Industry Minister James Moore responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday December 3, 2013 in Ottawa. Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press
Industry Minister James Moore has apologized for saying it's not the federal government's role to ensure hungry children are fed.
"In response to a question from a reporter last week, I made an insensitive comment that I deeply regret. I apologize," Moore said in a statement on his website Monday, referring to his comment to a Vancouver radio reporter on Friday.
"Caring for each other is a Canadian ethic that I strongly believe in — always have and always will. Of course poverty is an issue that concerns me, and concerns all Canadians. All levels of government, indeed all members of our society, have a responsibility to be compassionate and care for those in need," he added.
"Great work has been done to tackle poverty and the challenges associated with poverty. And while more work is needed, I know the cause of fighting poverty is not helped by comments like those I made last week. For that, I am sorry."
Moore had told the radio reporter that it isn't up to the federal government to help children who don't have enough to eat.
He said British Columbia's child poverty rates aren't the responsibility of the federal government, and it won't "usurp" the province.
"Is it the government's job — my job to feed my neighbour's child? I don't think so," Moore said.
"Obviously nobody wants kids to go to school hungry … but is that always the government's job? To be there to serve people their breakfast? Empowering families with more power and resources so they can feed their own children is I think a good thing," he said.
Moore said prosperity is up in Canada and unemployment is down.
Moore was asked about child poverty rates in the province and children going to school hungry.
Before his apology, Moore said on Twitter that his comment was taken out of context.
"It is a ridiculous 'story' that completely takes a comment out of context," he wrote in response to a question.
Some media outlets initially reported that Moore had attempted to delete his comments — a claim that produced more criticism — but Moore had done no such thing. As a verified Twitter account, the default view of his timeline doesn't show replies to other users.
Unlike standard Twitter users, verified accounts require users to click to see all tweets.
Verified accounts are accounts that Twitter has confirmed are legitimate rather than hoax accounts set up in the name of high-profile people.
Before hearing Moore's apology, New Democrat MP Jinny Sims said that she was appalled by his remarks.
"During the holidays many of us are looking to help our neighbours and those in need. For a Conservative minister to claim that child poverty isn't his problem is heartless," Sims said in a news release.
"Child poverty has continued to grow under this government, and now they’re saying it's not their problem. The minister should apologize for these offensive comments."
The House of Commons passed a unanimous motion in 1989 to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000, the NDP news release noted.
Instead, child poverty rates in Canada have risen, the release says.
A spokesman for Candice Bergen, minister of state for social development, said the government has made "major progress in reducing child poverty."
"Since we took office, there are over 225,000 fewer children in poverty than under the Liberals. We are also the government that introduced the Universal Child Care Benefit, which delivers $100 a month for every child under the age of six," Andrew McGrath said in an email to CBC News.
Reaction in British Columbia
A report from First Call B.C. Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition says B.C. has the highest child poverty rate in Canada. According to the report, one-fifth of B.C. children live in poverty.
The authors of the 2013 Child Poverty Report Card used the most recent Statistics Canada economic data available, from 2011, to issue their "dismal" findings for B.C.
The report says half of children in single-parent families in B.C. live in poverty. Creating affordable daycare and raising the minimum wage are among 16 recommendations in the report.
Frances Stone, a single mother of three who has struggled with poverty since childhood, said Moore's comments were offensive.
"I think he revealed a fundamental attitude that this government has about poor people and that somehow being poor has become a crime that should be punished," she said.
"Children are innocent, they've done nothing wrong, and if we have extra food, why not feed our neighbour's kid?" she said.
Stone said there are basic things the government can do to fight poverty, such as allowing single mothers on government assistance to keep their child support without clawback and increasing access to affordable childcare.
'Reflects very poorly on us as Canadians'
The Representative for Children and Youth in B.C., Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, said Moore's statement — even though retracted — is worrisome.
"The damage of a comment like this is it reflects very poorly on us as Canadians and suggests we have lost empathy for people who are in need, particularly children," she said.
"We need to actually not only feed our neighbour's children but really understand why is it that their parents are not able to feed them. What are the economic and social policies that are causing the degree of poverty that we're experiencing?" she said.
Turpel-Lafond said Moore's comments offer an opportunity for Canadians to stop and reassess their values.
"If we view our obligation in public service to only support the wealthy or the leaders of industry and we lose touch with the needs of children and our most vulnerable, it doesn't speak well of us as a society," she said.