C+ Quebec Report Cards

Section 1: Experience of Poverty

Indicator Data
2024 Grade
2023 Grade
People Feeling Worse off Compared to Last Year
37.7%
B-
B+
People Spending More than 30% of Income on Housing
40.5%
F
D+
Government Support Recipients Who Say Rates Are Insufficient to Keep Up with Cost of Living
44.4%
D
C-
People Having Trouble Accessing Health Care
13.5%
C
C
Percent of Income Spent on Fixed Costs beyond Housing
54.6%
C+
D+
Overall
D+
C

Section 2: Poverty Measures

Indicator Data
2024 Grade
2023 Grade
Poverty Rate (MBM)
6.6%
C+
A-
Provincial Welfare as a Percent of the Poverty Line (Singles)
89%
A
A
Provincial Disability Welfare as a Percent of the Poverty Line
69%
C
Unemployment Rate
5%
D+
C
Food Insecurity Rate
15.7%
B-
A-
Overall
B-
B+

Section 3: Material Deprivation

Indicator Data
2024 Grade
2023 Grade
Inadequate Standard of Living
30.2%
C-
D+
Severely Inadequate Standard of Living
20.8%
C+
D+
Overall
C
D+

Section 4: Legislative Progress

Indicator Data
2024 Grade
2023 Grade
Legislative Progress
B
B
Overall
B
B
×

While Quebec still leads the country in poverty reduction efforts, the gap between them and other provinces is shrinking. Quebec needs to find renewed focus on poverty reduction in 2024 and continue to demonstrate leadership in the sector.


Poverty Overview

Based on our national poll, people in Quebec identified reduced food costs, stronger health care, and affordable housing as the most important issues in poverty today. While Quebec’s poverty rate of 6.6 per cent was lower than that of Canada as a whole (9.9 per cent), many people in the province are still struggling to make ends meet. In 2023, the number of visits to food banks in Quebec was almost double that of 2019.  
Despite this massive growth in the use of food banks, compared to 2015, the province either met or exceeded the pace of poverty reduction in the rest of Canada for virtually every demographic group, a feat that underscores the considerable leadership Quebec has shown in establishing strong and credible policy to reduce poverty. While this section of the report details areas for improvement, many other provinces can look to Quebec for inspiration about best-in-class policy design. 
Poverty rates for children, youth, and seniors in Quebec remain similar to or less than national averages. 
As in much of the country, people who live alone face a much higher rate of poverty than other groups, at roughly 17 per cent. While this is 4 percentage points lower than the national average, it remains unacceptably high. Similarly, poverty rates are 10 per cent in single-parent households. While this is lower than the national average, it is also nearly 8 percentage points higher than the rate for two-parent households.

The cost of living and affordable housing

Between December 2022 and December 2023, the overall price of goods and services in Quebec increased by 4 per cent, compared to 3.4 per cent in Canada as a whole, according to the Consumer Price Index. 
Quebec saw an increase of 5.7 per cent in the price of food, which is slightly higher than the national average increase of 5 per cent. It is important, however, to note that over 2024 food price inflation has moderated considerably in the province, having been the second-highest in the country in the previous year. Given the number of people in Quebec who think that reducing the cost of food is important (95 per cent), many people are likely still struggling with that historic increase, despite recent drops in price growth. 
However, Quebec’s housing market is one of the most affordable in the country, and only 3.5 per cent of residents are considered to be in core housing need. Despite this, some pressures are building under the surface. The average cost of shelter increased by 6.8 per cent in Quebec; whereas nationally they increased 6 per cent. However, certain types of shelter costs experienced higher increases. For example, the costs of owning a home in Quebec increased by 8.2 per cent, the highest among the provinces. 
Meanwhile, overall rent costs increased by 6.8 per cent in Quebec. This increase is below the national average but is still having an adverse effect on many residents. Over two-thirds of all food bank visits across the province are from people who rent their accommodation. Renters comprise a small portion of the population, so they are greatly over-represented in food banks. 
Between 2016 and 2023, the total stock of rent-assisted social housing units grew by 8.1 per cent, about one-third slower than the national average of 12 per cent. This reflects a lack of systematic funding and policy strategy at the provincial level to stimulate additional affordable housing construction. 
Overall, the proportion of people in Quebec saying that the creation of affordable housing is important to them is 4 per cent higher than the national average.

Poverty and Inequality in Quebec

Quebec contends with socio-economic disparities, linguistic divisions, and challenges related to immigrant integration. Indigenous communities, racialized people, and marginalized groups face barriers to accessing education, employment, and social services. Although the trend of below-average poverty rates holds true across racialized communities in Quebec, these communities still face much higher rates of poverty than non-racialized communities. 
For example, the poverty rate is 8 per cent among Indigenous people, 14.5 per cent among recent immigrants, 39.2 per cent among non-permanent residents, and 12 per cent for all racialized people in Quebec. When comparing these numbers to the average poverty rate of 6.6 per cent across the province, it is clear to see that action must be taken to reduce the inequalities that exist between racialized and non-racialized communities. 
In Quebec, the percentage of racialized households spending more than 30 per cent of their income on rent and utilities (34 per cent) is nearly the same as in non-racialized households (33 per cent). However, some groups—notably Chinese and West Asian residents—are significantly more likely to spend more than 30 per cent of their income on rent and utilities (49 per cent and 48 per cent, respectively). The rate of Indigenous households that spend more than 30 per cent of their income in this way is 3 per cent points less than for non-Indigenous households in this province.

Labour and Education

Labour force participation rates in the province are relatively strong across the board. However, youth aged 15–29 who are not in employment, education, or training (NEET) are at particular risk of poverty. In 2022, 10 per cent of youth in Quebec were in this situation compared with 11 per cent in Canada as a whole. Education is a key factor in protecting against poverty. Among Quebecois aged 25–64, 14.5 per cent did not have a high school diploma or equivalent, which is higher than the national rate of 11.6 per cent. However, the rate was higher among Quebec men, at 17.3 per cent. 
In addition, roughly 1 in 5 food bank visits in the province were from people who work. This number has been growing steadily over the past several years and indicates that the cost of living in Quebec, and indeed across Canada, is far outpacing wage growth.

Poverty and food insecurity in Quebec are the lowest in Canada, thanks in part to decades of sustained policy efforts by successive provincial governments. While this has positioned Quebec as a leader in poverty reduction, the province must not rest on its laurels.

Quebec was the first jurisdiction in Canada to establish a poverty reduction strategy. The strategy was introduced over 20 years ago and is updated every five years. The revised strategy for 2024–29 is expected to be released later this year.

Since the onset of the affordability crisis the provincial government has emphasized three key actions:

These measures will help to offset a portion of the burden that residents who are living on low incomes are experiencing. However, it falls short of the ambition past governments have had in combatting poverty. The vast majority of the government’s financial support package is in the form of tax cuts that help middle- and upper-income households, even though people with low incomes have seen the most extensive drop in living standards during this time. Only 1 per cent of the $30 billion allocation was earmarked for expanding shelter allowances, which would support the most vulnerable people in the province at a time when housing affordability has worsened considerably.


The government’s approach to housing investments have been similarly disappointing. Shelter costs may well be much more affordable in Quebec than in other provinces, but there has also been inadequate investment to create a new supply of affordable housing. At a time when the housing supply gap in Quebec is increasing rather than decreasing, the province lacks a long-term, robust framework to stimulate the construction of new affordable housing units.

The announcement last fall of a plan to build 8,000 new units was largely prompted by a political need to match federal investments in this area from the Housing Accelerator Fund. The 8,000 units that the province is proposing to help build equate to less than 1 per cent of what the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) estimates is required by 2030. The plan also does not provide any sustained investment beyond the initial period, which means that municipalities and non-profit providers cannot make long-term planning decisions. Had the province redirected even just 10 per cent of its financial support measures toward the construction of new affordable housing, it would have been able to support nearly 15,000 more units over the next few years.

In last year’s report we urged the province to consider introducing targeted financial supports that could, over time, be transformed into a low-income food benefit. Quebec has not done this, preferring instead to provide one-time $500 affordability payments for families earning less than $100,000. However, even as these temporary supports come to an end, Quebec continues to have the most generous social assistance benefits in the country.

The affordability payments, like many other credits and deductions, were delivered through the tax system and required residents to have filed a return for 2021. Quebec has one of the lowest rates of non-filing in the country. About 6 per cent of residents do not file a tax return and so are potentially denied benefits they could be entitled to. Last year, the provincial government announced its intention to undertake a pilot project to encourage and help residents with low incomes to file their tax returns. This is consistent with the federal government’s own objective but does appear to be running more slowly. Quebec has said it will take up to five years to assess whether an automatic filing system should be implemented more systematically to further increase filing rates for all households.

The 2024 provincial budget forecasts a deficit of more than $9 billion, which is approximately 1.5 per cent of GDP. In response, the province has committed to conducting a significant review of program spending in the coming years in hopes of balancing the books by 2029–30. While few details about this spending review have been shared to date, there is a risk that it could lead to less investment in poverty reduction policies for the foreseeable future.

Despite Quebec having the lowest level of moderate or severe food insecurity among all the provinces and territories, the affordability crisis has significantly increased demand at food banks and for emergency food aid.

A distressing trend that food banks are seeing is a growth in visitors whose main income is from a job which no longer covers all of their expenses, forcing them to choose between paying for medication, housing, or food, for example. Food banks have also seen an increase in demand from seasonal and temporary workers who work in factories such as fish packaging plants or on farms, and from foreign students and new immigrants.

The provincial government has previously provided significant aid to food banks, including $23 million last year, and it recently announced that it would provide $26 million in 2024–25. Although this increased assistance is welcome, it does not provide centres with the ability to plan for and respond to the needs of their local clientele—and perhaps more pertinently, it addresses the symptoms rather than the root causes of poverty.

Accountability

1. Establish a new poverty reduction strategy with the ambitious goal of ending poverty by 2030.
In Progress
Achieved
No Progress
In Progress
No Progress
In Progress
Achieved
Having reduced the poverty rate by nearly two-thirds—from 13.5 per cent in 2015 to 5.2 per cent in 2021—Quebec could bring it down to near zero. But that will require strong leadership. An early and achievable priority area for the strategy could involve family benefits. Provincial income support and other transfers already comprise 92 per cent of the market basket poverty line for a couple with two children, and 81 per cent for single parents with one child.

Affordable Housing

2. Accelerate the construction of purpose-built affordable rental housing.
In Progress
Achieved
Started
In Progress
Started
In Progress
Achieved

Although the province recently announced new investments in affordable housing construction, it lacks sustained, long-term funding and at a scale that will make a real difference. We recommend that an additional $3 billion be set aside over the coming five years. That would equate to only 10 per cent of the government’s existing commitment to tax reductions and financial support and would help build nearly 15,000 more units than the province is currently planning to help construct. Any future tax cuts should ideally be focused on families with low incomes and result in a 10 per cent set-aside for investments in housing. This will be more effective over the long-term in fostering affordability that is fiscally responsible and economically beneficial.

Cost of Living and Decent Work

3. Make the minimum wage a living wage.
PRC New Policy

The minimum wage in Quebec is still lower than the minimum wage in Ontario by at least $1 per hour. Recent increases have not been enough to turn it into a living wage. The Quebec government should adopt a policy to move quickly to match the minimum wage in Ontario and work overtime to establish a living wage policy. Matching Ontario would provide a meaningful income boost for workers on low incomes without jeopardizing competitiveness or jobs.

4. Expand upskilling and create pathways to the trades and good jobs.
PRC New Policy

The province should develop a strategy to significantly expand upskilling and retraining opportunities for adult residents who have previously completed higher levels of learning. To support our recommendation to expand investments in affordable housing construction, an initial focus of this program could be to help encourage more workers to enter the construction trades. This would help to create more well-paying jobs for workers who are at risk of poverty and to build a strong foundation of housing affordability that all residents can benefit from.

5. Establish parity for Disability Social Assistance Rates.
In Progress
Achieved
No Progress
In Progress
No Progress
In Progress
Achieved

Quebec is the only province in the country where residents with a disability receive less—almost $5,000 less—in assistance than individuals who are able to enter the workforce. This discrepancy adds to the challenges that residents with a disability already face. We recommend that the province bring the disability assistance rates to parity with rates for individuals without a disability.