Mary Boyd Photo from The Order of Canada website

Advocates turn up heat on poverty strategy

  • September 8, 2017

Now that Canadians have had nine months to tell Ottawa what they want to see in a national poverty reduction strategy, people like Mary Boyd are hoping to increase pressure on the Liberal government to fulfill its 2015 campaign promise to set targets and measure progress on poverty nationwide.

“We would like the government to use the term eradication or elimination of poverty, rather than reduction. Reduction is a weak word,” said Boyd, who is director of the MacKillop Centre for Social Justice in Charlottetown, PEI.

Named after St. Mary MacKillop, Australia’s first saint who had many relatives on Canada’s east coast, the MacKillop Centre was sure to get its recommendations on housing, the social safety net and Indigenous poverty into Employment and Social Development Canada before the Aug. 31 deadline.

“This is a moral question,” Boyd said. “We all know well that Christ had a preferential option for the poor. He did because the poor are defenceless. They need people to take their side, to go to bat for them. They need the problem of poverty to be called what it really is — a moral, sinful problem in our society.”

Boyd’s next turn at bat on the poverty question will be the Oct. 17 Chew On This campaign co-ordinated by the Catholic- Calvinist organization Citizens for Public Justice and a national anti-poverty network called Dignity for All. Boyd and her friends will be out on street corners handing out lunch bags containing an apple and a factsheet on poverty.

This will be the fifth year the Chew On This campaign has marked the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. Last year 60 teams from coast to coast handed out lunch bags to 330,000 people. Boyd is hoping this year to expand the PEI campaign out of Charlottetown into Summerside and Montague. Last year the MacKillop Centre distributed 200 bags.

“It’s a violation of human rights and a violation of all these United Nations treaties Canada has signed that we allow poverty to continue in Canada and continue to such an extent,” said Boyd.

In Kingston, Ont., the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Office of the Sisters of Providence will be handing out Chew On This lunch-bags Oct. 17. The fact that Canada has dozens of municipal and provincial poverty reduction plans but no federal plan defies logic, said JPIC Office co-ordinator Tara Kainer.

“The nation is probably best positioned to actually do something about it. If it was a national program Canadians would know that, number one, there’s a problem here and, number two, that their national government cares enough to put together a program to address it,” Kainer said.

The volunteers with the Providence JPIC Office handing out lunch bags are really carrying on the work the sisters started when they were founded in 1861, said Kainer.

“It’s part of their mission from the very beginning,” she said. “Their work originated as ministering to vulnerable populations — whether it was orphans or the elderly or ailing, sick people or people living in poverty.”

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