Federal budget surpluses should go to fight poverty

OTTAWA – Ottawa should funnel predicted multi-billion-dollar budget surpluses into helping Canadians who are struggling to make ends meet, an anti-poverty coalition said in a report released Tuesday.

Campaign 2000 said while there has been a slight drop in the country’s child poverty rate since the 2008-2009 recession, 967,000 children and their families are still unable to fulfil their basic needs.

And more children lived in poverty in 2011 than in 1989, when the House of Commons unanimously resolved to end child poverty by 2000 — 14.3 per cent, up from 13.7 per cent, it said.

Based on recent budget projections, the federal government “can afford to spend” on programs that would help prevent children from depending on food banks and homeless shelters, the group said.

“Money is not lacking,” the report read. “What may be lacking is political will to act and willingness to act on the evidence.”

Laurel Rothman, the group’s national co-ordinator, said there’s been a lack of federal leadership when it comes to “putting some important social and economic priorities at the top.”

“If we ignore the costs of poverty then we consider that a mismanagement of the economy for which we’re all going to pay in financial, social and emotional costs,” she added.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said this month he expects a surplus of $3.7 billion in 2015-16. That figure is expected to grow to nearly $10 billion by 2018-19.

In its report, Campaign 2000 recommends drafting a national poverty-reduction plan, building a public child care system and expanding access to employment insurance, among other things.

It is also repeating its call for an enhanced child benefit for low-income families that would replace some cash payments and child tax benefits and credits offered to Canadian parents.

All but two provinces — British Columbia and Saskatchewan — have official plans to tackle poverty and Rothman said it’s time the federal government took the lead.

The Canadian Press