Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Increasing Prosperity in Niagara

You may remember that last year I wrote about poverty in Niagara and in Pelham. I bring it up again because of action that was approved at Regional Council last week.

As background, you may recall that in August 2007, the Region estimated that 54,300 of the 427,400 people that call Niagara home live in poverty because they earn below the “low-income cut-off.” That’s more than the entire population of the City of Welland (at 50,331).

By the way, Niagara’s low income cut-off was estimated at $17,900 for one-person, $22,500 for two, $27,000 for three, and $33,000 for a family of four.

The Regional report estimated that 5.1% of Pelham’s population – or approximately 825 people – lives below this cut-off. According to the report, Pelham has proportionally more low-income people than Niagara-on-the-Lake (4.2%), Lincoln (4.7%), and Wainfleet (4.8%).

What are the municipalities with the highest? The report lists St. Catharines with 15.5%, both Welland and Port Colborne with 14.9%, and Niagara Falls with 14.4% living below the cut-off.

You may remember that I also wrote about the success of Ireland’s precedent-setting National Anti-Poverty Strategy which placed poverty issues at the heart of government decision-making. Using a “10-Year Plan”, Ireland slashed its poverty rate from 15% in 1997 to 6.8% in 2007.

Irelands success was based on obtaining broad support and participation from all parts of society – public, private, and non-profit sectors – and developing concrete, specific strategies and action plans. The approach was not to find one “magic bullet” but, rather, to develop detailed, small-scale solutions.

Well, now, I am pleased to tell you that Niagara has begun a similar process.

At last week’s Regional Council meeting, we decided to establish a broad-based Advisory Committee to oversee the implementation of seven specific prosperity strategies and to develop future strategies. Recognizing their solid track record of addressing poverty issues and of involving community leaders, the actual implementation will be accomplished by Opportunities Niagara and the Business Education Council over the next two years.

I am hoping that with involvement from across the community – from representatives of the Federal, Provincial, Regional governments, the Niagara Regional Police, faith-based organizations, the Niagara Health System, the business community and Chambers of Commerce, social service agencies and the United Way, and school boards – the Advisory Committee will quickly develop and implement appropriate action plans.

Poverty is a complex issue. Its solution – increasing prosperity – requires complex solutions that I and many other will continue to move forward on your behalf.