VICTORIA – "B.C. leads on national Child Benefit Strategy," trumpeted Human Resources Minister Dennis Streifel’s press release.
"The development of national child benefit could be the social policy landmark of the 1990s, much like medicare is considered the most important social advance of the 1960s," the blurb went on.
Let’s not get carried away, Minister. British Columbia’s child benefit program is a step in the right direction. Its the best of its kind in Canada. But it’s also the only one and a long way from eradicating child poverty, the most damnable phenomenon in our affluent society.
Under the B.C. Family Bonus program, low-income families get up to $103 a month per child. Currently, the program provides $250 million in annual support to 200,000 low-income families with dependent children. About 70,000 of these families are on welfare.
The good thing about the program is that it’s designed to reduce disincentives to work over welfare. The bad part is that there aren’t enough jobs out there to break the welfare cycle, no matter how eager welfare recipients may be to find work.
Still, Canadians appear to be ready, at long last, to seriously tackle the shameful issue of child poverty in their midst. At least, the politicians are.
Moved by the need for some convincing planks in its platform for the upcoming election, the federal Liberals seem willing to put in place a national strategy to battle child poverty. The issue was high on the agenda at last week’s meeting in Toronto of Canada’s social services ministers.
Streifel is probably right when he says British Columbia’s Family Bonus program is widely recognized as an excellent model for a national child benefit plan. As I said, it is the only program of its kind in Canada.
Other provinces have been too busy wiping out social programs to give much thought to child poverty. At least the Clark government, in spite of its budget woes, is showing serious commitment to the eradication of child poverty.
On the other hand, Clark, too, has been busy scrapping programs and laying off public servants, which will not help the province’s jobless situation.
At the Toronto meeting, Streifel urged Ottawa to "take immediate and concrete action to implement a national child benefit" and to achieve that aim, begin consultation now with the provinces and the territories.
Streifel stressed three points: a national child benefit must be affective in reducing the depth of child poverty across Canada; it must be designed to ensure that work is a better deal than welfare for families in every region of Canada, and provinces should work together to expand the agreed-upon set of national objectives and principles into specific national standard.
"We are ready to sign agreements with the federal government to launch a national child benefit, and work with the territories and other provinces to achieve a shared national vision on behalf of our children," Streifel told his counterparts.
A national program to eliminate child poverty would come none too soon. A society is measured by how it treats its minorities, its elderly and its children. And while Canada compares favorably to many other countries, there is a lot of room for improvement.
Let’s keep the pressure on our politicians to take the necessary steps to make child poverty a thing of the past.
One more thing: The last time I wrote about child poverty, I got a call from a woman who said she had no time for my bleeding-heart approach to the subject. People who can’t afford to feed their kids properly, she said, should give them up for adoption.
This time, Madam, I have no time for your cynical comments. Write a letter to the editor, if you must, signed, please, but don’t call me.