I will conclude my Put Food in the Budget posts by drawing attention to my editorial in today’s Waterloo Region Record. In it I draw the link from the provincial to the federal, and suggest that there is much that can be done nationally to end poverty in Canada.
As a participant in last week’s Put Food in the Budget Campaign, I was challenged to live for one week on $20, the amount that many recipients of social assistance in Ontario have to pay for food. I was joined by nine other residents of Waterloo Region, and I am sure they can attest to the fact that it sounds a lot easier than it actually is.
The week left me wondering why our federal government has not taken more initiative in the creation and implementation of a strategy to end poverty in Canada. There are simply far too many Ontarians, more than 357,000, living on social assistance, well below the poverty line. I can only imagine what the numbers look like in other provinces.
As it turns out, the Senate of Canada made a call for such a strategy in December 2009. In a bi-partisan report, In From the Margins: A Call to Action on Poverty, the Senate made 74 recommendations to the federal government on ways that Canada could work toward the eradication of poverty in Canada. Chief among them are a call for a national child care program, the establishment of a national housing strategy, the creation of a national pharmacare program, and the upping of income supports to at least the poverty line.
Imagine my surprise, shock and disgust when I discovered that the federal government had rejected the call to action on poverty out-of-hand. Rather than make any commitment to poverty reduction in Canada, this Conservative government instead took 150 days to say that they will take the committee’s recommendations under advisement.
This non-answer is a stark contrast from some of the work that other MPs have been doing in the House of Commons, aimed at ending poverty in Canada.
In June of 2010, NDP MP Tony Martin (Sault St. Marie) introduced “An Act to Eliminate Poverty in Canada.” This private member’s bill, seconded by Liberal MP Michael Savage and Bloc Quebecois MP Yves Lessard, calls for the establishment of a poverty commissioner charged with bringing together the federal government, provinces, municipalities, aboriginal governments, and civil society to develop a national poverty strategy, holding each accountable for all goals and targets set.
Within the year, NDP MP Megan Leslie (Halifax) will introduce a bill calling for a National Pharmacare Strategy, knowing full well that affordable prescriptions are simply not accessible to thousands of Canadians.
Vancouver East MP Libby Davies’ bill calling for National Housing Strategy has the support of the Waterloo Regional Council, and is currently awaiting 3rd reading in the House of Commons. None of the MPs in Kitchener, Waterloo or Cambridge are expected to vote in favour.
It is possible to bring about the end of poverty in Canada. What we’re missing is the political will to put aside partisan bickering and focus on solutions that make sense for all Canadians. As I finish up my potatoes and mouldy bread, I look not only to the Dalton McGuinty’s provincial government to Put Food in the Budget, but also to Stephen Harper’s federal government to Take Poverty off the Table.