sense of community participation.

I think it is fair to note that the role of the Volunteer Bureau has adapted to changing society and needs by doing much more than linking volunteers to agencies but also to promoting volunteerism and providing information, and providing training and support to local service providers, as well as targeting population groups and corporations. Just looking at the Volunteer Halton website, which is a really good site, reveals the huge service this program of CDH provides the community – a treasure for Halton and its four municipalities which we could not do without.

Social Planning has always been a difficult concept for many people to understand and, yes, for some to accept. Indeed there are many definitions and viewpoints as to what social planning is. My simple layperson definition is that it is a process to assess social issues in a community through research and community participation with a view to improving the wellbeing of the community.

I defined Social Planning as a process. The problem is that people have a hard time understanding processes – but rather want to see results and how those processes benefit them - and this has always been a challenge for social planning, not only to focus on process, but also to demonstrate results from those processes in terms of improvement in the wellbeing of the community – and here is where good communication comes in.

I think that communication has always been an issue social planning has had to deal with. It is about communication to the community, the partners and the funders – but it's about communicating results. My experience in sales and marketing tells me that you do not sell a product - but the benefits of the product. And, I think you need to continually and clearly identify the benefits you are providing specifically to your community, your partners and your funders.

The Halton Social Planning Council rebranded itself as Community Development Halton 10 years ago. Your website lists community development as one element of social planning and is defined as facilitating and supporting "positive change in partnership with community groups and individuals." Indeed social planning and community development must be interconnected and I am not sure where one starts and the other ends.

Over these past thirty years, CDH, its Volunteer Centre, the various reports and the community involvement have been essential to the wellbeing of the Region.

I want to single out two initiatives in recent times:

  • Your work with Poverty Free Halton along with your research on the living wage are particularly important in facing one of the major social issues of this decade, poverty and inequality.
  • Your report on "Where We Live Matters" and neighbourhoods along with your participatory work in the north Burlington and Acton neighbourhoods is taking a community organizing approach which I do not think anyone else in Halton is undertaking. It is about empowerment, building social capital and building community capacity.

On a personal note, I certainly appreciated the help of CDH in two projects I was involved with:

  • The citizen engagement project which I helped to lead in 2010, a project initiated by Mayor Jackson and which was named, Shape Burlington.
  • I also appreciated the role of CDH in the Inclusive Cities Project in 2005, a project that former Mayor MacIsaac and Joey Edwardh co-opted me to participate in and which I was pleased to do.

In 2014, I see three big challenges facing our communities, challenges we face with the rest of Canada:

  • The increasing inequality gap, an issue you focused on when you helped to host Alex Himelfarb and Trish Hennessy in a public meeting, an issue CDH is active in through several of your projects.
  • The climate change challenges as demonstrated by the recent Burlington flood, and increasingly I believe we need to see the challenges of climate change as a social issue and there may be a role there.
  • The dual decline of democracy and social capital, two important concepts that are interrelated and need increasing attention. Democracy is more than the percentage of people who vote, which has been declining; it is also about social capital. I really do believe that we have lost some of the sense of social capital as identified by Robert Putnam who succinctly pointed out that we no longer bowl together in bowling leagues.

Let me conclude by talking a bit about social capital and the future.

Social capital is all about the institutions, relationships and networks that bind us together as a society. Unfortunately, the neo-liberal political and social philosophy that has dominated a lot of discourse since the nineteen eighties has put the focus on individuals rather than social capital. I am not sure we can recreate the kind of social capital that was the hallmark of the great generation that experienced the Great Depression and the Great War and who gave us a progressive society. It is more likely that we can build increased social capital on another model for different times, times that are increasingly characterized by individualism but also new social capital through digital relationships and communication.

In this time of the decline of traditional media, including both print media and television, I think you will need to become more involved and savvier with the world of social media for both communication and research. I believe that you need to strategically expand your presence on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and more. This is about involving the community, particularly the younger generations, and it is about two-way communication – and increasingly this will be digital.

Yes, the political climate is still dominated by austerity and retrenchment, which affects funding sources and receptivity to your work. This too will likely change, because these things go in cycles, but in the meantime this organization need to find ways to work within that austerity climate, and I think to do so you have to emphasize the benefits of your work and bring in solid support from as many sectors of the community as possible.

It is easy for me to identify three major issues, to throw out some ideas, personal memories and reflections. I could have gone on to talk about other issues such as diversity, youth employment, aging and mobility. Your priorities will need to be identified by the community, in consultation with your funders and community partners, and verified by the rigour of research.

This means remembering the first principles in the history of community social planning and volunteerism – that it is about being community driven. And it is about the courage to take a stand on issues, which you identify.

These are only a few reflections about the past and random thoughts about moving into the future. Again, I want to congratulate and thank CDH for your continuing work and hope you can build on your history as you continue to adapt to the future.


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Vol. 19, #2 - Health Care In Canada: What Makes Us Sick?



December 2013

In 1843, Charles Dickens wrote "A Christmas Carol." Most of us remember Ebenezer Scrooge and his visits from the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. It is the deep resonating voice of the Spirit of Christmas Present that makes me reflect on Christmas 2013. The dialogue between the Spirit and Ebenezer begins:

Spirit: Will you profit from what I have shown you of the good in most men's heart?

Ebenezer: I don't know, how can I promise?

Spirit: If it's too hard a lesson for you to learn, then learn this lesson (he opens his cloak to reveal two small destitute children)

Ebenezer: Spirit, are these yours?

Spirit: These are man's, they cling to me for protection from their fetters. This boy is ignorance, this girl is want. Beware them both, but most of all beware this boy.

Ebenezer: Have they no refuge, no resource?

Spirit: Are there no prisons, are there no workhouses, are there no prisons, are there no workhouses...

In 2013, some one hundred and seventy years later, the Canadian Medical Association has given a powerful message to Canadians in their report, "What Makes Us Sick?" They argue that poverty is the biggest barrier to good health; that it is the main issue that must be addressed to improve the health of Canadians. It seems ironic that on the eve of the Holiday Season, when families come together to celebrate, share good company over delicious foods, that Charles Dickens' Spirit of Christmas Present is still with us.

Joey Edwardh

Executive Summary

Throughout the winter and spring of 2013, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) conducted wide-ranging consultations to gather input on Canadians’ views on the social determinants of health. Public town hall meetings were held in Winnipeg, Hamilton, Charlottetown, Calgary, Montréal and St. John’s and were accompanied by an online consultation at www.healthcaretransformation.ca.

The process was framed around four questions aimed at determining what factors beyond the health care system influence health, what initiatives offset the negative impact of these determinants, what governments and health care providers should be doing to address these social determinants, and how equal access for all to the health care system can be achieved.

In every phase of the consultation, four main social determinants of health were identified by participants:

  • income
  • housing
  • nutrition and food security
  • early childhood development

Several other social determinants of health were mentioned, such as culture, the environment, education and health literacy.

Participants stressed that society, governments and health care providers all have an obligation to address such problems as poverty, inadequate housing and nutrition.

Because the health of indigenous peoples in Canada was seen as being particularly influenced by the social determinants of health, the CMA held a town hall meeting to address the challenges facing Aboriginal people and communities.

Several themes from the town hall meetings were summarized by CMA President Dr. Anna Reid:

  • Poverty is the most important issue and must be addressed.
  • Poverty can cause multiple morbidities and even influence early childhood neurologic development.
  • Mental health issues remain “the elephant in the room” and underlie many of the social determinants of health.
  • Governments need to be pressured to take action, but there is a clear role for citizens, physicians and communities to help deal with the problems.
  • The capacity of non-profit organizations to help is reaching the breaking point.
  • There is a link between a healthy society and a healthy economy.
  • Social initiatives need specific funding and should be viewed as investments.
  • There is a need to look at why society is willing to accept disparities.
  • Social inequities are a major cause of stress and insecurity.
  • The medical profession has the authority and voice to take leadership on these issues.
  • Canadian society has suffered from a lack of imagination, will and leadership to address social inequities.
  • The guaranteed annual income is a compelling concept and can have a positive impact on health outcomes.
  • Structural racism keeps Aboriginal people in poverty; this must be addressed to improve health outcomes for these communities.
  • The cost of doing nothing is very large, so reallocation of existing spending is important.

Based on the input received, clear areas of action have emerged:

Recommendation 1: That the federal, provincial and territorial governments give top priority to developing an action plan to eliminate poverty in Canada.

Recommendation 2: That the guaranteed annual income approach to alleviating poverty be evaluated and tested through a major pilot project funded by the federal government.

Recommendation 3: That the federal, provincial and territorial governments develop strategies to ensure access to affordable housing for low and middle-income Canadians.

Recommendation 4: That the “Housing First” approach developed by the Mental Health Commission of Canada to provide housing for people with chronic conditions causing homelessness should be continued and expanded to all Canadian jurisdictions.

Recommendation 5: That a national food security program be established to ensure equitable access to safe and nutritious food for all Canadians regardless of neighbourhood or income.

Recommendation 6: That investments in early childhood development including education programs and parental supports be a priority for all levels of government.

Recommendation 7: That governments, in consultation with the life and health insurance industry and the public, establish a program of comprehensive prescription drug coverage to be administered through reimbursement of provincial–territorial and private prescription drug plans to ensure that all Canadians have access to medically necessary drug therapies.

Recommendation 8: That the federal government recognize the importance of the social and economic determinants of health to the health of Canadians and the demands on the health care system.

Recommendation 9: That the federal government require a health impact assessment as part of Cabinet decision-making process.

Recommendation 10: That local databases of community services and programs (health and social) be developed and provided to health care professionals, and where possible, targeted guides be developed for the health care sector.

Recommendation 11: That the federal government put in place a comprehensive strategy and associated investments for improving the health of Aboriginal people that involves a partnership among governments, non-governmental organizations, universities and Aboriginal communities.

Recommendation 12: That educational initiatives in cross-cultural awareness of Aboriginal health issues be developed for the Canadian population, particularly for health care providers.

The full report “Health Care in Canada: What Makes Us Sick?” can be found at http://www.cma.ca/advocacy/what-makes-us-sick.


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Vol. 19, #1 - Do We Know Who We Are? Limitations Of The 2011 National Household Survey (NHS)



November 2013

The release of the much anticipated income data from the 2011 National Household Survey (NHS) in September has placed a chill over the planners and providers of social services, municipal services and economic development strategies. Good information is essential for the development of responsive and efficient social and economic infrastructure. Tragically, many of the concerns about the impact on the integrity of the Statistics Canada data as a result of the Government of Canada replacing the mandatory long form census with a voluntary National Household Survey have proven true (See Community Dispatch Vol. 18, No. 5). This Community Dispatch analyzes the limitations to the recently released data on income, homeownership and shelter cost of Canadians. The information is critical in understanding issues of income security and inequality across our land, province and communities. How do we answer the question: Do we know who we are?

Joey Edwardh

This Community Dispatch focuses on the limitations of the income data from the National Household Survey especially in data quality, data comparability and low income measures.

Data Quality

Due to the change in data collection methodology from a mandatory census to a voluntary survey the non-response rate of the NHS is significantly higher than those of the previous long form census. At the national level, the NHS Global Non-response Rate (GNR)1 is 26.1% compared to 6.5% with the 2006 long form census. In Ontario, the County of Peterborough has a high non-response rate of over 38%. A high non-response rate implies low data quality.

In addition to an overall lower response rate, certain population groups are less likely to respond to the survey such as high and low income individuals, Aboriginals, newcomers and visible minority groups. At this point, there is no way to determine their respective response rates. In order to maintain a high level of data quality, Statistics Canada suppresses data release in geographic areas with a non-response rate higher than or equal to 25% in previous censuses. However, given the high non-response rate and the associated non-response bias2 of the NHS, Statistics Canada raised the data suppression threshold from 25% to 50%. In doing so, data are released for more geographic areas but at lower data quality.

"We're concluding it [the NHS income data] pretty much is garbage," said Professor David Hulchanski, University of Toronto.3

The map shows the geographic distribution of the 2011 NHS Global Non-response Rate (GNR) by census tract4 for Halton Region. Although there is no census tract with a GNR over 50%, there are many areas (shaded in dark brown) with non-response rates equal to or over 25% (suppression threshold for previous censuses). Almost two-thirds (63%) of the census tracts recorded non-response rates equal to or over 25%. The map can serve as a reference point for data quality when interpreting NHS data by census tract in Halton Region.


Data Comparability

Although the 2011 NHS provides a snapshot of the income composition in Canada including income sources, government transfers, income redistribution and income by family types, the data should not be compared with those from previous censuses and other similar sources.

Previous long form censuses include usual residents in collective dwellings (lodging or rooming houses, hotels, nursing homes, hospitals, staff residences, jails and so on) and persons living abroad whereas the NHS target population excludes them. The census and NHS represent two different populations.

In fact, Statistics Canada warns users to use caution when comparing income estimates from the NHS to other household income surveys, administrative data or earlier censuses.5 The methodology of how the information was collected, the concepts used and response patterns can affect the comparability of income information.

One cannot establish reliable trend lines from previous censuses to see if Canadians are better or worse off in terms of their incomes. The data gap created between 2005 and 2010 (income data are collected a year prior to the census) precludes any assessment of the impact of the economic recession in 2008. This also includes potential impact of any government economic action plan.

"...the lack of comparability between the 2006 census and the 2011 NHS will make it very difficult for researchers and analysts to judge to what extent our social programs blunted the impact of the Great Recession on the incomes of many middle-class and working families..." said Andrew Jackson, Packer Professor of Social Justice at York University and senior policy adviser to the Broadbent Institute.6

Low Income Measures

In previous censuses, Statistics Canada employs Low Income Cut-offs (LICO) as a measure of low income. It is an income threshold below which families or unattached individuals spend 20% more than average on food, shelter and clothing needs. LICO thresholds are also set at income levels by family size and size of community.

For the 2011 NHS, instead of LICO, Statistics Canada chose the after-tax Low Income Measure (LIM-AT) as a measure of low income. Individuals are defined as having low income if the after-tax income of their households fall below 50% of the median adjusted household after-tax income in 2010.

While LIM is an important measure used broadly internationally, it is important that researchers have access to data flowing from both measures; LIM and LICO.

Low income estimates from the 2011 NHS compared to previous censuses show markedly different trends than those derived from other surveys and administrative data such as the Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics (SLID) or the T1 Family File (T1FF).7 As such, Statistics Canada stated that the NHS low-income estimates are not comparable to census-based estimates produced in the past.

The data gap on low income between 2005 and 2010 will hinder work on poverty reduction in Halton's local areas and neighbourhoods.


"The main finding of the NHS is that, with weaker ability to track change or measure a growing portion of society, we're losing sight of the Canada we're becoming." said Armine Yalnizyan, Senior Economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.8

Given the problems associated with data quality and comparability, the usefulness of the income data from the NHS is severely limited. Improper use of the data can lead to erroneous conclusions, faulty comparisons, spurious debate and, ultimately, unwise decisions.

At Community Development Halton, we will continue to assess other data sources to meet the data needs of CDH and our community partners.

In the meantime, CDH asks that the federal government reinstate the mandatory long form census for 2016 and beyond.


1. GNR combines the complete non-response (household) and partial non-response (specific questions) into a single rate

2. Community Development Halton, 2011 National Household Survey (NHS), Community Dispatch, Vol.18, No.5. June, 2013 – non respondents tend to have different characteristics from respondents. As a result, there is a risk that the results will not be representative of the actual population.

3. Grant, Tavi. 2013. Canadian income data 'is garbage' without census, experts say.

4. A Census Tract (CT) is a relatively permanent area with a population range of 2,500 to 8,000 and the greatest possible social and economic homogeneity.

5. Statistics Canada, Income Composition in Canada, National Household Survey, 2011, Cat. No. 99-014-X201100

6. Jackson, Andrew. 2013. Even a bad survey cannot blind us to income inequality. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/economy/economy-lab/even-a-bad-survey-cannot-blind-us-to-income-inequality/article14251936/

7. Statistics Canada, Persons Living in low-income neighbourhoods, National Household Survey, 2011, Cat. No. 99-014-X2011003

8. Yalnizyan, Armine. 2013. National Household Survey provides blurred look at housing.


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