Ontario Attorney General John Gerretsen, left, Tara Kainer, share a meal at Lunch by George, a Kingston breakfast/ lunch program and morning drop-in centre for some of Kingston’s most vulnerable citizens. photo courtesy of Tara Kainer

Kingston MPP John Gerretsen walks a mile in poor’s shoes

By 
  • July 17, 2012

The Sisters of Providence in Kingston, Ont., are hopeful there may be more “food in the budget” some day soon after a positive response from local MPP and Attorney General John Gerretsen to an organized “food tour” of the eastern Ontario city.

Tara Kainer, social justice advocate with the Sisters of Providence, planned the event for the MPP for Kingston and the Islands so Gerretsen could “spend a few hours in the shoes of someone on social assistance, to see what it’s like.”

Gerretsen spent four hours using only public transit or walking, getting lunch from an emergency food provider, visiting a drop-in daytime homeless shelter and figuring out how to spend just $39 on groceries for a week, a task he found difficult.

“Obviously you look for the deals, you go for the no-name brands,” Gerretsen said. “It gave me an idea of what you can get for $39. It’s a very tough, tough struggle.”

The tour was a small part of the provincial “Put Food in the Budget” campaign which is urging the Ontario government to supplement social assistance cheques by $100 a month, especially for food.

“The experience of people who deal with these issues is the only disposable part of their income (when) living at that low of an income is their food budget,” Kainer explained.

“A bachelor apartment in Kingston right now is $648 and a one-bedroom apartment is $798,” Kainer said. “If you’re only getting $599 a month (as a single individual on Ontario Works), you’re spending 100 per cent on rent.”

The “Put Food in the Budget” campaign toured the province this spring with a life-sized mannequin of Premier Dalton McGuinty so citizens could vent to “him” about the social assistance rate freeze in the most recent budget.

When the campaign hit Kingston on June 1, Gerretsen agreed to go on a food tour in the flesh. That tour took place July 12.

For Gerretsen, the day opened his eyes to how many people in Kingston live on a daily basis.

“I (saw) what it was like to live life when you have very little money to live on a daily basis,” he said. “There’s nothing particularly heroic about it.

“I think any politician has an obligation to find out how different sectors of our society live on an daily basis.”

Gerretsen has urged the Sisters of Providence and other groups that endorsed the food tour to come to Queen’s Park to speak to politicians from all parties.

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