By Laurie Monsebraaten, Toronto Star, November 17, 2010
Ottawa needs a comprehensive plan and dedicated funding to ease the plight of 3.1 million Canadians living in poverty, including more than 600,000 children and 700,000 working poor households, says a landmark parliamentary report.
The 300-page report, tabled in the House of Commons Wednesday, calls on Ottawa to start work immediately on a federal poverty reduction plan in consultation with provinces, municipalities and Aboriginal governments.
Key recommendations of the report by the Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development include:
• A new federal transfer fund to support provincial poverty reduction initiatives;
• Increasing the Canada Child Tax Benefit and Supplement to $5,000 from the current $3,436 within five years;
• A long-term national housing and homelessness strategy;
• Measures to help the most vulnerable including a refundable Disability Tax Credit, improved Employment Insurance; improvements to the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors; and a national child care program;
• More funding for Aboriginal housing, education and social services.
The committee defined poverty as Statistics Canada’s after-tax Low Income Cut-Off, which in 2008 was $34,738 for a family four in a city the size of Toronto.
As a measure of the disconnect between the facts on the ground and the political perspective in the wheelhouse of government, this "landmark report" once again demonstrates that this country has never lacked for ideas; it is however, almost completely lacking, historically, in the capacity to take appropriate action on such a significant social policy.
Ten percent of Canadians living at or below the poverty line, including 600,000 children and 700,000 working poor, continues to be a national disgrace.
There are anti-poverty NGO's across the country, including all of the food banks, who provide food for the poor, and there are multiple social service groups, like service clubs and churches, who continue to assist, especially in the time of a catastrophe like a fire, a robbery, a family tragedy.
However, it is the "under-the-radar" continuing throb and pulse of the desperate lives who somehow make do, with very little, in all of our communities, that makes sentient Canadians squirm. And it should!
Never forget, either, that in 1979, the then leader of the NDP, Ed Broadent, introduced into the House a private members bill to eliminate child poverty by 2000, and watched as a unanimous vote carried the bill.
And then.....absolutely nothing was ever done about it!
That really sums up the size and political strength of the voice of the voiceless, in the Canadian political narrative. Not a single parliamentarian, not a single political party, neither the house nor the Senate, both filled with honourable men and women, DID anything. And the numbers in need continued to grow.
Conequently, what is there in our national narrative since that time that would give us confidence that this report would generate any more initiative than these familes received thirty years ago?
"Landmark reports" tend to wax and wane on the shelves of the parliamentary archives, under the dust of basement heating ducts, open to those wishing to do research, but unlikely to provoke action from a parliament especially a minority one, and especially in times of economic belt-tightening, as we now experience.
Am I sceptical about the potential for movement on this report? Yes.
Am I cynical about the potential for movement on this report? Yes.
Am I angry about Canada's history on this file, for the last fifty years or more? Certainly.
Do I believe that these words will reach and change the minds of any parliamentarians, in this cycle? No.
Do I believe that the world's poor, growing rapidly and exponentially, around the world, will remain silent and "out-ofsight-out-of-mind" for much longer? No!
This crisis confronts each and every village and hamlet across our country, and each and every village and hamlet in every country, with numbers that are staggering in nations much less wealthy than our's.
So here is another problem begging ACTION from individuals, from organizations, from provinces and countries like our own, and from the global community.
And if Canada does not take action to eliminate this scourge, what hope is there for those hungry, homeless and hopeless in other countries? $34,000 would be a winfall in many of those countries, for a family of four.
And the arguments FOR taking action far outweigh those against. Reduced crime, reduced social intervention costs, reduced health costs, enhanced productivity and tax revenue, enhanced community self-respect, enhanced hope for teachers, social workers, clergy, law-enforcement agencies, courts and more people willing to contribute in the next generation. This is certainly not rocket science, intellectually. But it will take a rocket being ignited under the comfortable chairs of parliamentarians of all stripes and colours, to make it happen.