Ontario religious step up poverty-reduction demand

By 
  • December 5, 2008
{mosimage}TORONTO - The people who started Ontario’s first free hospitals, ran the orphanages and founded schools that were once a ticket out of poverty are appealing to the government and people of Ontario to take up their fight and get serious about poverty reduction.

Thirty Ontario religious orders, representing hundreds of Sisters, Fathers and Friars, are publishing an open letter to the government and people of Ontario. The letter urges them to set hard targets for poverty reduction and enshrine them in law.

“We urge the government to seize this opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of people who live in poverty,” said the letter published in nine Ontario daily newspapers in English and French in late November and early December.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty was to introduce a poverty reduction strategy Dec. 4, after The Register’s press time.

The nuns and priests were inspired to issue the letter by the stock market crash and talk of recession in the headlines, said Sr. Sue Wilson, one of the authors.

“As a society, what is going to be our response to this?” Wilson asked. “Is it going to be to kind of hunker down and take care of ourselves? Or to let this be a time to let our deepest values come forth?”

The Catholic religious — who live under vows of poverty, chastity and obedience — take the long view of poverty in Ontario.

“In 1981 there were no food banks in Ontario,” says the letter. “Today there are over 400 places where our most vulnerable neighbours are forced to seek charity.”

The nuns and priests are concerned with the long-term trend to a greater gap between rich and poor, and point out that working full time all year no longer guarantees a living above the poverty line.

“It’s a matter of showing the government and the people of Ontario that the religious orders care about poverty,” said Redemptorist Father Paul Hansen. “The religious orders have had a long tradition, especially our sisters, with education, with health care, with orphanages. I think we have a long track record of being concerned.”

Ontario’s Catholic bishops sent a letter to MPP Deb Matthews, chair of the Ontario cabinet committee on poverty reduction, Oct. 27. Their letter reminded Matthews of the provincial government’s commitment to “measurable targets for poverty reduction within concrete timelines.” The bishops also argued that the poverty reduction strategy should be legislated into law.

“We are under no illusion that poverty can be vanquished simply by an act of legislation,” said the letter from Bishop Peter Hundt, Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops’ social affairs commission chair.

“However, we are also well aware that it is through legislation thoughtfully proposed and conscientiously administered that society manifests its priorities.”

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