Our greatest natural resource

This editorial appeared in the November 9, 2016 edition of the Interior News. You can read or download the original here.

Cindy Blackstock, the children’s advocate who won a court decision earlier this year that found the federal government was guilty of discrimination against First Nations children by the practice of continual underfunding of children services on reserve, is fond of a saying. “Children are our greatest natural resource,” Blackstock, who is Gitxsan, states during her presentations.

I couldn’t agree with her more and that is why another report on children’s wellness in B.C. is of such a concern. “Is ‘Good’, Good Enough” was released this month by provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall and, although many trends are encouraging, the regional disparity between children living in urban areas and those in rural was highlighted as a major issue.

The stats on a wide range of indicators, from physical health, to mental and emotional health, to social relationships, to economic and material well-being, to cognitive development, show some areas that are beyond unacceptable for northwest B.C. Here is a sampling: almost a quarter of kindergarten children in the Northwest show visible tooth decay, 10 per cent higher than the B.C. average; the rate of abused or neglected children is three times the provincial average; the rate of children-incare outstrips urban areas by 2-3 times; we have the highest rate in B.C. of kids Grade 7-12 who go to bed hungry; and at a 66.7 per cent graduation rate with a Dogwood diploma, we are more than 20 points behind kids in Greater Vancouver.

Our children are not innately less healthy or capable than children in other parts of the province, so how do we begin to address the discrepancy?

A positive indicator is that generally our children feel connected to family and community. This points in the direction that additional resources to support locally specific approaches, like the Wet’suwet’en child wellness initiative (ANABIP), will make a significant
impact. And because impoverishment is at the root of many of these indicators, a comprehensive poverty reduction plan for B.C. would make a difference. We are the only province in Canada without one.

The Official Opposition on several occasions introduced a private members bill to create such a plan with legislated targets and timelines. So far the Christy Clark government has refused to support such legislation. Families first should mean recognizing and acting on the fact that children are our greatest natural resource.

– Doug Donaldson is the MLA for Stikine and the Official Opposition spokesperson for energy and mines.