By Henrieta Paukov
Ontario’s provincial election is almost three months away, but Anglicans are already working to ensure that issues of poverty, hunger and housing are on the agenda during the election campaign.
“These are issues that tend not to get brought up a lot in election campaigns,” says the Rev. Maggie Helwig, chair of the Diocese’s Social Justice and Advocacy Committee (SJAC) and assistant curate at St. Timothy, North Toronto. “Nearly all the parties tend to fall in with this discourse that reducing taxes is the most important thing. There are not many people who are talking about protecting the interests of the vulnerable and the marginalized, and that’s the sort of thing that we need Anglicans to be doing.”
She says Anglicans can get involved by organizing or attending all-candidates’ meetings where justice issues can be raised, and talking to candidates who come to the door or who phone. SJAC has produced a leaflet parishes can use before the Oct. 6 election, with a short summary of the issues of poverty, hunger and housing, as well as questions that people can ask candidates.
“We are trying to drive home to all the parties that these are issues that matter to voters, that we care about living in a just society,” says Ms. Helwig. “As church groups, when we say ‘I am representing this parish,’ we have a certain sort of weight in the eyes of a lot of the candidates.”
One parish that plans to take action is St. Martin, Bay Ridges, in Pickering. Its Social Justice Committee is planning an all-candidates’ meeting on Aug. 29 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the East Shore Community Centre, 910 Liverpool Rd., Pickering.
“There is certainly a need to talk about poverty and hunger in Pickering,” says Scott Riley, chair of the committee. “It’s not always apparent, because it is very hidden. You don’t see homeless people wandering on the street, but you can certainly see the number of people who show up at the foodbank.”
Ms. Helwig’s church, St. Timothy’s, will be joining forces with Fairlawn Avenue United Church to hold an all-candidates’ meeting in the fall. The two churches, along with other neighbourhood congregations, are also planning to visit all the local candidates to talk to them about justice issues.
Meanwhile, SJAC is collaborating with Poverty Free Ontario, a coalition of faith groups and social service agencies across the province, to create lawn signs urging people to “Vote for a Poverty Free Ontario.” They are also working with the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition to create materials for reflection and discussion based on the social justice themes in the September lectionary. Both resources will be available in early September.
Ms. Helwig has seen advocacy bear some fruit in Ontario. “I think that we have seen with the current provincial government that they have been receptive, up to a point, to a lot of the advocacy we have been doing,” she says. “For example, they have taken at least some measures against child poverty, such as an increase in the Ontario Child Benefit. In fact, although the recent statistics are telling us that the general poverty rate has risen in Ontario, child poverty has dropped.”
Mr. Riley points out another source of motivation for advocating for justice during the election campaign: “We are called upon to love each other,” he says. “In the Gospel of John, it says, ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments.’ That’s certainly a strong motivator for myself and for everyone in our group.”