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Anti-poverty advocates launch weeklong campaign

By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News


OTTAWA (CCN) — In the run-up to the Oct. 19 election, anti-poverty groups launched a weeklong campaign Oct. 6 to raise awareness of the plight of Canada’s poor.

“Not one of the parties is making poverty a centrepiece of their (election) campaign,” said Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ) executive director Joe Gunn, one of the organizers.

The campaign began with Chew on This! events across the country where participants handed out a brown bag containing an apple and anti-poverty information. It ends on Oct. 17 on the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

All the major political parties’ campaigns are focusing on the “fight for the middle class,” Gunn said. CPJ, as part of Canada Without Poverty, an alliance of 600-700 groups that includes foodbanks, churches, organizations providing meals for the poor, and other anti-poverty organizations, hoped to bring the need for a national anti-poverty plan before the public and the candidates in the campaign’s final days.

“We really need to tackle poverty so we don’t need to do this all the time,” Gunn said, noting that while people are happy to help the poor, the poverty problem continues to grow and must be addressed.

The emphasis this year will be on the Dignity for All poverty plan launched in February that provided a “menu of options” for federal candidates, he said. The weeklong push starting with Chew on This came about because “there was no debate or discussion about poverty” and the groups decided they had to raise the issue.

According to the website, 833,000 Canadians use food banks every month; children make up one third of those benefitting from food banks; and one in every eight people “experience some level of food insecurity.” Foodbanks created in the 1980s to be a temporary measure to address poverty have only seen the need for them grow, the website said.

Gunn and a team from CPJ joined people from St. Joe’s Supper Table, an outreach of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Ottawa, people from Parkdale United Church’s feeding program, and a social justice group from Saint Paul University to hand out the Chew on This! brown bags in front of Parliament Hill.

This is the third year for the campaign, Gunn said, noting when it started only a few locations had events, but that number jumped to around 40 locations last year and to more than 50 this year. After the Oct. 6 event, participants began posting photos, video and other messages on social media and the website, to increase the exposure and involvement in the issue, he said.

“Groups that have worked for four years around what we need to do” in everything from jobs, income support, health care, childcare, social housing and other matters, say they “need the parties to pick up this need for a comprehensive (anti-poverty) plan like all of the provinces have except one, British Columbia,” he said.

Every year on Oct. 17 to mark the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, CPJ has been producing a poverty trend scorecard to assess “how we are doing in the country around poverty issues,” Gunn said. “This has become extremely difficult due to the lack of data and Statistics Canada cuts.”

This means CPJ does not have the kind of comparison data it needs, but it does have the National Income Survey, he said. “It looks like poverty has increased very slightly.” The latest figures, however, are only up to 2013, he said.

CPJ has joined others in Canada Without Poverty in hosting workshops across the country, Gunn said. They did a workshop in Sarnia where 50 people attended including some from city hall. When Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a campaign stop later in Sarnia, the city’s mayor raised the poverty issue, Gunn said. Harper noted that income splitting and other measures help the poor. “All the parties say their plans help the poor, but each one of their campaigns all address the fight for the middle class.”

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