11/21/2012 03:05 EST | Updated 01/20/2013 05:12 EST

BC Child Poverty Rate 2nd Worst In Canada: Report

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A child holding a Canadian flag sits on his father's shoulders in the crowded streets of Vancouver during the Vancouver Winter Olympics on February 20, 2010. AFP PHOTO / MARTIN BUREAU (Photo credit should read MARTIN BUREAU/AFP/Getty Images)

VICTORIA - British Columbia must target child-poverty reduction with the same gusto it devotes to its jobs creation strategy, says a report released Tuesday that finds B.C. has the second highest child poverty rate in Canada.

First Call BC, a child and youth advocacy coalition of more than 90 provincial organizations and 25 communities, says the latest Statistics Canada numbers peg B.C.'s child-poverty rate at 14.3 per cent, with the Canadian average at 13.7 per cent.

The First Call report card numbers reflect before-tax incomes and apply to 2010. The report states that Manitoba has the highest child poverty rate in Canada.

Prior to this year, B.C. posted the highest child poverty rates in Canada for eight years in a row.

Dr. John Millar, spokesman for the Public Health Association of B.C. and a First Call member, said British Columbia's lack of a co-ordinated and dedicated strategy to reduce child poverty is a "disgrace."

The First Call report calls for a government poverty-reduction strategy with an overall goal of reducing child poverty in B.C. to seven per cent or lower by 2020.

Millar said Premier Christy Clark's Liberal government, which boasts that it has created the most jobs in Canada over the last year, appears to have convinced itself that merely creating jobs will help end the cycle of child poverty that has gripped B.C. for the past decade.

"It seems to be more of a lack of commitment and perhaps a neo-Liberal economic view that if you stimulate the economy, sooner or later the money will trickle down to the poor people, but we know that simply doesn't work and isn't working," said Millar.

"We need to have a more organized effort than simply relying on that," he said.

The most recent rankings do not include B.C.'s moves to increase the minimum wage to $10.25 per hour, offer earnings exemptions to welfare recipients and increase some disability payments.

British Columbia and Saskatchewan are the two provinces in Canada without designated child-poverty reduction strategies.

"The problem is that for over a decade now, B.C. has been behind the rest of Canada," Millar said. "We've had the highest both child, family and adult poverty rates in the country and despite some good efforts on the part of the government, most recently raising the minimum wage ... we still are right at the bottom of the heap."

Millar said B.C. lacks a concerted, organized and responsible child-poverty fighting strategy that seeks to move the province to the top spot in Canada.

Millar said First Call wants Premier Christy Clark to appoint a minister responsible for fighting child poverty.

The First Call report stated the number of poor children in 2010 was 119,000, about one of every seven B.C. children. It stated about two-thirds — or 80,000 — of these children lived in Metro Vancouver.

The report stated B.C. also had the highest income gaps between rich and poor families.

Millar said poverty robs children of their potential and increases health problems. He said in a statement growing income gaps are a "recipe for a very sick society."

Children and Family Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux defended B.C.'s recent efforts to reduce child poverty.

"No government, no individual, myself included, ever wants to see children or families living in poverty and what we can do to address poverty with families takes concerted effort,'" she said.

"It takes work and it certainly needs to be targeted and needs focus on the individual needs of the family and different communities."

Cadieux said B.C.'s jobs plan to create jobs in the mining and natural gas sectors is a key weapon in the government's plan to fight child poverty.

"We know that a good job is the best way out of poverty for a family," she said. "We are trending in the right direction, we are trending down and we all need to continue to recognize that the opportunity for families to have jobs is ultimately the best way to focus on helping people out of poverty."

Cadieux said since 2003, B.C.'s rate has declined by 45 per cent, and the current Statistics Canada numbers, when calculated to include after-tax income, put the province's child poverty rate at 10.5 per cent.

She said the government is working with seven different B.C. communities — Port Hardy, Prince George, Cranbrook, Surrey, Stewart, New Westminster and Kamloops — to assess their services, needs and resources, including poverty.

Opposition New Democrat social development critic Carole James said the Liberals appear to be in denial when it comes to tackling child poverty in B.C.

"It needs leadership from the top," she said. "It just seems to me that the most effective approach is to put in place a provincewide plan that utilizes the resources and communities and brings government to the table as partners."

James said the NDP has tabled proposed legislation in the legislature that calls for a provincial poverty reduction strategy.

The federal New Democrats blamed Stephen Harper's Conservatives for what it called country-wide foot-dragging on fighting poverty.

"The Conservatives pride themselves on good economic management, but when you look at their inaction on eradicating poverty, which costs Canada over $72 billion every year, it's obvious that this is not the case," said a statement attributed to Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet NDP deputy critic for Human Resources and Skills Development.

Last month, First Call appeared before the province's all-party legislature committee on finance and government.

It called on the committee to urge the Liberal government to produce a child-focused budget in February. The committee's report, which does not formally address child poverty, is used by the Finance Ministry to prepare the government's budget.

First Call's presentation to the six Liberals and four New Democrats on the committee said Manitoba's child poverty rate was 17.6 per cent, while B.C. and Quebec tied at 14.3 per cent.

Ontario's child poverty rate was 14.2 per cent, while New Brunswick posted the lowest child-poverty rate in Canada at 6.9 per cent.

"B.C. needs at least having a minister responsible, having some established targets and a published comprehensive strategy, and not bits and pieces here and there," Millar said.