Today is the 21st anniversary of Parliament’s unanimous resolution to eliminate child poverty in Canada by the year 2000.

As it does each year on the anniversary of the resolution, Campaign 2000 has released its annual report card on child poverty. This year’s report, entitled Reduced Poverty = Better Health for All, reveals that 1 in 10 Canadian children continue to live in poverty. That’s 3 children in every kindergarten class, grade 1 class, grade 2 class … you get the picture. It is a picture of Canadian families and children that is not improving as it should.

The numbers for children in First Nations communities are higher and even more alarming, with one in four living in poverty. Campaign 2000 also found that the gap between the richest and the poorest in Canada continues to widen. And these statistics are likely to be worse in next year’s report, when the effects of the recession will be even more evident. 

They conclude that Canada’s recovery from the current economic crisis hinges on the federal government taking leadership to pull recession victims out of poverty and prevent Canadians from plunging into deeper poverty. And they issue the call for all federal parties to work together, and with provinces, territories and First Nations to develop a plan to eradicate poverty in Canada.

It is timely that exactly one week ago to the day, the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and Status of Persons with Disabilities (HUMA) released their report, Federal Poverty Reduction Plan: Working In Partnership Towards Reducing Poverty In Canada. The HUMA report is the culmination of three years of careful study and consultation with a wide range of Canadian organizations, community groups and individuals on the role of the federal government in the reduction of poverty.

Echoing the Campaign 2000 report, seven provinces and territories and hundreds of organizations, the report calls for federal leadership in the elimination of poverty in Canada.

The Parliamentary committee recommends that Canada’s government commit immediately to a federal action plan to reduce poverty in our nation, beginning with implementation of the recommendations contained in the report. Some of these relate to improving existing poverty alleviation measures such as the Canada Child Tax Benefit, the GST credit and the Disability Tax Credit. Some pertain to housing, recommending that the Government preserve our existing affordable housing stock and ensure measures in the 2009 federal Budget for the construction of social housing units for low income seniors, people with disabilities, Aboriginal people, and areas of the North are promptly delivered.  And as a first and important step toward improving the lives of First Nations people, the committee recommends that the government endorse the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The committee concludes that the federal government plan should “incorporate a human rights framework and allow for consultation with the provincial and territorial governments, Aboriginal governments and organizations, the public and private sector, and people living in poverty, as needed, to ensure an improvement in the lives of impoverished people.”

Tony Martin, MP for Sault Ste Marie, was actively involved in the HUMA committee’s work of the last three years, and has introduced Bill C-545, An Act to Eliminate Poverty in Canada, which will soon give Parliament the opportunity to consider many of the report’s recommendations. This bill would provide the federal government with the mandate to develop and implement a comprehensive plan to combat poverty and promote social inclusion. 

And, on this anniversary afternoon, the House of Commons will vote on Bill C-304, which calls on the federal government to work in consultation with provinces, territories, First Nations communities and other stakeholders to develop a national housing strategy that would ensure all Canadians have access to housing that is safe, secure, dignified and affordable.

The bill recently had its first hour of debate at Third Reading, during which the Bloc Quebecois proposed an amendment to send the Bill back to committee for final amendments intended to allow the party to offer its full support. If today’s vote is successful, Bill C-304 will be sent back to committee for amendment before coming back to the House for final consideration, hopefully within a matter of weeks.

Yet, with all of these strong messages, the only party opposing Bill C-304 is the government party. Twenty-one years since the resolution, this is an initiative that deserves all-party support, and there are many who are hoping that today our elected Members of Parliament will give it.

It seems the stars are aligning in Canada, with a chorus of voices from all across our great nation calling for action.  It seems that when the voices of groups as far ranging as the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, anti-poverty organizations, social policy think-tanks, provincial governments, housing groups, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, organizations devoted to the rights of women, of immigrants, of people living with disabilities and of seniors are echoing the same refrain it is time for the Government of Canada to pay close attention, and to act.


UPDATE: Because of strong support from all three opposition parties, the motion to send Bill C-304 back to the HUMA committee for further work on a key amendment passed by a vote of 141-132. This is good news!




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