A submission to the British Columbia Poverty Reduction Strategy


Submitted by

Elaine J. Laberge

Doctoral student (Sociology), University of Victoria, MA, BA


(250) 686-2214




Poverty is our most devastating social failure in this greatly affluent age and land—and, the heaviest burden on our social conscience.

John Kenneth Galbraith (1986)

The larger picture:

I draw your attention to key points that will be addressed regarding persistent and growing poverty in British Columbia, and across Canada, beyond the issue of inaccessible higher education:

  • A concerted effort needs to be made to make visible Canadian’s beliefs about poverty. There is a looming gap in Canadian knowledge in terms of how colonialism and British attitudes, capitalism, and neoliberalism shape our understandings of social class and thus policies;
  • We must make visible the shame and stigma that is attached to poverty (both historically and contemporarily);
  • Regardless of research contrary to the myth of the classless society, Sayer (2002) notes that class “continues to figure centrally in people’s lives, especially for those who … lack the privilege to be able to ignore it” (n.p.; see also Skeggs, 1997);
  • We are incorrectly waging a war against the poor rather than addressing the structural reasons for situational and generational poverty; that is, moving away from an individualistic framework;
  • The gendered nature of poverty (and narratives regarding often single mothers in poverty) needs to be addressed at the structural level;
    • g., Address how social support systems contribute to inequality, inequity, and generational poverty (i.e., How welfare has been decimated in this country and how pervasive the term “Welfare Queen” is and the damaging narratives regarding this derogatory label)
  • British Columbia’s higher education institutions must be properly invested in or they run the risk of increasingly only educating people from privilege;
  • All universities across Canada must collectively work together to widen access to higher education for marginalized students in meaningful ways;
  • Throwing money at a problem does not address the structural reasons for inequality and inequity; get sociologists on board to address persistent poverty;
  • Reconsider dominant (colonial/Eurocentric) ways of defining poverty; that is, the main way poverty is defined is based on economics. This fails to capture how people subjectively define poverty, their lived experiences, and the intersections of race, class, gender, disability, Indigenity, immigration status, sexual orientation, etc.;
  • There needs to be a shift in how poverty and the poor are portrayed in the media. Stories that situate the poor as “Other” are dominant narratives that shape understandings and policies of “poverty-class” people as less-than, rather than tackling head on systemic injustice. As a result, collectively we have subscribed to the myth of the classless society, the American Dream fallacy, and bootstrap dogmas;
  • Let us confront our individual and collective histories. We cannot continue to turn our backs on how the colonization of this country used people from poverty—and, Indigenous peoples—to colonize these lands (see Rimstead, 2001);
  • People in poverty must be continuously heard; their voices must shape policies; their lived experiences must become visible, if we are to interrupt dominant narratives that demonize “poverty-class” people because of the world (low social class) they were born into. They must be part of the discussion not the object of discussion (Adair, 2003);
  • We must face that Canada has a caste system not unlike India. A hard truth. We have upper, middle, lower, and underclasses—and, many layers within each;
  • Consider how public spaces are shaped and segregated. Imagine how those from the underclass are constantly being displaced and storied in devastating ways. For example, cities across this country, even cities that are committed to ending poverty, use taxpayer dollars to purchase and install degrading homeless deterrence technology (e.g., benches designed to preventing laying down). This extends to practices of forcing those without homes to keep moving along in a myriad of ways;
  • Support grassroots movements that are committed to social justice, equality, and equity;
  • As citizens that pride themselves based on an international reputation of inclusivity and caring, we must confront that too many of us are not valued simply because we were not born into privilege;
  • Let us reframe and shift our understandings of and paradigms in addressing persistent poverty. The Right Honourable Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tells us that we can be better; we must be better. We must honour and hold sacred each and every life in the making;
  • Find ways to understand how poverty devastates not only individuals and their families but also communities and this country as a whole;
  • Recognize that poverty shapes an entire life; that is, experiences of poverty become part of our embodied being;
  • All Canadians must be part of the structural changes; we are a community.

Adair, V. (2005). US Working-Class/Poverty-Class Divides. Sociology, 39(5), 817–834.

Adair, V. (2003). Disciplined and Punished: Poor Women, Bodily Inscription, and Resistance through Education. In V. Adair & S. L. Dahlberg (Eds.), Reclaiming class: Women, poverty, and the promise of higher education in America. Temple University Press.

Adair, V. (2001). Branded with Infamy: Inscriptions of Poverty and Class in the United States. Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 27(2), 451–471.

Galbraith, J. K. (1986). A View from the Stands: Of People, Politics, Military Power and the Arts. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Rimstead, R. (2001). Remnants of Nation. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

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