Fernanda de Castro from St. Paul University participates in Chew on This!
We are on the cusp of seeing Canada’s first national poverty reduction strategy. And faith communities have played a major role in getting us here.
It’s been a long time coming. In 1989, Canada’s House of Commons unanimously voted to end child poverty by the year 2000. With 17.4 per cent of children in Canada living in poverty, clearly, we failed to meet this commitment.
So, in 2009 CPJ and Canada Without Poverty (CWP) launched the Dignity for All campaign to mobilize people across the country and create the political will to make this happen. One way that we’ve done this is through Chew On This!, the nation-wide outreach campaign that we organize each year around October 17, the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.
With CPJ as a co-leader, Canadian Christians have had a central role in this campaign. And the fifth anniversary of Chew On This! was our largest event yet.
CPJ was joined by Bishop John Chapman of the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa. At a press conference on Parliament Hill, he spoke directly to the vision of the Dignity for All campaign. “This is not just the work of charity,” he said. “We are discussing human dignity, the beauty and wonder of every human being, the unique gift a person brings to our civil society.”
Across Canada, many other faith communities echoed this call. A dozen United churches held Chew On This! events. In Calgary, students at Ambrose University signed postcards as part of their chapel service. Christian high schools in Edmonton and Smithville, Ont. also took part. Meanwhile, Catholic religious congregations and parishes from New Brunswick to British Columbia took to the streets to encourage passersby to join. And in Ottawa, students from St. Paul University joined CPJ and CWP on Parliament Hill.
This type of work isn’t new. Canadian churches have a long history of calling for federal action on poverty. As Lutheran Bishop Susan Johnson said, the call to address issues of poverty in Canada is “central to what it means to be a church.”
This is core to why so many have taken action. But they are also speaking out because it matters. It matters because there are still 4.8 million people living in poverty in Canada. According to CPJ’s latest report, Poverty Trends 2017, single working-age adults, people with disabilities, and newcomers to Canada still experience high poverty rates.
And now we are so close to seriously doing something about it.
Before the next federal election in two years, we expect to see the first Canadian poverty reduction strategy. This has the potential to be a huge win for the 4.8 million people living in poverty and the network of advocates who have championed the effort for so long.
But just having a plan isn’t a win. It really matters what that plan looks like.
From the very beginning of the Dignity for All campaign, we’ve been clear about our expectations. We’ve called for a plan that is legislated so that it can’t be simply rolled back by a new government. And it needs adequate funding to make a significant difference in the lives of people currently living in poverty. At the policy summits we’ve held over the years, faith groups have joined us to iron out the details that we presented in our model National Anti-Poverty Plan in 2015. Since then, we’ve been calling for a comprehensive plan that addresses income security, housing, health care, food security, employment, and early childhood education and care.
Faith communities have been there every step of the way. And if we expect to see this project cross the finish line, we will need to stay engaged, doing the important work of mobilizing Canadian Christians to make their voices heard.