Home Page Election 2019 News Opinion Foreign Policy Politics Policy Legislation Lobbying Hill Life & People Hill Climbers Heard On The Hill Calendar Archives Classifieds
Hill Times Events Inside Ottawa Directory Hill Times Store Hill Times Careers The Wire Report The Lobby Monitor Parliament Now
Subscribe Free Trial Reuse & Permissions Advertising
Log In

When a heart-wrenching photo made it better for children

By Jim Creskey      

In Canada, 19 per cent of children are living in poverty and that number rises to nearly 50 per cent in single-parent families.

Alex Paterson, right, policy and research manager with the think tank Upstream, offers visitors to Parliament Hill an apple and a message about child poverty in Canada on Oct. 17, the UN’s International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. Citizens for Public Justice photograph by Jim McIntyre
Share a story
The story link will be added automatically.

OTTAWA—It’s about the children.

Nothing brought this home more than the 2015 photo of the body of a three-year-old Syrian refugee boy, Alan Kurdi, washed up on a beach in Turkey. The heartbreaking photo, appearing during the last federal election, stirred up the empathy of many Canadians who were starting to notice that the Harper government was suffering from a deficit of compassion when it came to running Canada’s refugee programs. The photo also helped to inspire countless Canadians to personally sponsor refugee families through family, community, and church groups.

It wasn’t the first time that the thought of the suffering of an innocent child played a role in a major policy decision.

Even if we have trouble finding compassion for other adults, most of us have no problem finding it for children.

That brings us to some unnerving statistics that emerged from a report on poverty trends in Canada released Oct. 17, on a breezy fall day in front of the Peace Tower. Yes, we all know that Oct. 17 was the first day of legalized cannabis in Canada. It was also the date set aside by the United Nations for the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

The Canadian study was put together by the group Citizens for Public Justice, a non-governmental organization supported by many of Canada’s churches. It drew on recent information collected from the federal government, Statistics Canada, census data, and other sources.

It reported that 19 per cent of Canada’s children were living in poverty and that number increased to nearly 50 per cent in single-parent families. The numbers were higher for Indigenous and recent refugee families.

There are more than one million children under the age of 14 in “lone-parent” families in Canada, according to Statistics Canada. A lone-parent family is one that is not assisted by a grandparent or other adult. Most of these are headed by a female parent, although more than 200,000 children live with a lone male parent.

The number of Canadian children living in poverty is well over one million. The number in lone-parent families is about one half million.

A Statistics Canada metric called the “Market Basket Measure” was used to determine the level at which a household lacks the income to buy a specific basket of essential goods and services, including nutritious food, clothing, shelter, transportation, personal care items, and household supplies. Poverty means not being able to fill that basket of basic needs. The cost of the basket rises in expensive cities like Vancouver and Toronto.

This summer the Trudeau government established a poverty metric for Canada and a poverty reduction strategy called Opportunity for All. It was both praised and mildly criticized for not trying harder to make the plan an all-party commitment, which would make it harder, though not impossible, for a subsequent government of a different political stripe to torpedo it. The Liberals were also—and more rightly—criticized for not offering more aggressive funding for poverty reduction. The strategy set targets to reduce poverty in Canada by 20 per cent by 2020 and 50 per cent by 2030, relative to 2015 levels.

The Liberals are still earning fair praise for bringing in a new baby bonus that is actually making a difference for poor families. The Canada Child Benefit program of $6,496 annually for children under six and $5,481 for children from the ages of six to 17 has gone a long way to reduce child poverty. This summer the government pegged the program to inflation but admitted that not all low-income families were enjoying the benefits.

Because the non-taxable benefit is based on income, it requires that a tax return be filed. A large number of Indigenous families who were not filing tax returns as well as new refugee and immigrant families, were still missing out on the payment.

Voltaire, who was far from perfect himself, was smart enough to coin the phrase that, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.”

Canada’s policy in respect to low-income and refugee children is just that: not perfect, but good. Although sometimes it takes a powerful photo of a child in need to remind us that the good needs to be made a whole lot better. Even if that calls for a sacrifice.

Jim Creskey is a publisher of The Hill Times.

The Hill Times

Explore, analyze, understand
Spinning History: A Witness to Harper’s Canada and 21st Century choices
An unvarnished look at the Harper years and what lies ahead for Canadians

Get the book
The Federal Response to the Opioid Crisis
This e-book summarizes the work on the opioid crisis that is going on at the federal level: what the House of Commons and the Senate have been listening to and acting on to help stop and mitigate this tragedy.

Get the book
2018 Guide to Lobbyist Gifting Rules
The 2018 Guide to Lobbyist Gifting Rules is the essential resource for your work on federal issues.

Get the book
Related Policy Briefings
Mental Health Policy Briefing
Short and informative analyses on policy challenges that bring background and recommendations to policymakers, journalists and the general public.

Read policy briefing

Politics This Morning

Get the latest news from The Hill Times

Politics This Morning

Your email has been added. An email has been sent to your address, please click the link inside of it to confirm your subscription.

Nearly 100 new MPs offer new face of Parliament, including 60 in flipped seats

In many ways the incoming Parliament looks quite similar to its predecessor, with 240 returning MPs, the same number of MPs who are Indigenous or a visible minority, and 10 more women.

Rise of advance voting raising questions about impact on, and of, campaigns: experts

Almost 4.8-million Canadians voted at advance polls this year, according to Elections Canada estimates, a roughly 30.6 per cent increase over 2015, accounting for roughly one-quarter of all ballots cast this election.

Watchdog’s proposed minority Parliament rules ‘appalling,’ says legal expert

News|By Mike Lapointe
Democracy Watch says Governor General should speak with all party leaders before deciding who can try forming government, but Emmett Macfarlane says the confidence convention is the linchpin of the parliamentary system.

McKenna may be moved to new cabinet role after four years implementing Grits’ climate policies, say politicos

News|By Neil Moss
Catherine McKenna's 'tenure in environment would have prepared her well for any other kind of responsibility the prime minister may assign,' says former environment minister Jean Charest.

‘They went with what they knew’: Politicos react to Election 43

'If anybody should've won a majority, it should've been Trudeau. He didn't, and it's his to wear,' says CBC columnist Neil Macdonald of the Oct. 21 election results.

‘A clear mandate’: Trudeau wins second term, with voters handing Liberals a minority

News|By Beatrice Paez
Though not improbable, his victory was not inevitable. It brings an end to a nail-biting, gruelling 40-day slog that has exposed deepening rifts across the country.

McKenna wins re-election in Ottawa Centre, trumpets voters’ support for climate fight

News|By Neil Moss
'I’m so relieved,' Catherine McKenna said, about continuing with the Liberal climate change plan.

Election 2019 was a ‘campaign of fear,’ say pollsters

'There may well be a message to this to the main parties, that slagging each other will only take you so far,' says Greg Lyle.

Election 2019 campaign one of the most ‘uninspiring, disheartening, and dirtiest’ in 40 years, says Savoie

News|By Abbas Rana
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May says she has never seen an election where mudslinging overwhelmingly dominated the campaign, leaving little or no time for policy discussion.
Your group subscription includes premium access to Politics This Morning briefing.