Ottawa Citizen

Tuesday, June 8, 1999

Committee wants spending hikes to children's programs

Poverty, parents focus

Robert Fife, Ottawa Bureau Chief
National Post

OTTAWA - A House of Commons committee is calling for a "substantial" boost in government spending to improve the lives of young children living in poverty and to implement new programs to help improve parenting.

An interim report by the sub-committee on Children and Youth at Risk, chaired by Liberal MP John Godfrey and obtained by the National Post, says the federal government is not spending enough money on programs for children from birth to age 6.

The committee says scientific research backs up its conclusions that "substantial investments" are needed in the early years of children's lives, including government-funded training centres to teach mothers and fathers how to be better parents.

The report suggests the Liberal government should provide new money for programs such as "full-time early child development and care; drop-in parenting programs; play-groups; child-parent reading and literacy programs; well-baby clinics; and respite care for parents with children of special needs."

The report adds: "Investing money in preventative and supportive programs and services for children and their parents will be less costly than attempting to 'fix' or address problems later on in life -- either in teen years, early adulthood or mid-life."

The Liberal-dominated committee also wants Paul Martin, the Finance Minister, to make a "substantial increase" above the $2-billion Ottawa is already contributing to the child tax benefit to help eliminate child poverty.

The report also suggested that paid parental leave covered by employment insurance be extended an additional 28 weeks at 70% of gross earnings so parents could have one full year at home with their newborn children.

In a dissenting report, the Reform party opposes the creation of a new bureaucracy.

"It is quite incorrect to think that adding another level of government to intervene in family will serve families better," the Reform report said, noting that the committee failed to acknowledge the "role that high levels of taxation have played in the increased stress of Canadian families."

The committee did not place a cost on its suggestions. It intends to hold further hearings and report back to Parliament in the fall with concrete proposals it hopes will be included in the February budget, which has been billed the children's budget.

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