Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.Proverbs 13:12
In 1989, the federal government passed a unanimous all-party House of Commons resolution to end child poverty in Canada by the year 2000. Even at its lowest estimate in 2020, however, there have never been fewer than 999,110 children living in poverty in Canada.1
In 2015, after years of advocacy by CPJ and many partners (including through our Dignity for All campaign), the Prime Minister tasked the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development with developing a Canadian Poverty Reduction Strategy. Tens of thousands of postcards, surveys, and consultations offered up in hope and good faith were received, including our own rights-based, comprehensive model national anti-poverty plan. And while we do celebrate the landmark release of Canada’s first Poverty Reduction Strategy, and the acknowledgment of the federal government’s critical role in addressing poverty, it fell far short of the plan we had hoped for.
I think of the tears and trauma laid bare during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the resulting 94 Calls to Action. Seven years later, the Yellowhead Institute reports “13 Calls have been completed. At this rate, it will take 42 years, or until 2065, to complete all the Calls to Action.”2 I think of the subsequent National Inquiry Into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and the ensuing calls for action on the disproportionate rates of poverty experienced by Indigenous Peoples in Canada, which themselves echoed reports and recommendations dating back to 2003 (and many generations of advocacy before).
I don’t think it’s fair of us to ask or expect others to hope. People have shared their deepest tragedies, life-or-death needs, or brilliant solutions, and those listening have failed to implement what was asked of them. Instead, people are left with broken promises and half-measures. Even when we celebrate progress, it is often with a sense of deferred hope for the full realization of peoples’ rights and the transformative policy changes needed.
But I do think we can ask one another to be people who offer hope—a kind of hope that goes beyond optimism and strives for a better way, a hope that is convinced a better way is possible, and one that is committed to demonstrating it is possible in the here and now.
Offering hope requires us to embody and practice the vision—the hope—we want to inspire in others.
This is how my work with CPJ brings me hope: not in promising that we’ll win every campaign, not in sugarcoating incremental changes when systemic shifts are needed, and certainly not in telling people to “just be patient,” but in getting to practice and experience glimpses of the hope we envision for our world.
I get to see these changes firsthand in myself and in those I engage with through CPJ. I get to work alongside people whose every decision is imbued with a commitment to justice. I meet church and community groups who are showing what it looks like to be led by those most impacted by policy decisions related to housing needs, food security, and income security.
When CPJ members join together with advocacy partners, churches, community groups, and schools across the country, we are sending a message to elected officials and to civil society at large about our hope, as well as our expectations. This witness is powerful.
In our pursuit of a society in which all peoples’ rights and dignity are respected, we must remember that it’s not just today’s elected officials we’re trying to reach. It is anyone and everyone within our own overlapping spheres of influence, whether we realize it or not. I truly believe that the faithful witness of a more just way of seeing and interacting with the world, should never be underestimated. Changing hearts, minds, and habits takes time and it takes proof of impact. We often need to see what an idea looks like in real life before we’re willing to adopt new perspectives or ways of doing things. By watching others live into their hope, and seeing the difference it makes in people’s lives around us, we are emboldened to hope and act for something better.
This is why CPJ engages not only in political advocacy, but in public education and engagement. We need an informed, committed, and expectant civil society to show elected officials there is sufficient support (and demand) for our policy recommendations. It’s hard to have an engaged civil society if everyone has lost hope.
But when people offer a glimpse of how things could be—perhaps by rallying to stop renovictions in their community, choosing green energy options for a local church building, or even countering anti-immigrant sentiments in a casual conversation—others take notice. And as these personal and local changes take root and grow, so too do others’ appetites and hope for systemic change.
So please: keep coming and bringing everyone you can to rallies, sign petitions, and vote, even when the results leave some (or even all) of our hoped-for outcomes deferred. Please keep reading and discussing CPJ reports and articles with others in your networks, even if the conversations are hard and the topics heavy. And please keep celebrating with us the victories big and small, even while there is so far yet to go. Because it is in faithfully doing these things that we witness transformation and can offer one another hope that change is possible.
I may take every political promise with a bucket of salt, but I thank God for those who continue to offer me hope through their faithful pursuit and practice of justice.
- Poverty rate according to the Low Income Measure, using tax filer data. Statistics Canada Table 11-10-0018-01. Retrieved May 3, 2023, at https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/t1/tbl1/en/tv.action?pid=1110001801
- Yellowhead Institute. Calls to Action Accountability: A 2022 Status Update on Reconciliation. Retrieved May 3, 2023 at https://yellowheadinstitute.org/trc/