A recent report on Canada’s abysmal failure to protect and care for the country’s youngest and most vulnerable citizens – its children – made headlines and stirred ripples of shame and outrage.
Compiled by Children First Canada and the O’Brien Institute for Public Health, the study found that children in Canada suffer from shockingly high rates of poverty, obesity, infant mortality, abuse, suicide, and declining mental health.
Calling these grim statistics “deeply disturbing,” Sara Austin, director of Children First, pointed out that “Canada ranks as the fifth-most prosperous nation in the world, but there’s a big disconnect between the well-being of our country and the well-being of our children. All levels of government need to do more to ensure that children benefit from Canada’s overall wealth.”
This plea for decent high-quality child care in Canada is only the latest in a long list of such supplications. It is only the latest such report detailing the execrable extent of child poverty and dereliction that has blemished this country’s image for a very long time.
For many decades, in addition to Children First, many other public health and welfare agencies – from Food Banks Canada to the Salvation Army and the Child Welfare League – have been deploring the plight of poor and hungry children and pleading for their improved treatment by the federal and provincial governments.
Over the past 25 years, I’ve written dozens of op-eds about Canada’s deeply deficient child care policies. I’ve cited the appalling statistics that expose this ongoing disgrace, such as UNICEF’s ranking Canada 37th among 41 wealthy countries for its children’s access to adequate nutrition.
Even worse, the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) has placed Canada dead last among 25 member countries for the inadequacy and inaccessibility of its child care services. This low ranking was inevitable, given that many countries in Europe guarantee an ECEC (Early Childhood Education and Care) place for all children soon after their birth, while Canada still lacks a national, affordable, accessible, high-quality program of that kind.
Compounding this childhood deprivation is Canada’s failure to create a comprehensive public health care system that covers pharmaceutical, dental, and vision care, as well as the services of doctors and hospitals. Such complete health care coverage is customary in Europe, so children there don’t suffer from their parents’ inability to pay for needed medication, eyeglasses, or visits to the dentist, as hundreds of thousands of Canadian children are inexcusably compelled to do.
Will the eye-opening Children First bombshell have any more motivational effect on our federal government than did its many predecessors? Will it finally mobilize millions of voters to demand that the creation of a superior European-style child care program be made an urgent federal government priority?
Or will most voters settle for the Trudeau government’s recent farcical promise to lower the rate of poverty in Canada 20% by 2020, and 50% by 2030? As I noted in a previous blog, this would result, 12 years from now, in reducing the number of Canadian children mired in poverty to just 600,000. Wow! What a colossal eventual achievement! Surely a vision of exemplary future child care that will guarantee the Liberals’ re-election next year!
Sarcasm aside, I’m afraid that, despite the recent horrific revelations to the contrary, most Canadians will stubbornly cling to the myth that they still live in the best country in the world. They may once again wring their hands and lament the sad state of the country’s children, but that grim reality will soon fade from their collective conscience. As have the depressing details of so many previous child poverty and child care studies.
Even if a mass movement of voters somehow were to be mounted to demand that the federal government make anti-child-poverty and pro-child care measures their top priorities, and even if all the political parties agreed to do so in next year’s election, what are the odds that such a promise would actually be kept? No better, I’m afraid, than the unanimous pledge made by MPs in 1989 to completely eliminate child poverty by 2000. Instead, by turn of the century, many more thousands of children were living in poverty.
That shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Canada, after all, has been ruled by a neoliberal federal government since the 1960s, under successive Liberal and Conservative parties. Devoted as they are to preserving the dominance of economic capitalism, they dutifully tolerate the steep levels of poverty and inequality that inevitably flow from such a ruthlessly iniquitous system.
So we can be sure that the latest commitments being made to seriously tackle child poverty and shoddy child care are as hollow as all the similar guarantees that have emanated from Parliament Hill in the past. They are promises hypocritically made to garner votes, with no intention of ever honouring them.
As I’ve often bemoaned, the priorities of governments in Canada (and the United States) are not really set by the voters, but by the rich and powerful elites. And, for them, the greater the levels of poverty and inequality among the masses, the greater the enhancement of their personal wealth and political clout.
Most other advanced countries, to varying degrees, have significantly loosened the shackles of neoliberalism and corporate power. Several have even unfettered themselves completely. As a result, they are free to implement the superlative anti-poverty and pro-child care policies that are now so prevalent in Europe.
Canada’s poverty-stricken children, however, will be kept in misery and destitution as long as this country remains a pitiless plutocracy instead of the genuine democracy its political and corporate leaders glibly proclaim it to be.
Sorry to end on such a gloomy note, but sometimes facing reality entails a departure from wishful thinking.