Child Poverty

The older I get, the more I come to think that life just goes ’round and ’round. When I graduated from grade 8, I left the old continuation school to enter the brand new secondary school. This building had only been completed months before we arrived. It was new. It smelled new. It had lockers, real washrooms and science desks so we could do science experiments without burning down the building. It had a library, well at the back of a classroom, but the books were new, sort of. Some had been donated by community members, but many were new. We were state of the art with new desks, new rooms and new text books.

One of my friends in grade 9 came from a neighbouring village. His home had only one room, a dirt floor and no plumbing or electricity. I often wondered how he could cope in this new building with its buffed floors, new desks and washrooms. “Culture shock” hardly serves to describe his situation.

Of course it was different for most of the rest of us. We were able to savour the arrival of the 60’s. Our world was full of hope. Of course my phone number was 7R1; it was a rural system with crank phones. But we had floors, electricity and plumbing. In fact we lacked nothing of importance.

At the end of grade 10 I left Manitoulin Island so I never did learn whether my friend graduated. The odds were certainly stacked against him. Where would he do his homework in a one room home? Because there was no cafeteria in the school, we all brought our lunches. I don’t recall ever seeing him with a lunch bag. Mine was always stuffed and waiting for me in the morning. We sometimes went over to the neighbour’s apple tree to pick a couple of apples. The owner must have known. Nice man. My friend’s home had no books or paintings to inspire him, yet to graduate he needed to pass a set of departmental exams set and marked far away by scholars of a different culture who had no understanding of his circumstances.

Well, you know what, the more things change the more they stay the same. I met The Hon. Ken Dryden last weekend. He came to Lindsay to chair a round table discussion on child poverty. What a sobering discussion it was focusing on numbers such as 41% of food bank clients in the city are children, and 22.5% of young families in our city live in poverty. While other nations have taken steps to decrease perhaps even eliminate child poverty, Canada and Ontario have seen our levels rise. United States provides $212/ child for healthy meals at school. Canada provides nothing while Ontario provides less than $5/child, this according to a recent report of The Centre for Science in the Public Interest.

The last fifty years have brought unprecedented wealth to Canada; but this wealth has benefited fewer and fewer of our citizens with each passing year. We have become a nation to whom tax cuts mean more than the health and well being of our children.

Once there was a time when members of my generation said things would be different once we were in charge of the ship. We would end poverty and create a world in which peace would flourish. Well if the health and welfare of our children was not the point of such a dream, then what was?

Imagine a nation in which the voters put their country to the test insisting that every new piece of legislation pass the kid benefit question, “How will this new law help to create a better, cleaner, more tolerant world for our children?”. Imagine a nation that demanded a decent level of nutrition for every child regardless of child’s family income. Imagine a nation that demanded a decent level of housing for every child regardless of the child’s family income. Imagine a nation that demanded “hope” for every child regardless of that child’s circumstances. If we can dream it, we can do it. What’s more, I’ll bet it could be fun. I think I’ll take the dogs to the back field now so I can pick some apples. See you next time.

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