Child Poverty Needs More Attention in This Campaign
Brandon Sun “Small World” Column, Sunday, September 21 / 08
There really isn’t enough being said about child poverty during this election campaign. It’s a global issue – articulated in the United Nations Millennium Development Goals – that Canada should be working to alleviate overseas more than it does. It is also a national, provincial and local issue that gets lost in the current rhetoric about “the economy."
Are poverty and children not a part of the economic equation? Clearly, poverty goes hand in hand with addiction, youth crime and violence, and lack of education and training, and unemployment. Overall, Canada’s record in dealing with poverty within its own borders is not as strong as many other Western countries.
It is in this context that I had the opportunity to meet with Marvyn Novick, a Toronto-based social policy activist, who recently visited Manitoba. Novick is a retired Ryerson University professor with a lifetime of experience focusing on the inner cities of Montreal, Toronto and some major American centres. His 2007 report, "Summoned to Stewardship," highlighted the urgency of putting in place national targets and timetables for poverty reduction. Novick is a passionate and encyclopedic advocate for the marginalized in our society and a visionary in understanding that supporting the betterment of the marginalized will strengthen, not burden, our economy. My talk with him inspires this article.
In November 1989, at the end of NDP Leader Ed Broadbent’s tenure in Parliament, he – along with Liberal Lloyd Axworthy and Progressive Conservative Jean Charest, proposed ending child poverty in Canada by the year 2000. Almost for sentimental reasons, the measure passed. Social planning councils, child welfare organizations and aboriginal friendship centres, not wanting Canada to break this promise to its children, created Campaign 2000 to keep the momentum going.
As election campaign 2008 unfolds, one in six children in our country still lives below the poverty line. While some will blame the victims for their poverty, or blame government and social agencies for waste and corruption, Canadians in general believe in the role of the public sector to work toward sustainable, peaceful and inclusive neighbourhoods and communities. Today’s Liberal Leader has pledged a 50% reduction in child poverty in his first term as Prime Minister. Danny Williams, Conservative Premier of Newfoundland & Labrador has stated that child poverty reduction should be a non-partisan issue that all stripes of government strive for.
Other “developed” Western economies have in recent years created concrete targets for child poverty reduction. UNICEF has taken on a major research role and supported in particular the Nordic countries’ model for this. Under Prime Minister Tony Blair, Great Britain targeted a 25% reduction in child poverty by 2005 and came close to that figure. Doubling that reduction by 2010 was the next promise and, under Gordon Brown, it is estimated that the British will hit at least the 35% mark. Austria has pledged a one-third reduction in ten years. Quebec and the European Union have also set targets in legislation.
The Nordic Countries – Finland, Denmark, Norway and Sweden - took their case to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in fiscal year 2005-06, arguing that social development and reducing child poverty ultimately lead to a vital and competitive economy. They showed by their own example that tax cuts don’t necessarily deliver a strong economy and economic growth doesn’t guarantee people’s welfare.
Children don’t vote. That might be the reason why governments in the past have made efforts to get seniors off welfare, but have not acted as quickly on child poverty. Tax cuts and large surpluses have been the story in the past decade, even to the point of politicians in this election saying the “we need to have a surplus”. This moves us away from the 90s idea that we should have balanced budget, and of course further away from the days of spending on social programs. Canada now ranks 12th, in UN figures, out of 17 industrialized countries in terms of how they respond to child poverty.
Novick has no love of any particular Canadian political party. None have fulfilled his dream of ending child poverty by 2000 or by today, or by any guaranteed future date.
Having clear, known, concrete targets might help, and that is what he is pushing for. His lifetime work’s legacy is to keep the issue alive. Now, he hopes that our political leaders will see that they must leave a social legacy to the children of our country.
Zack Gross coordinates a provincial fair trade outreach program for the Manitoba Council for International Co-operation (MCIC), a coalition of 38 international development organizations.
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