Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-420. I would like to thank those who have spoken to this bill, who have shared their thoughts with me and who have taken the time to listen to me.
In speaking with other members of Parliament, I was reminded of how parliamentarians, regardless of party, can work together to achieve common goals.
Indeed, at the heart of the bill is a goal that we all have in common, improving our children's lives.Twenty-three years ago all parties committed to end child poverty by the year 2000. We failed. We did not fail because we could not agree or because we did not care; we failed because we got distracted. That is why we need a commissioner for children, so that we do not get distracted again from improving our children's lives. This is not a partisan issue. The Liberals were in power for most of the last 23 years and we did not create a children's commissioner.
Over the past weeks I have heard several concerns about a children's commissioner, that it would be costly, redundant and would step on provincial toes. While I understand these concerns, I do not believe they apply when one takes a closer look at Bill C-420. Let me address each of them in turn very quickly.
First, some have said that the $5 million cost of a children's commissioner would be better spent on programs for children. While these programs are an integral part of what we can do for children, a children's commissioner would help us learn how to use our money more efficiently. For example, many of today's programs for youth are focused on addressing problems after they have arisen. A commissioner could help us focus on prevention, surely a more cost effective way of helping young people. The investment in our children's future is worth every penny.
Second, some have said that a children's commissioner would be redundant, duplicating processes that already exist at the federal level, such as parliamentary studies, reports to the UN and committees within government.
Yes, parliament does study children's issues, but certainly not enough or we would have succeeded in eradicating child poverty. Moreover, it was one of these parliamentary studies, a Senate report entitled “Children: The Silenced Citizens”, that recommended establishing a children's commissioner.
Yes, Canada does report to the UN every five years about children's rights, and every five years the UN reminds us that we have not yet established a children's commissioner.
Yes, there are committees within government that focus on children's issues, but these committees coordinate between different departments and levels of government. They do not focus on improving children's rights in Canada.
A children's commissioner would provide us with the information we need to improve what we do for our children.
Finally, some worry that a children's commissioner would infringe on provincial jurisdiction. They are right that many issues affecting children are provincial, and because of this nine of the ten provinces have established children's advocates, like the one proposed in Bill C-420. But these provincial advocates are calling for the establishment of a federal commissioner. Why? Because there are many areas affecting children beyond the reach of the provinces, such as aboriginal affairs, youth criminal justice, marriage and divorce law. For example, which drugs can be given to children under state care? Additionally, there are many areas of shared jurisdiction where children are falling into the cracks, like child welfare, health care and combatting child poverty. A federal children's commissioner could study any of these issues without stepping on provincial toes.
Consider a few questions a children's commissioner could ask. How do custody laws affect children going through divorces? How effective has the Youth Criminal Justice Act been in fighting crime among young people? These are but a few examples.
It is by answering questions like these that a commissioner for children can help parliamentarians focus on eliminating child poverty. According to Statistics Canada, today, nearly one in 10 children lives in poverty. The proportion rises to one in four children living with single mothers and one in three children living in aboriginal communities. In all, that is more than a half-million children who live in poverty in Canada.
With the help of a commissioner for children, we can change this.
I urge all members to vote in favour of Bill C-420 to send it to committee, where it can be improved. This will prevent us from once again getting too distracted to focus on eliminating child poverty.
We owe this to our children.