Mr. Speaker, I rise today in this House in support of my colleague's motion requesting that the government review the level at which the child tax benefit is currently indexed.
I wish to congratulate the hon. member for Shefford for bringing such an important issue to this House. Campaign 2000 recently released its 1997 figures on child poverty and the figures are unbelievable.
There are 500,000 more children living in poverty today than in 1989, the same year that Parliament unanimously passed a resolution to achieve the goal of eliminating poverty among Canadian children by the year 2000.
One poor child is just one too many. What can we say about the 1.5 million currently living in poverty in this country? The figures tabulated by Campaign 2000 clearly indicate that the problem is increasingly alarming and must be attended to immediately. The situation demands that the government examine the child tax benefit and adjust it to better assist the children and families with incomes that fall under the low income cut off level, better known as the poverty line.
Poverty is more than just a lack of money. It affects a child's health, education, welfare and general well-being. On this I want to tell this House today that when I was mayor of Saint John I sat on the board of the Rotary Club for the Rotary boys and girls club. When we were having a breakfast meeting one day we heard a noise outside. I went out. Here was a little boy going through the garbage barrel. I said “What are you doing?” He said “I'm hungry”.
I picked him up. I brought him in. We found out that there were a number of children attending an elementary school nearby the Rotary boys and girls club who went to school on a Monday morning with nothing to eat. We started a breakfast for them and we had over 50 little children from that elementary school who came and we fed them their breakfast.
I also tell the House this. The Rotary boys and girls club every year would honour one of their very special people, someone they thought so much of they would make a little crown for them. Do you know who they gave the crown to, Mr. Speaker? It was a senior citizen who came and cooked for those children. She became their nanny and they loved her so much.
You see, it is so important. It was affecting, according to the teachers, their level of learning because they were hungry.
The Canadian School Boards Association believes “The relationship between child poverty and its adverse affect upon children's readiness to learn and their ultimate success in school is well established”.
Furthermore, the connections between child poverty and youth unemployment are tremendous. Our teenagers are our future: our teachers, our doctors, our plumbers, our electricians and prospective parents. If we are not able to break the poverty cycle in which they live today, it surely will be passed on to their children.
When poor children become adults they are less likely to find well paying jobs. Why? Because the children living in poverty do not have good health. They have a difficult time to learn. They are likely to miss school and are more likely to fall behind in high school as well. When all hopes and dreams vanish, they are more likely to drop out before graduating.
For governments this situation translates into higher hospital and education costs and more spending on social assistance programs. It also represents less tax revenue to Canada. At the end of the day we all pay the price.
Let us not forget that children are poor because their parents are poor. These parents need secure and better paying jobs to allow them to meet their financial obligations and to provide their families with safe and adequate housing, to provide meals, warm clothing and an overall healthy environment conducive to their development.
Having a little bit of money at the end of the month may also mean that children will no longer miss birthday parties, school trips, or get involved with sports.
Mr. Speaker, I have just painted for you the sad picture of child poverty. Now let me tell you what we can do to help.
Improving the level at which the child tax benefit is indexed could go a long way against the devastating effects of child poverty. This assistance program is not a luxury but a necessity for many Canadian families. Sadly, the benefit's value keeps decreasing every year due to inflation and, although the inflation rate has remained below 3% in recent years, it has fluctuated enough to affect poor and low income families.
Food, as I have stated, clothes and rent cost more. Back east they cost much more because the HST is applied to little children's clothing. These things cost more, but these families do not get more money to pay for them.
To survive parents must make choices. They must make difficult choices. I must admit that some make the wrong choices.
I urge all members of the House to vote in favour of my colleague's motion. Both she and I realize that simply increasing payments will not solve the problem. Unfortunately, the issue of poverty is too serious and complex to be disposed of so easily. We must seize the opportunity and make use of the tools which are available to us.
I want to quote another member of this House who said “Poverty is the enemy of a good start”. That was said by the current prime minister, and he was indeed right. I encourage all members of this House, especially members on the government side, to support the motion of my colleague from Shefford. Let us give our children a good start. When the prime minister said “Poverty is the enemy of a good start”, yes, he was right. I agree with him. I am hoping that everyone in this House does.