Poverty in Canada

In 2008, the rate of poverty in Canada was one of the highest among wealthy industrialised nations, according to a report published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). In 2011, OECD ranked Canada 21st out of all 27 member states for poverty level.

At a Glance

It is believed that at around 1 in every 7 Canadians, which amounts about 4.8 million people, currently live in conditions of poverty, according to Canada Without Poverty, a not-for-profit anti-poverty advocacy organization. Another Canadian non-partisan advocacy group, Campaign 2000, reported in 2013 that nearly 1 in 5 Canadian children live in poverty. Due to the high number of children living in poverty, UNICEF has ranked Canada at 17th out of the 29 wealthy countries.

Canada has no official definition for poverty and thus no official statistical measurements of poverty. However, researchers use relative poverty data, such as low income statistics published by the Canadian government, to determine the poverty rates in the country. Throughout history, Canada has experienced several economic upturns and downturns, and with it spikes and decreases in overall poverty. Following the Great Depression in Canada, and as the country grew economically, welfare support programs have sought to reach Canadians in need. Canada currently has no official poverty reduction program.


Because the government of Canada does not measure poverty, researchers and activists use other measurements that indicate poverty, such as low income statistics, to gain an understanding of average rates of poverty in Canada. The Government of Canada, however, does not consider being 'low income' the same as being 'poor.'

According to public access data published by Statistics Canada, in 2011, 12.9 percent of the population (before tax) were in the low income category. The same year, 13.3 percent of the population under the age of 18 were low income. Other than low income statistics, poverty in Canada can also be determined by the market basket measures (MBM) calculated by the Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. The MBM estimates how accessible goods and services are to segments of the population based on disposable income. Direct poverty statistics in Canada are published by anti-poverty advocacy groups. One such group, Canada Without Poverty, estimates that 1 in 7 Canadians live in poverty. The group emphasized that socially marginalised groups, such as single mothers, aboriginal groups, people with disabilities, the elderly and racial minorities are more susceptible to poverty. For example, a person with a disability is twice as likely as an individual without a disability to be poor.

Definitions and Implications of Poverty

According to the World Bank, poverty 'includes low incomes and the inability to acquire the basic goods and services necessary for survival with dignity'. The United Nations defines poverty as a 'violation of human dignity' that hinders a person's 'basic capacity to participate effectively in society.' Poverty has no single cause. A variety of issues can cause poverty among segments of a population, such as economic downturns, war, climate conditions such as droughts that destroy agricultural crops, social discrimination that bars access to basic necessities, and fatal epidemics like AIDS. Poverty is a multidimensional issue. Being poor does not only mean a lack of access to necessities such as food, safe drinking water, shelter and clothing. People who are poor also have inadequate access to healthcare, education, security, sanitation and political power. The poor are more susceptible to community violence and human rights violations. Due to lack of access to credit, the poor are likely to incur high-interest debts, such as payday loans, which results in endless cycles of borrowing and being victimized by loan sharks.

Poverty Reduction

Poverty significantly strains a country's resources. For example, the Ontario Association of Food Banks once estimated that poverty levels in the province cost the government between 5.5 to 6.6 percent of the GDP. Alleviation of poverty levels, therefore, unburdens economic growth and fosters personal wellbeing. Many anti-poverty advocates in Canada have urged the federal government to take comprehensive steps towards alleviating provincial poverty levels, especially child poverty. Poverty alleviation is beneficial for all levels of society. For example, the Public Health Agency of Canada in 2008 reported that a dollar invested in a poor young child's life can save up to 9 dollars of government spending on health and criminal justice in the future.

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Open Data Initiative of the Canadian Government

The Open Data Initiative is a government program in Canada that seeks to make public information and data more accessible to citizens with the intention of making actions of elected officials transparent to taxpayers. The Open Data Initiative is a part of Canada's push for open government. Canadian citizens can access and view released datasets on the official website (open.canada.ca) in either English or French.


Canada is a nation committed to the doctrine of open government, which states that a government should be transparent and open to public scrutiny, as opposed to one that is committed to state secrecy. The origins of the ideology behind this doctrine go back the era of Enlightenment, when many governments were absolutist monarchies. The doctrine of open government encapsulates principals that are widely considered hallmarks of a democratic system, such as freedom of information, freedom of press and government accountability. Canada actively promotes open government initiatives domestically as well as internationally. Canada is a member of the Open Government Partnership, a multinational effort to promote governments to be more open and accountable. Canada has also expressed commitment to government transparency and freedom of information as a member of the G7.

Formation of the Open Data Initiative

The Open Data Initiative is a result of Canada's Open Government Partnership and the Open Data Charter, which the country adopted at the G8 summit in June, 2013. As a result, Canada developed a 12-step national action plan in October 30, 2014, to 'advance transparency, accountability, and citizen engagement' by implementing the principles of the Open Data Charter. The Open Data Charter has 5 principles: publishing government data while safeguarding privacy, releasing quality open data in a timely manner, making data easy to use and accessible, being transparent about data collection and publication, and using open data for citizen empowerment. Canada's Open Data Initiative seeks to meet these five principles. Canada first launched the Open Data Initiative web portal in 2011. The website was updated in 2013, and improved in 2014 to meet the new open data commitments as stipulated in Canada's Second Action Plan on Open Government. The political aspects of the Open Data Initiative are overseen by the president of Canada's Treasury Board.

Government Data Available for Public Access

The data available on the Open Data Initiative includes tender notices, population statistics, consumption ratings, government contracts, immigration statistics, government financial performance information and pension statistics, among many others. Data from the following government agencies are currently available for download from open.canada.ca:

Access to Open Data

To make datasets available on open.canada.ca easy to access, reliable and comprehensible to the public, Canada has encouraged the development of mobile apps and user-friendly Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). APIs are mostly used by developers, while the general public mainly accesses datasets on apps. Apps are developed by third parties, not the government of Canada, and are available on the web, iOS, Android and Blackberry platforms. An example of a web-based app is Border Wait Times, developed based on data released by the Canada Border Services Agency. Users of this app can estimate how long travellers can expect to wait at Canadian land border crossings. Examples of mobile apps include Learn to Camp, which shows camping sites based on information from Parks Canada, and PTSD Coach Canada, which helps sufferers manage symptoms and seek help based on data from Veterans Affairs Canada. All web and mobile apps for Open Data Initiative can be viewed at open.canada.ca/en/apps.