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Hungry children, and a hard, hard heart [editorial]

January 2014

Always ensure tape is rolling when a politician is speaking. It’s one of the first things they teach young journalists when they are training, and thank goodness reporter Sara Norman of News1130 took heed, because she has provided us a clear look at the hard heart of this Canadian government. A very hard heart indeed.

Just before Christmas, Norman reported that James Moore, federal Industry minister, said it was not his responsibility to feed hungry children, not even his neighbor’s hungry kids, and it was certainly not the responsibility of the federal government to tackle child poverty. Child poverty is a hot potato that belongs on the provinces’ plates, Moore said, wiping his hands clean of hungry children (one in seven Canadian children) across the nation.

Now, of course, the backlash was quick and stinging. The minister tried to deny those cruel, cold words were his at first, though they flew from his mouth with so much ease. Even a chuckle accompanied them. He called the story ridiculous and the comment completely taken out of context. Said the report was a lie.

Roll tape. “Is it my job to feed my neighbor’s child? I don't think so”. Hehe.

There it was. The ‘heartfelt apology’ followed, as required. “I made an insensitive comment that I deeply regret. I apologize. Caring for each other is a Canadian ethic that I strongly believe in – always have and always will.”

The thing is, we really don’t believe the minister. That he got caught in a very real moment of sincerity and candor—because that’s what we hear on the recording— yes, we believe the minister is sorry for that, because his quip could cost him and the ruling Conservatives votes. Yes, that we believe. But we don’t believe for one moment that he is part of a government that cares one jot about hungry children. Not the children we know. Not our neighbors’ kids. Not the kids on reserves. Nope, we’re not buying what Minister Moore is trying now to sell us.

“We’ve never been wealthier as a country than we are right now. Never been wealthier,” Moore said in the lead up to his neighbor’s kids quote. Harrumph. That’s not the message we’re receiving from the communities. People in Aboriginal communities are struggling mightily. The wealth the minister is so proud of isn’t translating into any equitable funding flowing to reserves. His government has in fact been busy slashing and clawing back and squeezing the lifeblood from First Nations without compunction. Disparity will be the watchword for years to come unless the icy heart of the Conservative government begins to thaw, in education, housing, health, child welfare, even social assistance.

“Prosperity is up, unemployment is down in every region of the country,” Moore crowed. Nope, that’s not the reality in our neighborhoods where, by the way, the responsibility is decidedly a federal one. Or, maybe, that’s the design. Starve them out on reserve and drive the people to Canada’s small towns and large urban centres. Get them out of the way of the fed’s plan for development, and if those people continue to struggle it will be on the provinces’ dime, and where service organizations, small businesses and regular caring Canadians would not ever wish to see a child go hungry.  Creator bless them, every one.

It’s not a new concept, and even one church group from Toronto thinks that’s what’s happening in this country. The West Hill United Church has taken a petition to Ottawa to protest the inequities First Nations people face. (Story here.)

“Our petition draws attention to the fact that the government is planning another $1.2 billion cut from Aboriginal Affairs,” said a church representative. “If people ask, why is the government doing these things, we have to say, the answer isn’t pretty. If I were to say what it really means, it means that the government has a strategy of starving people into submission.”

Things would be different on reserve if this government was at all concerned with filling the empty bellies of the children instead of driving them off their lands. You see, the thing is, frustrating First Nations’ attempts to provide for their families seems to be another government ethic as Canadian as playing hockey on a frozen pond. Designing government policy that would ensure Indigenous people go hungry unless they fall into line with government priorities is a long and ignoble tradition in Canada, and this government under Stephen Harper is happily reveling in that grand tradition still.



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