Opinion – Jim Russell: What will the political parties do to end poverty?

There isn’t a single community in Canada immune to poverty and ours is no different. Unfortunately, according to 2016 census data, 14,645 Peterborough residents, have incomes below the low-income measure. In other words, almost 1 in 5 of our neighbours live in poverty. With election day approaching on Monday, we at United Way of Peterborough and District are waiting and watching for all parties to share their anti-poverty plans with voters.

In June 2019, federal poverty reduction legislation was passed. This means the next federal government — and all those that follow — are required by law to make progress against poverty.

Poverty is an uncomfortable reality most of us have come to accept as a part of our society. But our neighbours who have lived with poverty know that it is ever present in their lives — the choice between rent and food on the table, the fear of unforeseen expenses you can’t meet, the inability to give your children the same experience others enjoy.

When we talk about poverty, we are really talking about the ‘opportunity gap’ — we all have potential; we don’t all have the same opportunity to fulfil it. Tackling poverty is about building hope — a belief in the potential of all Canadians.

Poverty is a driver of the opportunity gap in this country. It can be uncomfortable to talk about. It can seem too complicated to address. But poverty has no place in a resource-rich, compassionate country like Canada. Our failure to eliminate poverty is socially and economically unacceptable.

We know Canadians value taking care of each other when we struggle — we give our time, energy and money because we are compassionate. In Peterborough, individuals, families, businesses and labour councils show their love for this community by supporting our efforts to make social issues like poverty #UNIGNORABLE.

Last year alone, we engaged thousands of donors and volunteers to raise $1.75 million dollars to support community services for people struggling to pay the rent, feed their kids and find work. Our investments work and we are proud to support 46 partners, neighbourhood initiatives, and programs that build community.

To address poverty, modern government policy must be proactive. For our local candidates seeking federal office in October, it’s time to make the eradication of poverty in Canada a policy priority. Doing so will focus our collective efforts on removing the barriers that keep so many from participating in our economy and experiencing the quality of life that is possible here.

The good news for Canada is that we now have the lowest poverty rate in our history, and a federal poverty reduction strategy with targets and timelines, including reducing poverty by 50 per cent by 2030. But are we aiming high enough with a target that is the minimum of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal on poverty? A 50 per cent reduction will still leave more than two million Canadians in poverty, an appalling situation that will continue to drain billions of dollars from public coffers. Canada can surely be more ambitious and set its sights on eradication.

We know that the billions spent today treating the effects of poverty would be better spent removing barriers and creating opportunities to lift people out of poverty and preventing it tomorrow. Vital investments in affordable housing and child care, accessible health and community services, better training to align with labour market needs, and strong, modern income security programs can make poverty a distant memory.

When we remove barriers, we ensure every person in this community and communities across Canada can reach their full potential.

Jim Russell is the CEO of the United Way of Peterborough and District.

Printed in the Peterborough Examiner

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