Mr. Speaker, I want to remind members of what many of my colleagues have already pointed out: it was 20 years ago, in 1989, that the House of Commons held this debate and that the members unanimously voted in favour of Ed Broadbent's initiative to eliminate child poverty. Today's debate has already happened and the members came to a conclusion. They decided to take action.
I would like to share a little about my riding, which covers a large part of eastern Longueuil. For those who are not familiar with Longueuil, it has a reputation of being a comfortable suburb. However, this reputation conceals some deep-rooted poverty. The wealthier neighbourhoods, such as Vieux-Longueuil and Parcours du Cerf, border neighbourhoods with much different daily realities: the neighbourhoods of Sacré-Coeur, Carillon and Fatima.
This is a Longueuil we do not hear much about and that some even try to keep quiet. I have lived in Longueuil for 15 years now, and I thought that after living there all this time I knew my city. I thought I was aware of how people around me lived.
Since I became a member of Parliament, I have spent the past few years getting to know another Longueuil: communities and neighbourhoods that do not fit the image normally associated with our part of the south shore. These are neighbourhoods where life is often tough, where people work hard to earn a wage that often does not afford them a decent lifestyle, and where parents work hard to feed their kids, send them to school, teach them to read and count, or give them the tools that they themselves did not necessarily have.
Longueuil is made up of people who are no strangers to homelessness, insecurity and poverty. People in Longueuil are also no strangers to illiteracy and, sometimes more than elsewhere, unsafe housing. In Longueuil, families—often single-parent families—spend troubling and unusually high percentages of their income on housing.
In Longueuil, immigrant families sometimes feel as though they are on their own in an unfamiliar country. There are food deserts where quality food is out of reach, too expensive, and hard to access on foot or by public transit for far too many people.
It could be called the hidden side of Longueuil, but it is the day-to-day reality for so many women, men and, of course, children. Nearly 37% of the children in Longueuil belong to families that are below the poverty line. That is a deeply disturbing figure. We are not talking about a depressed single-industry town; we are talking about a suburb known as the south shore.
What I just shared is not the exceptional part, however. Longueuil has become known for its response to poverty in its community. It is responding with the kind of powerful and exceptional solidarity that shows what Quebeckers can do when they roll up their sleeves and pull together. Longueuil is also responding with a tightly knit community network, the largest in the region, led by an army of volunteers.
An entire critical infrastructure has been created, an infrastructure of help and support developed by Quebeckers with initiative and the desire to build community and to support people facing day-to-day challenges—basic challenges such as health, safety and education.
Neighbourhood life committees are giving our communities a future by creating real community and promoting citizen participation. We have dynamic and indispensable youth centres, food banks that achieve the impossible but that, unfortunately, cannot keep up with increasing demand, and initiatives that are amazingly courageous, just like the enterprising organizations that struggle to run them.
I have been privileged to contribute to some of these initiatives through volunteer work with my team. We have had touching, eye-opening experiences. For example, we spent time at the Partage de l'entraide chez nous store, helped build a community garden in the Carillon neighbourhood, distributed Christmas hampers with kids from the Gérard-Filion high school, worked on Auberge du coeur l'Antre-Temps's fundraiser, Opération Tirelires, and more.
The motion before us today is about what the federal government can do to ensure that these organizations are not abandoned but receive government support because they do such critical work to improve society and economic conditions, and that is good for everyone.
The motion gives expression to our desire to see Canada adopt a plan to reduce poverty. That would be a first step in responding to the resolution passed unanimously 20 years ago by MPs in this place. We are calling for an action plan to reduce poverty that addresses the need for affordable housing for low-income Canadians. We want the plan to address childhood nutrition. We want a poverty reduction plan that addresses the economic security of families.
In short, we are proposing that the federal government bring people together and, rather than just watch, lead the fight against poverty in Canada and Quebec. We are also proposing that it co-operate with Quebec, the provinces and territories and aboriginal communities to achieve real results that will allow us to meet our international commitments and fulfill our moral obligations to children, who are the most vulnerable members of our society. Children do not just represent a percentage of our population; they represent our entire future.
I spoke about all the initiatives undertaken by organizations and individuals to make life better for the neighbourhoods and the people in Longueuil. Most of these initiatives have this in common: they invest the majority of their hopes and efforts in children and youth.
A federal plan to fight poverty that is properly funded and has measurable targets and timelines would definitely be beneficial not just for Canadians, but also for the community network that is already working on affordable housing, nutritional and financial education, help for families and social reintegration.
That kind of plan must support their work. They know the lay of the land. They are part of the social and economic landscape. They are the experts.
I am thinking about the Cultivez nos savoirs project in Longueuil, a community engagement project that combines growing a community garden and homework assistance. Residents of the neighbourhood are working together for the good of their community. It is an initiative of the Carillon/Saint-Pie-X neighbourhood life committee. Once again, we see what a pivotal role these community organizations play.
In addition to the Carillon neighbourhood life committee, the Sacré-Coeur and Notre-Dame committees play a key role in citizen participation and social involvement. Through initiatives such as community gardens, a mural and homework assistance at the Accorderie, where residents can exchange services, these community organizations make our neighbourhoods a better place to live. They create a sense of pride and belonging in our young people.
The community network also includes other organizations, such as Le Fablier, a literacy group that gives mothers and families the tools they need to help their children learn at home as well as at school.
There are so many other unique and wonderful initiatives. Take, for example, Maisonnette Berthelet, which, despite major funding cuts, continues to work hard year after year. Once again this year, this organization held its Mission des anges de Noël program in order to sponsor children so that they can receive s gift from Santa Claus. This initiative helps 500 Longueuil residents in need, 300 of whom are children. Without Maisonnette Berthelet, these young people would not have the opportunity or the joy of receiving a gift at Christmas.
I am also thinking about Isabelle Caron's project, which she calls Semeurs d'étincelles. This is a fantastic project that encourages high school students to stay in school and pursue their dreams. There is also the Bleu Blanc Bouge skating rink, a refrigerated NHL-sized rink that opened last month in Lionel Groulx park in a neighbourhood that sorely needed some good news. This initiative, sponsored by the Canadian Tire Jumpstart foundation and the Montreal Canadiens Children's Foundation, is greatly appreciated by residents, who need to remain active, get moving, exercise, and above all dream a little.
Other organizations' mission is to provide support for young people who find themselves in vulnerable situations. These incredible organizations are pillars of their communities, including the Maison Tremplin, for which I had the honour of serving as ambassador, and the Maison de Jonathan, which is right near my office. All of these organizations are making a real difference in our community.
I am talking about all these efforts and all these workers in the community sector who work behind the scenes because it is important to understand that in my region, in Quebec and in Longueuil, we have taken it upon ourselves to combat poverty. We have developed the means to tackle poverty so that one generation at a time, one family at a time, one child at a time, we are giving young people a future.
By sending a cohort of NDP members to Ottawa, Quebeckers are sending a message that the work is not done. The NDP has a duty to be the voice of the fight against poverty and all the work that remains to be done. The federal government has a duty to support those efforts and wholeheartedly back that work.
Doing anything else would mean ignoring our greatest strength. Our young people need to know this, because I have the pleasure of crossing paths with them every day in Longueuil. Our greatest strength is our youth.