Joe Gunn, executive director of Citizens for Public Justice, speaking at Campaign 2000’s release of the 2017 Child Poverty Report Card on Parliament Hill along with other anti-poverty group representatives. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Coalition pushes for action on poverty for 4.8 million Canadians

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  • November 23, 2017
OTTAWA – It’s time for the federal government to commit to eliminating poverty in Canada, a coalition of more than 120 anti-poverty groups said in its annual report.

“With Canada’s first Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS) on the horizon, government must commit to reverse the effects of decades of austerity budgeting and finally prioritize the prevention and eradication of poverty in Canada,” Anita Khanna, national coordinator of Campaign 2000, told a news conference in Ottawa on Nov. 21.

“With 1.2 million children and families living in poverty, it’s clear that the social safety net is not adequately supporting families who face no choice but to piece together precarious work, struggle to afford quality housing and childcare and scramble to pack school lunches.”

Campaign 2000’s annual report card shows 38 per cent of Indigenous children on reserves live in poverty, as do 42 per cent of female lone-parent families. One in three children of recent immigrants lives in poverty and income inequality is growing, the report says.

“This is a crisis for the 4.8 million Canadians who live below the poverty line, as well as for our entire society,” said Joe Gunn, executive director of Citizens for Public Justice, a member group of Campaign 2000 and a faith-based social justice think tank. “Poverty, beyond the statistics, represents the lives and unique experiences of our neighbours — but with a common point: the loss of access to chances of realizing not only economic potential, but human potential.

“This loss rests on individuals, but also weighs on all of society,” he added. “We see more economic inequality, more societal fracturing, lessening of social confidence and success at school, higher rates of criminalization, more health problems, even financial crises hit harder. This isn’t just a political issue — it is also a moral challenge.”

Gunn said the national poverty plan should be based “on human rights, not charity.”

“It is necessary to include timetables and goals, focused on persons with a lived experience of poverty,” he said.

Entitled “A poverty-free Canada requires federal leadership,” the 2017 report card offers a detailed set of recommendations for a national anti-poverty strategy with clear “targets and timelines,” and funded in the next federal budget.

Khanna said the national strategy is necessary “to level the playing field” across the country. It also calls for consultation with First Nations leaders as well as enhanced employment insurance to help with maternity leave and sick leave for those without disability insurance.

Among the recommendations: the creation of good jobs and the implementation of a $15 minimum wage across the country; enhancing the Canada Child Benefit; increasing the Working Income Tax Benefit; a universal child care program; enhanced medical coverage to include vision, pharmacare, rehabilitation services and dental care; and programs to address housing, food insecurity and income inequality.

Linda Woods, co-chair of the United Church of Canada’s Bread Not Stones, told the news conference MPs and many senators would receive a “Rag Doll of Hope” to remind them of the importance of addressing child poverty.  

“We are asking politicians to close the funding gap to all First Nations children, to close tax havens at home and abroad to address income inequality, and to lead by example in encouraging the implementation of a $15 minimum wage across the country,” Woods said.

Although studies highlighted by Cardus Family show most families would prefer a parent or close relative to provide child care as opposed to institutional daycare, Khanna said the call for a universal child care program is based on “world evidence” that affordable child care reduces child poverty.

Canada’s child poverty rate is 17 per cent, Khanna said, meaning one in six children lives in poverty. Denmark’s poverty rate is only five per cent, and it has affordable child care spaces. 

“Choice is a key component,” she said.

Campaign 2000 began in 1991 as a vehicle to push the federal government toward the goal of eliminating child poverty by the year 2000.

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