In the News: The Crisis of Poverty in Canada

12-1-11

In the past week two key stories stand out and demand attention.  First, there has been significant attention paid to a housing crisis in Attawapiskat – a Cree First Nations community in northern Ontario.  Mouldy, dilapidated housing with no electricity or sanitation systems were a shocking find by NDP MP Charlie Angus when he visited the community, resulting in mounting criticism on the inaction of the federal government.  The other important feature was the release of the 2011 Child Poverty Report Card by Campaign 2000 which indicated that child poverty numbers remain high and efforts by the Canadian government has been inconsequential and ineffective.

ATTAWAPISKAT

On November 18th the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network posted a news segment with NDP MP Charlie Angus on the state of emergency in Attawapiskat. The images of flimsy, rotting houses combined with the stories of dumping human waste in outside drains due to the lack of plumbing, illustrated the extent of the emergency in Aboriginal communities. Attawapiskat is in the news, but there are other communities with similar conditions – conditions that are so bad, that the Canadian Red Cross has flown in to provide temporary relief and sleeping bags.  And no, this isn’t a developing country…this is Canada.

A petition was started shortly after asking for an immediate response from the federal government on Attawapiskat. Surpassing its goal of 5000 signatures, almost 7000 Canadians signed the letter that went to Hon. John Duncan Minister of Indian Affairs.  The government response has moved from listing recent funding that was sent to the community, to outright finger-pointing at management.  Minister Duncan has mentioned that he is surprised that $90 million has not been enough, but doesn’t account for the fact that most money is going to education and housing prices are much higher in the north.

What is needed is accountability and action, and not just within this community, but across the country as well. This is not the first time First Nations communities have tried to draw attention to these issues, and without movement, support, and an appropriate response it won’t be the last.  When a cry for help involves imagery of third world conditions in a developed nation, you know something has to change.

2011 CHILD POVERTY REPORT CARD

In honour of the 1989 all-party commitment in the House of Commons to end child poverty, Campaign 2000 has released its 20th child poverty report card.  Painting a stark picture of ‘where we are at’ in 2011, the report states that the Canadian government is “failing to help children and families” living in poverty.  Over two decades after all political parties found common ground in an agreement that there should be an end to poverty, 1 in 10 Canadians is still poor including 1 in 10 children.

Campaign 2000’s National Coordinator Laurel Rothman stated in their press release,

“This is the moment for our government leaders to demonstrate their commitment to working together to eradicate poverty. Thousands of children in Canada live in poverty because their families are unable to find a good job, earn a decent wage and meet even the most basic expenses like housing and food. Every year I am shocked by the lack of progress made in poverty eradication. How has our government let 1 in 10 children continue to live in poverty? It is heartbreaking that 38% of food bank users in Canada are children under 18 yet children are only about 22% of the population. How can our government allow thousands of children to go hungry?”

While some provinces have been trying to pick up the slack of the federal government by creating provincial poverty plans, the repeated call for pan-Canadian action is ignored.  Canada Without Poverty was one of many social justice organizations that was pleased to see the recommendation of a federal poverty strategy in both the 2009 Senate Report, “In from the Margins”, and the 2010 HUMA report (the Committee for Human Resources and Skills Development).  We believe that federal commitment is necessary to adequately address poverty and encourage the federal government to take a leadership role.