The broken promise seems long ago, but Campaign 2000 is on the case, calling two weeks ago for all parties in the October Ontario election to update the commitment they made in the 80s to end child poverty by the new millennium the last one, that is.
The Campaign's proposal has merit, ethics and logic on its side. But something in the strategy feels stale-dated. It's easy to imagine the project will be stuck on the remainder self with other single-interest group campaigns that made headway during the 20th century but are sputtering and stalling today.
Campaign 2000's slightly younger sibling of the same millenarian era, the Kyoto agreement to hold fossil fuel consumption at 1990 levels, has done even worse and for the same reason: problems that require change across the spectrum of government operations also require coalitions across the spectrum of interest groups and issues.
Without new partnerships and strange bedfellows, solid ideas just won't connect. This is what post-millennium social movements have to grapple with.
The most obvious disconnect in Campaign 2000's list of proposals is the way they deal with health care as a mere matter of winning dental and pharma benefits this as distinct from the realization that a small portion of the fortune spent on acute care could prevent illness if invested in reducing poverty, the greatest cause of disease in Canada and across the world.
Amazingly, in an era when governance is supposed to be treated seriously, Canadian pols make their decisions about what low-income families will get in minimum wages or benefits without the slightest scientific effort to determine their health needs.
In a connected world in which "what goes around comes around," that means a dollar saved in anti-poverty measures today comes back to haunt us as a $10 expenditure in health care tomorrow. There's simply no pot of money or reservoir of political commitment to end poverty without amending the health care system so consider how strange it is that poor people's advocates have yet to hook up with medical reformers.
In England, which generally takes a more holistic approach, the government actually tracks what those on low incomes eat. Amazing idea, isn't it? The just-released Low Income Diet And Nutrition Survey was designed "to provide evidence that will contribute to the development of food policy, which in turn will help to reduce health inequities."
The comprehensiveness of the findings, based on blood samples and people's reports of what they ate the day before, is staggering. Low-income adults eat about half the bare minimum of fruits and veg, while their kids eat one-third. Processed and salty meats, high-fat spreads, white bread and empty-carb treats are staples, all low-cost and easily hoovered.
Not surprisingly, the subjects' iron levels are low, the likely explanation for almost epidemic levels of anemia and exhaustion what the privileged observe as laziness and lassitude. Calcium consumption is low, especially for teenaged girls.
Whatever anti-poverty promises aren't kept, one prediction will come true: unimaginable rates of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis will be costing the poor their lives and the public health system its financial viability.
These findings won't shock many in Ontario, but they are the most powerful case for government investment in ending child poverty. "Investment" is what governments call it when they sink billions into obsolete auto or pulp and paper plants, as this government and others brag about doing and hold ribbon-cutting ceremonies for.
But to sink fewer billions into ending child poverty is an "expenditure" the government "can't afford." That's one reason why new partnerships are needed: to help us see the lay of the land and formulate a new discourse that calls an investment an investment and a throwaway expenditure on corporations welfare fraud.
We could talk of more unusual partnerships. I'm looking forward to the day when anti-poverty measures won't be taken seriously unless they're relevant to the environment or farming, and environmental and farming proposals won't be taken seriously unless they help end poverty.
No group will get its whole wish list (which it doesn't have a chance of getting), but all groups will get more. In isolation lies scarcity, in connection lies abundance.
Here's a list of farm measures to end child poverty:
Introduce free and low-cost snack and meal programs in daycares, drop-in centres and schools, supplied exclusively from Ontario farms. Insist on Ontario-grown and sustainably produced food in all public institutions, guaranteeing income for farmers and decent wages for farm workers. (The food industry is where wages are lowest and actually easiest to fix.)
As in Baltimore and Los Angeles, support convenience stores another reservoir of poverty wages and a tool of the junk food industry to convert to healthy offerings.
Fund all this by slashing ethanol subsidies, which fund farmers to feed cars, and cutting Ministry of Agriculture staff who can't get the idea that farm incentives can be linked to health instead of agribusiness. Fund them also by borrowing from the health care budget, which will recoup the investment in later savings.
If necessary, fund it from cuts to the Obsolete Industries Investment Fund, where billions of dollars are always waiting to be wasted on glory industries from the past instead of invested in the future.
That's my bid for Campaign 2010.