Canadian Report on Poverty Rejected

This post was originally published on Gather.com, and is reproduced here (primarily to try to keep my writing in one spot).


Our Prime Minister, Steven Harper, is known for fairly frequently alleging that the government (for which he currently works, by the way) wastes money and should be lowering taxes. One of his continual targets has been the Canadian Senate, also called in Canada: the “Upper House of Parliament”. This is mostly because the Senators are appointed, not for life, but until age 75 (and, of course, Mr. Harper is not a Senator). I do not known much about what our Senators do, but I occasionally run in to some of their work. Dated December, 2009, they unanimously authored (that means all 105 Senators approved) a report on poverty and homelessness  (Canadian Senate, 2009) that includes 74 specific recommendations on how to reduce poverty in Canada. You’d think that since he had finally gotten them to do some work, he would at least listen to what they said.

But no. Mr. Harper has rejected the report, as a whole. None of the recommendations were accepted. Now given that “rejected” is a strong word, Conservative readers might rather hear the words “did not commit to”. That might be closer to the “spin” Mr. Harper prefers to broadcast. Since, however, they have been reviewing the document for more than ten months, it amounts to the same thing. According to the report from Mr. Harper’s government: “The Government is taking real action to address many of the issues raised in this report… take the Committee’s recommendations under advisement.” (Government of Canada, 2010) This is Canada: we don’t reject things here. But there is no indication of what that “real action” might be, and under advisement can take… well, forever. Literally. Meanwhile, nothing changes. How many children were born in poverty, their parents in shelters, in those ten months that the document was reviewed?

This has been an issue in Canada for a long time. Mr. Harper’s words are in spite of a motionthat passed unanimously on November 24th, 2009, while he was PM:

“That, with November 24th, 2009 marking the 20th anniversary of the 1989 unanimous resolution of this House to eliminate poverty among Canadian children by the year 2000, and not having achieved that goal, be it resolved that the Government of Canada, taking into consideration the Committee’s work in this regard, and respecting provincial and territorial jurisdiction, develop an immediate plan to eliminate poverty in Canada for all…”(Canadian Teacher’s Federation, 2010)

Child poverty is one of the biggest concerns for us: because we know that it impacts health and productivity and social standing for the rest of one’s life. “Fifteen years ago, the Canadian government resolved to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000. Nine years later, nothing has changed. The rate of child poverty has remained at 12 per cent for two decades now, according to Statistics Canada. (Toronto Star, November 20 2009) The Senate report includes a section that deals with the question of child poverty specifically. It includes the graph below, illustrating the state of child poverty in Canada until 2006, when Harper became P.M.. All through the 1990s (in spite of generally increasing wealth), child poverty rose. Then we started to turn around, so that at the time the data for the graph was available, we had managed to make a slight decrease. On a percentage basis, however, our performance was quite dismal. At this overall rate, assuming the average rate of “reduction” of child poverty, it would take over 700 years to eliminate the problem.

Perhaps that’s why Mr. Harper is not worried about it. By that time he won’t be PM any more. I hope that his lack of ambition in this regard are as much of a message to the Canadian people as are his actions in other realms. I hope we can reduce poverty before 700 years tick by, but that would need a fundamental change in our policies. Beginning with a new Prime Minister.

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