May was an exciting month for CPJ as we travelled across Canada engaging people in a dialogue about poverty in Canada and suggesting ways to fight against poverty. In coordination with the recent launch of our Envisioning Canada Without Poverty campaign, CPJ held workshops in five different cities, Ottawa, Halifax, London, Winnipeg and Edmonton, to explore a national poverty reduction strategy and empower citizens to engage in advocacy. Advocacy is an ongoing process; change does not come in a day. We must keep persisting because we have a duty to work toward a just society in which all people can live in dignity and have access to basic needs.
The Bouchard-Taylor Commission, set up to examine accommodation and integration in Québec, released their report on May 22. Outlining ideas centered on the concept of interculturalism, the report’s recommendations have been met with mixed reviews. Ultimately, it seems to create more questions than it answers.
Recently, I received a flyer from the current governing party offering me two choices: I can pay a 5% GST or a 7% GST. In case I was uncertain of the best choice, inside a smiling man tells me “We kept our promise to cut the GST,” while a dopey-looking man is labeled as “threatening to raise it back up to 7%.” Given the options, my choice is clear. More taxes? Yes, please! In fact, rather than taking something away from me, taxes make a contribution to the betterment of my life, my country, and my fellow Canadians. Taxes generate the revenues that create our social and physical infrastructure, support our democratic institutions and provide a mechanism for redistribution so that no one in our financially prosperous country is left too far behind.
On May 6, the Maytree Foundation held their 2008 Annual Leadership Conference, with the theme of belonging and its impact on individual and community wellbeing. Citizens for Public Justice joined with leaders from various sectors to discuss issues of identity, citizenship, multiculturalism and reflect on ways to enable marginalized groups to fully participate in society. The keynote speakers and workshop panelists challenged us to think deeply about the complex issues of diversity and what it means to “belong” in Canadian society.
One of the challenges in public policy work is measuring outcomes. In CPJ’s poverty reduction strategy campaign, we advocate that such a strategy requires “mechanisms of accountability and poverty indicators to monitor progress.” Coming up with an agreed upon poverty indicator is not easy, but is an important step in measuring progress on reducing poverty. Measuring poverty requires looking at looking at a wider view of the nature of poverty, and also at the wider view of the nature of well-being.
Recently, the Conservative government introduced amendments to the immigration act, claiming they will solve the application backlog. However, these amendments raise troubling questions about an accountability backlog. Giving the minister of immigration centralized power in selecting immigrants without allowing political debate strips transparency and fairness from the system for Canadians and potential immigrants. Justice demands that fairness and compassion be reflected in welcoming immigrants to fully participate in society.
Today, the cycle of housing insecurity, homelessness and poverty continues to deepen as four million Canadians find themselves in need of affordable housing while many more will experience homelessness over the course of the year. Yet there are signs of hope as all political parties are tackling housing issues and provinces and territories are meeting with the federal government about housing needs of Canadians. Hope remains as we continue to encourage the federal government to invest in affordable housing.
In November 2007, Alberta Federation of Labour reported on its first six months of assisting temporary foreign workers during their time in Canada. The report, entitled Alberta’s Disposable Workforce, detailed the less than humane conditions of foreign workers who are, in fact, meant to have the same work-related rights as their Canadian counterparts.
In November, Judge Phelan ruled that the Safe Third Country Agreement violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This ruling was good news for refugees and advocates alike, ensuring that refugees would not be turned away in spite of the fact that they had entered Canada through the US. But despite this ruling, the border still remains closed to many refugees at risk of being sent back to dangerous situations.
Something is missing in the current focus on taxes and economic management: taxes don’t happen in a vacuum. They provide the revenues for government services. Paying taxes is thus one way in which we contribute to the common good. What’s more, when we talk about taxes, we’re really talking about what kind of country we want. This idea should be debated as vigorously as tax rates and economic management.