Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I would like to thank my Liberal colleague for introducing this bill, which will make up for the Conservative government's lack of leadership since coming to power.
I will explain in detail why the NDP and I support this kind of initiative. It is based on the UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child. For years, the NDP has been championing the rights of children in Canada, supporting the work of those advocating for the rights of children, and promoting collaboration with international bodies like the UN.
We know that co-operation with international organizations has been going poorly lately because of the Conservatives' attitude. However, once Conservatives are removed from power in 2015, I am confident that we will be able to get Canada back on the right track as a fairer, greener, more prosperous country that cares more about the well-being of children.
As I mentioned, we support this bill. However, we do have some reservations, since the Conservative government will be the one to appoint the commissioner. Considering the Conservatives' patronage appointments in the past, particularly regarding the immigration bill that gives more power to the minister, we are very reluctant to give the Conservatives any more power. I am pretty sure that people watching us at home feel the same way. That said, I would like to put partisanship aside, because it is actually a pretty good bill and I want to make sure we have enough time to debate its merits.
In 1991, Canada ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Essentially, it committed all parties, including Canada, to take all necessary measures to ensure the respect, protection and implementation of children’s rights. It also required Canada to review its legislation on children. Furthermore, it committed the parties to re-examine their legal system, social services and health care networks and their education system, as well as to review the funding levels available to those systems.
Unfortunately, the Government of Canada deserves a failing grade. If this were a grade on a report card, Canada would get an “F”. It might get a few marks for effort. However, at the end of the day, since Canada does not have such a commissioner or an independent person responsible for the well-being of children, many of the ratifications and measures proposed by the government and meant to protect young people or ensure their well-being have been nothing but empty promises. No one behind the scenes has really done anything to implement the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
If a commissioner were appointed, he or she could play a leadership role. He or she could either be part of the parliamentary branch or be completely independent. We in the NDP prefer that people who serve the House of Commons be independent. That way, it is easier to ensure positive results no matter which party is in power. In that regard, I would like to congratulate Kevin Page, who has demonstrated that the independence of individuals in positions like his is crucial to playing a leadership role in Canada.
Bill C-420 would establish the position of commissioner for children, who would be responsible for ensuring that Canada complies with provisions of the convention, as I mentioned, and also for implementing the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, which Canada also ratified in 2000 and 2005 respectively. These are good measures that have the support of the NDP, and we truly want the government to take a leadership role in these areas. The position of commissioner established by this bill would allow the government, as the leader, to fulfill this role.
According to the report of the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children, many children in Canada face obstacles to realizing their full potential as young Canadians, even though most children's basic needs are met. Unfortunately, even in a rich country such as Canada, too many children live in poverty for many reasons that I do not necessarily wish to address at this time.
My purpose is not so much to speak about poverty as to describe the situation of our young people. That is an area in which Canada also lags behind. While doing my research, I even learned that Canada is lagging behind with respect to the basic indicators of child welfare. This is due in part to the fact that, as I mentioned, Canada's federal system does not have an intergovernmental mechanism to ensure that international treaties such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child are implemented across the country.
The NDP supports the appointment of an independent or parliamentary child advocate. We support this measure, but we also believe that Canada could take the lead in other initiatives, especially if the Conservative government is interested—I am reaching out here—in introducing a children's health initiative to support and expand healthy meal programs for children in community centres and schools. These are practical measures that can make a difference and help many of these young children whose basic needs are not being met.
Are hon. members familiar with Jordan's principle? It is a principle that the NDP supports. In short, this principle seeks to resolve jurisdictional disputes between two federal government departments or between two levels of government, for example, between the federal and the provincial or territorial governments. This prevents interminable delays during which the needs of the child are not met.
Let us take the example of an aboriginal child who should normally have the same access to services as any other Canadian. Since it is unclear which authority is supposed to pay for these expenses, aboriginal young people often have to wait a very long time before their needs are met.
We therefore support Jordan's principle, which would make it possible, in the case of such jurisdictional disputes, for the government or department of first contact to meet the needs of the child and then refer the matter to the jurisdictional dispute mechanism. We believe that it could be worthwhile for the commissioner to play a role in this regard.
The hon. member for Timmins—James Bay is a strong supporter of the Shannen's dream initiative. I would like to commend him for the great work he has done in this regard. Shannen's dream urges the federal government to ensure that all first nations children attend a school that is in good repair and that all first nations schools receive equitable education funding.
Unfortunately, the poverty rate in Canada is high, particularly among first nations. I find this very distressing. I am proud to live in a country that is rich in human and financial resources, but I think it is very unfortunate that so many people are still falling through the cracks.
To come back to the issue of creating a national office of child and youth health, I think that we could even rally the Conservative member for Simcoe—Grey to this cause and get her support. In fact, in 2007, she was the government's advisor on healthy children and youth. She published a report entitled, “Reaching for the Top”, in which she strongly recommended that Health Canada and the Government of Canada create a national office of child and youth health. I hope that the Government of Canada will support the Liberal initiative as the NDP is doing.
At the end of the day, we need leadership in Canada with regard to children's health, particularly since, unfortunately, Canada is doing so poorly in terms of measures to support early childhood development, for example. The OECD countries devote an average of 0.7% of their GDP to child care expenses and early childhood development. Were hon. members aware of this? That is more than double Canada's investment in this area. What is more, only 50% of Canadian children with disabilities have access to the technical assistance they need to ensure their well-being.
Canada is definitely lagging behind, which is a major problem. I would simply like to remind hon. members that the NDP has been a strong advocate of the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child for a long time. I would like to commend my Liberal colleague and thank him for introducing this measure in the House. I would like to remind those watching at home that the NDP will continue to stand up for children's rights. I hope that the Conservatives will vote with their hearts in favour of this bill, as the Liberals and New Democrats are going to do.