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Mar11WedA quarter of a century ago, Canadians made a promise. Now, we need to keep it. March 11, 2015 by Peter Restivo
It was 1989—long before I even knew what social justice really meant. I was a broadcast-journalism instructor at the University of Georgia at Augusta and dating a Canadian woman I would soon marry.
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At least three mornings a week, I'd pull in to my local gas 'n' go for a coffee. Often, a mom with child in tow was buying the kiddie breakfast. Yes, breakfast at a service station. Cindy, the mom, bought her seven-year-old daughter, Athena, a cream-filled chocolate cupcake and a Mountain Dew. Horrible mom, I thought.
I had to ask: “Is that your child's breakfast?” It was.
Cindy told me she worked 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. as a hospital technician at minimum wage—$4.85 an hour. Another way of putting it: Mom worked the better part of an hour a day to feed her kid a Mountain Dew and cupcake.
Athena played at school until 4 p.m. when she got a ride to a friend's home. She didn't get to sleep in her own bed until much later.
Mom then headed to her second job cleaning offices until 10 p.m.
In other words, Cindy worked two full-time jobs and remained poor.
Soon after, the local paper ran a story about the Canadian House of Commons, by unanimous vote, passing a resolution to end child poverty by 2000. Amazing, I thought. This is the place where I want to live. A country that lives up to its worldwide reputation for kindness and caring.
In 1999, I moved to Canada, married and became a Canadian citizen.
Hand Up, Not Handout
Let's be honest. Eliminating child poverty is no small challenge, even for a small nation. But this is 2015 and very little has been done in meeting the 1989 goal. What happened, Canada? What I read and hear in reports from Ottawa range from “child poverty is not a federal issue” to “child poverty is the result of poor people not working.”
But most poor people are working, many working more than one job. Why can't we all pitch in? Not to compare apples with oranges or cupcakes with jet aircraft but, roughly speaking, one less F-35 fighter would help many children living below the poverty line—roughly 600,000—to become healthy and sound contributors to our nation.
Too many of us stand on the sidelines, fearful that helping a child might somehow, in some way, diminish our own lives and financial security.
More than half a million children have stomachs running on empty. Canada is a grand country and it wouldn't take very much to give a hand up. Not charity, not a donation, but a real hand up. We can all only be the better off for it, for keeping a promise.
I believe helping our most vulnerable is caring for Canada's potential. In the Bible, Matthew 14 tells the story of Jesus multiplying the loaves of bread. That's what we do when we offer a hand up to our children. It's the kind of sustaining, enriching work God would do. It grows our society and our country. How can that ever be wrong?
Suggestions for Eliminating Child Poverty
Solutions to child poverty in Canada are as numerous as the political stripes of its residents, but here
are a few good places to start:
• A recent State of Homelessness study proposes building an estimated 84,000 social-housing units Canada-wide for those who need help while working toward family financial security.
• Temporarily increase the minimum wages and child-support payments, to augment family income as families transition to better-paying jobs.
• A voluntary five-dollar “help a child” contribution on our federal tax returns would help thousands and hurt no one. Tax rebates touted by government do little to solve Canada's core child-poverty problems. Tax rebates only apply to income earned. So our poorest families don't qualify.
Peter Restivo is a Toronto-based writer and TV producer whose credits include ABC TV's Good Morning America. He is active in the nationwide Keep the Promise campaign to end child poverty.