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Echoes of ’89

by Archives January 15, 2008

Reduce child poverty in Canada by 50 percent within five years. It’s a lofty goal and setting up to be one of the Liberal’s main campaign promises in the next federal election. While the election hasn’t been called yet the Liberal Party is already on the campaign trail.
Star MP, Ken Dryden, a former goalie for the Canadians (and executive for the Leafs) is traveling across the country promoting the so-called “30/50” plan. It calls for a reduction in the number of Canadians in poverty by 30 percent, and a 50 percent reduction in the number of children in poverty – within five years of a Liberal victory.
When “Stéphane Dion is elected the Prime Minister the clock starts ticking,” said Dryden. But while there are far too many children living in poverty in a country as rich as Canada, the Liberal plan is almost completely devoid of substance. Dryden listed off a few concrete steps, such as raising the child tax credit, a guaranteed income for poor seniors and a commitment to affordable child-care. These are all well and good and will undoubtably help some Canadians, but a plan this ambitious needs real commitments, real plans – otherwise these targets will not be met.
The Liberals say that this lack of detail will provide flexibility to the plan, allow them to adapt it to changing needs. But it also gives them an out. Whatever they do they’ll say, ‘We tried hard, but we didn’t quite make it.’ According to the Dion camp the plan is based on one by the British ex-PM, Tony Blair. Even Dryden admits that the British plan didn’t reach its initial targets, “but they came close” he said. What he won’t tell you is that child poverty in the UK has in fact risen since 1999, when Blair said he would cut it in half by 2010. Last February UNICEF issued a report saying that British children are the worst off in the developed world.
Canada has its own history of breaking promises on child poverty. In 1989 the House of Commons unanimously approved a commitment to “end child poverty by the year 2000.” Seven years after the day when Canada was supposed to be a country where there was no such thing as a child living in poverty, we are back where we started. According to Statistics Canada in 2005, 11.7 per cent of Canadian children lived in poverty. In 1989, 11.7 percent of Canadian children lived in poverty. In real numbers this means that almost 800,000 children live in poverty today, and while the Liberals now seem to think that ending poverty is the right thing to do, they seem to have forgotten that in 1996, under a Liberal government, child poverty peaked at 18.6 percent, or 1.3 million children. The Liberals will argue that those were different economic times and that the previous commitment was made under a Conservative government that denied it the needed support. Similarly, it seems it didn’t have the support of Liberals in power four years later.
So why should we trust the Liberals on child poverty? The Liberals are trying to find ways to set themselves apart from Harper’s government. One thing they have realized is that while the Conservatives do best when Stephen Harper is the only one who speaks, while for the Liberals it’s better when Dion is the only one who doesn’t. While Dryden seems slightly uncomfortable when addressing a room (especially in French, even with a script it’s worse then Dion’s English), when speaking one-on-one he seems to really care about the issue and to believe what he’s saying. The Liberals have also brought Justin Trudeau in from B.C. where he has been fighting to reduce the number of Canadians killed by avalanches (judging by the girls lined up for a picture with him, could be a ringer for his father).
Trudeau talks of building Canada’s place in the world – “believe in bigger,” he said. And while bigger spending is definitely in the cards, taxes aren’t always a bad thing, Trudeau tells us. The Liberals have always been the party of big talk, and occasionally the party of big action – the Charter, for instance.
Justin Trudeau has some mighty big shoes to fill, and he knows that unless he does something big he will always be in the shadow of his fathers legacy. Will the Liberals actually reduce child poverty by 50 percent in five years? Maybe, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

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