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Poor kept waiting

Toronto Star, December 12, 2001

Whenever Finance Minister Paul Martin speaks to an international audience, he stresses the need to share the benefits of global growth and shield the poor from economic shocks.

"While we are all suffering the impacts of Sept. 11, let us be honest: Many of the hardest hit are the world's poorest and most vulnerable economies,'' he reminded delegates at last month's meeting of the International Monetary Fund. He urged fellow ministers to redouble their efforts to narrow the gap between rich and poor.

But the same gap exists here in Canada and Martin did almost nothing, in this week's budget, to stop it from widening.

Granted, the finance minister did not have billions to pour into social spending. But he could have managed modest investments in affordable housing and child care, with a pledge to do more when the economy improves.

A family that has to spend 50 per cent of its income on rent as 1 million Canadians do has little hope of escaping poverty. A single mother who can't afford day care is shut out of the job market.

By tackling the impediments that are holding the poor back, Martin could have made a real difference at relatively low cost. He could also have signalled that, even in hard times, Canada is a nation that looks out for its least fortunate citizens.

That was the message that was missing from Monday's budget.

Martin speaks with great eloquence on the world stage about "maintaining a strong focus on poverty reduction'' and "strengthening social supports.''

Here at home, the 5 million Canadians who live in poverty are waiting for the actions that match those words.

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