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Sen. Art Eggleton

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Canada's Poverty Problem Is Not Going to Fix Itself

Posted: 11/30/11 10:34 AM ET

It's been 22 years since the House of Commons voted unanimously to eradicate child poverty in Canada by 2000. All parties supported the motion and it appeared that we were finally on the right track to ensuring that no child ever had to grow up hungry or homeless again. However, a new report from Campaign 2000 reveals that over two decades later 639,000 children are still living in poverty. That's one in 10 children. Aboriginal children are in an even worse situation, with a shocking one in four children who are living on reserves below the poverty line. What's more alarming is that one in three children who live in poverty have at least one parent working full time.

If the number of Canadians still fighting to make ends meet isn't disturbing enough, the costs associated with poverty certainly are. Estimates currently say that poverty costs Canada a minimum of $24 billion a year, with 20 per cent of all health care costs directly attributed to poverty. Look at it this way, a child born into poverty has a greater chance of dying in infancy and, if he or she lives, is likely to have a lower birth weight and more disabilities. As they grow, they will suffer from poor nutrition and poor health. They'll miss more days of school and slowly, but surely, fall further and further behind at significant cost to society.

If we can solve the problem early, and prevent children from growing up in poverty in the first place, the savings both financially and in the quality of life they will go on to have will be dramatically increased.

That is why I am calling on this government to finally bring forth a viable long term national strategy to eliminate poverty in Canada. The strategy must focus on what the National Council of Welfare refers to as the investment model. Instead of paying to make a person's life marginally better in the short term, we must invest in long term solutions. As they put it, the current spending model we use is "like getting half a dose of antibiotics and having your infection ease up for a little while only to have it return worse than it was before." We cannot continue on that path.

In fact we are not that far away even with current expenditures. The latest report from the National Council of Welfare states that Canada currently faces a $12 billion poverty gap. That $12 billion annually is what it would take to make sure every Canadian was above the poverty line. Although this might mean more money upfront, the payoffs in terms of savings long term greatly out weight the initial costs because we would save billions annually in poverty related costs.

It is time that we stop putting a band-aid on the problem and really get down to fixing the root of the problem.