Pledge to end child poverty remains an elusive target

123 RF Photo by Viacheslav Iakobchuk

By Mickey Conlon, The Catholic Register

The failure to end child poverty in Canada, promised 30 years ago when parliamentarians pledged to stop the scourge by 2000, has seen a generation of children grow up without the supports they need, says Leila Sarangi.

“We’ve missed a whole generation of children and we see the impact in people’s daily lives,” said Sarangi, national co-ordinator of the Toronto-based Campaign 2000, a movement to build awareness and support for the 1989 all-party House of Commons resolution to end child poverty by 2000.

It’s an “unacceptable” stage that Canada is at, said Sarangi. On Nov. 24, 1989, politicians of every stripe unanimously declared that the House “seeks to achieve the goal of eliminating poverty among Canadian children by the year 2000.”

At that time 1,066,150 children were living in poverty. Three decades later, there are 1.3 million impoverished children, the majority coming from the marginalized in society — Indigenous communities, immigrant and newcomer communities, racialized communities and households led by single parents, mostly female.

“We have a moral obligation to be advocating with families who are struggling every day,” said Sarangi. “That it’s taken 30 years to get just this far is pretty unacceptable, especially in a country like Canada where we have so much wealth. People shouldn’t have to be struggling in these kinds of ways.”

Campaign 2000 originated in 1991 out of a concern there was little progress from Ottawa on meeting its 1989 pledge, which has been rehashed by governments that have followed, in 2009 and again in 2015, but still child poverty is rampant in Canada. Campaign 2000 has since developed a nationwide network of more than 120 partners to hold the federal government accountable to alleviate poverty.

Campaign 2000 marked “30 Years of Broken Promises” with a rally Nov. 25 on the steps of the Manitoba Legislative Building in Winnipeg. Kate Kehler, executive director of the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, a Campaign 2000 partner, said the issue goes beyond just the governments we elect.

“There was acknowledgement that we, the electorate, have to do more,” said Kehler in an e-mail to The Catholic Register. “We keep voting in governments who focused on balancing the budget over addressing the social deficits created by poverty.”

Many of the speakers at the rally, while “exasperated that the numbers remain so grim,” recognized more must be done to hold politicians to account, said Kehler.

Still, Sarangi is hopeful. The previous government, with the Liberals holding a majority, delivered on a number of its promises, including introducing a poverty-reduction strategy and the Canada Child Benefit, a tax-free monthly payment to eligible families to help them raise children under 18.

“Those things are indicators of the government looking ahead to end poverty, but those things don’t go far enough. That Canada now has an official poverty line, that’s a great indicator, we just want to make sure it’s the right one,” said Sarangi.

The fact Canada has a new minority government also gives Sarangi hope that more can be done.

“We have an opportunity not only to recommit to ending poverty but also making some significant investments,” she said.

Natalie Appleyard, a policy analyst with Citizens for Public Justice based in Ottawa, agrees there is hope. In a mid-November report titled “Moving Beyond the Middle” posted to the CPJ website, she said that despite the poverty issue being almost entirely ignored in the recent federal election campaign, there are encouraging signs from the Liberal platform “dedicated to building resilience and helping lift people out of poverty,” including a “pan-Canadian framework for child care.” Couple with the poverty-reduction strategy, which showed promise by reducing rates of poverty among children and seniors, “demonstrating what is possible with targeted support and funding.”

“There is hope that needed improvements will be made in the context of a minority government as the Liberals look to progressive parties for support,” wrote Appleyard.