Mr. Speaker, the bill introduced by my colleague from Westmount—Ville-Marie aims to appoint a commissioner for children and young persons in Canada. I agree with the substance of these measures.
I became involved in the NDP because I saw the work my party has been doing for years, including for instance, the motion moved by former NDP leader Ed Broadbent aimed at eliminating child poverty by the year 2000. I probably do not need to point out that successive governments have failed to achieve that goal. Nor do I need to explain how hard my colleague from Timmins—James Bay has been working on behalf of aboriginal children, particularly on initiatives such as Shannen's dream.
The current state of affairs is appalling. Canada is no longer a leader when it comes to children's well-being. Out of 30 OECD countries, Canada ranks among the bottom third regarding infant mortality, health, safety and poverty. Those statistics are cause for alarm. Our children and teenagers should be at the centre of our policies and actions. We should work on their behalf. We should not need a commissioner to remind us of that, but unfortunately, as history has shown, it seems we do.
Regardless of the mandate of such a commissioner and the impact the office will have, we as a country must take a greater interest in our children. We should invest now to provide them with better services and better living conditions. This summer, I attended the Canadian Medical Association's annual meeting in Yellowknife, where the focus was on health determinants. Delegates attended a presentation by Sir Michael Marmot, a subject matter expert from the United Kingdom.
Social determinants of health are gaining greater attention and being more widely studied. A number of health-focused organizations are investigating them. One of the highest-profile organizations studying health determinants is the World Health Organization. WHO defines social determinants of health as the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age, including the health system.
These circumstances reflect policy choices and are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at global, national and local levels. The social determinants of health are mostly responsible for health inequities—the unfair and significant differences in health status seen within and between countries.
In his presentation, Sir Marmot identified six strategic objectives for healthy living, and I would like to list them all: strengthen the role and impact of ill health prevention; create and develop healthy and sustainable places and communities; ensure a healthy standard of living for all; create fair employment and good work for all; enable all children, young people and adults to maximize their capabilities and have control over their lives; and give every child the best start in life.
As Sir Marmot said in his presentation, the longer we wait to rectify inequalities, the worse problems associated with low income become. Quoting from his own work, Fair Society, Healthy Lives, he said:
Disadvantage starts before birth and accumulates throughout life. Action to reduce health inequalities must start before birth and be followed through the life of the child. Only then can the close links between early disadvantage and poor outcomes throughout life be broken.
The evidence is there and experts have said it on more than one occasion: we must address the socio-economic factors. Poverty has an impact on health. It has an impact on education and crime.
In the case of health, I would like to provide some statistics from the Canadian Medical Association: 68% of Canadians with an income greater than $60,000 describe their health as excellent or very good. For Canadians with an income of less than $30,000 a year, this rate drops to 39%, a difference of 29%. Furthermore, 59% of those with an income of less than $30,000 accessed the health care system, compared to 43% of those with an income of $60,000 or more.
Canadians with an income of $30,000 or less are also more likely than those with an income of $60,000 or more to use tobacco—33% versus 10%—and to have been diagnosed with a chronic illness—41% versus 28%.
With regard to children, I would like to point out that 22% of children in families with an income of less than $30,000 are very or somewhat overweight, compared to 9% of children in families with an income of over $60,000. I would like to remind hon. members that not everyone can afford to register their child in hockey, especially if the family income is less than $30,000.
The numbers are there and I have just presented some of them. Yet, this government has decided to punish the poor of our society. The government's ad hoc employment insurance reform will penalize many families and will have an impact on children. The cuts to the federal tobacco control strategy will have an even greater impact on people with incomes of less than $30,000. All these measures will affect our health care system.
It is important to create this type of position for the health of our children. In a 2009 report, the Canadian Paediatric Society, the CPS, called for the creation of a commissioner for children and young persons. The report explains that the CPS recommends that a Canadian commissioner for children and young persons be appointed so that the opinions and needs of these individuals are taken into account in all federal government initiatives affecting them. UNICEF Canada and a number of other child advocacy groups have made the same request.
We need tools to ensure that Canada fulfills its commitments under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, we must look at the big picture and make a consistent effort. By not giving our children what they need now, we are jeopardizing their health, and that is unacceptable.