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April 8, 2010

Harper does not care for poor mothers and children

Reuel S. Amdur

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"Members of the G8 can make a tangible difference in maternal and child health," declares our Prime Minister.

What is Harper offering to the mothers and children of the Third World? 

Canada is currently spending .35% of Gross National Product (GDP) on foreign aid. 

The UN General Assembly back in 1970 set a target of .7% of GNP for foreign aid, a target re-affirmed in 2002 at international conferences in Monterey, Mexico and in Johannesburg. 

Some countries are doing even better, as examples Norway at .93% and Sweden at .92%. 

So is Harper planning to up the ante and put our money where his mouth is? Well, no. 

The current Conservative budget calls for a cut to foreign aid spending.  Yet, that is not Harper’s only sin against maternal and child health.  There is a domestic side as well. 

In Canada, the cost of housing makes it difficult for mothers to stay at home.  Reality drives many to enter the workforce outside the home in order to pay the bills. 

Of course, the growing drive that women have to maximize their potentialities in the wider society is an additional force in the same direction. 

As a consequence, there is a crying need for a high quality of child care universally available.  As it is, good child care is in short supply, leaving many parents to rely on inadequate and often short-term and insecure arrangements.

How does the Tory government address this issue? 

Conservatives are ambiguous at best about mothers working outside the home.  They offer no real child care program but instead provide a family allowance of less than $25 a week for all children under six.  The argument is that a child care program discriminates against stay-at-home moms.  And what child care will $25 a week buy? 

Quality child health in our economy is in part dependent on good child care, and on that score Canada lags far behind many European countries.  The Conservatives want us to stay behind.

Harper’s brave initiative has an even worse domestic flaw. 

Maternal and child health right here in Canada, in the territory of Nunavut, is truly Third World. 

A recent issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal found over 15% of Nunavut pre-schoolers (from three to five) are hungry all day, and over 17% miss at least one meal in one or two months of the year. 

One study conducted in 2007 and 2008 looked at food insecurity for three-to-five-year-olds.  Food security is defined as “a condition in which all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”  56% of the children were insecure with regard to food! 

And that is not the worst, as some communities in Nunavut were more insecure.  Almost 70% of households in Nunavut were food insecure, but in Kugaruk the level of insecurity rose to 83%.  (The statistics show that families were making a real effort to make their youngsters less food-insecure than the families as a whole.)

Because of the prevalence of “energy-dense and highly process foods in the Arctic,” obesity is also a serious problem, with 28% of pre-schoolers studied being obese and 40% overweight.  Then there is the issue of rickets.  Nunavut has 155 cases per 100,000 population, Yukon has 150, Northwest Territories 94, and Ontario 12. 

Another article in that issue of the journal, looking at Inuit areas of Canada, concludes that “There is an urgent need for more effective interventions to improve maternal and infant health in Inuit-inhabited areas.”  Pre-term births are 50% more frequent than in the rest of Canada, and still births and infant deaths are even more frequent than that.  Sudden deaths are over seven times as common. 

So Stephen Harper looks overseas to improve maternal and child health, without being too clear as to what he wants to do. 

He also wants to cut back on Canadian commitments to pay for this undertaking. 

As well, he turns a blind eye to Canada’s overall needs in this area, especially to the disastrous situation in Nunavut, in spite of the fact that his Minister of Health, Leona Aglukkaq, is a Nunavut Inuit.  What is she saying to her boss?

Since Harper is cutting back on foreign aid, and since he is also ignoring the plight of our own citizens in Nunavut, perhaps it is time to call on Norway and Sweden to supply foreign aid to Nunavut. 

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