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National Child Day

Honourable senators, I rise today to recognize National Child Day, which we first celebrated in 1993. I think all Canadians would agree that protecting the most vulnerable in our society — our children — is clearly the right thing to do.

Studies by the World Bank have found that every dollar invested in children has a threefold return in future health savings. According to the WHO, “safeguarding health during childhood is more important than at any other age because poor health during children’s early years is likely to permanently impair them over the course of their life.” The facts are clear. The more we invest in the health of our children, the more it will save us in the long run.

But when it comes to the health of Canada’s children, some of the reports are alarming. Here are some facts. Poverty is a major determinant of one’s health. According to the Conference Board of Canada, we scored a disappointing “C” for child poverty, ranking fifteenth out of 17 peer countries.

UNICEF’s 2016 Report Card, which measures the well-being of children, puts Canada in the bottom third of industrialized nations. The measurement of infant mortality rates is universally accepted as an important indicator of the well-being of a country. According to the UNICEF report, Canada ranks twenty-second out of 29 countries in infant mortality, and the rates in indigenous communities are substantially higher.

Mental illness is also an issue. Seventy per cent of mental health problems have their onset during childhood or adolescence.

Obesity is on the rise in Canada and it has a major impact on the health of a child. We ranked 27 out of 29 in the UNICEF report. Children who are obese are at a higher risk of developing health problems, which invariably persist into adulthood.

Honourable senators, these numbers are shocking and should serve as a wake-up call. As we contemplate the complexity of improving the health of children, we need to develop a “moonshot” concept that all policy-makers, governments and agencies can rally around.

I have the privilege of serving as Chair of the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, and I hear the same from doctors, scientists and health care professionals. These people working on the front lines are seeing first-hand how we are not providing for our future generations.

So let us use the rallying cry of National Child Day to reinforce our resolve and take action to make a real, positive impact on the lives of our children.

As Nelson Mandela once said, “The true character of society [or a nation] is revealed in how it treats its children.”

I believe that Canada is one of the greatest countries in the world. So let’s come together, honourable senators, to live up to our true character for our future and for the children.

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