While the Trudeau Liberal government deserves credit for a substantial decline in child poverty over the past few years, there is still much that both the federal and the provincial governments should do to safeguard the lives and enhance the well-being of the poorest and most vulnerable of our fellow Canadians –starting, of course, with babies in the womb.
As it is, the Trudeau Liberals are sure to remind us during the upcoming federal election campaign that in February, Statistics Canada reported that the proportion of Canadian children living in poverty dropped to 9.0 per cent in 2017, down from 13.3 per cent in 2015. That constitutes a remarkable decline of 33 per cent in just two years.
While many factors such as robust economic growth and declining unemployment have contributed to this achievement, there can be no doubt that the new Canada Child Benefit introduced by the Trudeau Liberals in 2016 has also played a key role. Compared to the previous system of family income support, this new federal initiative provides greater benefits to families with children and focuses more of that assistance upon the poorest of these families rather than relatively well-off members of the middle class.
That is as it should be. The great majority of middle-income families would be better off with lower taxes than higher government handouts.
What further can be done to reduce the overall poverty rate in Canada even more? Many well-meaning politicians think a substantial additional increase in federal and provincial income supports and welfare benefits could solve the problem, but such an approach might actually make matters worse.
Chris Sarlo, professor of economics at Nipissing University, has addressed this issue in his latest paper The Causes of Poverty, published by the Fraser Institute in March. Sarlo, one of Canada’s foremost experts on poverty, played a key role in persuading the Trudeau government to change the official definition of poverty from a “relative” standard guaranteeing that the poor remain always with us to a relatively fixed market-based measure based on the income required by families and individuals to purchase the basic goods and services needed to fully participate in Canadian society.
Sarlo notes that the great majority of Canadians who have less than a minimum basic income are poor only temporarily. In a 2011 study, Statistics Canada found by the standard measure of poverty then in use, that while 8.4 per cent of Canadians were poor for at least one year between 2002 and 2007, only 0.5 per cent were poor throughout the entire period.
Among the temporarily poor, many are young students or new entrants to the labour force with little or no reported income. After these people gain some work experience, the great majority are no longer poor.
It is the longer-term poor who are in greatest need of more assistance. That is especially true of persons with a severe mental illness or handicap. All too often, they are abandoned to live under the most degrading circumstances in cheap apartments or on the streets. Surely, the Trudeau Liberals and their provincial counterparts can do more to provide these extremely vulnerable Canadians with the intensive care and guidance they urgently need.
Among the longer-term poor, there is also a considerable number of unemployable alcoholics and drug addicts. Increased government handouts for these people are only likely to help them feed their bad habits. What addicts need are incentives to undergo addiction treatment, regain their sobriety and attain life-saving, self-respect through gainful employment.
And much the same goes for impoverished single mothers. Most would also benefit from greater incentives and opportunities for full-time employment.
Citing 2015 data from Statistics Canada, Sarlo points out that the poverty rate for unemployed single mothers is more than four times higher than the rate for single-mothers who work full-time (44 per cent of the total) and close to five times greater than for mothers who live in a two-parent family.
Altogether, overwhelming sociological evidence proves that children generally thrive best materially, emotionally and in almost every other way under the care and guidance of their own natural mother and father united in a stable marriage. When will our politicians take note? When will they display an enlightened regard for the well-being of impoverished Canadian children by summoning up the courage to oppose all policies that foster easy divorce and the increased proliferation of out-of-wedlock births?
And when will these same politicians who take such pride in their purported compassion for the poor and the needy finally abrogate the twin evils of legalized abortion and euthanasia that engender the deliberate mass slaughter of the most frail andvulnerable of our fellow Canadians both before and, to an ever-increasing extent, after birth.