SENATOR MUNSON’S SPEECH TO THE CANADIAN ASSOCIATION OF FAMILY RESOURCE CENTRES

Thank you so much for inviting me to be here.

C’est un plaisir d’être avec vous aujourd’hui.

 

As David knows, I’m eager to meet with groups such as yours that have the interests of families and children close to heart.  Children’s issues have been the focus of my work as a Senator both in the Senate Chamber and out of it.  Most of the time, when I talk about kids and issues affecting families, I have to try and convince the audience of the need to act, of the need to put children and families in the centre of social and health policy development.  It’s different today. I can see that I am in a group of “friendlies”. We share the same concerns.

 

So what I would like to do today, if you agree, is make some brief remarks — fill you in on what we’ve been doing (or not doing) on Parliament Hill and tell you some stories from my days before I became an Ottawa Senator. Then I’d like to hear from you about what you think we should be doing to help children and families in Canada.

 

I’ll start by saying that I feel like we’re stuck when it comes to policies to help kids inCanada.  That’s best illustrated by looking at child poverty.

 

 

Canada’s child poverty rates are the same as they were ten years ago, except in Ontariowhere they have actually increased — from 15.1% in 2001 to 17.4% today[1].  This increase seems improbable given that the last decade has been one of economic growth and prosperity.  Despite low unemployment rates and a strong economy, we haven’t done anything to put a dent in child poverty levels. Why is there poverty during good economic times?  To put it simply, because too many people are working for too little money. Campaign 2000 tells us that Canada is second only to the U.S. as a low-wage country among industrialized nations.

 

Almost one in four Canadian workers earns less than ten dollars an hour.

 

So when you ask the question, why are so many children poor the answer is obvious.  Because their parents are poor.

 

I was recently in Renfrew County where one in eight children lives in poverty.  In RenfrewCounty only 50 per cent of people with paid work have full-time jobs that last the whole year.  And it takes a family of four there 72 hours at minimum wage to meet the poverty line.

 

In Ottawa, more than 29,000 children live in poverty.  One in four.[2]

 

In Ontario, 132,000 children rely on a food bank every month.[3]  132,000 children.  That’s more than the entire population of substantial Ontariocities.  More than Guelph, more than Brantford. More than Thunder Bay.  That’s a lot of kids. That’s too many kids.

 

Since you work with children, I’m sure you hear the same clichés I hear.  My personal favourite is “Children are our future.”  What the heck does that mean?  I think that children are our TODAY.

 

The health and well being of children TODAY is a barometer of the health and well being of society as a whole.  Children don’t deserve investments because we need them in the future.  They deserve investments because they matter NOW.  Children are our NOW.   And if we want to help children NOW we have to help their parents NOW.  Which is why I am a big fan of your organization.

 

Your work is about helping parents.  You say it all when you say, “Parents Matter”.  Your organization is about providing resources, information, support, toys, and books to parents.  You help link parents to the community and to each other.  You make them feel less alone.

 

Because let’s face it.  Parenting today leaves many people isolated, especially in our culture and in our climate.  There can be few lonelier moments than being on your own with a newborn and a toddler when it’s minus 40 and there are hours and hours to go before bedtime. You don’t really know any of your neighbours, and the ones you do know are at work.  How lucky for you if there is a Parent Resource Centre nearby with a toy lending library, a few adults to talk to, and maybe potential friends to meet.

 

It makes me feel old to say, “in my day”, but the fact is that in my day things were different.