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Michael Laxer's blog

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Michael Laxer lives in Toronto where he runs a bookstore with his partner Natalie. Michael has a Degree in History from Glendon College of York University. He is a political activist, a two-time former candidate and former election organizer for the NDP, was a socialist candidate for Toronto City Council in 2010 and is on the executive of the newly formed Socialist Party of Ontario.

Canada's greatest child abuse problem: Poverty

| February 5, 2013

Another year. Another report on how we as Canadians are failing one in every six of our children.

According to The Conference Board of Canada, the child poverty that all Canadian political parties, in 1989, pledged to eliminate by the year 2000 has not only not been eliminated, it has actually increased since the 1990s by 15.1%.

At almost the same time that this report, a report that simply confirms what we as citizens and all our politicians provincially and federally have known for years and acknowledged almost twenty-five years ago to be true, came out, the federal government with a great deal of fanfare was announcing its plans to "protect" children from crime and sexual exploitation.

This is, of course, a noble and lofty goal. And it is important to protect children victimized in this horrific way. 

But it is also disingenuous for the federal government, or, frankly, any provincial government regardless of which party is in power, to pretend and cry false tears for children as they ignore one out of every six of them.

If protecting children is the goal, then surely lifting children out of the violence of poverty, given that this violence impacts hundreds of thousands of children, none of whom, even by the barbaric standards of our capitalist society, can remotely be said to be at all responsible for their "lot", should be a greater goal.

Why, one might ask Rob Nicholson, is his government doing absolutely nothing to end child poverty, with all of its clearly and demonstrably negative effects which impact on equality of opportunity and which brutalize children daily? Where is a federal housing strategy or a Lyndon Johnson style declaration of "war" on poverty? Where is even a remote acknowledgement that this poverty might, as is clearly the case, greatly increase the chances of children being exploited and abused, both in childhood and later in life.

The impact of poverty on children, who are entirely innocent of any "responsibility" for it, and are simply born into it by fate, is life-long and effects health, education, and, frankly, happiness. (Let alone obviously increasing the likelihood of the child either being a victim of crime or being drawn into committing crime). Everyone, even when doing nothing about it, knows this is true and no one really disputes it, other than a few delusional religious types who actually believe poor kids deserve their fate as some type of moral purgatory.

The problem is not that anyone debates that there is a problem. The problem is, simply, that there is no political will to do anything about it.

And it is not just Rob Nicholson and the federal Tories. No political parties, the Liberals, NDP and Greens included, have any meaningful programme to confront and eliminate this appalling moral scourge that draws so many into its maelstrom of injustice, hunger and day-to-day brutality.

And make no mistake, this is what child poverty is; a daily crime inflicted on children by a wealthy society that has the means to eliminate it, but that has decided not to. We are all complicit in this crime, no one more so than the politicians that could actually effect change, but remain idle instead.

In Ontario, for example, we have a Liberal government that passed a law, Bill 115, entitled the "Putting Students First Act", and yet whose last budget actually cut welfare rates, in real terms versus the cost of living, by nearly 2%. This cut was supported by the NDP, whose constant mantra is doing what is "achievable".  What of the children born to parents on welfare? How are they, and they are "students" also, being put "first".

Clearly, in the books of the Ontario Liberals and NDP, lifting children out of poverty, in one of the wealthiest places in the world, is not "achievable".They have  no plan, at all, to do so.

This recent welfare cut, combined with the continuing freeze of Ontario's minimum wage,  and the total lack of political will to reverse tax cuts for the upper and middle classes, helps rather obviously to keep Ontario's children in poverty, and those who have allowed it to happen are directly responsible for this. It is that simple.   

It is, also, no different in any other province. 

We are not absolved of blame by abstention or good intentions. Nor are we absolved because we think that "doing something" might be too radical and might harm chances of re-election. Only actions matter. Positive sentiments are as meaningless in actually protecting poor children and helping them as are Tory crime bills.

As the author of the report, Brenda Lafleur, noted “If we want to address a problem like child poverty...we know we can do it — we just have to work together and actually decide that it is a problem.”

Apparently, as decades of preventable child suffering continues, we, and the political parties that represent us, are still not willing to admit that it is really a problem at all.  . 

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Comments

I was a poor kid, and I don't believe in child poverty. Children are poor because their families are poor.

That said, there are specific measures that could be taken to help children in poor families.

I guess it is less sexy to talk about poverty in late-middle-age, when many workers over 50 or 55 lose their jobs (or their contracts etc dry up) and there is very little prospect for any work except for the lowest-paid (and service jobs often involve hours standing upright without moving, which many people with arthritis or other common late-middle-aged conditions cannot do).

Québec solidaire certainly has measures addressing poverty, but we have only 2 MNAs...

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