Muslims, Jews and Christians of East York got together Oct. 21 along the Danforth in Toronto to demand action on poverty as part of the Dignity For All Chew On This campaign. Photo by Michael Swan

One in six Canadians are poor, Citizens of Public Justice report says

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  • October 24, 2018

Helping 5.8 million Canadians out of poverty isn’t a charity project. It’s about building a better economy and living up to the human rights we proclaim as a nation, said the author of a new report on poverty.

One in six Canadians live in poverty, said the fifth annual Citizens for Public Justice Poverty Trends report released on Oct. 17, the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

Governments need to understand poverty violates the human rights of the poor, said CPJ communications co-ordinator Deborah Mebude.

“A human rights-based approach puts the onus on government to be accountable to people,” said Mebude. “It’s part of human rights to be able to live with dignity. Not being able to afford everyday things, living in poverty, strips people of dignity. There’s an onus and a weight on government to care for its people.”

The federal government’s new “Opportunity for All” poverty reduction strategy commits Ottawa to a 20-per-cent cut in poverty by 2020 and 50-per-cent cut by 2030. But Mebude worries there’s virtually no new spending to back up those ambitions.

In Ontario, more than 100 business leaders have signed a letter asking the Ontario government to live up to its obligations on poverty reduction by restoring the Basic Income Pilot project, which is ending in March, just two years into its three-year experiment.

Floyd Marinescu, CEO of software developer C4Media, co-wrote the letter that asks the governing Conservatives to reverse their July 31 decision to axe the program.

“We’ve got a policy that can simultaneously eliminate poverty, unlock people’s potential to really look for their highest purpose in life — what they really want to be doing — and it can grow the economy and create jobs. What better?” Marinescu told The Catholic Register. “It seems like a no-brainer.”

Marinescu argues that an economy without poverty is a better economy.

“What’s the purpose of an economy?” he asks. “Is it not to uplift society? Is it not to organize the creative potential of people, incentivize and self-organize to solve problems?…. A system like basic income would bring renewability to the economy, because no one would fall to a point of precarity that holds them back from achieving what they’re meant to do in this life.”

Marinescu calls capitalism “the best system.” He favours a basic income because it fits the economics of a technological age.

“There are structural changes happening in the economy that have already made it harder to find good, paying work. Those changes are only going to get worse,” he said. “We need work more than work needs us.”

Workers now compete with software and hardware that needs no salary, no health insurance, no vacations. Thousands of Internet-based jobs have fled Canada for cheaper labour abroad, Marinescu said.

“If you look at all the numbers we are trending towards becoming a lower-income society for most of the population, while maybe the top 20 to 30 per cent have higher-income work and have all of the opportunity,” said Marinescu.

At a mid-day prayer service hosted by the University of St. Michael’s College faculty of theology, PhD candidate Marie Green argued something is wrong with a society that can’t house the next generation.

“We are in a crisis situation with housing in Toronto,” Green said. “It’s only going to get worse.”

Young people in Toronto can’t even dream of owning a house, or putting a down payment on a condo, she said.

When Jesus told His disciples, “You always have the poor with you,” it was not a call to passive acceptance, Green said in a homily in the Cardinal Flahiff Chapel. “It’s a call to advocacy for the poor,” she said.

Mebude said faith plays a big role in helping victims of poverty. 

“Our faith convictions call us to care for people and to love our neighbour,” she said. “In terms of these things we call for, this public justice that we’re a part of, it’s all about the political dimension of making sure we’re loving our neighbour. If our neighbour is poor, it’s our job to stand with them — to advocate with and for them, to make sure that they are receiving dignity.”

The International Day for the Eradication of Poverty was begun in Paris by Fr. Joseph Wresinski in 1987. After his death, the United Nations took up the initiative, declaring Oct. 17 the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

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