Manitoba: 30 Years of Fighting the Poor instead of Fighting Poverty

Dougald Lamont
4 min readNov 6, 2019

We talk all the time about “root causes” of social problems, especially poverty. We know poverty makes everything harder. It affects people’s health. It means people are vulnerable and can be exploited.

It is not a choice. It is the way we choose to run our society. Especially when it comes to Indigenous people, governments have had policies that deliberately excluded people. Doors to opportunity were nailed shut.

We could be choosing to put people to work, or to invest in housing, education, and mental health.

That hasn’t happened in Manitoba in decades. Between 1989 and 2012, over 23 years and under the PCs and NDP alike, income assistance rates in Manitoba dropped in real dollars.

During the same period, the NDP and PCs both cut taxes by over $1-billion. Two of the areas where spending doubled under the NDP were jails and child and family services.

It’s not popular to talk about EIA — what used to be called welfare. Being on EIA, or even being poor, is considered something to be ashamed of. What we should be ashamed of is the way poor people are treated in our society.

In 2012, under the NDP, Manitoba’s EIA rates were lower than they were in 1989–23 years earlier.

- A single employable person: $2,870 less.
- A person with a disability: $1,123 less.
- A single parent with one child aged 2: $1,123 less.
- A couple with two children aged 10 and 5: $5,991 less.

In 2018, under the PCs, Manitoba’s rates were still lower than 26 years earlier.

-A single employable person received $732 LESS than in 1992.
-A person with a disability received $849 LESS than in 1992.
-A single parent with one child aged 2 received $2,044 less than 1992.
-A couple with two children aged 10 and 5 received $5,991 less.

During this time, Manitoba was routinely the child poverty capital of Canada.

This is the monthly “Basic Needs Budget”

Today, in 2019, median monthly rent for a 1-bedroom apartment in Winnipeg is $1252. Despite the cost of living going up, the PCs continue to make changes to EIA that make life harder for people living in poverty. They have also changed the “rent assist program” so fewer people are getting help with rent.

The Pallister Government is cutting EIA for “single employable” people by $300 a year. If you make more than $200 extra per month, it will be clawed back at 70%. If you make $350 per month more than your EIA, you will be kicked off.

Compare these costs:

Hospital: $1,000/day
Canadian Federal Prison: $315/day
Provincial Prison: $166/day
Adequate housing: $40/ day

We can’t expect different results doing the same thing.

We are not going to punish people out of poverty. Poverty is its own punishment, just as success is its own reward.

We need to stop with the magical thinking.We need to stop saying that “there is enough money, it just needs to be spent differently.”

If we want end homelessness, we need to put people in homes.

If we want to end poverty, people need income so they can pay their rent, feed themselves, and get around. Sometimes that means better social insurance, or a job with decent pay. People want to work but minimum wage doesn’t cover rent.

The fact is, the Province of Manitoba could be doing much more, but we have been pouring hundreds of millions of dollars every year dealing with the crises, emergencies, and tragedies created by poverty instead of investing in lifting people out of poverty.

The number of people in the top 1% is growing faster in Manitoba than any other province, while the number of people on EIA keeps going up.

The PCs found the money for $200-million to bail out the Bombers stadium, they found $300-million to cut the PST by a point, and the Premier is willing to go to the wall to make sure that Insurance Brokers get millions a year.

Governments have the means, the power, and the responsibility to make a difference. That is what governments and taxes are for.

What we have been doing for 30+ years in Manitoba has not been working. There is no reason for anyone in Manitoba to be living under a bridge, or freezing to death on the street.

Until we change what we are doing, that is going to keep happening.

If you think we should change — let us know. E-mail us at or follow me on Facebook at