For those living in Ontario, today is “Family Day” – but the event is not entirely a happy one for all. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development reports that, for the two decades from 1980 to 2002, Canada dropped from #10 to #23 in infant mortality rates (the death of babies less than one year old) among the 30 leading economies of the world. Some other countries also dropped in the league tables over that period (and a few rose higher), but none has set a worse record than Canada. Health inequity, health inequality and poverty are driving this terrible reality for families in Ontario.
In 1912, Toronto used to have the worst infant mortality rate in the developed world, but then crusading Medical Officer of Health Dr. Charles Hastings took practical and effective steps (clean milk, clean water, affordable housing, etc.) and the city’s ranking shot up.
There are pragmatic solutions to the crushing statistics on infant mortality. The Ontario government announced the outline of a poverty reduction plan in December, but still has plenty of work to do. The federal government has yet to set out even the general guidelines of a national plan. The most recent federal budget only widens the problem – the “tax relief” for richest Canadians is ten times higher than that for the poorest Canadians; and the long-overdue $2 billion for affordable homes for lower-income Canadians pales next to the $3 billion for wealthier homeowners for new driveways and decks (not to mention the $11 billion annually in tax subsidies for wealthier homeowners).