Senate: Canada''s Best Think Tank
As the Chrétien government prepared a new Speech from the Throne in which poverty would be a major theme, the Ministers, Members of Parliament and government planners working on the speech could have done worse than to turn to the famous 1971 Report of the Special Senate Committee on Poverty.
As the Chrétien government prepared a new Speech from the Throne in which poverty would be a
major theme, the Ministers, Members of Parliament and government planners working on the
speech could have done worse than to turn to the famous 1971 Report of the Special Senate
Committee on Poverty.
Chaired by Senator David Croll, the Report began with the ringing words that "the poor do
not choose poverty. It is at once their affliction and our national shame. The children of
the poor (and there are many) are the most helpless victims of all, and find even less hope
in a society where welfare systems from the very beginning destroys their chances of a
better life. Shocking in 1971 when the Senate first shone the light of publicity on the
plight of poor children, today more than 30 years later, there are almost 1.3 million
children whose opportunities are blunted and whose needs are unfulfilled.
David Croll was a man used to making history. He became the first Jewish Cabinet Minister
in Canada when he served in the Ontario Government of Premier Mitch Hepburn in the 1930s but
he famously resigned in 1937 when his government opposed the growth of unions. "I would
rather walk with the workers, he said, "than ride with General Motors. After
distinguished service in World War II, Croll became a Liberal Member of Parliament for
Toronto Spadina in 1945 and in 1955 he was appointed Canada's first Jewish Senator.
All of Croll's previous accomplishments, however, were dwarfed by his record in the Senate.
He crusaded for social justice and for the rights and special needs of Canada's senior
citizens. His seminal 1971 report helped spur the Trudeau Government to triple family
allowances in 1973 and to create the Child Tax Credit in 1978.
Beyond its impact on social policy, Croll's 1971 study highlights a little appreciated fact
about Canadian public policy - perhaps the single most effective "think tank in Canada has
been the Senate. At the same time as Croll was preparing his report on poverty, Senator
Keith Davey was beginning work on his report on concentration in the mass media, still a
landmark in its field. In our time, with Senator Michael Kirby as Chairman, the Senate
Committee on Health has produced three major reports, which along with the Romanow
Commission will define the future of Medicare. Recently the Senate Committee on National
Security and Defense, Chaired by Senator Colin Kenny, has issued important reports on the
safety of Canada's airports and port.
The Senate's research roll is effective because, unlike the House of Commons, it enjoys the
luxury of time and usually avoids the mindless partisanship that so disfigures debates in
the House of Commons cockpit. The Senate hires good researchers, expert witnesses are
called and sensible recommendations usually result.
The Senate does not enjoy a good image in much of the country: it is a favorite punching bag
for editorialists across the land. But in a country starved for serious policy debate, it
has consistently produced serious work on critical topics. As the Federal Government
contemplates the issue of child poverty, Senator Croll's words in 1971 still ring true: "It
is for the citizens of Canada to demand that this be our priority project; a project that
will stir the world's imagination and command its respect. We need search no further for a