“We Need a Plan to End Poverty in Canada”
by Michèle Biss
Action on poverty is long overdue. It’s time for our federal government to step up and put in place a comprehensive, rights-based approach to poverty.
Over the past year, the Dignity for All Campaign has been shouting this message from the rooftops. We’ve been spreading the word wherever and whenever we can – at events, through media and social media, and directly in the ears of our federal candidates.
An important part of our message is that while we need a plan for the 4.9 million people living in poverty in Canada, we already have a tool to get us there. In February 2015, Dignity for All released our model National Anti-Poverty Plan for Canada.
As a national campaign we’ve been exploring some different ways to get the message out to communities across Canada. From early spring through to autumn, we hit the road to bring the plan to cities and towns from coast-to-coast-to-coast.
We conducted 15 workshops across Canada in five provinces and one territory – Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia, and the Yukon. The workshops explore the realities of poverty, the lack of support by the government, and practical action for participants. This message strikes a chord with people concerned about poverty in our country.
Through these workshops, partners and members of Citizens for Public Justice and Canada Without Poverty are becoming actively involved in the call for a national anti-poverty plan. All the sessions were hosted in collaboration with a local partner or member. For example, in Sarnia, Ont., Thea DeGroot, a member of CPJ’s Board of Directors, hosted an extremely successful session. Local media, the city mayor, and the new Member of Parliament all attended.
The response from the workshop participants in each of the sessions was inspiring. Policy makers, people with lived experiences of poverty, church advocacy groups, and engaged citizens had honest conversations about poverty.
In our travels, we also saw brief glimpses of poverty in communities across the country. We walked through the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver and saw the stark reality for street-involved people, particularly those struggling with addiction. We spoke in a community centre in Halifax where many attendees would consider themselves working poor. We toured around the city of Whitehorse and heard about the lack of services for people in poverty. These humbling experiences have only strengthened our resolve that we need immediate action on poverty that understands the diversity of each community in Canada.
After visiting these communities, we asked our friends and colleagues across Canada to help us spread the message through our third annual Chew On This! campaign. This year our partners handed out over 20,000 paper bags. Each one had an apple and a postcard with information on food insecurity.
The campaign was an incredible success! It facilitated conversations about poverty in Canada in over 50 communities across the country. Then on Saturday, October 17, the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, our message was trending all over social media and reached more than 300,000 people across the country.
This recent federal election was the ideal time for people in Canada to consider the future of our nation. Now that it is behind us, it is even more important to get the message out that we need a plan to end poverty.
The response we’ve heard is clear – people in Canada want to see action on poverty. With this new federal government, we’re ready to jump in. By next year we want to see the federal government taking real steps to end poverty.
Together, we can do this!
Michèle Biss is the Legal Education and Outreach Coordinator at Canada Without Poverty.