Toronto Star

Saturday, May 8, 1999

Governments promise `children's agenda'

By Valerie Lawton
Toronto Star Ottawa Bureau

OTTAWA - Child advocates say they're pleased with the words politicians used yesterday in promising a ``national children's agenda,'' but they'll be looking for action soon.

The federal and provincial governments released a discussion paper yesterday that will kick off talks aimed at creating a strategy to improve the well-being of Canadian children.

``The current situation leaves a lot to be desired,'' said Laurel Rothman, national co-ordinator of Campaign 2000, a coalition aiming to end child poverty.

One in five Canadian children are living in poverty and almost a million families live on less than $20,000 a year, she said, so moving quickly is critical.

``We will need to see a multi-year commitment, starting with next year's federal budget,'' said Rothman.

``We hope, and we'll be pushing for and expect a children's budget, which will have as its centrepiece a commitment and a beginning of investment of significant resources.''

She said the move is significant because it's the first federal-provincial social policy vision announced since governments signed the social union framework agreement.

Government ministers unveiled their plans at an inner-city primary school in Saskatoon.

The discussion paper is the starting point for consultations across the country starting next week to come up with a ``shared vision'' of what Canada wants for its children.

The document suggests four key goals for children:

Politicians offered few details of how they think those things might be achieved and there were no guarantees of funding.

``We have a collective responsibility, first and foremost, to ensure that every child has the opportunity to grow up in a healthy, caring, safe and secure environment,'' said Saskatchewan Premier Roy Romanow.

``This is true no matter where in Canada a child lives.''

Ottawa and the provinces agreed to the concept of a children's agenda in 1997 but it was delayed by wrangling over the social union and other issues.

Only the government of Quebec, which wants full control of programs for families and children in the province, will not take part.

While the government was short on specifics, child advocates already have a long wish list of initiatives, including universal access to high-quality child care, improved maternity and paternity benefits and better income security for families.

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