Senate Speech: Request for Programs to Eliminate Conditions

Debates of the Senate (Hansard)
2nd Session, 36th Parliament,
Volume 138, Issue 24
Tuesday, February 8, 2000
The Honourable Gildas L. Molgat, Speaker

Hon. Douglas Roche: Honourable senators, my question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Over the Christmas recess, two important reports dealing with social conditions in Canada were released. The first report was from the Progressive Conservative National Caucus Task Force on Poverty, and it contains many valuable recommendations which are premised on the following remarkable sentence:

Above all, we were humbled by the depth and magnitude of poverty in Canada...

The second report to which I refer is the Liberal task force on Western Canadian issues which also addresses poverty and in which it is stated: The face of poverty is getting younger. Children living in poverty are more likely to end up in the sex and drug trade, drop out of school or become involved in crime.

In light of these two reports which cross party lines, I should like to ask this question of the minister: If we cannot end massive poverty in Canada with the present robust economy, with unemployment dropping, with the stock market roaring and government surpluses building, then when will we be able to do so? (1500) Since there is strong support across party lines for action, will the government now make poverty eradication an all-out national priority? Hon. J. Bernard Boudreau (Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, I thank the honourable senator for that question. It is an important, indeed pivotal, issue for government today. The response of government with respect to the program involving the homeless is one element of a renewed commitment to deal with our social problems in a way that will be positive and productive.

I had heard, as an aside, that perhaps some of the homeless might benefit from some of the HRDC programs now under discussion.That may be true. If you look at the statistics with respect to poverty among our unemployed youth and their levels of education and their corresponding opportunities for jobs, then you realize just how important programs of learning and literacy, and other social development programs, can be. It is a comprehensive problem.

Senator Di Nino: Remember the GST!

Senator Boudreau: I will certainly take the honourable senator's views to my colleagues in cabinet.

Senator Roche: I thank the honourable minister. The minister mentioned the homeless in his answer. I ask him if he has noted in the Liberal task force on Western Canada the statement that, in Edmonton, an estimated 42 per cent of the city's homeless are aboriginal. The task force says that urban aboriginal youth are particularly at risk, and so I ask the minister if, in the forthcoming budget, there will be some special attention to this serious problem.

Senator Boudreau: The honourable senator will, of course, know that I am not in a position to indicate specific measures that will be contained in the budget. However, he highlights a significant problem with urban aboriginal youth that exists across the country but is particularly evident in the western provinces, and in cities such as Winnipeg. While some of the programs that are available nationally - including the new program for the homeless - will be of assistance, there is a need to look to what more can be done. I am certainly supportive of the senator's views, and whenever the opportunity arises, I make that same point.