Children put faces to poverty at Ottawa summit

Solving child poverty: “We’re going in the wrong direction,” says MP to conference

Nearly a million Canadian children live in poverty. Photo: Deborah Oomen

Children from across the country came together to share their thoughts and opinions with each other. But not on sports, video games or the latest movie. These talks were about kids not having enough to eat.

Keep the Promise is holding a two-day national summit being held in Ottawa. The coalition is reminding politicians of the promise made by the federal government in 1989: to abolish child poverty by the year 2000.

Today — 25 years after members of Parliament voted unanimously — one out of seven children lives in poverty.

More than 80 students from Grade 5  to Grade 8 across the country were selected to represent their community and approximately 300 people attended the public meeting. The result was putting faces to the issue of child poverty — faces that stood on their tip-toes to reach the microphone.

Sharing personal experiences and stories from their hometowns, students collaboratively broke down the issue into categories: food, education and recreation, shelter, and employment. They then asked simple questions to the members of Parliament present: Is there a plan that you are working on right now to end child poverty? What do you recommend for moving forward from the 1989 promise? How can we help?

“In the past 25 years, the number of low income kids in Canada increased from 912,000 to 967,000. Almost a million Canadians,” said Paul Dewar, NDP representative present at the summit. “So we’re going in the wrong direction.”

Though honoured, Dewar said that he was not happy to be there — it meant that the federal government had not dealt with this serious issue.

“If we can send a person to the moon, if we can send a robot onto a comet or to mars… why can’t we solve child poverty?” he asked. “We can do this. You can do this. Make us do this.”

Carolyn Bennett, a Liberal Party representative, said the voices of young students is the most powerful ammunition. Robin Rechomin attended the meeting to represent the Green Party. An invitation was extended to the Conservative party, but no one was available to make it to the event.

Former lieutenant governor of Ontario James Bartleman spoke passionately about the issue, coming from a childhood of poverty himself. He said today’s society cares more about clean streets than hungry kids.

“Pride in country does not mean that a person should ignore the blind spots,” he said.

“We need to have the children become the educators of their parents. And their parents to put pressure on governments and bring about a change,” said Bartleman, who thinks Canada needs a revolution in thinking.

In order to take part in the summit students had to do research on poverty in their community and write essays. Joella MacIsaac knows she can make a change. As one of the Nova Scotia student reps from New Waterford, Cape Breton, she wrote in her essay, “All children deserve a future to shine. I am one of those children, and I will shine.”

“We are a small community with more than half our town’s people living in poverty,” said Joella in an interview with the CBC. “Poverty is a very scary reality that leaves parents struggling to support their children and their families. I live in poverty.”

Art teacher Diane Lewis works in many schools around Cape Breton, and accompanied Joella and second student rep Adam MacLean to the summit. As a teacher, she said she sees child poverty on a daily basis and it’s not just about kids wanting the latest iPhone.

“It’s hard to perform in school if you’re hungry, cold, or if you haven’t been able to shower,” said Lewis. “Poverty is a children’s rights issue, it prevents them from fully engaging in society.”

Though Cape Breton is a “pretty economically depressed community” Lewis said she can’t remember the last effort made to address child poverty. “We should be… but we haven’t been screaming about really important things like children in our own community that are suffering.” She’s hopeful that the summit will light a fire under her students to come back home ready to make changes.  


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4 thoughts on “Children put faces to poverty at Ottawa summit

  1. Eliminating child poverty is so important and well within out reach. It has such a tremendous impact on the social , physical and mental health of these children.

  2. It’s very disturbing… All parties need to put the posturing away and actually address the root causes.

  3. On this day, the United Nations International Children’s Day we need to reach across party lines and political differences to improve the lives of children. We have to match our wealth with our political will to keep a promise that was made in 1989 to end child poverty by the year 2000.

  4. With an appalling record of more than 65% of child support payments not made, combined with a lack of repercussions for non-payment, we as a society are endorsing child poverty. Our legal system is not keeping up with the numbers of ridiculous situations involving mothers (and some fathers) struggling while non-custodial parents cannot be found or made to pay in a timely manner. We need a more facilitative and just way to ensure that misbehaved adults do not get away with denying financial responsibility for their children. We need appropriate legislation to enable judges to help. We also need to have “judicial practitioners” who are trained and have the authority to grant appropriate financial penalties and remedies.

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