Part 4: Is Rural Poverty Being Considered?

by Edith Perry, social justice and anti-poverty activist; member of the PEI Working Group for a Livable Income

Are rural PEI and rural regions in the rest of Canada being heard in policies and in program development to eradicate poverty?

An important part of developing government direction for policies and programs is collecting and being informed by data. With this in mind I did some digging about not just what and why but where one lives impacts affording even the basics of living. And, yes, living in rural communities and small towns present challenges that are unique to those locales. Affording enough to eat, having a decent roof over one’s head and getting to the hospital in time is as basic as you can get. [By the way, according to The Food Insecurity Policy Report PEI was third from the bottom among the provinces for food insecurity in 2017-2018, with 14% of us experiencing food insecurity.]

Centralizing essential services to urban centers has left rural residents without access to basic supports and services and forced to travel. Often, they don’t own a vehicle and have few options to carpool or share rides. Many people scrounge enough money to buy a car and keep it road worthy, which is very costly. Despite the welcome news of a recently announced pilot project to initiate rural transportation to the eastern end of Kings County, we can in no way say there is an Island-wide, accessible, affordable, and convenient public transit system across the Island. There is no or very little public transportation infrastructure in our rural areas.

Islanders know well the problems we face with closings of small, usually rural hospital ERs and other necessary health services, EI and Access PEI offices, as well as addictions, trauma and PTSD counselling services for veterans and others. Another spate of supports that meet urgent needs are the services of food banks, shelters, and other charitable endeavors that are not available in the rural areas of PEI.

Government officials demand data in developing policies and programs. Yet as late as 2010, according to a University of Northern B.C. study on rural poverty, little research had been done to explore the rural experience of insufficient income. They pointed out [1] that there was no national poverty strategy, an on-going issue, and [2] there was no differentiating between poverty in rural areas and that of urban centers. The numbers just were not sought, much less compiled.

So, the question needing an answer is: how much data has been gathered since 2010 from rural residents? Indeed, how much rural input was gathered in current poverty studies done in PEI? How much “weight” is given to rural input, if any, in data analysis? What criteria were used specific to rural experiences of living in poverty? We in rural PEI and across Canada need to know how much our voice is heard on the issue of poverty elimination.

I know the issues faced by rural Islanders are the same as those faced by rural Canadians across our country. As a long-time advocate for poverty elimination, I have talked to people and listened to people who want the implementation of a basic income guarantee to start on PEI, but also want it to be put in place for all of Canada. They want a liveable income for themselves and their families, and they also want the same for their neighbours and communities. Regardless of where we live, we should all be recognized as equally worthy and deserving of the basic necessities of life.

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