Is the Government Imposing Poverty on New Brunswickers?

The video and transcript of oral questions are recorded in the language it was originally spoken.

M. Coon : Les prestations d’aide sociale sont tellement faibles qu’elles forcent certaines
personnes à vivre dans la pauvreté. Dans son rapport intitulé Vivre avec un handicap dans la pauvreté extrême au Nouveau-Brunswick, le Front commun pour la justice sociale du Nouveau- Brunswick a révélé, la semaine dernière, qu’il faut plus de 1 250 $ par mois à une personne seule pour subvenir à ses besoins essentiels à Moncton. Pourtant, une personne seule ne reçoit que 537 $ par mois de l’aide sociale. Qu’attend le ministre des Familles et des Enfants pour augmenter les prestations d’aide sociale à un niveau qui permettrait aux gens du Nouveau-
Brunswick de se sortir de la pauvreté forcée par le gouvernement?

Hon. Mr. Horsman: I appreciate the question from the member opposite because this government wants to ensure that this province, New Brunswick, will continue to be the best place to live, work, and raise a family. That is why we continue to meet with anybody, with any group, that sees a better opportunity for us to help the people of our province, and we will continue to do so. I recently met with members of the Common Front for Social Justice here in Fredericton, and we talked about this. They were very happy after they left. They were very encouraged to know that we will look at everything. We are looking at ways around Canada and around the world to better serve the people in poverty. That is why we have reduced the number of people looking for homes. We have increased the minimum wage three times since we came to government, and we will continue to do so. Again, we are open. If the member opposite has people who have issues, I would recommend that they please come to see the local member at Social Development.

Mr. Coon: Over 20% of children in New Brunswick live in poverty. Half of those children in
single-parent families live in poverty. Why on God’s great green earth does the Department of Social Development take that child support payment away from those families? This is nothing but government-enforced poverty. In a just-released 2017 Child Poverty Report Card, the Saint John Human Development Council recommended that this appalling practice be ended to help single parents meet the most basic needs of their children. Will the Minister of Families and Children abolish the practice of clawing back child support payments from social assistance recipients?

Hon. Mr. Horsman: The Department of Social Development works extremely hard on a daily
basis to ensure that people are treated with dignity and fairness in our province. That is why we will continue to work with our department. I want to thank the 1 600 people in Social Development throughout the province who continue to work with people who are living in poverty, people who are looking for homes, and people who are looking for jobs. We will continue to help those people. I am very proud of the work that we have done. We continue to help people with dental needs and those looking for homes. We continue to help people with decreasing the problems or issues that they have. Nothing is set in stone, and nothing is black and white. If people have issues or are running into problems, I would recommend that they come to see us at Social Development, and we will certainly look at their issues. Nothing is set in stone, and nothing is black and white. We will continue to help everybody in our province as we see fit. Thank you.

Mr. Coon: Some things certainly seem to be set in stone. Here is another thing that could help people on income assistance meet their very basic needs: permitting them to share an apartment. However, the government’s Household Income Policy does not allow social assistance recipients to do this except for some exemptions. Housing accounts for at least half of a single person’s monthly expenses, with some constituents of mine spending up to 90% of their income from social assistance on housing. Sharing apartments frees up a few hundred dollars for other necessities such as food, household supplies, and transportation. Will the Minister of Families and Children eliminate the senseless Household Income Policy and allow social assistance recipients to share accommodations, which could help them escape government-enforced poverty?

L’hon. M. Gallant : Cela me fait plaisir de me lever à la Chambre aujourd’hui pour discuter de
ce sujet très important. Comme vous pouvez l’imaginer, les ministres, les simple députés du côté du gouvernement ainsi que les parlementaires du côté de l’opposition travaillent jour et nuit pour s’assurer que nous améliorons la qualité de vie des gens du Nouveau-Brunswick, et cela comprend, bien sûr, l’élimination de la pauvreté dans la province. This is why we are working hard to grow the economy in a way that works for everyone. We have raised taxes on the 1% richest in our province so that we can invest more in education and health care. We have enhanced the CPP for seniors who will be retiring. As the minister said, we have raised the minimum wage three times to help people get the support they need when they are working hard. That is why we have created the Free Tuition Program. This allows anybody living in poverty to go to university or college in our province for free. That is why we are also, as the minister said, investing in affordable housing, and that is why we will be investing $10
million over the next few years to help people in Saint John end generational poverty.