Federal cabinet minister James Moore, who represents a British Columbia riding, came off sounding like the proverbial Grinch with an inconsiderate remark last weekend regarding child poverty.
“Is it my job to feed my neighbour’s child? I don’t think so,” is what Moore told a radio reporter in Vancouver. He went on to say it is the responsibility of the provinces to deal with child poverty, and Ottawa has no plans to step in.
Moore came off sounding heartless at the wrong time of year, but he should have known that the Harper government has been criticized in recent years for its lack of action on this issue. We have endured 24 years of our leaders not meeting a unanimous motion passed in the House of Commons that vowed to end poverty by 2000. That motion ought to have been on Moore’s radar, since it was renewed in 2009.
When Moore’s comments first broke in the national media, he tried to deny making them, claiming he’d been misquoted. But reporter Sara Norman had audio evidence. So, on Monday, Moore had to apologize for his callous insensitivity.
“Caring for each other is a Canadian ethic that I strongly believe in — always have and always will,” Moore’s statement read. “Of course poverty is an issue that concerns me, and concerns all Canadians. All levels of government, indeed all members of our society, have a responsibility to be compassionate and care for those in need.”
Most Canadians would maintain that our federal government has a responsibility to assist this country’s most vulnerable children - especially if their parents can’t or won’t.
Certainly, child welfare issues are largely a provincial concern. We would suggest that the federal government at least come to the table on this issue. After all, the Child Poverty Watchdog Campaign 2000 says Ottawa has not moved toward helping the one in seven or 957,000 children living in poverty across Canada. The fact that four in 10 Aboriginal children live in poverty should be viewed as a national embarrassment.
Only last week, the Globe and Mail, contrary to Moore’s claim we are a wealthier country, reported that a majority of Canadians don’t feel better off financially than last year, according to a new survey.
Statistics Canada considers families to be living in low income when their income falls below 50 per cent of the median household income after taxes. The low-income measure in 2011 for a single parent with one child was $28,185 after taxes.
Campaign 2000 has called on the feds to draft a national strategy to eliminate poverty, develop a long-term affordable housing plan and help build a national child-care system. It wants national child benefits for low-income families boosted and changes to personal taxes that reduce income inequality.
It is time for Canada’s parliamentarians to step up financially. We need a national debate on this issue that lead to systemic change. A comprehensive national strategy is required to place adequate supports at the low end of the income scale. The Harper government has shown it wants to buy middle-class votes, but it has a mandate to care for the entire population. At Christmas time, this fact is especially obvious, Minister Moore.