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Child Poverty

Hon. Mary Jane McCallum: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak on behalf of Grand Chief Arlen Dumas of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs with regard to the thirtieth anniversary of the federal government’s proclamation to end child poverty in Canada by 2000.

As of January 2020, over 1,350,000 children in Canada continue to live in poverty, with Indigenous children disproportionately affected. The updated Campaign 2000 report notes that the national child poverty rate has decreased very slowly over these last 30 years, from 22% to 18.6%. At this rate, it will take over 155 years for the government to reach their goal of eliminating child poverty.

The Manitoba region has among the highest rates of child poverty in Canada, at 31.6%. Almost one in three children who are under the age of 6 live in poverty. This is 12% above the national rate. A staggering 47% of status First Nations children live in poverty, 53% of those live on reserve and 41% reside off reserve.

We have seen first-hand how poverty is a cycle for many, emanating from the inter-generational effects and trauma from colonialization and federal and provincial government policies aimed at balancing budgets rather than creating legislative frameworks with sustained funding that will create meaningful change in a matter of a few years, not a few decades. We know that poverty, among other social determinants, is a direct pathway to the overrepresentation of First Nations’ children in the child welfare and justice system. Manitoba has the highest child welfare rates in Canada, with 11,000 children in care and 9,000 being First Nations children and youth. According to the 2018 Winnipeg Street Census, 77.9% of those who reported homelessness identified as First Nations and over 50% reported having involvement with child and family services.

A national, cookie-cutter approach has never worked as a solution. First Nations in Manitoba have a very different relationship with the Manitoba government than First Nations in other regions do. Take, for instance, how the Manitoba government has captured the Children’s Special Allowance from First Nations children in care from the years 2005 to 2019. These federal funds intended exclusively for the care, maintenance, education, training or advancement of children in care were forcibly clawed back from CFS agencies to be placed instead in the province’s coffers.

Thank you.

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