Water Access on Canadian First Nation Reserves
On March 24, 2022, married celebrity couple Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively publicly announced their sponsorship of Water First, a Canada-based non-governmental organization (NGO) looking to improve water access on Canadian First Nation reserves. The couple made a donation of $500,000 to help the Water First nonprofit combat the drinking water crisis on Canadian First Nation reserves. Reynolds, a Canadian native, expressed support for the NGO in an Instagram post saying, “Access to clean drinking water is a basic human right. Canada is home to over 20% of the planet’s freshwater — an abundance that’s envied around the world. There’s absolutely no reason Indigenous communities should not have access to safe, clean water.”

The Canadian Water Crisis

Currently, several Indigenous and First Nations communities are without access to clean drinking water. According to The Canadian Encyclopedia, “First Nations is a term used to describe Indigenous peoples in Canada who are not Métis or Inuit. First Nations people are original inhabitants of the land that is now Canada, and were the first to encounter sustained European contact, settlement and trade.” The Canadian government has dedicated portions of land called reserves for the use of First Nations people.

Throughout Canada, there are approximately 8.8 million acres of reserve land. It is on these reserves that the water crisis is most severe, leaving Indigenous people without access to clean and safe drinking water.

When the water quality in a reserve is low, the Canadian government will enforce a water advisory, which lets the public know that the water is unsafe for consumption. These advisories, or precautions, vary in severity and can be long-term or short-term. As of March 21, 2022, there were “34 long-term water advisories in effect in 29 communities” and as of March 24, 2022, there were 26 short-term advisories. In total, that makes 60 reserve locations in which the water is unsafe to some degree.

Unfortunately, solutions are difficult to find and can take years to implement. As the official website for the Government of Canada reports, “Completion of a new water treatment system can take three to four years on average.” Additionally, there is no guarantee that the problems will reach a complete resolution even with functional water treatment systems.

The Water First Nonprofit

Water First works closely with Indigenous communities in Canada to improve water access on Canadian First Nation reserves. Water First emerged in 2009 under the name Tin Roof Global and initially set out on a mission to bring clean water to Uganda. It began working in Canada in 2013 and it had completely changed its name and focus by 2016. Water First focuses “exclusively on water issues affecting First Nations communities here in Canada.” The organization’s “mission is to help address water challenges in Indigenous communities in Canada through education, training and meaningful collaboration.”

On its website, Water First explained that “Nobody understands the evolving challenges and needs more than the people who live there.” Water challenges vary depending on the community, thereby requiring community-tailored solutions. In addition, “communities have challenges recruiting and training young Indigenous adults to join the drinking water field,” which is a consideration that Water First prioritizes.

Water First focused on the roots of the problem and decided to address the need for qualified local personnel. The organization’s Drinking Water Internship Program is a 15-month program that provides a way for Indigenous young adults to become certified water treatment plant operators. However, drinking water is just the beginning — the NGO also provides training on fish habitat restoration, watershed restoration, water quality monitoring, mapping and data management.

The unique hands-on approach is what drew Reynolds and Lively to Water First. Reynolds expresses on Instagram that “All the individuals involved [with Water First], whether they are operating water systems or monitoring their local water bodies, are critical. We appreciate Water First’s focus on supporting young, Indigenous adults to become certified water operators and environmental technicians.”

Looking Ahead

Thanks to the team effort that Water First, Indigenous and First Nations communities, the Canadian government and other NGOs put in, clean water access on Canadian First Nation reserves is improving. Since November 2015, Canada lifted 131 long-term water advisories, and in the last seven years, Canada lifted more long-term advisories than it had added. Progress is visible and Reynolds and Lively are accelerating these efforts with their generous donation. “These folks are helping to ensure sustainable access to safe, clean water locally, now and for the future,” Reynolds states. “Blake and I are thrilled to support this important work.”

Mia Sharpe
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in Canada
Period poverty refers to the “struggle many low-income women and girls face while trying to afford menstrual products.” This term also encompasses the “increased economic vulnerability” females face because of the economic burden caused by the high prices of menstrual supplies. This is an issue visible worldwide, but one that Canada’s provinces and municipalities have already begun tackling. In fact, the fight against period poverty in Canada has been ongoing since 2015.

Recent Polls Show Women’s Struggles

In 2020, close to 25% of Canadian women and about 33% of women younger than 25 faced financial hardship in securing “menstrual products for themselves or their dependants.” In that same year, it was estimated that “Canadians who menstruate typically spend up to $6,000 in their lifetime on menstrual hygiene products.” For women who live in remote or rural Canadian areas, the cost is even heftier —  women pay twice as much for menstrual products.

Free Menstrual Products in Schools

In 2021, a  Plan International Canada survey indicated that 63% of Canadian females “regularly or occasionally missed an activity because of their period” or due to “concerns about not being able to access menstrual hygiene products or proper facilities.” The report also showed that 34% of Canadian females “have had to regularly or occasionally sacrifice something else within their budget to afford menstrual products.”

It was due to these findings that the government of Ontario began working on reducing period poverty in the province. After months of collaboration and negotiation, in October 2021, the Ontario Government began a three-year partnership with Shoppers Drug Mart to increase access to menstrual supplies. According to Minister of Education Stephen Lecce’s announcement, the government would distribute “six million free menstrual products per school year to school boards.” This made Ontario the first of four provinces to “take action on the issue of period poverty in schools” and one of the first to actively fight period poverty in Canada.

Associate Minister of Children and Women’s Issues, Jane McKenna, has shown high hopes for the new program: “Our government is committed to reducing stigma and removing barriers that prevent women and girls from achieving their full potential.” McKenna stated that free menstrual products in schools “will help create more equitable environments. The partnership is working to advance female health  in order to help all “young female Ontarians to succeed, flourish and grow.”

Fighting Tampon Tax

Another example of how Canadian provinces fight period poverty in Canada is the removal of the “tampon tax.” Tampon tax refers to the specific tax placed on menstrual products such as tampons and sanitary napkins. Canada lifted this tax on period products in 2015, making the products more affordable for some but not all. For many facing economic challenges or enduring insecure housing, menstrual products are still unaffordable.

And for some, menstrual hygiene “becomes a choice rather than a necessity as they often have to choose between a meal or [tampons/sanitary napkins].” This has led to reports of many women and girls who struggle economically using unhygienic and unsanitary items such as “rags, dirty socks, paper towels and newspapers,” which puts them at risk of health issues such as toxic shock syndrome and other infections.

The Fight Continues

However, although the fight against period poverty in Canada has begun and is ongoing, there is still room for progress. Nonetheless, because the Canadian “provinces have general jurisdiction over health care,” Parliament has used its “federal division of powers” to begin programs to increase “access to free menstrual products” in many Canadian provinces and municipalities.

For example, similar to Ontario, British Columbia and Nova Scotia also provide free menstrual products in schools. The Canadian Government is also revising and evaluating policies as well as seeking feedback about different initiatives to provide “free menstrual products in federally regulated workplaces.” The government is working to address “menstrual equity at the national level.” Thus, despite some delays that the COVID-19 pandemic caused, the Canadian government recognizes this issue and continues being receptive to helping resolve the issue, which could lead to menstrual products becoming more affordable or even becoming free to larger portions of the population in the coming years.

– Marcela Agreda L.
Photo: Unsplash

Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Canada
One can assess the full impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Canada as provinces begin to lift pandemic mandates. Canada felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic economically, with the National Advisory Council on Poverty noting unforeseen yet already developing consequences on national poverty levels.

The latest Canadian Income Survey from 2019 revealed the poverty rate at 10.1%, which saw the federal government spend upward of $72-$84 billion annually in tackling it. The impact of COVID-19 since then has only exacerbated poverty in Canada, with the disruptions to supply chains, market prices and job security that the global pandemic has caused.

Impact on Employment

Employment rates have continued to fluctuate throughout the pandemic after initially seeing an unprecedented 3 million Canadians (9%) lose their jobs, all of whom had been below the national average income. Employment rates steadily recovered as transmission rates dropped and Canadian provinces gradually lifted mandated measures. However, youth unemployment rates gradually increased and remain behind pre-pandemic levels.

Employment rates returned to pre-pandemic levels by fall 2021 while continuing to be volatile. The omicron variant surge saw the loss of 200,000 jobs, mainly in service and public sectors, which shows the lasting and developing COVID-19 impact has on job security. Regarding job security, the impact on employment COVID-19 has disproportionately affected service and public sector jobs. In contrast, the scientific and technical sectors have seen a growth in employment rates in the same period. This disproportionate, developing impact on lower-income workers could potentially exacerbate poverty rates in the coming years.

In response to the income insecurity and fluctuating employment rates, the Canadian federal government rolled out multiple economic assistance programs in the wake of COVID-19. The pandemic expanded unemployment insurance and provided wage subsidies. The largest and most widely available was the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). Backed with a $100 billion fund, CERB was the largest economic assistance package in Canadian history since World War II. CERB provided unemployed Canadians with a $2,000 monthly stipend, two-thirds of monthly employment income for the average Canadian. CERB ended in December 2021, mitigating much of the impact that COVID-19 could have had on poverty. In the wake of CERB’s success, the British Columbia Expert Panel on Basic Income report recommended the permanent expansion of public-funded services similar to CERB. Continued public assistance can counter developing poverty while employment rates fluctuate as the pandemic slowly ends.

Rising Food Prices & Cost of Living

Food prices drastically increased in Canada throughout the pandemic due to the supply chain shortages the global disruption COVID-19 is causing. As a result, grocery prices increased by 5.7% in 2021, the biggest annual gain since 2011. The 2022 Canada’s Food Price Report annual report from the Dalhousie University and the University of Guelph projects that 2022 will see “the highest increase [in food prices] that we’re predicting in 12 years, both in terms of dollars and percentage.” Here are some predictions for where food prices could go by 2022 according to Canada’s Food Price Report.

“ Type of Food       Expected Price increase in 2022

Restaurants        6-8%

Dairy                       6-8%

Baked Goods      5-7%

Vegetables          5-7%

Fruits                     3-5%

Other                     2-4%

Seafood                0-2%”

How Increasing Food Prices is Impacting the Impoverished

The growing price of food has impacted lower-income populations in Canada, with the number of food bank visits increasing by more than 20% in the first four months of the pandemic. An Ottawa resident stated that “I can’t afford to go to the grocery store to buy fruit.” In addition, inflating food prices are growing, affecting middle-income populations. An Ontario resident told the CBC that “People that didn’t even talk about high food costs before are now struggling with it, too.” A recent survey response stated that Canadians have changed their food consumption habits, including relying on coupons, cutting out restaurants and switching to more affordable diets.

COVID-19’s impact on food prices in Canada will continue to develop from 2022 onwards and will disproportionately affect lower-income populations, potentially exacerbating poverty rates. In anticipation, the federal government established the Emergency Food Security Fund in April 2020 to “help improve access to food for people experiencing food insecurity in Canada due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” investing $100 million into Canadian food banks and other similar organizations. The government invested more money into the fund throughout the pandemic, adding a further $100 million in August 2021 and $30 million in December 2021. Matching investments into food banks and other similar programs to the rate of food prices’ inflation projected by the 2020 Canada Food Price Report will be key to countering the long-term impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Canada.

Tackling the Future

While COVID-19 has impacted job and food security for those living in poverty in Canada, the worst of its burnt has passed as provinces lift restrictions. The impact of the pandemic has seen valuable lessons gained in the present and future battle against systemic poverty. The 2021 report of the National Advisory Council on Poverty identified the root of COVID-19’s exacerbation of Canadian poverty lay in preexisting structural issues that discriminate against lower-income workers, Indigenous peoples, ethnic minorities and women. This recognition shows that the impact of COVID-19 on poverty has resulted in a new commitment to the inclusion of this holistic structural approach in tackling poverty post-pandemic, boding well for the future of Canadian public policy.

Majeed Malhas
Photo: Flickr

Rescued Food Market
According to the United Nations, almost half of all fruits and vegetables produced worldwide go to waste. The world’s total wasted food “is enough to feed about three billion people.” In the city of Vancouver in Canada, food waste is a rising issue along with food insecurity. The Rescued Food Market aims to tackle hunger and food waste at the same time.

Food Waste in Canada

In Canada, about $30 billion worth of food goes to waste annually. As a consequence of this food waste, Canada is responsible for a significant carbon footprint of “56.6 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions.” Yet, in Canada alone, roughly $49.5 billion worth of “food waste can be avoided by taking specific measures.” According to the Food Stash Foundation, every one in six children in British Columbia goes hungry. With less food wastage, “consumers and society at large will be able to save money, support efficiency in the food and agriculture sector, improve food security and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Rescued Food Market

A local Vancouver market seeks to aid in the fight against hunger by reducing food waste. Launched in October 2021, the Rescued Food Market is open every Friday to people from every income background. The market is the product of a larger organization that David Schein started in 2016 called the Food Stash Foundation. Rescued Food Market’s webpage describes the market as “a zero-waste grocery store that is stocked with nutritious surplus food from farms, grocers and wholesalers.”

Before the Rescued Food Market’s opening on October 1, 2021, the Food Stash Foundation collected surplus food and delivered it to charities and households in need. The Rescued Food Market itself operates through a “pay what you feel” policy and only asks shoppers to bring reusable bags to collect the food. By using the terms “pay what you feel” instead of “pay what you can,” the market aims “to eliminate any shame associated with not being able to afford the rising cost of food.”

The Success of the Market

Carla Pellegrini, the current executive for Food Stash Foundation, told Good News Network (GNN) that the Rescued Food Market aims to assist the Food Stash Foundation in distributing roughly 70,000 pounds of surplus food that the organization collects monthly. About “85% of that 70,000 pounds of food doesn’t even make it back to our warehouse, it goes right back out the same day with our drivers to other organizations,” Pellegrini tells GNN. However, at the end of a week, the organization still sometimes has surplus food that needs distributing. The Rescued Food Market assists in this regard.

In June 2021 alone, the Food Stash Foundation rescued more than 74,000 pounds of perishable foods, which, in turn, prevented almost 64,000 kilograms of CO2 emissions from entering the atmosphere. The overwhelming success of this food redistribution initiative not only helps protect the environment but also instills a sense of mindfulness on a local, community-based level through the Rescued Food Market.

Worldwide Communal Markets

Besides relying on the Food Stash Foundation’s surplus of food received from farms and grocers alike, the Rescued Food Market also encourages families in Vancouver to donate food that will otherwise go to waste. Indeed, community markets and fridges, as indicated by Katherine Oung in her article “Community fridges are lifelines for the neighborhoods they serve,” are especially crucial in areas “where traditional forms of food assistance are difficult to access.” Low-income families without cars, for example, would have an easier means of acquiring food at a community market than at a more remote food bank location. Community fridges are located throughout the world.

The Rescued Food Market brings to the forefront an innovative way to combat two issues at once. Reducing food waste is a significant step in fighting a more extensive, prevalent world injustice.

– Maia Nuñez
Photo: Flickr

Indigenous Food Insecurity in Canada
Globally, indigenous communities living on colonized land face significant difficulties beyond those of non-indigenous citizens. Systemic and historic discrimination have pushed down the livelihoods and traditions of indigenous peoples, creating widespread food insecurity at the same time. In Canada, indigenous households are more likely to face extreme poverty and food insecurity than non-indigenous households. While Canada is not a developing nation, the conditions and treatment of indigenous communities reflect the extreme poverty common in emerging economies. Here are three vital facts to know about indigenous food insecurity in Canada.

First Nation and Métis Food Security

A majority of First Nation people live off-reserve land in Canada, and food insecurity remains high within those communities and on-reserve First Nation people. In First Nation households, about a quarter of 2,878 households that a survey looked at experienced moderate food insecurity involving compromised diets and reduced quality or quantity of food. Compared to the 9% food insecurity among non-indigenous Canadians, 33% of off-reserve First Nation and Métis consider food insecurity prevalent and harmful. Conditions for on-reserve indigenous communities were worse than for off-reserve First Nation people, with approximately 54% of people food insecure. This wide gap between First Nation communities and the broader Canadian population highlights the institutional oversight and avoidance of confronting indigenous struggles.

Inuit Food Security

The Inuit, the indigenous people of the Canadian Arctic, face severe food insecurity rooted in failed government systems and neglect. The presence and prevalence of food insecurity in Inuit households ranked seven times higher than non-indigenous Canadian households. A survey on households with at least one preschooler determined that 69.6% of households were food insecure. Already significantly more at risk of food insecurity than non-indigenous Canadians, the Inuit people face food insecurity at a severity three times greater than First Nation and Métis indigenous nations.

These stark comparisons reflect a failure to support the Inuit people and end indigenous food insecurity in Canada. The access and availability of traditional food remained a significant factor in boosting food security for Inuit communities, and in households with at least one hunter, food insecurity became a less prevalent factor relating to health and livelihoods. Ultimately, the Inuit population in Canada faces the most extreme food insecurity out of other indigenous groups and needs revolutionary reforms to boost health and food systems in their communities.

Food Availability and Affordability

Within each tribe and community, the access to wild food becomes less secure; as a result, many turn to the local markets for sustenance. However, the exceptionally high prices at local markets and the low average incomes of many indigenous communities inhibit the possibility of buying groceries, let alone a meal, from local grocers. On top of high market pricing, the costs of hunting, fishing and gathering food increase due to gas prices and chances of returning empty-handed from hunts. While many indigenous people lack access to traditional meals or diets, the desire for more reasonable access to their traditional foods is powerful. In addition, high prices force families to choose cheaper, less nutritious options to feed themselves. These factors contribute to indigenous food insecurity in Canada and ultimately decrease well-being and perpetuate poverty within these communities.

Potential Solutions

The high food insecurity and poverty within indigenous communities in Canada demand solutions that uplift indigenous communities and put their voices at the forefront of change. There is an apparent schism between low-income indigenous nations and the Canadian government. Some argue to lower prohibitively high pricing for necessary goods and food products in Inuit and First Nation markets. This could be the first step in decreasing indigenous food insecurity in Canada. Organizing to support indigenous leaders and activists who highlight the inequality within Canadian food systems can help build support for change.

While the Canadian government cannot always provide necessary assistance and understanding, grassroots organizations and campaigns also work to end indigenous food insecurity and promote food sovereignty. The Indigenous Food Systems Network (ISFP) is an organization that combines the efforts and minds of Indigenous food producers, researchers and policymakers in Canada, promoting reform and deconstruction. The ISFP forms and supports various projects, such as the Indigenous Food Cooperatives and Challenge, revitalizing First Nation hunting, fishing, gathering and trade practices.

Outside of broad scope projects, the IFSP works on local levels, such as by organizing community gardens for indigenous communities. A second NGO attempting to eliminate food insecurity in Canada is Food Secure Canada, which attempts to reach zero hunger with healthy, safe and sustainable food. Since 2001, Food Secure Canada has lobbied for food justice and policy change, and in 2019, the Canadian government included within its budget $134 million for specific initiatives such as a national school food program. These organizations reflect the hope and growing support for indigenous nations in Canada fighting for positive reform.

– Mikey Redding
Photo: Flickr

women's rights in Canada
In 1884, Ontario became the first Canadian province to grant women the same legal rights as men through the Married Women’s Property Act. In 1900, Manitoba became the second province to recognize the act. While this proved to be a turning point for women’s rights in Canada, a great deal of work remained.

In 1928, five women, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney, Emily Murphy and Irene Parlby, petitioned the Canadian government to have the Supreme Court decide whether the British North America Act recognized women as “persons.” The court initially ruled that women were not considered “persons” under the act, but in 1929 it reversed its ruling. While this was a huge advancement of women’s rights in Canada, it was advantageous mainly for white women. It wasn’t until 1960 that women belonging to minority groups received full legal rights, including the right to vote.

Canada’s Gender Wage Gap

Through the years, the Canadian government has striven to promote gender equality across the country. However, plenty of work remains. In 2015, a U.N. Human Rights Report raised concerns about Canada’s economic inequality and in particular cited “persisting inequalities between women and men.” Similarly, in 2016, a study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) ranked Canada as having the eighth-highest gender pay gap out of 43 surveyed countries.

Women in Office

Women make up an estimated 50% of Canada’s population, and representatives should reflect their constituents. Following the 1929 clarification of “persons” in the British North America Act, women eventually began holding elected office. However, decades passed before women of color received the same legal rights as white women. Even today, the Canadian government struggles with a lack of diversity.

Fortunately, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made it his goal to change this trend. In July 2021, Trudeau appointed Mary Simon, Canada’s first Indigenous governor general. Her appointment marks a major milestone for Canada as the country continues to grapple with past and current discriminatory practices against Indigenous communities.

Women in the Workforce during COVID-19

As the world continues to feel the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, many Canadians remain unemployed, and women have experienced higher rates of job loss than men. According to the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), almost half a million women who lost their jobs during the pandemic have been unable to return to the workforce as of January 2021. Among those most impacted were women of color, immigrants, young professionals and new mothers. The pandemic forced many companies to downsize, and experts warn that these changes could permanently and disproportionately impact women.

Progress in Recent Years

Despite lingering uncertainties, Prime Minister Trudeau still believes the country can “smash one of the defining inequalities of our time.” Recently, Canada has pledged $100 million to address inequalities in both unpaid and paid care work internationally, as well as $80 million to support feminist movements and organizations around the world.

In July, Canada also announced the creation of the Pay Equity Act, which will go into effect on August 31, 2021. The new law will promote gender equality and help close the gender wage gap. It will also apply to parliamentary workplaces. Under the Pay Equity Act, employers will inform their employees of an upcoming new pay equity plan by November 1, 2021, create a pay equity committee and then share their pay equity plan with employees by September 1, 2024.

Canada’s ability to acknowledge its flaws will open new opportunities for the country to end gender inequality. The government’s commitment to advancing women’s rights in Canada and around the world will bring about needed change and serve as a blueprint for other countries hoping to improve women’s rights.

Jordyn Gilliard
Photo: Flickr

Poverty and Disability in Canada
Millions of Canadians live with disabilities. Around 16% of people 15 and older live with a disability, making up more than 4 million people. A correlation exists between poverty and disability in Canada. While about 10% of people without a disability live in poverty or around 3 million people, the poverty rate among those living with a disability is 14%, or around 600,000 people. Poverty rates also vary greatly among different types of disabilities.

What is a Disability?

The above statistics come from a 2006 study of the Participation and Activity Limitation Survey (PALS). The survey describes disability as any type of difficulty regarding hearing, seeing, communicating, walking, leaning over, learning or other physical or mental work. Disabilities hinder productivity at work, at school and at home.

Types of Disabilities and Their Poverty Rates

The connection between disability and poverty in Canada runs deep. Furthermore, a person’s particular type of disability correlates directly to their likelihood of living in poverty. Among people with disabilities in general, the poverty rate is around 14%. For people with limited mobility, the rate is a little over 15%. For people with limited ability to communicate, the rate is 24%. People with hearing disabilities have the lowest poverty rate among disabled people at 10%.

The Majority of Canadians Support the Canadian Disability Benefit

The Canadian Disability Benefit, which the Canadian government created in 2021, set up a $12 million fund to benefit Canadians with disabilities over the course of the next three years by changing and reforming programs and benefits already in place. People recognize the link between disability and poverty in Canada. Nearly 90% of people polled either strongly or moderately support the Canadian Disability Benefit.

Disability Without Poverty Movement

Many programs aim to help eliminate poverty among people with disabilities in Canada. One is the Disability without Poverty movement, which is dedicated to ensuring people with disabilities are included in the design of the Canadian Disability Benefit. COVID-19 has greatly hurt people’s ability to seek help, including those with disabilities trying to acquire proper aid and benefits.

The connection between disability and poverty in Canada is a close one. Current aid programs in the works, like the Canadian Disability Benefit, have the design of helping people with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. About 60% of Canadians are generally in favor of Canadians with disabilities receiving more aid and benefits, with even stronger support for the Canadian Disability Benefit in particular.

Jake Herbetko
Photo: Flickr

Elderly Poverty in Canada
Canada has an excellent track record when it comes to decreasing elderly poverty. Between 1976 and 1995, the rate of elderly poverty in Canada dropped from 36.9% to just 3.9%. Yet in the past two decades, elderly poverty in Canada has grown.

Current Elderly Poverty Rates in Canada

According to Ryerson University’s National Institute on Ageing, the rate of low-income older Canadians had increased to 14.5% by 2016. The situation is even more severe among certain groups, a recent study found. The nonprofit Social Planning Toronto and the research center Well Living House published a study in August 2020 finding that, as both a direct and indirect result of colonization, more than 90% of Toronto’s Indigenous seniors live in poverty. Poverty rates are higher among Indigenous Canadians because colonization has diminished Indigenous power and social structures.

Meanwhile, Toronto’s “racialized” and immigrant seniors live in poverty at double the rate of their counterparts. Discrimination leads to lower pay for racialized Canadians and immigrants, leaving them with less to live on when they retire. Additionally, immigrants may have less time to accrue assets and savings in the country before retirement.

Seniors Falling Through the Cracks

According to the National Institute on Ageing, Canada’s Retirement Income System stands on three pillars: government assistance, pensions that employers provide and seniors’ personal retirement plans, including tax-free savings accounts and non-registered assets.

However, in recent years, pensions have become a less common resource. Only about a third of working Canadians had registered pension plans from their employers in 2016, the National Institute on Ageing reported. Furthermore, even those with pensions still risk losing part of their pensions if the companies they work for go bankrupt.

Moreover, the most reliable and lucrative type of pension, a defined benefit (DB) pension, is becoming scarcer. Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan, a defined benefit plan, explained in a 2017 report that DB pensions “are paid for life, and, for some, even rise along with inflation.” In contrast, with other types of pensions, which are becoming more prevalent, income is not guaranteed and may fluctuate over time.

Furthermore, saving for retirement is not possible for all Canadians, as the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan report notes. Those without pensions are in a particularly difficult position. The report indicated that the median retirement savings among pensionless Canadians are just $3,000.

Recent Steps to Combat Elderly Poverty

In early 2021, the government acted to address elderly poverty in Canada. In May 2021, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that he would include several provisions in the 2021 budget to aid seniors. Under this new budget, the government’s Old Age Security Pension for seniors will increase. The budget states that the government will give full pensioners $766 more in the first year of the change and will adjust the amount based on inflation in future years.

About 3.3 million Canadians 75 and older will receive increased pensions under the 2021 budget. They will also receive a lump sum of $500 in August under the 2021 budget. Acknowledging that “too many seniors are worried about their retirement savings running out,” the government expressed its commitment to supporting seniors’ solvency in retirement.

However, the new budget has also received criticism for not doing enough. The Canadian Federation of Pensioners castigated the budget in a press release for failing to keep defined benefit pensioners from losing pension money when companies go bankrupt. Another organization dedicated to seniors, C.A.R.P., explains that pensioners of bankrupt companies “are not automatically able to negotiate their terms when assets are divided,” while other creditors are. As a result, if companies go bankrupt and cannot pay pensions, pensioners receive only part of what they should.

Changing Non-Guaranteed Pensions and Bringing in Bill C-253

C.A.R.P., the Canadian Federation of Pensioners and a third organization called the National Pensioners Federation have teamed up to change the system of non-guaranteed pensions. The organizations have suggested a government pension insurance program for federally regulated pensions. They are also pushing Canadians to contact their government. The Canadian Federation of Pensioners, in particular, encourages Canadians to ask their representatives to support Bill C-253, which will help prevent pension reduction when companies go bankrupt. A committee took the bill to the House of Commons as of June 6, 2021. The bill’s passage would be another step toward bringing down elderly poverty in Canada.

Victoria Albert
Photo: Pixabay

Women's Rights in Canada
Ontario in 1884 and Manitoba in 1900 were the first two Canadian provinces to enact the Married Women’s Property Act. This act allowed married women to have the same legal rights as men, such as purchasing property. Gradually, the other provinces and territories also signed the act. This was one of the first significant improvements to women’s rights in Canada. Further changes in legislation initiated the process of decreasing gender inequality in the country.

The Precedent of the Married Women’s Property Act

Many of the rights that women in Canada now possess are recent acquisitions, especially since Canada is a relatively young country. Most women’s rights became implemented throughout the past 100 years. The Married Women’s Property Act was one of the biggest breakthroughs in women’s rights in Canada because it set a historic precedent that women could be independent in legal matters. Furthermore, the act allowed women to exist independently as separate individuals from their male counterparts. By allowing women to buy property, women gained the ability to possess something of value for themselves.

Achieving Women’s Rights

By 1918, Caucasian women had all gained the right to vote in federal elections. However, it wasn’t until 1960 that Aboriginal women achieved women’s suffrage as well. Furthermore, women were identified as “persons” in the name of the law, which gave them the right to hold political office in 1929. Cairine Reay Wilson became the first woman elected to the Senate in the following year. By selecting a female senator, women’s rights in Canada progressed even further because a female leader represented and spoke up for women.

Moving forward, there were many more victories for women’s rights in Canada. In 1985, the government outlawed discrimination against an individual on the basis of sex, gender or sexual orientation. Around the same time, the government also criminalized sexual assault within marriage.

Organizations Making An Impact

Two major organizations that support women in Canada are the Canadian Women’s Foundation and the National Council of Women of Canada.

The Canadian Women’s Foundation is a nongovernmental organization that is committed to achieving gender equality. The organization implements social and economic strategies to do so. It specifically advocates for women of diverse backgrounds but is not limited to them. The organization funds programs dedicated to addressing the issues of violence, economic stability, women’s empowerment and leadership. Furthermore, the foundation’s mission reflects its dedication to achieving gender equality for all genders.

The National Council of Women of Canada addresses the welfare and improvement of the overall standard of life for women. The organization focuses on using research and education to empower women to make informed political decisions. This allows women to play a more active role in society and gain an equal position in important matters.

The Gender Wage Gap

Though Canada has made immense strides in gender equality, there are still many issues that the country has to address. One of these issues is the wage gap in Canada. The government made the gender wage gap illegal; however, women are still not all paid equally. This issue can be addressed by representing women in every field. Women occupy fewer high-paid roles than men do. By providing equal gender representation in career fields, the government will make large strides in addressing women’s rights in Canada.

Canada can push for women’s equality by setting an example and being active in women’s rights issues. The country has been successful in creating change and altering perceptions on women’s rights. Partnering with nonprofit organizations, such as the National Council of Women of Canada, will be essential in making Canada a leader in women’s rights and paving the way for future change.

Manasi Singh
Photo: Flickr

Since 1976, The Québec Association of International Cooperation Organizations (AQOCI) has aided in bridging different organizations together from 13 regions of Québec for the same mission. This is to promote international solidarity and human development. Today, AQOCI is helping 64 organizations reach their goals. It is doing this by supporting members, building strategic alliances and sharing work with members of government and the general public. In addition, AQOCI is unique in that it not only works within its own organization but also lends a helping hand to its associated organizations. The Québec Association of International Cooperation Organizations promotes solidarity and unity among all nations to create equality.

AQOCI’s Programs

“Global education is a high priority for AQOCI,” explained AQOCI’S political analyst Denis Côté in an interview with The Borgen Project. In terms of global education, AQOCI uses public engagements such as events and activities to highlight issues relating to inequalities and gender rights, poverty, education and environmental sustainability. AQOCI takes pride in its many programs. These programs not only educate Québecers on issues but also creates advocacy at a national and international level.

Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (DFEG)

AQOCI’S Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (DFEG) program promotes concrete change for women. It does this by committing to ensuring greater consideration for women’s rights and equality by constantly creating new initiatives. Such initiatives include its 12 Days of Action Against Violence Against Women. The 12 Days of Action Against Violence Against Women is a campaign that runs from November 25 to December 6. Each year, it has a different topic that events and social media campaigns discuss. The topics have ranged from violence against women and migration to violence against women and climate change. According to Statistics Canada, half of all women in Canada have experienced one form of physical or sexual violence starting from the age of 16. Above all, this is a statistic AQOCI is working towards drastically lowering.

Canadian Coalition on Climate Change and Development (C4D)

Similarly, the Canadian Coalition on Climate Change and Development (C4D) is a coalition that AQOCI is a member of that focuses on climate-related issues. C4D consists of a cluster of international development and environmental organizations. All of the organizations are working towards exchanging knowledge and implementing action plans regarding environmental challenges. In addition, Côté says that AQOCI has “lobbied the government for many years to try to create an ombudsman person position to investigate when Canadian companies especially mining companies, are accused of human rights violations and countries of the global south.” These types of actions help push forward coalitions such as the C4D agenda.

Looking Ahead

AQOCI focuses not only on the symptoms of poverty and inequality but also works on fixing the causes. In the future, AQOCI will continue to give “as much voice as we can to marginalized communities in the south,” says Côté. It will especially focus on women and Indigenous people. The Québec Association of International Cooperation Organizations promotes solidarity in all it does to help fight for those who cannot. When discussing what the public should expect from the future, Côté explained that AQOCI has begun to focus on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Pandemic-related initiatives from the organization will continue to work towards changing the world through collectivity.

– Jessica Barile
Photo: Flickr