November 25, 1999
$15-billion fight urged against child poverty
But Premier dismisses report as `hogwash'By Patricia Orwen
Toronto Star Social Policy Reporter
Declaring the level of child poverty in Canada unacceptable, a coalition of more than 70 social policy groups is stepping up its pressure on the federal government.
Campaign 2000 yesterday called for an outlay of $15 billion to be spent on children and families over five years.
Its report, which coincided with the 10th anniversary of the House of Commons' unfulfilled pledge to end child poverty by 2000, also urges the government to bring in several new measures, including tax breaks for families with children, a higher minimum wage and high-quality child care.
``Canada's millennium challenge is helping children . . . we can't forget that,'' said Laurel Rothman of Campaign 2000.
``In the past decade, we've seen child poverty grow to levels we never thought were possible . . . It's sad that we have a situation like this in a country as rich as ours.''
The Campaign 2000 report says that 19.8 per cent of children in Canada live in poverty, up from 15.3 per cent in 1989.
Ontario has had the biggest increase in child poverty of any province over the past 10 years. Nearly 20 per cent of Ontario children live in poverty. That's up from 11.6 per cent 10 years ago, when the country's richest province had the lowest rate. It's now fifth highest.
Premier Mike Harris did not hesitate to condemn those findings.
``The report is hogwash,'' Harris told reporters. ``It's based on false data; even the U.N. doesn't agree with it.''
Harris said the United Nations calculates Canada's poverty rate at around 6 per cent.
``But I want to say this: Six per cent is too much; our goal is that no child in Ontario . . . should ever be raised in poverty, '' the Premier said.
Statistics Canada low-income cutoffs for 1996 and 1997 were used to calculate the rates, said Campaign 2000 officials. Under the 1996 standard, a Toronto family of four would be considered poor with an income of less than $32,238.
Use of the low-income cutoff is a problem because the federal agency stresses those cutoffs should not be construed as poverty lines, said Patrick Basham, social policy director at the Fraser Institute, a conservative economic think-tank.
``Low-income'' covers those who spend more than 55 per cent of their income on shelter, food and clothing, said Marvyn Novick, author of the report.
Basham said that a better definition of poverty is being deprived of basic necessities. Under that criterion, poverty rates would be much lower.
The report says Newfoundland's child poverty rate of 22.8 per cent is the worst, based on Statistics Canada figures from 1997, the latest available. Prince Edward Island's 14.9 per cent is the lowest.
Three provinces - Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba - have cut their rates.
The Campaign 2000 report calls on the government to augment the existing child benefit system, giving all low-income families $4,000 per child and enhancing benefits for modest- and middle-income families.
It asks that the government spend $3 billion per year for the next five years, including:
- $4 billion for early childhood services, including child care and family resource centres.
- $1 billion for housing.
- Freezing and lowering of post-secondary tuition fees.
Contents copyright © 1996-1999, The Toronto Star.