What the federal government can do to fight poverty in the country’s urban centres.
First published Jan 05, 2010
Late on the cold, snowy night of January 4, 1996, my wife Olivia Chow and I, both city councillors at the time, were walking up Spadina Ave. As we walked, we checked on the well-being of the homeless we passed and discussed the problem of poverty in Toronto.
The next morning I woke to learn that a homeless man, Eugene Upper, had frozen to death that night on the opposite side of Spadina from where we’d walked. Since that day, I have redoubled my efforts to prevent homelessness and eliminate poverty.
Homelessness is one of the most visible signs of poverty, its devastating effects felt by one in four Toronto families, nearly half of all new immigrants to the city, and over a third of its First Nations population.
It is one of Canada’s most enduring disgraces that – twenty years after Ed Broadbent stood in the House of Commons and won unanimous support for a commitment to end child poverty by 2000 – 9.2 per cent of the country’s children still live in poverty, a drop of just 2 percentage points over those twenty years.
Toronto’s not-for-profits have done admirable work on poverty. The Toronto City Summit Alliance authored the seminal Modernizing Income Security for Working Age Adults report, which laid out a map for poverty reduction. Meanwhile, the Recession Relief Coalition, spearheaded by John Andras, has been one of the city’s strongest voices against cuts to vital social services.
Last December, the Ontario government launched its 25-in-5 Poverty Reduction Strategy. First reports show that progress has been made, but much work remains and Ontario’s resources are finite. The City of Toronto is wracked by debt, while not-for-profits are stretched to the limit.
The federal government has an obligation to step in. The safety net needs to be strengthened and children need better opportunities earlier in life.
Yet the Harper government has no plan to eliminate poverty, just the occasional band-aid. It’s a short-sighted and unjust approach.
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