Interfaith leaders call for inspired leadership in addressing poverty

  • March 16, 2011
Joe GunnOTTAWA - An interfaith coalition is calling for “inspired leadership” from the federal government in addressing poverty in Canada.

It also expressed dismay over the Conservative government’s March 7 response to the poverty-elimination plan proposed last November by the Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of People with Disabilities (HUMA).

“We were disappointed that the federal government response did not take advantage of the consensus for co-ordinated action reflected in the HUMA report and did not respond substantively to the recommendations,” said the March 8 Interfaith Declaration from the Canadian Council of Churches (which includes Canada’s Catholic bishops), the Canadian Interfaith Delegation — World Religions Summit 2010, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and Dignity for All.

Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ) released a more critical statement, saying that its “hope for Ottawa to meaningfully engage in poverty reduction efforts evaporated” when the federal government released its response to the HUMA report.

“Federal Poverty Reduction Plan called on the Government of Canada to step up and join the majority of provinces that already have poverty elimination plans,” said Joe Gunn, CPJ’s executive director and co-chair of Dignity for All.

“Today, the federal government failed to accept Parliament’s main recommendation, and the unanimous resolution of the House: that Ottawa develop and implement a poverty-reduction plan. The other 57 recommendations set out in Parliament’s report did not receive the substantive attention they deserved.”

The government’s response to the declaration echoed its response to the HUMA report.

“Our Conservative government believes that the best way to fight poverty is to grow our economy and get Canadians working,” said Ryan Sparrow, a spokesman for Human Resources Minister Diane Finley, in an e-mail.

“Our government will continue with its unwavering focus on economic recovery, job creation and ensuring Canadians have the skills they need for the jobs of today and tomorrow.”

The government’s 22-page response to the HUMA report outlined the programs and funding for a range of programs from labour market participation, to helping immigrants and aboriginal peoples. It outlined programs targeting youth, the elderly and people with disabilities and said it would take the HUMA committee’s recommendations “under advisement as it continues to find ways to help Canadian men and women succeed.”

The faith leaders, who gathered for two days of workshops in Ottawa March 7-8, urged the government to act on the HUMA report’s recommendations as well as those from a 2009 Senate report entitled In From the Margins.

“It is a time when Canadians of all faiths, from all walks of life, from all parts of this great country are awakening to the unacceptable levels of poverty, inequity and homelessness, and acknowledging that this injustice must change,” said the declaration.

It urged the government to make elimination of poverty a priority in the next federal budget, expected March 22. 

As a possible election looms, participants in the workshops, which included MPs from all five parties, stressed poverty should be a major election issue.

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