Liberals come under pressure to create children’s commissioner as promised

Liberals come under pressure to create children’s commissioner as promised

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, February 22, 2017 7:52AM EST

OTTAWA — The Liberals are facing calls to follow through on a campaign pledge to create a federal children’s commissioner who would be a non-partisan voice to ensure government policy actually improves the lives of young people.

More than a year into their mandate, the government has shown few signs of moving forward on the promise, other than to say it continues to study the idea.

Sara Austin, founder of the charity Children First Canada, says there is well over a decade of studies and research from other jurisdictions and the Liberals don’t need to start from scratch. She says it’s time for the government to act on the promise it made to help the approximately 1.25 million children who live in poverty in Canada.

“We need to go beyond simply saying that they matter and saying that kids are important to delivering tangible programs that will drive change,” Austin said in an interview.

“Poverty not only has immediate impacts on kids’ success in school and their ability to do well every day, but it actually has long-term impacts for their health and safety and it has a hard economic cost for our country. We actually need to go beyond making lofty promises to children to actually delivering on it.”

Austin will be in Ottawa on Wednesday and Thursday to prod the Liberals on their promise and talk about the economic hurdles Canadian children face.

The effort is part of a wider push for the government to help children and families through things such as a national plan for early learning and childcare and help for post-secondary education, both of which could end up in the Liberals’ upcoming budget.

Various Liberals called for the creation of a children’s commissioner for years during their time in opposition and Marc Garneau, now the transport minister, repeated the vow during the last election.

Ashley Whiteman, a member of the prime minister’s youth advisory council, said a children’s commissioner is vitally important to make sure federal decision makers listen to the young when crafting policies with long-term effects.

“It is essential to foster youth to use their ability, to put insight and input into government decision-making because whatever the government chooses right now is going to affect our lives in the future,” the 18-year-old said.

Commissioners in other countries and jurisdictions play various roles, including consulting with children to make sure their voices are heard in policy debates, investigating systemic issues or specific complaints and co-ordinating children’s programs that cross multiple departments and agencies.

Austin says a children’s commissioner would provide a non-partisan voice to measure how far governments have come in their plans to improve the lives of children.