Wednesday, April 23, 2014
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A Christmas wish for Industry Minister James Moore

Saving funds on the backs of children is fool's gold

Cindy Blackstock CBC News

An elder once said that when you do something wrong, your first job isn’t to apologize — it is to understand what you are going to apologize for.

There has been lots of talk, and condemnation, for Industry Minister Moore’s comment about children living in poverty. “Is it my job to feed my neighbour’s child? I don’t think so,” he said, while patting his government on the back for its economic performance.

Moore has since apologized, but I think he skipped the understanding, because nowhere in the apology does the minister recognize the glaring contradiction between passing the buck on child poverty and pronouncing the benefits of a robust economy.

I hope Santa puts a copy of Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Do Better under Moore’s tree. He would learn that countries that reduce inequality have the best economies, the lowest crime rates, more trust among neighbours and a more educated population.

Investing in children is one of the best investments a country can make. The World Health Organization says that for every dollar a government spends on a child, the taxpayer saves five to seven dollars down the line as healthy children grow up to be healthy and contributing citizens who are less reliant on social assistance, health and wellness programs.

Canadians are fed a steady diet of political rhetoric suggesting that a strong economy means good things for all of us. It sounds good and feels good until we take a sober look at the facts.

Respected leaders in economic and child rights repeatedly find that the Canadian economy is doing far better than Canadian children. For example, a few weeks ago the internationally respected Kidsrights Foundation ranked Canada an abysmal 60th in the world on an index measuring child rights implementation in proportion to the wealth of the nation.

Earlier this year UNICEF ranked the richest countries in the world on child rights and Canada fell near the back of the pack at 17 out of 29.

Nelson Mandela said "there can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children," and so it is worth looking at how Canada treats the poorest of the poor — aboriginal children.

James Anaya, special rapporteur on indigenous issues called attention to a widening socio-economic gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people related to significant service inequities on reserves and woefully inadequate investments in basics such as housing, water and sanitation. These conditions have persisted for decades, regardless of the availability of solutions or the wealth of the country.

Government public statements often characterize the addressing of inequities in First Nations education, health and child welfare as "complex."

I think we are all in trouble when the government believes discrimination is easier to implement than equality. The government also suggests that these inequalities need to be addressed incrementally until economic conditions improve. While I appreciate that when times are tough we all need to sacrifice, discrimination against children should never be viewed as a legitimate fiscal restraint measure. Caring Canadians know that children only have one childhood — the time for equity is now.

Canadian business understands the importance of investing in children too, particularly the most disadvantaged. For example, on Dec. 17 the Canadian Chamber of Commerce released its report on aboriginal peoples in the workforce saying a robust Canadian economy depends on increased investments in aboriginal children’s education and training.

If Moore wants his descendants to benefit from a robust economy and a safe and healthy Canada then he better feed his neighbour’s hungry child, because saving funds on the backs of children is fool’s gold.

About The Author

Cindy Blackstock is the Executive Director of the Caring Society and Associate Professor, University of Alberta. A member of the Gitksan Nation, Cindy has worked in the field of child and family services for over 25 years. Her key interests include exploring, and addressing, the causes of disadvantage for Aboriginal children and families by promoting equitable and culturally based interventions.

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