Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 13, 2002
Child poverty exploding
UN blames Liberals for failed promises
By ART BABYCH
Canadian Catholic News
The number of poor children in Canada has increased by 39 per cent over the past decade because the federal government has failed to put its promises into action, says a report released on the eve of the second United Nations Special Session on Children.
"Our task is to provide what we see is the real status report on Canada that should be taken to the UN, said Laurel Rothman, coordinator of Campaign 2000, at a news conference May 6. Campaign 2000 is a coalition of more than 85 organizations including the Canadian Council of Churches and the Catholic Health Association of Canada.
Rothman, who described Prime Minister Jean Chretien as "a Prime Minister who is as consistent in his promises to children as he is in breaking them," urged the PM to use the occasion of the special UN session to launch an action plan for Canada's children and their families.
Toronto author and journalist, June Caldwell, was disappointed that Chretien would not be leading the Canadian delegation to the UN conference. "I get the general impression that the federal government is either comatose or morally bankrupt around the lives of children," said Caldwell, founding member of the Campaign Against Child Poverty, a multi-faith social justice organization.
"Empty promises make for empty stomachs - and that's literal," she said, pointing to a full-page advertisement to be published by her group in the Toronto Star the following day. The advertisement shows Chretien replying to the Speech from the Throne in January 2001 and includes excerpts pledging the government to help families "break out of the poverty trap."
Rothman said that in 1989, one in seven Canadian children lived in poverty but the rate has since increased to one in five children. As well, poverty among working families is up 57 per cent and the numbers of children living in "unsafe or inadequate housing" has been "amplified by 91 per cent," said Rothman.
"Empty promises make for empty stomachs - and that's literal."
- June Caldwell
In its report, Campaign 2000 called for a national plan of action that would include a reduction in child poverty of 50 per cent over the next five years through improved child benefits, the establishment of a foundation for early childhood education and care services, an investment in affordable housing and increases of at least $400 million to the international assistance envelope.
In the House of Commons, NDP leader Alexa McDonough complained of government "arrogance" and said its priorities are out of whack. "While the Liberals heap cash on their cronies, poverty among Canadian children increases by 40 per cent," she said.
Chretien replied that the government has taken "very concrete action to help Canadian children and families, including our national children's agenda, $2.2 billion, and the national child benefit program." He said it has also lengthened the parental benefits under the employment insurance program to 12 months and increased the limit on childcare expenses. "In Budget 2001 we added $185 million for programs targeted at aboriginal children," said the Prime Minister. "We have cut taxes aimed at low and middle income Canadians."
Campaign 2000, however, said the so-called "new spending" by Ottawa has not replaced what it removed in the past decade. It said the federal government relinquished its role in shaping family and child policy in 1995 when it eliminated the Canada Assistance Plan, "abandoned responsibility for housing and immigrant settlement services, and cut access to unemployment insurance benefits by 50 per cent."
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