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Canadian Politics: Child Poverty - Our Shame

Well my goodness, reason to celebrate everybody, Canada' childhood poverty rate, the percentage of children living in poverty as has dropped back down to 11.7% according to Statistics Canada's latest figures. I guess all of us negative folk who haven't believed in Stephen Harper are just going to have to east some crow.

The economy is pushing ahead at full steam and child poverty levels have dropped back down to where they were in 1989. Yep that's right 1989; that was the same year that Canadian politicians were so appalled at how high the number of children living in poverty was that they swore to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000.

Well it's 2007 and we finally got the number back down to the 1989 level again which means something somewhere has gone wrong with the plan. In 1989 Canada had just started to recover from the worst recession that we had experienced since the Depression (You notice we only have recessions now never Depressions – how recessed does a hole have to be before it is considered a depression?) Yet now when our economy is supposedly in the best shape it has been in years we still have the exact same number of children living in poverty.

Canada's economy has doubled in the last twenty-five years until now we have the 9th largest in the world. Unemployment is at a thirty year low, which means more Canadians are working now then ever before yet three quarters of a million children live below the poverty line. What's even scarier is that a third of those children have at least one of their parents working yet they still live in poverty.

One of the problems lies in the fact that in spite of the red-hot economy the majority of the people in this country aren't seeing any benefits from it. In fact Canada's poorest families are actually earning less in real terms then they did a generation ago. On the other hand the wealthiest Canadians are enjoying a thirty per-cent increase in their incomes. In one generation the gap between our richest wage earners and our poorest has grown to from being 31 times the income to 82.

Another annoying detail is that our poorest families our poorer now then they ever have been. The typical low-income family with two parents are now living an average of $9,000 below the poverty line. That's in spite of there being a so-called social safety net of welfare and employment insurance that is supposed to protect people in times of trouble.

The government of Canada has been merrily cutting spending so as to make the economy work better for all the people of Canada to benefit. They've even generated a surplus of 35 billion dollars to spend, none of which has been earmarked for helping to alleviate poverty. They obviously can live with the fact that three quarters of a million children across Canada could be going to sleep without being fed properly every night.

It seems like a couple of the provinces don't think that's such a good thing, both Quebec and Newfoundland, and the latter doesn't has never been a wealthy province with money to spare, are investing in family income support programs, day care, training and education, and affordable housing. The things that are needed to help people break a cycle of poverty and improve their lot in life.

Other countries, countries whose economies aren't doing as well as ours, have implemented programs like these to help fight poverty with success. Canadians have told pollsters that these are the steps they'd like to see our government take to help reduce poverty and decrease the size of income disparity, but Stephen Harper and his government don't seem to be getting the message.

Right now Canada is in a position to take steps to implement programs like these on a national level. But instead we have the government doing things like scrapping a national day care deal that would have helped the working poor and replacing it with a system that benefits people with incomes that are substantial enough that they need tax write offs. What good do tax credits do you if you don't have the money in the first place to pay for day care, or it there aren't enough day care spaces?

Conservative politicians love to talk about the trickle down effect that occurs when wealthy make more money and are encouraged to invest it and thus create more jobs. What they don't talk about is the trickle down effect that depriving people of things like day care, after school programs, and school lunches has on the working poor. They all add up to reduce their standards of living making it harder and harder for them to make ends meet.

We live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world; there is no reason that any child in Canada should be going to bed hungry at night or without a roof over their head. For 750,000 of them that is a very real potential. That is unacceptable.

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