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Poverty Free Ontario challenges candidates

OAKVILLE – Despite its reputation for health, there is poverty in Halton Region and a number of groups have joined forces to spread the word to the community.

With the provincial election coming up in a few weeks, the group will be challenging candidates on poverty issues and is asking residents to vote for a poverty-free Ontario.

On Thursday, Sept. 15, the Interfaith Council of Halton, Voices for Change, Halton and the Halton Poverty Roundtable held a Poverty Free Ontario discussion at Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, as similar roundtable discussions were taking place in communities across Ontario.

The province-wide Poverty Free Ontario initiative was organized by Social Planning Network of Ontario in partnership with the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition.

At the Oakville event, several people spoke about their own experiences with ongoing poverty.

The pastor of the church, Daniel Phannenhour, also made a presentation, urging people to think about poverty in the provincial election, saying the issue does not get the attention it deserves in society.

“People of faith care about poverty because we share a conviction of the world, in which we live, that it is created good,” he said. “Creation is good. The goodness of creation and all its blessings, including that of our human community, reflects the goodness of the creator.”

However, when the goodness of creation is denied to certain people through the barrier of poverty, people of faith are compelled to respond.

He said poverty could be considered as a noble and virtuous condition; however, when stories of poverty are told, they reveal the most marginalized people in society, such as single women with children, older women living alone, people with disabilities (physical, mental and emotional), and aboriginal people.

“Such people relegated to poverty can only be the result of deliberate and intentional decisions made by the people who exercise authority within our political and economic picture,” he said.

“These decisions can be changed and poverty can be eliminated through the exercise of our collective values expressed through the political process.”

He asked people to vote to end poverty and that the group would make the issue of poverty a top priority in the election.

June Cockwell, representing Halton Poverty Roundtable, said the organization is part of a larger national collective working to eliminate poverty.

The Poverty Roundtable has organized an all-candidates meeting for the Oakville riding at the local YMCA on Tuesday, Sept. 20, where it plans to question candidates on issues of poverty. The meeting runs from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. in Multi-purpose Room 5 (Kinesis Room).

Three women, who have been involved with Voices for Change Halton, spoke to a small group of people about their experiences.

Barbara Chilwell is a single mother of a child with special needs, Emily Murphy is only 21, and Juliana (who asked for her last name not be used) is an immigrant. All three are currently faced with poverty.

Barbara Chilwell

Barbara Chilwell and her special needs daughter lived with Barbara’s mother.

“My fall into poverty happened very suddenly,” she said.

“One Friday afternoon my mother had a stroke. A week later I had a heart attack, then I had cardiac arrest and then I had congestive heart failure. About three days later my mother died. About five days later, my stepmother – who was the same age as me and my best friend – died.”

She continued to live in the house, as her family owned it, but her mother’s contributions to it ended.

“I lived on the equity of the house for a few years and then I couldn’t manage and I wasn’t getting any better physically,” she said.

Eventually she was forced to get social assistance, but going on an Ontario Disability Service Program was a negative experience.

“You have to bare your soul to people and you’re shamed that you’re there in the first place,” she said. “Whether it’s through illness or no matter what got you there, no one likes to ask for help.”

She said the system makes one feel as though the person is trying to take advantage of it and it affects people negatively.

“I was a business person prior to all of this. I lost my confidence. I lost my self. I lost my voice. I would still advocate for my daughter . . . but for myself, I could not do that,” she said.

Her world became smaller because it was difficult to socialize with friends, having no money to even go out for coffee. Being on social assistance made her feel like a drain on society and there is a stigma associated with it.

“You believe what everybody says about you, whether you want to or not,” she said.

She said she’s thankful there was a system to help her, but those social services are very expensive.

She was invited into Voices for Change Halton where there were people who understood what people such as her were going through.

“Through that I started to understand I had a voice and I had to get it back,” she said.

She became involved with the organization.

Her life is now improving, being off expensive, publicly-paid-for medication, and feels as though she’s less of a drain on society.

“Because I’ve been given my voice back, I’ve also been given hope. We all need hope. We need to see there’s something we can do.”

Though she’s still on social assistance, she said she will soon be able to contribute to society after being given a hand-up, not a hand-out.

That is why she decided to speak, so people will understand the need to help people in tough times.

“I want people to understand the value to society to help me find my voice, to move ahead, to get out of the system, to become a person I used to be,” she said. “Or, when people get onto the system, to stop the slide, to stop losing your job, or getting ill, to being beaten down, to becoming less than you are because then the journey to getting a job is a lot harder.”

Emily Murphy

The 21-year-old Murphy said she has been on Ontario Works since the age of 18.

“I never thought of myself as living in poverty,” she said. “I wasn’t aware of the issues and I didn’t find myself as poor — not when I was living off $25 a week for groceries, or when I was washing my hair in public bathrooms… or when I was staying at the Lighthouse shelter… I was just going through a rough patch.”

Murphy said she comes from a middle-class family. She got into poverty because she hated school. It was a case of not fitting in and she was miserable in high school. One day, she couldn’t get herself back into the school building and she never graduated.

She began arguing with her family about not completing school and then she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.

“That was the final straw. With all the logic of a wounded animal, I decided to straighten up on my own. It didn’t take me long to end up on OW (Ontario Works),” she said.

Paying $450 a month for housing, she had little money left for anything else.

Murphy felt like a drain on the system and an absolute failure. Her self-respect took a beating. She told herself she would eventually do better and become better but it didn’t happen.

She recently went to Voices for Change where she learned a single person on OW gets 39.6 per cent of the poverty line. This needs to change, but she understands the battle is a difficult one.

“I feel obligated to try to do something about it, whether it’s effective or not,” she told the group. “I want to be able to do something that I can be proud of. I’m definitely proud to be up here speaking today. That’s a good start.”

Juliana

Juliana lived a well-off life with her husband and children in Dubai. However, the couple knew it wasn’t the best place to raise their children so they decided start fresh in Canada. They packed up their lives and came to Canada in 2002, being promised an easy start to get to the wealth they had enjoyed.

“When we came here, I discovered the decision was really good for kids, but not for us as parents,” she said.

In Dubai she was a management professional and her husband was an engineer with 25 years experience, which meant little in Canada. They spent money getting a home and starting a new life but neither one could find work.

She and her husband began to fight and eventually they divorced.

“I started to figure out all that is bad with the system, starting with me paying taxes in this country but when you ask for help, they treat you like a person who doesn’t deserve it or someone who isn’t allowed to have this money,” she said of having to get social assistance.

When she found a job, she wanted to improve her education, but she couldn’t afford to.

She remarried and her second husband said he would take care of her, but he was abusive. She got help at a women’s shelter, where someone recommended she should consider leaving him. After only 10 months, the marriage broke up.

Juliana stayed in a shelter and returned to her home country for a few months. Upon returning to Canada, she began rebuilding her life and her business in jewelry design.

“I’m in the middle of the road that is taking me to be a really successful entrepreneur, but at the same time, I’m still dealing with legal issues, social issues,” she said of her current life.

“I’m struggling with money issues because I don’t classify for any help. I’m still waiting for this to be over.”

She said social assistance programs are not helpful to women, as the programs don’t help women upgrade their education or those who have their own businesses, or women who come out of recent relationships.

Juliana added it is difficult to get out of the tough financial situation in Canada.

“If you are not a strong person that you can get yourself out of it, working in two or three part-time jobs, you will not be able to get out of that situation,” she said.

She said the system needs to change and she’s happy to be part of an organization that is trying to do that, with Voices for Change Halton.

“There are people who are struggling in this country and there are people who are filthy rich,” she said, adding there is a need for people to help those who are in need.

“Hopefully, I will be one of those people soon, who help those who are in poverty,” she said.

Dominik Kurek, OAKVILLE BEAVER STAFF
http://www.insidehalton.com/community/oakvillebeaver/article/1083904

‘Small voices’ demand to be heard

SUDBURY – As a large white banner was unfurled from the top of the Church of Christ the King, the crowd assembled below burst into cheers and applause.

“Let’s vote for a poverty free Ontario,” it reads

On Thursday, the campaign with the same name was unveiled simultaneously in up to 16 communities across Ontario — including Sudbury. It’s sponsored by the Social Planning Network of Ontario and the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition.

“The aim of our campaign is to bring together communities in the province to try to put poverty elimination on the agenda in this campaign. We want all political parties to commit to poverty eradication, and we want all electoral candidates to have poverty reduction as part of their platform,” said Janet Gasparini, executive director of the Social Planning Council of Sudbury.

The non-partisan campaign wants to get politicians and citizens alike paying attention to the poverty issue.

“There isn’t really any party yet that has come out and said they will eliminate poverty … and we are urging voters to ask these questions of candidates who are running for office. Will they commit to this campaign?” said Gasparini.

Also speaking at the launch Thursday was Bishop Jean- Louis Plouffe from the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie, Rev. Dave LeGrand of Trinity United Church in Capreol, and Elizabeth Davis, a Flour Mill resident and social advocate.

“As a resident of Sudbury, and a recipient of assistance, I feel that I’m one small voice … and I’m hoping that it’s enough to open the ears of those that we elected,” Davis said.

“We want to encourage people (living in poverty) to openly express their needs, because nothing will change if they don’t speak out about what needs to be changed.

” The healthy food issue (needs to be revamped) and the allowance increased for budgeting on how a family gets to eat today, and feeling comfortable enough that you know you’re going to continue to have a place to live because you’re not having to rob Peter to pay Paul.

“There are a lot of issues that need to be looked at, and we’re hoping this is just the beginning of opening the ears of those that we elected to government to strongly make a change.”

The current poverty rate in Ontario — 13.1% — is the highest it’s been in 30 years, said Gasparini.

“The reality is that 1.689 million Ontarians are now living in poverty … While some people say that getting a zero poverty rate is not possible, and they are probably right … we do know that there are policies and practices in place in countries, particularly in northern Europe, where the poverty level never goes above 4%.”

The minimum wage also needs to be increased, she added.

“Minimum wages … need three more increases of 75 cents a year over the next three years so that people who work full time don’t live below the poverty line.

“We need Ontarians to tell the government that this is important, and this is where they want (them) spending the money.”

– – –

Poverty facts

As of 2008, 30% of all children in Ontario under the poverty line had at least one parent working a full-time job.

A single mother with one child who is on social assistance lives close to $9,600 under the poverty line.

A single adult on social assistance lives $11,320 under the poverty line.

Half of all Canadians in poverty have some post-secondary education, and 45% of unemployed Canadians have a college diploma or university degree.

400,000 Ontarians used food banks in 2010, a 28% increase since 2008.

By LAURA STRICKER, THE SUDBURY STAR
http://www.thesudburystar.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=3301588

‘Poverty needs to be taken seriously’

WELLAND — Amidst the sea of election signs on front lawns, there’s one different sign that stands out.

It doesn’t ask residents to support a certain candidate during the ongoing provincial election. Rather it asks people to vote for something else.

It’s a vote for a poverty free Ontario.

On Thursday, a number of locations across the province, including Welland’s St. Kevin Roman Catholic Church and Port Colborne’s Bridges Community Health Centre, launched a button and sign blitz encouraging all political parties and electoral candidates to make a commitment to ending poverty in the province in this decade.

Let’s Vote for a Poverty Free Ontario is an initiative between the Social Planning Network of Ontario, Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition and Poverty Free Ontario as a nonpartisan initiative to ask politicians to commit to a debate on poverty.

“Poverty is integrated into everything in life,” said Rev. Jim Mulligan, a member of the Holy Cross Fathers at St. Kevin Church.

“When kids aren’t well it can be fixed to poverty. When people are sick and go to the hospital, it can be related to poverty. Food bank visits are up because of poverty. Poverty needs to be taken seriously.”

Mary Anne Feagan, a community health worker for Bridges Community Health Centre, said she hoped people receiving the signs will display them to show support. Feagan believes candidates should consider putting poverty on the agenda during the election.

“There is a coloration between poverty and health,” Feagan said. “We just ask in a non-partisan way for this consideration.”

By EDDIE CHAU/Tribune Staff
http://www.wellandtribune.ca/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=3301802

Targeting poverty

CORNWALL — Kelly Roach didn’t let a case of nerves deter him from speaking to a reporter at an anti-poverty rally.

You see, Roach battles daily with a “nervous condition” which has forced him onto the Ontario Disability Support Program.

“It’s hard to budget monthly,” Roach said of the income assistance he receives.

According to statistics, Roach and wife — also on ODSP — are about $12,000 below the poverty line. Latest figures suggest the current poverty rate of 13.1% per capita is the highest in 30 years.

Roach said it wouldn’t take much more income to make a a big difference in his standard of living.

“Even if it was $100 a month for a single person, or $200 for a couple, that would make it less tight,” he said, as music from the rally at the city’s Agape Centre enveloped him.

But alleviating the effects of poverty is more than just plunking down an extra twoonie and loonie on the table every day.

“We need some more places for people to live, and be more accessible,” he said.

Nearby, a man who goes by the first name of “Tim” was seeking signatures for a petition calling for a homeless shelter in the city that would serve single men and couples.

Poverty comes in many forms, said Alyssa Blais, Agape Centre executive director, who is a member of the Poverty Free Ontario rally committee.

“It could be the student whose OSAP cheque doesn’t come in on time and he needs to visit the soup kitchen for a meal,” said Blais, who opened up the Agape Centre grounds for the event in support of Poverty Free Ontario (PFO). Later, the centre was the venue for an all-candidates’ provincial election debate.

“It could be because of a divorce, we get a lot of single mothers in here, or a single parent working,” she said, noting the rising tide of working poor who depend on the Agape for five days worth of food.

The PFO rally was one of 20 which took place in the province, with the local initiative sparked by the Social Development Council of Cornwall and Area.

Council head Michelle Gratton stressed the rally is a springboard toward more public awareness of increasing poverty.

Besides a smattering of impoverished residents, there were representatives of other rally partners.

The rally was purposely held in the middle of the provincial election campaign, in the hopes that political parties deal with the issue. Later, the rally morphed into an all-candidates’ debate.

PFO is calling on all parties and candidates to endorse three measures to end deep poverty (below 80% of the poverty line): introduce a $100 per month healthy food supplement for social assistance recipients, recognize that Ontario’s social assistance systems needs to be simplified and responsive enough to end deep poverty, and bring in a comprehensive plan to end deep poverty.

PFO also wants to eliminate working poverty, asking the minimum wage be increased over three years so that full-time work leaves a wage earner at least 10% over the poverty line, and by implementing tougher employment standards and equity initiatives to allow workers fair access to decent work and full wages.

By Greg Peerenboom GPEERENBOOM@STANDARD-FREEHOLDER.COM

http://www.standard-freeholder.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=3300982

Group making poverty an election issue

WINDSOR – Political candidates in the Ontario election are promising a lot, though one rather large group has yet to hear much aimed specifically at them: the poor.

So a number of anti-poverty activists across the province on Thursday launched a sign campaign aimed at encouraging candidates to address poverty during the election.

The campaign-style lawn signs, one of which was erected downtown at All Saints’ Anglican Church, read: “Let’s Vote for a Poverty Free Ontario.”

“It’s important that all the parties speak directly about poverty,” said Adam Vasey, director of Pathway to Potential, a poverty-reduction strategy for Windsor and Essex County.

“Poverty has so many facets. You can’t just have pieces of policy here and there and hope that the problem’s going to go away.

“Poverty has gotten worse in Ontario over the last couple of years.”

According to Poverty Free Ontario – part of the sign campaign with Pathway to Potential as well as Faith Communities in Action Against Poverty – the problem is worsening.

The poverty rate in Ontario climbed by 17 per cent between 2007 and 2009, the most recent statistics available, and now stands at 13 per cent.

The poverty line for an individual is around $20,000 a year.

“It’s not just a moral issue,” Vasey said.

“It’s an economic issue. Many studies from reputable economists show that savings from addressing poverty are tremendous.”

Vasey estimates Ontario could save between $32 billion and $38 billion a year by greatly reducing poverty, factoring in all costs associated with low-income issues: lost tax revenue, as well as health care, social services and criminal justice tabs.

Vasey advocates a 75-cent increase in minimum wage, which he says should be tied to the cost of living.

He also suggests providing a $100 a month healthy-food supplement to social assistance recipients.

Lillian Gallant, who joined the poverty-sign launch at All Saints’ Church, knows how difficult living in poverty can be, given that she grew up in a single-parent family on social assistance.

Though she worked full time when she became an adult, her relationship broke down and she became a single mother supporting four children.

“People who live in poverty are always in survival mode,” said Gallant, 43, who recently graduated from women’s studies/social work from the University of Windsor but who can’t find work.

“It takes a big toll emotionally. You never feel stable. Your life is always in someone else’s hands.”

Gallant says Ontario Works recipients face a nightmare of forms, meetings and restrictions for a meagre amount.

The average single person takes home about $570 a month, even though a small apartment costs at least $400.

“People generally say poverty happens to THOSE people,” Gallant said.

“But you could lose your job, not find a job right away, and creditors start to call and your house payments get backed up.

“It can happen to anyone.”

By Craig Pearson, The Windsor Star

http://www.windsorstar.com/business/Group+making+poverty+election+issue/5410904/story.html

Campaign puts poverty in the election spotlight

KINGSTON – The late Roberson Davies, a writer with deep familial roots in here, said divisions between the rich and poor in Kingston were “as sharp as you could cut them” — words still ringing true for Jamie Swift, director of justice and peace at the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul for more than six years.

Friday at lunchtime, Swift will help bring the issue of poverty to Kingston City Hall, as participants in the weekly Sisters-of-Providence-backed silent vigil there also support the Faith to End Poverty campaign spearheaded by the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition and Poverty Free Ontario.

“Let’s Vote for a Poverty Free Ontario” is the rallying cry for a campaign that is also distributing campaign-like lawn signs to spread the message across the city.

For the last 16 years the sisters have turned out for the silent vigil by the steps of City Hall, an observance that was inspired by former Ontario premier Mike Harris.

“The reason it started is because the provincial government of the day, the government of Mike Harris, cut welfare and described social affordable housing as a boondoggle and they stopped funding it,” Swift said. “This was a public statement about the way the government was treating the poor.”

Swift is using the “Vote for a Poverty Free Ontario” campaign to help mark the 16th anniversary of the vigil and link it to the Oct. 6 election.

“Kingston, historically, is divided between the north end, north of Princess Street — which is where working class and poorer people lived — and south of Princess which is the more middle and upper class area,” he said. “Now these divisions have changed in the past 30 years or so, with gentrification. Kingston has historically had this great divide. This one side of the tracks and the other side of the tracks, physical division. And of course these divisions get reproduced in income and class terms.”

“Kingston has one of the lowest if not the lowest vacancy rates for rental accommodation in Ontario,” Swift said. “That means it’s very, very difficult to find affordable rental accommodation in Kingston because the demand outstrips the supply, plus you have the student population who move in and put pressure on the existing rental housing stock. That’s an issue. The waiting list for affordable housing in Kingston has always been hovering around 1,000 names, 1,000 families for several years now. So these are major issues.”

Swift is also asking local candidates to put the poverty-free Ontario signs in their campaign office window, part of an initiative to help get the conversation rolling about poverty in Kingston.

“We’re not telling people to vote for a particular party. Our hope is to raise the profile and awareness of the issue of poverty in the electorate,” he said. “It’s very difficult to do this because when you see the polls and issues of concern, usually the pollsters don’t even include poverty as an issue that they ask people what they’re most concerned about. It’s usually health care, education, taxes, jobs, the deficit and the environment. The issue of poverty is this silent crisis, this chronic problem for Ontario.”

The Faith to End Poverty campaign is happening across communities in Ontario this week, trying to make the issue of poverty a hot-button topic on the campaign trail.

The Sisters of Providence, along with other local organizations, are also sponsoring an all-candidates meeting Sept. 21 at the North Kingston Community Health Centre, starting at 7 p.m.

“One is always trying to raise the profile of the issue with candidates,” Swift said. “And of course there’s four main parties. We’ll be going after them.”

by Ashliegh Gehl

http://www.ourkingston.ca/2011/09/campaign-puts-poverty-in-the-election-spotlight/

Making voters aware of poverty issue

CAMBRIDGE – Local faith groups are banding together in hopes of making poverty a front-burner issue when voters cast their ballots on Oct. 6.

Nearly a dozen local churches and faith organizations are coming out from behind the pulpit to take part in Poverty Free Ontario, a province-wide election sign-styled initiative spearheaded by the Social Planning Network of Ontario.

Aimed at making poverty issues part of the election campaign conversation, the effort was timed specifically to run during the race to the polls, and to encourage voters to become engaged and ask hard questions about where local candidates stand on addressing poverty.

And although the movement is occurring concurrently with the build up to the provincial election, it’s not political in nature, according to Steve Adams, pastor at Cambridge’s Forward Baptist Church where the first Poverty Free Ontario sign went up Thursday.

“We’re not telling people how they should vote,” he said. “We’re saying become an informed voter.”

According to Adams, someone needs to be asking why, in a wealthy province like Ontario, the government is able to find money for all sorts of programs, yet a single mother on social assistance is forced to live $9,000 below the poverty line.

Adams, who is a member of the city’s roundtable on poverty, maintains that it should be no surprise to see faith organizations standing up as a voice for the poor. He said the Bible has 1,200 verses solely dedicated to protecting the poor.

“We believe the faith community has a role in this; we have a responsibility.”

The local Poverty Free Ontario effort is binding various religions together under one banner, Adams noted.

“We don’t believe in exactly the same things, but we care about the same things.”

He said groups care about people who face daily struggles to find food, housing and jobs. Forward Baptist Church is a supporter of local agencies, including the Cambridge Self-Help Food Bank and The Bridges homeless shelter.

Organizers were cautious to ensure the Poverty Free Ontario initiative launch event at Forward Baptist was introduced to the community as a non-partisan event. And any political candidates planning to attend were strictly warned the event was not organized for campaigning. Candidates were not to participate in the event or hand out electioneering materials.

“This is not a campaign stop,” stated Linda Terry, executive director of the Social Planning Council of Cambridge and North Dumfries, which is backing the Poverty Free Ontario sign blitz. “This is a very serious issue.”

Two political hopefuls turned out for the launch, including New Democrat candidate Atinuke Bankole and Progressive Conservative candidate Rob Leone.

Leone snapped some cellphone photos of faith groups and community agency representatives lined up holding their anti-poverty signs. The candidate has come under fire recently for declining to participate in two local all-candidates forums, one set for later in the day, Thursday evening.

He has cited scheduling conflicts for not attending two local candidate forums, but insisted he cares about poverty issues.

“I believe in social issues and poverty reduction,” he told the Times.

http://www.cambridgetimes.ca/news/local/article/1083140–making-voters-aware-of-poverty-issue

Poverty Free Ontario campaign kicks off

SAULT STE MARIE  – Thursday marked the opening of the Poverty Free Ontario campaign locally with a press conference held at the Sault Ste. Marie Soup Kitchen Community Centre.

The plan of the campaign is to attempt to eliminate poverty in Ontario by 2020.

“Looking at the 13.1 per cent level of poverty throughout the province, it’s staggering,” said Sault Ste. Marie Mayor Debbie Amaroso in the conference. “We would hope that as a community, we would develop economically with the different strategies we continue to diversify so that everyone has an ability to share in the wealth of the community.”

Amaroso added that the city is willing to make a commitment to help in making this happen.

“There’s a commitment from the city of Sault Ste. Marie – myself, council and city staff – to really look at what strategies need to be in place to make sure we’re addressing this issue,” said Amaroso. “We will work with whomever we need to work with to do that. The city is committed to working in collaboration with those that know what needs to be done.”

For Soup Kitchen Executive Director Calna McGoldrick, to have the campaign open at the Soup Kitchen was important, not only for the staff, but for those who use the facility on a regular basis.

“For us what it means to have them here is that for the people who are living in poverty that come here every day are aware,” said McGoldrick. “People are out there that are trying to change things and trying to help. They’re showing us that the community does care and we don’t see that as often. And it’s nice to have them come here and see what we’re all about. It’s not that soup kitchen that some imagine where there’s lineups. It’s so much more than that.”

With local dignitaries in attendance, the kickoff was held in partnership with the Community Quality Institute in an initiative that was being held across Ontario.

Other cities also taking part in the initiative include Sudbury, Kingston Cornwall, Belleville and Toronto.

By Brad Coccimiglio
SooToday.com
http://www.sootoday.com/content/news/full_story.asp?StoryNumber=53901

Ontario bishops push poverty on to election radar

The Ontario Catholic bishops, as part of the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition, are throwing their support behind the Faith to End Poverty Campaign.

When Jesus predicted His disciples would always have the poor with them, He didn’t mention they would be invisible — unseen, unheard and unthinkable in the political arena.

Ontario’s bishops have again identified poverty as an essential issue facing voters as they go to the polls Oct. 6.

“Jesus directly connects our salvation to how we have tended to the needs of the poor, the hungry, the naked, the sick, the least among us,” wrote the Assembly of Catholic Bishops in its pre-election message. “We face that judgment personally and also as a society.”

In “Your Right to Be Heard: A Guide to the Ontario Election — 2011” (download the full statement here), the bishops urge Catholics to ask candidates about poverty reduction strategies, homelessness, unemployment and “basic income that is sufficient for food and housing.” They also remind Catholics of their duty to vote. “It is inconceivable that people would consciously decide not to vote,” the guide said.

Despite the bishops’ earnest wishes, poverty is not the issue defining this provincial election campaign.

“All four (parties) are not really giving proper attention to this,” said Peter Clutterbuck, research and community planning co-ordinator for the Social Planning Network of Ontario.

Social planning councils across Ontario are sponsoring a “sign blitz” and going door-to-door in a “reverse canvassing” campaign, trying to force media and political parties to pay attention to the 13.1 per cent of Ontarians living in poverty.

“It’s all middle-class focussed,” said Clutterbuck. “Which are legitimate concerns, but there’s more of those people who will wind up poor if we don’t do something about poverty reduction.”

As part of the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition, Ontario’s bishops have thrown their weight behind the Faith to End Poverty Campaign.

In London, Bishop Ron Fabbro ordered 125 Faith to End Poverty lawn signs from ISARC that read “Let’s vote for a poverty free Ontario.” Fabbro has written to his deaneries and to every pastor urging them to erect the signs outside their churches. The diocese will also erect seven additional larger signs in strategic locations around London and Windsor.

“In our own area, with the economic downturn and the loss of jobs and the loss of manufacturing, it’s hit us in a particular way, not that we weren’t hit before,” said Connie Paré, the diocese of London’s director of pastoral planning. “This has been a particularly serious and poignant time for us, so it has caused us to grow in awareness. We’re trying to keep this at the forefront.”

There are other issues on the bishops’ agenda, including publicly funded Catholic education, union rights and the environment. Nor do the bishops miss the opportunity to remind voters of the central place of life issues.

“Governments must support life,” they write. “The human dignity of every person, from conception to natural death, must be respected.”

The early mention of life issues in the bishops’  two-page election guide pleased Campaign Life Coalition Ontario president Mary Ellen Douglas.

“At least this time the life issues have gone up on the agenda,” she told The Catholic Register. “This time it’s rated higher on the scale.”

Douglas acknowledges that the central questions around legal access to abortion throughout nine months of pregnancy, without regard to medical factors, is a federal issue. But that doesn’t mean there are no life issues facing provincial governments.

A campaign called Conceivable Dreams, founded by infertility patients, is using this election to push for full funding of in vitro fertilization. Campaign Life wants provincial politicians to think twice before using everybody’s tax dollars to fund procedures people find morally objectionable.

“We usually hear that it’s a federal issue. Well, yes it’s federal. But we pay for it here in Ontario,” Douglas said.

Chances that a cash-strapped province is about to start funding expensive, unproven fertility treatments are remote. Despite Campaign Life’s dogged efforts to categorize every candidate as either pro-life or pro-abortion, it’s unlikely abortion, euthanasia, etc. will play a large role in the Oct. 6 vote.

The biggest challenge Campaign Life Ontario faces is a refusal by many candidates to answer questionnaires seeking their opinions on life issues, Douglas said. Its web site categorizes candidates as either pro-life, pro-abortion or unknown based on voting records and questionnaire responses.

After former leader John Tory torpedoed Progressive Conservative chances in the last provincial election by proposing expanded religious education for Muslims, Jews and Protestants, none of the parties are saying anything about schools and religion this time out.

Even the Green Party has backed off its previous promise to sweep aside Catholic education rights and form a single, secular public school system. Now the Greens want to study the issue.

“We’re proposing a citizens’ assembly to study Ontario’s school system and to get feedback,” said Green Party leader Mike Schreiner. “Let’s study this. Our goal is just to have a fair, equitable school system that serves the needs of all students.”

On poverty, Schreiner would back legislation allowing municipalities to require affordable housing in every new housing development. The Greens also believe community gardens, cooking classes and an agricultural policy that would make local food more available would benefit the poor.

The NDP’s Toronto Centre candidate Cathy Crowe wants the next provincial government to expand its focus. Where the Liberals passed a Poverty Reduction Act in 2009 along with a plan to reduce child poverty by 25 per cent over five years, Crowe wants a plan that includes more than children.

“The notion is not to talk about child poverty, but to talk about family poverty,” she said.

In particular the lack of affordable day care is keeping women out of the work force and keeping many families poor, said Crowe.

Letting family poverty fester for four years has knock-on effects for the rest of the provincial budget, said Crowe.

“The health care system will have to respond to it (entrenched poverty). We will see more homeless deaths. We will see more people falling into homelessness or into crisis. Poor mental health and addictions — we will see that affect the economy,” she said.

Liberal Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities John Milloy, running again in Kitchener Centre, rejects the idea his party is ignoring poverty.

“We’ve tried everything possible to make this an important plank in our platform and an important part of our role in government,” he said.

Liberals aren’t afraid of attacking poverty because of a record $14-billion deficit, according to Milloy.

“The downturn in the economy makes this discussion even more important. It hurts those in need the most.”

The Liberals are promising to raise the Ontario Child Tax Benefit to $1,310 by 2013. They are also looking at a housing benefit.

Many of the platform promises labelled as vote bait for the middle class — including a 30-per-cent tuition subsidy and expanded home care for seniors — would also benefit the poor, said Milloy.

The Family Coalition Party of Ontario is in a rebuilding mode, running 23 candidates in this election compared with 83 four years ago. FCP candidates averaged 1.2 per cent of the vote in ridings where they ran last time.

Party leader Phil Lees acknowledges his party won’t form a government or elect any MPPs. His goal is to build up active riding associations and a party that has something to say about all the issues.

“It’s a broader platform than it has been in the past,” said Lees. “We take the life-respecting principles and we weave them through the other aspects of governance.”

Phone calls to the Progressive Conservative campaign and to various candidates went unanswered over a five-day period.

“What we’re finding across the province is that Conservative candidates are not showing up (for ISARC’s all-candidates meetings),” said ISARC executive director Michael Skaljin. “It makes us wonder what it is. If there was just one or two candidates here and there it wouldn’t be such a question. But I think it raises questions about the party’s position. They’ve definitely been absent on the poverty debate and poverty questions.”

Written by  Michael Swan, The Catholic Register

http://www.catholicregister.org/home/item/12949-bishops-push-poverty-on-to-election-radar

Make poverty an election issue: CDC

BELLEVILLE – Anti-poverty might be an occasional political football, but a Belleville organization is hoping to make it an issue of Grey Cup significance.

A Poverty Free Ontario event, staged by the Community Development Council of Quinte, was the first in a number of upcoming events aimed at pushing poverty concerns to the top of the political agenda for the upcoming provincial election.

Organizers said they were pleased with public support at the gathering, which featured testimonials from residents about their battle with poverty.

The meeting culminated with a keynote speech from by Marvyn Novick, an activist with the Social Planning Network of Ontario, the group behind the Poverty Free Ontario campaign.

“I’m encouraged that there are people here who are committed to working on poverty and believe that we can do something serious about it,” he said.

He said the objective is to ensure that provincial political parties move to address poverty eradication with tangible solutions.

Alexandra Bell, 26, talked about her experience with poverty, which was born out of mounting student debt. Bell recalls going through a cycle of poverty that subjected her to a transient lifestyle. The Belleville resident said the public has the misconception that someone living in poverty can be easily identified.

“I don’t represent the usual face of poverty,” she said.

Bell went from university student to barely making ends meet with the support she received from social assistance. She now has a full-time job, but has to support her household with one income because her partner is currently unemployed.

“The working and invisible poor are very real and we’re in the community,” she said. “With the provincial election coming, now is the time when poverty issues can come to the forefront.”

Ruth Ingersoll, from the CDC, said the next event will be the Sept. 15 showing of a documentary film, Poor No More, at the Empire Theatre and a tentative all candidates meeting for Sept. 21.

She said the campaign will feature a Poverty Free Ontario sign blitz along with the distribution of poverty related information during the campaign.

“Once people have all this knowledge they can go and push the candidates to make changes,” she said.

David Langille, professor at York University, is the executive producer of Poor No More and founding director of the Centre for Social Justice. He will host a panel discussion after the 7 p.m. screening of the film at the Empire Theatre.

The panel will also feature local social welfare officials and admission is “pay what you can” with a suggested $10. Net proceeds will go to Bridging the Gap for Kids.

The Poor No More documentary, hosted by Canadian television and film star Mary Walsh, offers an engaging look at Canadians stuck in low-paying jobs with no security and no future. Walsh heads to Ireland and Sweden to see how those countries have tackled poverty while strengthening their economies.

jmiller@intelligencer.ca

http://www.intelligencer.ca/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=3295224

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