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Sisters make case to battle poverty

By Michael Swan
The Catholic Register


TORONTO (CCN) — Given the chance to tell politicians from Ottawa about poverty, Sister Sue Mosteller didn’t want to argue about economics.

She didn’t want to measure Canada’s battle against poverty in dollars and cents and she didn’t want to resort to heart-tugging examples of deprivation and despair. 

“Our caring for our less fortunate citizens is not simply about money, but about the kind of society that we’re trying to create together,” she told Toronto Danforth MP Julie Dabrusin and Don Valley West MP Rob Oliphant as part of the federal government’s country-wide consultation process toward a poverty reduction strategy.

Mosteller and her fellow Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto know poverty better than most, having worked for and with the poor in the city for 151 years.

“We daily meet those struggling to ride out poverty,” said Furniture Bank founder Sister Anne Schenk. 

After meeting the Liberal MPs, the sisters then submitted a video of their presentation to the consultation processes website.

With two weeks to go in the consultation process, Catholic leaders and ecumenical organizations are pushing federal politicians hard to produce a serious legislative plan to lift nearly five million Canadians out of poverty — one that includes targets and timelines. Submissions to the Canadian Poverty Reduction Strategy close June 30.

So far, Minister of Children, Families and Social Development Yves Duclos has received more than 700 email submissions, more than 400 completed surveys and nearly 200 other submissions. The submissions come from academic economists, provinces, municipalities and poor people themselves. 

Schenk’s suggestion to the politicians had less to do with large-scale, dramatic reforms of the national social safety net and more to do with modest, humble, local efforts.

“I urge you to follow these not-for-profit organizations. Rejoice in the importance of your funding to them and assist as best you can to lift our neighbours out of the prison of poverty, a prison both physical and psychological.”

Canada’s Catholic bishops haven’t submitted anything to the anti-poverty consultation process yet, but Regina Archbishop Don Bolen believes poverty reduction needs to be a national priority.

“Human beings and societies have shown themselves capable of extraordinary technological advances and scientific findings. Learning to live as a society which cares for those in greatest need would be a still greater achievement,” Bolen said in an email to The Catholic Register. “It is time, indeed it is well past time but it is always time, to make it a societal priority to address the various forms of acute poverty in our society. This will require prioritizing the common good, making political and economic decisions which take seriously those in greatest need and moral maturity that we have lacked to this point.”

The Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul in Kingston, Ont., want to see a national basic income that would universalize the social safety net, but their Justice Peace and Integrity of Creation office isn’t suggesting a guaranteed minimum income for every Canadian is the only solution — or any sort of simple, final answer to every problem.

“I’m not putting all my eggs in that basket,” said Justice Peace and Integrity of Creation organizer and educator Tara Kainer. “I think it’s extremely important in the meantime to do whatever we can to alleviate poverty.”

Affordable daycare, a national housing plan, pharma-care, better wages and jobs with benefits are all part of the Sisters of Providence recipe for raising people out of poverty.

Catholic Charities of Toronto wants to co-ordinate its submission with Campaign 2000. Social justice and advocacy co-ordinator Jack Panozzo sees safe, stable, affordable housing as the key difference-maker in poverty reduction.

A report from the consultation will be made public in the fall of 2017, said a spokesperson for Employment and Social Development Canada.

Facts on Poverty

• One in seven Canadians live in poverty — about 5 million people, including 1.3 million children.

• On any given night there are 35,000 homeless people across Canada.

• Poverty is directly responsible for $6.2 billion in extra cost to Canada’s health care system or over 14 per cent of total spending on acute care inpatient hospitalizations, prescriptions and doctor visits.

• The top 20 per cent of Canadians now hold 70 per cent of the nation’s wealth.


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