Poverty Reduction: The Missing Priority

Friday, October 8, 2004


Written by Kyle Lambert

The new parliamentary session already appears to be in full swing. All four party leaders are exchanging kind words across the floor of the House of Commons, each one trying to get his party on the front foot before all hell breaks loose somewhere down the road.

Tuesday’s Throne Speech contained a number of interesting topics, though most were re-hashed from the one given in the spring. Items such as missile defence, military spending, electoral reform and the always popular health care are being discussed intelligently in parliament. But maybe that’s the problem.

While reading the Ottawa Citizen this morning, and what a wonderful paper it is, I came across an article that quickly returned my focus to an issue that won’t go away, but that politicians refuse to deal with. The title of the article basically speaks for itself: “Food bank struggles to meet demand”. If that doesn’t do it, how about the caption: “90% of city agencies are distributing food to more people than they did a year ago.”

Poverty is a nasty word. It reminds most people of what they have and of the struggles that many of their fellow citizens face everyday. Most Canadians are very lucky, but some are not.

It is a disgraceful fact in Canada that child poverty has increased significantly in the 1990’s, even as Canada went through a period of economic prosperity. So while government officials rallied around their perceived economic successes, millions of Canadians struggled to get by on a day-to-day basis. To paraphrase author John Ralston Saul, if economists were in medicine, they would be mired in malpractice suits.

There is no easy way to eliminate child poverty and I don’t believe it will happen anytime soon. But it is the effort that is lacking. Is the issue so overwhelming that people simply stop caring? Generally speaking, I am a cynic when it comes to commenting on most issues in Canada and around the world. However, I’m not about to write-off millions of Canadians as people that simply don’t care. Yet our society marvels at the massive incomes of CEOs like Belinda Stronach and Ted Rogers while at the same time, we avert our eyes when newspaper articles present the latest child poverty rates.

I am always impressed with the generosity of young people during holiday food drives. While parents supply the groceries, it is the students that bring the initiative. But why is it that food drives are so necessary in the first place? Perhaps it is that question that needs answering in the coming parliamentary session. Never mind though, the pressing issue of implementing a missile defence system that doesn’t work will surely come first.

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