ChewOnThis! 2018: Bigger and more important than ever

By Darlene O'Leary

From the Catalyst, Winter 2018

For the sixth year, CPJ and the Dignity for All campaign have marked October 17, the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, with our nation-wide Chew on This! outreach and advocacy activities.

This year’s Chew on This! was our largest to date, with over 100 groups participating across the country – in every province and territory.

Chew on This! activities bring together organizers from faith communities, community food and health centres, Indigenous friendship centres, schools and universities, and anti-poverty organizations in every region of the country. It provides an opportunity to raise awareness about poverty in Canada and to call for federal action.

Groups that participated shared messages of hope and care rooted in the realities of their communities. From the Memorial University School of Social Work in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, to the Qajuqturvik Food Centre in Iqaluit, Nunavut, to Alternatives North in Whitehorse, Yukon – organizers and volunteers expressed their deep concern for those struggling under the weight of poverty and their conviction that the federal government can do more.

Participants wrote messages for social media including, “Poverty is preventable,” “Poverty is a violation of human rights,” “We can end poverty,” and “Without poverty, the world would be a fantastic place.” These messages are deeply personal, justice filled and spirit-filled – such as the message “I’m calling for an end to poverty because…All people are breathed with the breath of God!”

Chew on This! continues to grow year-by-year into a truly nation-wide event. However, this year was unique.

Canada’s First National Poverty Reduction Strategy

Dignity for All has advocated for the creation of a national anti-poverty plan for years, with the familiar Chew on This! tagline #WeNeedAPlan! On August 21, the federal government delivered. Minister Jean-Yves Duclos launched Opportunity for All, Canada’s first national poverty reduction strategy. In anticipation of the release, Chew on This! was designed this year as a thank you to the federal government, but also as a continued challenge to do much more.

The federal government’s national strategy takes some important steps forward, in particular in setting an official poverty line (the Market Basket Measure); setting targets and timelines for poverty reduction (reduce poverty by 50 per cent of 2015 Market Basket Measure rate by 2030); committing to legislate a Poverty Reduction Act; and promising to establish a National Advisory Council on Poverty.

However, the federal strategy does not commit to new programs and investments and does not offer an implementation plan for its roll-out. There is a great deal more needed for this strategy to be effective in meeting its own targets.

Chew on This! 2018 called for the strengthening of the poverty strategy, specifically for legislation of the Poverty Reduction Act this fall and further investments in the strategy in Budget 2019.

Poverty Trends 2018

As we see in CPJ’s Poverty Trends 2018 report, 5.8 million people, or 1 in 6, live in poverty in Canada. It’s clear that a strong strategy is needed to address this complex and challenging reality.

While poverty exists across regions and demographics in Canada, some groups continue to be highly vulnerable to poverty. Adults and children in single-parent households, which are largely female-led, continue to face high rates of poverty (36 per cent and 47.4 per cent respectively). Single working-age adults are also seeing high rates at 37.7 per cent. Vulnerability to poverty multiplies for those who are women, Indigenous, racialized and newcomers, and for persons with disabilities, including mental illness.

We know that poverty is not only a matter of income, though low-income is always a part of poverty. In addition to economic measures, it also involves social isolation, health and wellness, as well as spiritual vitality. Poverty is a complex reality that requires a comprehensive response, addressing structures of exclusion as well as injustice.

While some regions of the country are working hard to address poverty in their communities, a multifaceted response is needed that involves comprehensive policy approaches and investments. For many years, municipalities and provinces and territories have initiated poverty reduction strategies, with varying rates of success (and some with more political commitment than others). Improvements come out of strategies that are legislated, have strong targets and timelines, establish accountability mechanisms, and are well funded.

In assessing Opportunity for All, the Poverty Trends 2018 report highlights the need for an implementation plan, follow through on the commitments to legislation, and increased policy and funding commitments.

Chew on This! organizers had our report in hand to back up the call for a stronger strategy.


Faith Leaders join in Chew on This!

This year’s Chew on This! Was particularly special due to the participation of a faith delegation at our Ottawa location for a day of reflection, advocacy, and learning. The ecumenical delegation included Peter Noteboom, General Secretary of the Canadian Council of Churches, Reverend Richard Bott, Moderator of the United Church of Canada, Rev. Canon Laurette Glasgow of the Anglican Church of Canada, and Pastor Jim Dekker, CPJ’s Board President.

Our day with the faith delegation began with a reflective moment at the “Homeless Jesus” statue in front of Christ Church Cathedral. It then involved participation in meetings with federal ministerial staff, and of course our Chew on This! event on Parliament Hill.

On Parliament Hill, we were joined by many volunteers, but also Members of Parliament and Senators. The deputy mayor of Ottawa read out a declaration of October 17 as the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty in Ottawa. Also, Minister Jean-Yves Duclos joined the group and talked extensively with participants about the importance of hope in the face of the deep hardship of poverty.

The day ended with a tour of a local United Church engaged in programming for people experiencing poverty, including an art mentoring studio, social enterprises for street engaged youth, a food bank, and a supper table. We were reminded of the importance of offering space for community and friendship, as well as support and nourishment.

Moving forward – the work continues

In reflecting on Chew on This! it is striking how important this action is to so many, and how groups across the country really take ownership and pride in their activities. It is an inspiring thing to be a part of a national event with so many who are dedicated to ending poverty and who are working so hard to ensure the dignity of all people is respected and recognized.

With the success of Chew on This! 2018, CPJ and the Dignity for All campaign have heard a strong call to continue pushing for a better strategy. As we move into 2019, a federal election year, the need to strengthen and implement the strategy is more urgent than ever. Waiting until another government mandate risks weakening or losing some of the commitments that have not yet been implemented.

We have a plan to build on, and an amazing movement to push federal action forward. The work continues to reach our ultimate goal – an end to poverty in Canada.

  • Darlene O'Leary

    Darlene O’Leary has followed the path of social justice for many years, leading her to work in the areas of refugee resettlement and international development, as well as in an academic setting as a researcher, writer, and professor in the fields of theology and ethics. Darlene has a Ph.D. (Theology) from Saint Paul University in Ottawa. Her dissertation focused on ethics and economics in the context of Canadian Catholic social ethics and the work of Jesuit theologian Bernard Lonergan. She served as the Executive Director of Galilee Centre, an Oblate retreat centre in Arnprior, Ontario, where she managed operations and programs, including a Spirituality and Social Justice Program. Darlene recently completed a Post-Doctoral Fellowship with the University of Prince Edward Island, Faculty of Education, which involved research on Inuit Educational Leadership, guided by the inspiring women who have taken part in the UPEI Master of Education (Nunavut) program. Darlene has been an active member of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, serving on the National Council for several years as the PEI representative. Currently, Darlene lives in Ottawa with her husband, Digafie, and their dog, Che.

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