Joe Gunn on Parliament Hill for Chew on This. Photo courtesy of Joe Gunn

Anti-poverty campaign wants candidates to Chewonthis!

By 
  • October 6, 2015

OTTAWA - Lost in the “fight for the middle class” in the federal election campaign is the plight of Canada’s poor, said Joe Gunn of the Citizens for Public Justice.

That has led to anti-poverty groups launching a campaign Oct. 6 to raise awareness of the plight of the poor in the run-up to the Oct. 19 election.

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

“All the parties say their plans help the poor, but each one of their campaigns all address the fight for the middle class.”

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, the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

Gunn said CPJ, as part of Canada Without Poverty, an alliance of 600 to 700 groups that includes food banks, 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 week-long 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.

Statistics at Chewonthis.ca show 833,000 Canadians use food banks every month, with children making up one-third of those benefitting from food banks, and one in eight people “experience some level of food insecurity.” Food banks created in the 1980s to be a temporary measure to address poverty have only seen the need for them grow, the web site said.

Gunn and a team from CPJ joined people from Ottawa’s St. Joseph’s Catholic Church and Parkdale United Church, along with 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. After the Oct. 6 event, participants began posting photos, video and other messages on social media and chewonthis.ca 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, child care, 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.

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. When Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a campaign stop later in the southwest Ontario city, the city’s mayor raised the poverty issue, Gunn said. Harper noted income splitting and other measures help the poor.

Meanwhile, poverty, exclusion and isolation — the drivers of family stress — are the issues highlighted in the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Toronto voter’s guide. The guide was issued with three weeks to go before the federal election on behalf of Catholic Charities’ 26 member agencies and three affiliate agencies.

Poverty and its effects are key issues throughout the 51-page guide complete with questions for candidates, issue roundups and a report card for grading candidates.

At Catholic Family Services of Durham, executive director Elizabeth Pierce sees what happens to families that can’t afford the basics.

“We see first hand how poverty impacts and compounds the rest of the issues that we have to deal with as people living in this society,” Pierce told The Catholic Register. “The basic needs need to be met before anything else has an opportunity to flourish. What we’re saying is that it’s really important to be paying attention to the basic needs of the people in our community who are struggling to get them met themselves.”

The guide can be found at catholic charitiestor.org.

(With files from Michael Swan.)

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