Raising all Boats: From Welfare to Well Being

Marie Thompson an active member of Open Harbour has been involved in helping refugees resettle in Canada for the past few years. She along with members of Halifax Refugee Welcome Group Dick Evans and Lee Seymour have shared with us their thoughts on the Canadian Social Assistance system and how it could be tailored to help not just refugees but to all Canadians in particular those who live in poverty.


To the Members of Open Harbour Refugee Association

As I learned more about Canada’s approach to refugee support I realized that we “welcome” newcomers to Canada with an introduction to poverty.  It’s a poverty experienced by thousands of Canadians who rely on a social assistance system with no opportunities to escape.  Since then a small group of us (myself and Lee Seymour and Dick Evans of the Halifax Refugee Welcome group) have set our minds to the income situation facing not only refugees but all Canadians who rely on income assistance.  We are inspired by the incredible outpouring of support demonstrated by ordinary folks across the country focussed initially on Syrian Refugees.  But we are also motivated by the idea that a “Rising Tide Raises All Boats” and hope that we can find support to improve income assistance for everyone, not just refugees.

– Marie Thompson, Open Harbour Member

Throughout Nova Scotia and across Canada, countless individuals, associated with a disparate number of groups and organizations, have taken a profound interest in the plight of Syrian refugees.

Along with this has come an awareness of the inadequacy of income assistance rates (which are tied to provincial social assistance rates), for many newcomer families, as well as for most if not all individuals and families who are currently recipients of income assistance.  

In the late fall of 2016 and throughout 2017 at least 25 thousand Syrian newcomers to Canada will celebrate their one-year anniversary of arrival.  At this point, they will see an end to the income and medical and other support they receive now from the federal government and from their private sponsors.  Some will find work, but many will be relying on provincial welfare.  

They – and many of us who sponsor them – will face the reality so many in poverty already know:  that social assistance rates are insufficient and often punishing.


Who We Are

We are a group of people actively involved with some of the more than 100 Nova Scotia private refugee sponsorship groups. We seek to:

  1. Raise awareness generally about the inadequate income assistance rates for everyone (recognizing that many New Canadians will join other Canadians on income assistance).
  2. Campaign for an increase to social assistance rates for ALL, by mobilizing those in the refugee sponsorship community and other interested parties.

A rising tide raises all boats.  Income support levels need to be set so that all Canadians can have access to:

  • Adequate and affordable housing
  • Access to healthcare outside of what is provided by MSI
  • Access to public transit
  • Access to nutritional food (and so on)

Tens of thousands of Canadians pushed their leaders to open the doors to Canada and a promise of a better life for Syrian refugees.  We need to make good on that promise: a better life for New Canadians as well as all Canadians who rely on social assistance.


Next Steps

  1. Build support for this initiative among the more than one hundred private refugee sponsorship groups in Nova Scotia.
  2. Develop an action plan for a campaign, which may perhaps culminate with the provincial budget in the Spring of 2017, include lobbying and campaigning at both the provincial and federal levels.

Document prepared by Lee Seymour, Marie Thompson and Dick Evans
Contact information:

Lee Seymour (lee.brian@eastlink.ca Phone: 902-454-1656)
Marie Thompson (m.thompson@ns.sympatico.ca  Phone: 902-483-8164)
Dick Evans (Richard.evans@dal.ca) 902-454-1656