That, in the opinion of the House, the government should work in collaboration with the provinces, territories and First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities to eradicate child poverty in Canada by developing a national poverty reduction plan that includes: (a) making housing more affordable for lower income Canadians; (b) ensuring accessible and affordable child care; (c) addressing childhood nutrition; (d) improving economic security of families; (e) measures that specifically address the unique needs of First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities; and (f) measurable targets and timelines.
Mr. Speaker, today on the eve of the 25th anniversary, I am honoured and privileged to stand and present my Motion No. 534, to reiterate our commitment to eradicating child poverty in Canada.
A quarter of a century ago, in 1989, a similar motion was introduced by former NDP leader Ed Broadbent to eradicate child poverty by 2000. That motion received unanimous consent in the House. Here we are 25 years later, and not much has changed.
I do not want to make accusations to any of the successive Liberal or Conservative governments for not taking proper actions to eliminate child poverty since the House made the promise and commitment to do so. However, I also cannot keep quiet and pretend that poverty rates among children have improved compared to 25 years ago, or that Canada is poverty-free.
For 25 consecutive years, Canadian children and their families who live in poverty have been left behind and marginalized on the agendas of successive governments. Twenty-five years is a long time. It makes me wonder why almost one million Canadian children are living in poverty today and why successive governments have allowed the rate of poverty to increase compared to 25 years ago. It makes me wonder whether the Liberal and Conservative governments over the last 25 years have felt that the opinions of the impoverished do not matter.
What went wrong? Why was a promise to our country's children broken? If we did not keep the promise to our children, then that is fine; it is perhaps that the governments of the day felt that children do not vote and so they are not a huge priority.
However, how about the promise that Canada made to the rest of the world when we ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, in 1991? We agreed to uphold international principles, values, and standards. According to article 27.1:
States Parties recognize the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child's physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.
The section then continues and holds states more responsible by obliging them to do the following:
[...] take appropriate measures to assist parents and others responsible for the child to implement this right and shall in case of need provide material assistance and support programmes, particularly with regard to nutrition, clothing and housing.
My motion deals with all of those, but specifically nutrition, housing, and child care.
As a state that is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Canada is not meeting its commitment globally today.
This past week, I spent a lot of time with children in our schools in Scarborough, and many of them found it difficult to imagine that there are children and families who go hungry and cannot afford to have their daily meals. The reality is that it is happening right here, in one of the world's richest countries, our great Canada.
In its November 7, 2013 report, Campaign 2000 stated:
Food security among families is highly critical with 1.1 million children experiencing food insecurity, a situation of inadequate or insecure access to food because of financial constraints, and children represent 36% of food bank users in Canada.
According to another recent article by Huffington Post, on November 4, 2014, there are 375,000 people in Ontario who use food banks, of whom 36% are children.
Health Canada's report entitled “Household Food Insecurity in Select Provinces and Territories 2009-2010” showed that Nunavut, in Canada's north, has the highest number of households in Canada that are food insecure, which is 28.8%. That is more than double the number in the Yukon, which holds second place at 11%.
Another question that one might think to ask is what the current government has done to lower the levels of poverty in Canada. When we pose questions in question period, the government says that it has lowered the levels. Let us look at some details.
The reality is that not much has been done. Some cabinet ministers have even demonstrated quite embarrassing hospitality when the UN special rapporteur on the right to food was in Canada. It was quite a shame.
The United Nations has also described housing and homelessness in Canada as a national emergency. An estimated 250,000 people are homeless, with another 1.1 million living in inadequate housing, and more than 500,000 are facing a serious financial burden which threatens their housing security. Over 10% of those identified as homeless are youth aged 16 to 18.
In its first universal periodic review, a number of members of the human rights council expressed significant concerns about poverty and housing in Canada. A number of recommendations were made to enhance the catastrophic situations of housing, for which we as a nation were heavily criticized. Despite the original denial from the government, it involuntarily, and under pressure, accepted some of the recommendations from the member states.
Canada agreed to consider taking on board the recommendation of the UN special rapporteur on adequate housing, specifically to extend and enhance the national homelessness program and the residential rehabilitation assistance program. Canada also committed to double its efforts to better ensure the right to adequate housing, especially for vulnerable groups and low-income families.
However, just when we thought there might be improvements, the current Conservative government voted against Bill C-400, an act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians. It did not stop there. In the June 2012 budget, it also defunded and closed down the former national council of welfare, the NCW, which was an organization that highlighted poverty and warned policy-makers of the consequences of neglecting those in need. By eliminating the role of the NCW, the government officially shut down the source of reports and information that depicted the depth and breadth of poverty in Canada. Instead of eliminating the problem of poverty, it eliminated the messenger, the NCW.
It is something like the metaphor where the cat thinks that if it closes its eyes and drinks milk that nobody around can see it.
We have heard the parliamentary secretary stating that we do not have much of a poverty problem in Canada. The truth is that we do not have a national information centre, the NCW, to do the research and present any reports to us. The government does not understand that affordable and adequate housing does not only offer shelter but also offers individuals and families a sense of stability, security, and motivation. The children I met with last week knew that. They know that ensuring that they have a roof over their houses means safety and security for them.
We need a comprehensive plan to tackle this issue and save more money for Canadians and the national revenue. According to a study conducted by homelessness Canada, each year it costs the system approximately $55,000 to leave a homeless person on the street, while providing adequate housing and support services would cost only $37,000.
Another report by the Canadian Medical Association, in 2013, concluded that child poverty is at the core of socio-economic problems. Over 20% of health-care related expenditure is derived from inadequate housing and the consequences of low-income conditions.
By implementing what is being introduced today through my private member's motion, Canadians will benefit on many levels. First, we will do the right thing; that is, removing homeless Canadians from the streets. Second, that will save Canadians more than $15 billion dollars annually—that is five from removing the homeless, and ten from savings on health care from inadequate housing—which could be used in other areas that could benefit Canadians in various tax benefits and could finance a national child care program, which is the third piece of the motion.
On many occasions when the government was asked about child poverty rates in Canada, there were no clear reasons as to why the rate of child poverty had increased over the last 25 years. On October 28, UNICEF issued its annual report card, and on November 3, it had a symposium entitled “Children in the Wake of the Great Recession”, which was dedicated to child poverty. Neither in the report nor during the seminar was anything positive said about the current and previous federal governments' serious engagement and commitment to eradicating child poverty. Even though the current government and ministers may avoid the facts, poverty is a reality for far too many of Canada's children. If these irresponsible policies continue, that will continue to be the reality for even more of our children.
The government likes to acknowledge that 180,000 children were pulled out of poverty due to its great efforts, which it likes to celebrate. However, it is in denial of the truth, that poverty exists and Canada has a high percentage of child poverty.
On several occasions, the Minister of State for Social Development and the Minister of Employment and Social Development and Minister for Multiculturalism have referred to the UNICEF report and quoted only the favourable parts from it.
I would like to bring to their attention that on November 3, I was present at UNICEF Canada's annual symposium to hear from other experts about report card 12. The government did not even bother to send a representative there to hear from experts on the ground.
The conclusion from the day was that children are worse off today than when the crisis began in 2008, and much worse off than they were 25 years ago. Here is some of what the spokespeople of UNICEF Canada had to say on the day that report card 12 was released:
...what disturbs us is that the relative poverty rate hasn't budged for many years. As a wealthy country we are not doing well enough for our children.
That was from Lisa Wolff, the director of UNICEF Canada.
I have another quote from Tiffany Baggetta, the spokesperson for UNICEF Canada at the symposium. She said:
Overall, child poverty in Canada has decreased but children who were the most poor to begin with have slipped further into poverty.
This means we are not really helping the most vulnerable people in our country: our children.
We can see that the government has a trend of doing things in its own way. We know that it does not like to have much consultation and it does not like to listen to experts or people in the field. It is true that during the recession years, Canada's child poverty rate did decrease from a shameful 23% to 21%. However, 25 years ago, when Parliament made the commitment to end poverty among our children, the rate was only 13%. Successive governments have contributed to the child poverty rate increasing from 13% to 23%. The Conservative government is celebrating that it is now at 21%, which is a significant increase from the 13% it was at when we committed to eradicating poverty in this country.
Let us compare our country with Scandinavian countries and the U.K. These countries have actually done a great job in reducing their child poverty rates. The child poverty rate in Nordic countries is below 6%. It is not 21%, as it is in Canada.
What have we done in the past 25 years in this regard? We can go in circles and have the Liberals and the Conservatives blame and accuse each other for irresponsible governing, but those excuses and accusations will not feed the poor or the children in our country, nor will they provide them with adequate housing, security, or child care.
Again, let me return to parts of the UNICEF report. The government quotes frequently from this report. The quotes lead the government into believing that it has accomplished the mission of eradicating child poverty by pulling 180,000 children out of poverty. According to Statistics Canada, in every year since 1989, on average, 180,000 to 250,000 children are removed from the category of being poor children. Regardless of these numbers, the child poverty rate has continued to increase, despite the fact that the fertility rate has not increased in the same time period. Therefore, it is not that we are having more children: the number of children being removed from poverty remains the same because they are aging out, and our poverty rates continue to grow.
None of the previous governments has done enough. Many factors have contributed in removing these 180,000 children from poverty. Around 12% to 15% of those children who were 17 years of age became 18 years of age and were removed from the count of child poverty. Basically, we removed them statistically from child poverty to make them adults living in poverty, and more than 23,000 of them are now homeless.
Over 70% of those children and their families were lifted above the poverty line through the efforts of provincial governments, private corporations, NGOs, charities, and other social agencies, such as food banks and shelters.
Mr. Speaker, you are giving me the one-minute warning, and I have so much more to say.
Poverty is also racialized in our country, and I will give members some statistics from the GTA before I conclude. Among the broad ethno-racial groups in the GTA, the rates of child poverty were about one in ten in global European groups; one in five for east Asian groups; one in four for aboriginal, south Asian, and Caribbean groups; one in three for children of Arab and west Asian groups; and one in two for children of African groups. Today the GTA has 79% of Ontario's immigrants and 81% of Ontario's visible minorities. This means that far too many of our racialized people living in the GTA are living in poverty.
I would like to conclude by saying that implementing a national strategy to eradicate poverty would have a positive impact on our Canadian economy in both the short and long run. High levels of child poverty generate very significant and growing human and fiscal costs to society and to the economy in the long run.
This motion calls for the eradication of child poverty by investing in affordable and accessible housing, child care, and child nutrition programs. Those are the three social determinants of poverty among our children, and it is our responsibility as the lawmakers of this country to ensure that we are investing in the most vulnerable people in society, our country's children.