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Missing Pieces in Budget 2012 – Child Development, Economic Well-being, and Aging

Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children
April 13, 2012

The theme of Budget 2012 is economic prosperity. Investing in our youngest citizens today is as important for economic prosperity and intergenerational fairness as reviewing old age assistance. Developing the full potential of every child needs more attention across Canada. There is undeniable evidence that failing to do so limits productivity and creates higher social costs. This focus is missing in Budget 2012.

Promises of progress on aboriginal education are a welcome and essential step. A second but missing essential step is preventing adolescents from falling through the cracks of a fragmented support system. A third essential piece is greater investment in early childhood, based on research showing that preparation for success as an adult starts early. More funding for a youth employment strategy helps, but it starts too late. Canada spends much less on early childhood development than comparable countries in our global economy.Removing obstacles that prevent children from developing their full potential provides a good return on investment, as well as being the right thing to do. It is time for a pan-Canadian framework for child and youth development, similar to the budget’s call for a pan-Canadian Framework for the Assessment and Recognition of Foreign Qualifications, which also crosses provincial jurisdictions.

See the chart below for a child rights analysis of specific provisions in the 2012 budget.

Aboriginal Education: A Positive Step

The CCRC welcomes the budget promise of an Aboriginal Education Act. Basing the law on children’s rights in the Convention and in the related General Comment, Indigenous Children and their Rights under the Convention, will help to provide common ground for the federal government, provincial governments, and aboriginal communities. The additional funds in this budget, $100 million over 3 years for literacy and $175 million over 3 years for school buildings, are minimal. Long-term funding should be based on the principle of equitable treatment for all children in Canada.

Children and the Social Transfer

There is no change in policies that transfer resources to families. Without debate or explanation, the budget confirms that federal tax revenues to fund social programs, including programs for children, will be transferred to the provinces without any form of accountability for the use of those funds. There is no mechanism to ensure that children are a priority, or that children, who are 25% of the Canadian population, will be treated equitably. The growing opportunity gap between children who grow up with many advantages and children with few resources requires special attention to ensure that every child in Canada gets a good start in life.

The CCRC proposes that benchmarks based on the Convention on the Rights of the Child be included in federal-provincial transfer agreements to ensure that public money is well spent and that our national obligations to all children are fulfilled.

Killing the Messenger

Child poverty will not be solved by denying it exists. Some of the best statistical evidence about poverty comes from the National Council on Welfare (NCW). Killing the Council with a budget cut may stop embarrassing reports, but it does not change the reality of child poverty. For children, losing the NCW is a serious blow, because it provides information about provincial social assistance programs, the last resort source of support for children in need. For taxpayers, losing the NCW means less accountability for how public dollars allocated to help the poor are used across the country.

To save the same amount of money, we could have fewer government promotional ads and keep this source of independent, reliable information about poverty in Canada. The government advertising budget increased more last year than the annual budget for the NCW. There is even more at stake here from a child rights and intergenerational perspective. It is a question of what kind of democracy we want for our children: a robust democracy that is transparent and includes a voice within government for those who are poor, or one where only partisan publicity by the governing party has public resources to be heard across the land.

Young People in Detention Centers

The budget provides no new resources to fund rehabilitation programs for the additional young people who will spend more time in jail as a result of passing the omnibus crime bill, C-10. The government’s rationale for putting more young people in jail for more time was to provide better treatment; this requires significant resources, which are not currently available and not provided in the budget. Although the CCRC disagreed with this regressive legislation, of even greater concern is the impending reality of young people left in overcrowded jails to learn from other inmates. No additional resources for youth crime prevention means that effective programs funded by the small, short-term allocation in last year’s budget will not be sustained or expanded.