Territory unveils poverty fighting plan

The poverty-reduction strategy includes six key principles to guide government policy decisions and help poor and socially-isolated Yukoners access services, said Health Minister Doug Graham.

The Yukon government released its long-awaited social inclusion strategy Monday.

The poverty-reduction strategy includes six key principles to guide government policy decisions and help poor and socially-isolated Yukoners access services, said Health Minister Doug Graham.

“We’re not going to go back and try to fix everything that hasn’t been inclusive,” said Graham. “What we want to make sure of is that we don’t make any more of those mistakes in the coming years.”

In the report, the government touts many of the things it has done to promote social inclusion and reduce poverty, like the 10 new long-term care beds in the Thomson Centre and the development of a Yukon literacy strategy. However, there were no new projects or money announced on Monday.

But there will be new initiatives, promised Graham. Some of them will be done within departmental budgets while others that require additional funding will be voted on as they come up.

“Hopefully we’re going to make some announcement about it in the next six months,” he said.

It’s a bit surprising that the government didn’t allocate more core funding or announce any new initiatives for the strategy, said Nick Falvo, a PhD candidate from Carleton University, who has studied poverty in the territory.

“It took more than three years for the government to develop this document, and it’s essentially a list of guiding principles,” said Falvo. “How many more years will it take to develop and fund the programming needed to address these principles?”

When Ontario crafted it’s own poverty reduction strategy in 2008, it allocated about $300 million for its implementation,

Ontario also set out clear benchmarks that it would strive to achieve, said Falvo.

In the legislature yesterday, the NDP called out the government for the lack of clear benchmarks and timelines.

“I would have thought that, after three years, we would have a strategy with goals that are clear and measurable – otherwise, how do you manage when you don’t measure?” asked Opposition House Leader Jan Stick.

In his response, Graham accused the NDP of playing politics and insisted that the strategy “clearly outlines where we will go from here.”

“As I said originally, it has a clear baseline where this whole process starts based on the reports, based on the statistics that were produced by the department here in the government and we will be able to measure what progress we make over the next few years,” said Graham.

The social inclusion policy has been three years in the making, but it wasn’t supposed to take that long.

It was a holdup that the government itself was primarily responsible for, said Graham.

“We delayed it for six months because there were some difficulties with our understanding of the process,” he said.

The government also wanted to allow the community advisory committee more time to add input into the third and final report on the strategy, which was also presented Monday.

“It has been, at times, very slow and ponderous, but the outcome and the result in this strategy is very exciting,” said Ross Findlater, a co-chair of advisory committee which helped craft the policy.

The final report provided a detailed picture of how Yukoners become socially excluded.

“Poverty is the most obvious factor,” stated the report. But there is more to the story.

The report found that people with physical or mental disabilities, health problems, lower levels of education or literacy, and those who have been recently institutionalized, lack housing or come from single-parent families, are much more likely to be at risk.

According to the Yukon Bureau of Statistics, 29 per cent of Yukoners have experienced at least one element of “material deprivation” and 21 per cent have experienced food insecurity.

The life expectancy of Yukoners is also five years lower than the national average. It’s even lower for those of First Nations descent.

It’s a grim picture, but it gives the government and anti-poverty activists something to measure against, said Rick Goodfellow, who also sat on the advisory committee.

“If we’re going to say we’re getting better, getting better compared to what?” he asked.

The community advisory committee will be tasked with monitoring the process of the strategy, although how often it will report, or even what the committee will look like in the future, no one could say.

“The one thing that is definite is there will be a community advisory committee of some kind and it will get to report on whatever basis, whether it’s an annual basis or whatever,” said Graham. “If we’re not making progress I’m sure they will have something to say about that.”

Goodfellow remains cautiously optimistic about the prospects for the strategy.

“It really will come down to how it gets implemented and how seriously different departments take it,” he said. “If people dig their heels in and say, ‘It’s going to cost us money. We’re not going to do it,’ then we’ll be back at the drawing board.”

However, from what Goodfellow has seen, bureaucrats have been very receptive so far.

“There’s been a real good working relationship,” he said. “It’s had its ups and downs like every relationship does, but I think there’s been enough of a trust factor that’s been set up there that we can see where we want to go.”

Along with the community advisory committee, the government has pledged to maintain the office of the executive director of strategic social initiatives, who will provide advice to departments in crafting social inclusion initiatives.

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