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Canadian News: February 25

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Issue: 15 Section: Canadian News Geography: Canada Haiti Topics: nfu, food security, Indigenous, poverty

February 25, 2004

Canadian News: February 25

Advocates Concerned Child Poverty Problem Not Being Properly Tackled

From an exhibition of photographs illustrating child poverty in Canada sponsored by Campaign 2000 and PhotoSensitive. photo: Dick Loek
In 1989, Canadian Parliament decided to end child poverty by the year 2000. According to Campaign 2000, a cross-Canada coalition of over 85 national and community organizations, more than one million Canadian children – 15.6 % of the child population – remained in poverty in 2001. This problem persists even though more than half of these children have parents who are in the paid labour force.

The recent Throne Speech included commitments to national child care and there was a recognition of the need for better jobs. Despite these mentions in the speech, advocates are still very concerned that the sole mention of poverty in the speech focused on "local solutions for local problems" with no federal strategy on child and family benefits. Campaign 2000 proposes an enhanced child benefit of $4,400 for all low, modest, and middle-income families.

"Investments in children cannot wait for brighter days especially when inequality in Canada continues to grow amidst prosperous times. The government's concern with not passing on any deficits to future generations rings hollow when children are going hungry and with no place to call home" said Greg deGroot Maggetti of Citizens for Public Justice, a national partner of Campaign 2000. (Citizens for Public Justice, Campaign 2000)

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Graham Slammed for "Confused," "Me-too" Stance on Haiti

Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham came under fire for what was called Canada's "me-tooism" in its stance on violence in Haiti. "Bill Graham's recent remarks yesterday on Haiti indicates that he is depending upon US policymakers to orient Canada while not having a clue as to what is really happening there," said a statement released by the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA), a Washington-based research institute.

The COHA statement claims that in suggesting that Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide has not lived up to obligations placed on it by the Caribbean Community Secretariat (CARICOM) and the Organization of American States, Graham is "closely aping" the US line on Haiti, which "seriously distorts reality".

COHA criticized also criticized Graham for failing to publicly recognize that Haitian opposition "has obdurately refused in any way to join in a process of reconciliation". "The root of the opposition's strategy is the need to create the very chaos that Mr. Graham somehow appears to attribute to Aristide," the COHA statement said. "There is where Mr. Graham's outrage appropriately belongs."

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FNGA Scrapped, New Aboriginal Legislation Needed

The First Nations Governance Act (FNGA), introduced by former Indian Affairs Minister Robert Nault in 2002 as a replacement to the 126 year old Indian Act, was seen by many to have simply continued the rift between the government and aboriginal groups . Andy Mitchell recently took over the portfolio, and one of his first actions was to scrap the Act.

Dr. Taiaike Alfred, from University of Victoria's Indigenous Governance Program, said the Act was not based on sufficient consultation with the aboriginal community, and customs and traditions were not properly respected by it. "The government wants First Nations to be accountable -- an accountability that is familiar to people in government and business, not necessarily First Nations people," said Alfred. "It is another abandonment of what it is to be indigenous in favor of assimilation."

Dr. Frank Cassidy, a professor in UVic's public administration and political science departments, says the new Liberal government has the opportunity to effect positive change, but that any new legislation must be enabling to aboriginals, rather than be yet another set of rules. "People are alerted now, so any legislation that goes forward that is cast along the same lines as the FNGA will be the focus of some serious opposition." (The Martlet)

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Drug Patent Amendments "Critically Flawed": Médecins Sans Frontières

Bill C-56 is a new piece of legislation that will amend the Canadian Patent Act, and its goal is low-cost medicines being made available to developing countries. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) supports changes to the Act but calls this new legislation "critically flawed," believing that the changes will ultimately impede the production and delivery of cheap generic medicines to the world's poor.

MSF offers that there are three main flaws in Bill C-56. First, the "Right of First Refusal" can allow brand-name drug companies to take over contracts originally negotiated between developing countries and generic drug companies. Second, a limited list of generic drugs will be able to be produced. And third, only countries that are members of the World Trade Organization will be able to import the drugs.

MSF believes that if these and other flaws remain unaddressed, the new legislation will be ineffective and a step backwards from Canada's international commitments. (Médecins Sans Frontières Canada)

* * *

National Farmers Union Wants Commons Debate

An emergency House of Commons debate dealing with the income crisis facing Canadian farm families is needed immediately, says the National Farmers Union (NFU). The realized net income from the markets alone, net of government subsidies, was negative $5 billion, translating into a $20,000 loss per Canadian farm in 2003, points out NFU president Stewart Wells.

Wells says that the government cannot simply blame the crisis on external factors such as the BSE crisis, drought, and a rising Canadian dollar. Rather, he says, the problems are "systemic" in nature, resulting from government policies that have been attacking primary producers.

International trade agreements and domestic deregulation policies have allowed a small number of large companies to squeeze out smaller farms, and government policies are encouraging this to happen, says Wells. "Corporate dominance of the market is the biggest long-term influence depressing farm gate prices," he explains.

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