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15 years on and still the children suffer


Toronto Star, MARY CORKERY AND HARRY J. KITS, Nov. 25, 2004

We promised. It's time for Canadians to keep faith with our children.

more than 1 million children, one in six kids in Canada, live in poverty. Nearly three times more aboriginal, immigrant and visible minority children are poorer than the national average.

As leader of the New Democratic party, Ed Broadbent — back in Ottawa as an NDP MP after a 15-year hiatus — moved the 1989 parliamentary motion to end child poverty. A generation of children has grown up seeing that vow unfulfilled.

Canada is one of the richest countries in the world. Yet thousands of women, children and men during any given month, cannot afford adequate food or housing. That is a scandal that challenges the core belief of Canadians in our country as a caring nation.

Success in dramatically reducing and even eliminating child poverty is possible. Since the early 1980s, Canada has managed to cut seniors' poverty rates in half.

Other countries have far fewer families struggling to pay the rent and feed the kids. What will it take for Canada to fulfill the promise to eliminate child poverty?

It is not enough to hope that economic success will trickle down to those who struggle. For many, our faith has compelled us to act ourselves and to call on our governments to act on their promises.

Ordinary Canadians have already stepped in, in a multitude of ways. Faith communities and other groups jumped into the breach, creating food banks (including the large Daily Bread Food Bank that serves so many in Toronto).

Shelters and Out of the Cold programs operate in many places of worship, offering hot meals and a warm place to sleep. Churches have seen the need for secure, affordable housing and people of faith have both built housing and called for public funding to build more.

Many other kinds of support have been offered from a furniture bank to help for paying prescription drugs.

Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ) and Kairos are part of the churches' work for fundamental change. This change builds from the charity of emergency responses, and demands the justice of long-term solutions. These solutions involve every area of Canadian life, from schools to business.

But justice for every citizen is particularly the role of government. Fifteen years ago, our politicians recognized that in their unanimous resolution. We look to our federal parties today to fulfill that promise.

Campaign 2000, the child anti-poverty coalition in which CPJ and Kairos are partners, has studied the policy mix that works to substantially reduce child and family poverty.

We urge federal and provincial governments to act now on the recommendations of Campaign 2000's recent report, Pathways to Progress: Structural Solutions to Address Child Poverty, by increasing the minimum wage, raising the child benefit, implementing the promised national early childhood education and care program, and investing significant new funds for affordable housing.

We are pleased that, after the setbacks of the 1990s, the federal government has taken some steps in recent budgets.

Investments in the Canada Child Tax Benefit, improved maternity and parental leave, a limited renewed federal presence in affordable housing, and federal investments in early learning and childcare — together with an improved job market — helped bring the child poverty rate down from the peaks of the mid-1990s.

Canada now has had seven years of fiscal stability. The government delivered billions of dollars of tax cuts, most of which benefited the well-off. Tax cuts are on the table again as federal surpluses are counted in the billions.

Canada has the resources to tackle poverty. Those who struggle to put food on the table are our neighbours. They need to know when Canada will make ending hunger our top priority.

All it takes is the political will to keep faith with our children living in poverty and their children in decades to come. It's time to deliver.

Mary Corkery is executive director of the justice agency of Canadian churches, Kairos. Harry J. Kits is executive director of Citizens for Public Justice, a national, faith-based public policy organization.