Canada's Child Poverty Data Aims To Put Issue On Election Agenda

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Campaign 2000, an anti-poverty group, releases statistics on child poverty | Matteo Battagliarin via Getty Images

OTTAWA — Canada's largest city is home to federal ridings with some of the highest rates of poverty in the country, newly released data shows.

Campaign 2000, an anti-poverty group that crunched numbers from Statistics Canada, is hoping to put poverty issues into the campaign spotlight as the federal election looms.

The path to electoral victory could go through Toronto where the Tories hope to keep a hold on the 905-belt, which has pockets of child poverty.

The NDP and Liberals, meantime, hope to expand their seat count beyond the city limits. This area encompasses ridings such as Toronto Centre, where almost two in every five children live in poverty.

Ontario is home to half of the 20 ridings with the worst rates in the country, with seven in Toronto, according to the group.

Their analysis also shows there are ridings in Mississauga on Toronto's western border with above-average rates of child poverty.

All three party leaders have talked about child benefits, creating jobs and ways to pay for child care, although the NDP is the only party pushing a national daycare program. Combined, the measures amount to ways to reduce the 1.3 million children living in poverty in Canada.

The universal child care benefit the Conservatives and NDP want to keep lifts 136,000 children out of poverty, according to government estimates.

The Liberal child benefit plan would, the party says, raise 315,000 more children out of poverty.

Anita Khanna, national co-ordinator for Campaign 2000, said the Greens are the only party spearheading an anti-poverty strategy with specific timelines and benchmarks that tie together electoral promises for families.

The group estimates poverty costs the country upwards of $72 billion a year.

"What we're looking for is a party or parties to champion this issue and to champion this effort so when the next federal election comes along, we're seeing movement in these figures and we're seeing the movement because there's an action plan that's put in place that's yielded results," said Khanna.

"We need federal stewardship to seal the deal and to make sure that the immense powers of the federal government to address poverty are being utilized."

Every Canadian riding has some level of child poverty.

Of the 338 battlegrounds, 147 have child poverty rates above the national average of 19 per cent or one in every five children in the riding.

Those numbers have not changed much since 1989, Campaign 2000 says.

This amounts to children showing up to school without necessities such as coats in cold weather, the group added.

Diane Lewis, a teacher in Sydney, N.S., said she had a student sheepishly tell her during a food drive he had nothing because the cupboard was empty.

"I certainly was hoping, and maybe I'm missing something, but I was certainly hoping to hear some specifics about how to invest in the future and help children," Lewis said.

The Manitoba riding of Churchill-Keewatinook Aski has the highest child poverty rate with just over three in five, or 65 per cent, of children.

The riding has a large aboriginal population, and is home to the second-highest number of children, according to data from the National Household Survey.

Campaign 2000 found some of the ridings with the highest child poverty rates had large aboriginal populations, like those in the northern Manitoba riding.

In Photos: Canada Election 2015
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