Child poverty strategy demanded of government

By 
  • November 24, 2008
{mosimage}OTTAWA - A coalition of anti-poverty groups joined MPs from the opposition parties Nov. 21 in demanding a comprehensive national child poverty strategy.

At a Parliament Hill news conference, Campaign 2000 released its annual report card, showing 760,000 Canadian children — one out of nine — live below the poverty line. The report card coincided with ongoing debate on the Speech from the Throne where the minority Conservative government laid out its agenda for the 40th Parliament.
Child poverty levels have not decreased in the almost two decades since Parliament resolved to “seek to achieve the goal of eliminating poverty among Canadian children by the year 2000,” the report card says.

Campaign 2000 national co-ordinator Laurel Rothman said investing in low income families “pays quick dividends” because they will spend that money in the local community. She urged income support, including an increase in the child benefit to a $5,100 maximum per child; expanded Employment Insurance (EI) eligibility; increased federal work tax credits; a national housing plan and an early child care education system.

Citizens for Public Justice executive director Joe Gunn pointed out the word “poverty” was never mentioned in the Throne Speech. If government was considering spending to “prime the pump” and stimulate the economy, then it should invest in “local and greener economies” that “help the most vulnerable,” Gunn said.

An anti-poverty plan needs long-term vision, measurable targets, a time line, accountability and co-ordination between the federal and provincial governments, he said.

“What we don’t need at this time is an empathy deficit,” he said.

The report does not take into account the even more dire poverty of aboriginal Canadians, where about one in four children lives below the poverty line, said Peggy Taillon, president of the Canadian Council of Social Development.

“Social development is an essential partner to economic development,” Taillon said.

Rothman pointed out Canada has enjoyed good economic times and surpluses over the past 15 years, but child poverty was not reduced.

Canadian Labour Congress social and economic policy director Andrew Jackson said that during the last economic downturn, child poverty levels increased to one in five children. Because the maximum EI payments are lower, he said he thinks this downturn will create a “worse situation than last time.”

Newly elected Liberal MP Justin Trudeau noted individual Canadians can make their best contribution to society when they are not facing hunger while in school and families are “not just getting by.”

“Do not leave one out of nine children behind in these tough economic times,” said NDP Children and Child care critic Olivia Chow, who described the lack of action as “cruel.”

She said her party and the Bloc are prepared to bring the government down over the Throne Speech and an upcoming economic statement if child poverty is not addressed.

The Campaign 2000 report card is available online at www.campaign2000.ca.

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