By Murray MacAdam
For more photos, see the Diocese’s Facebook page.
As Ontario’s Oct.6 election date approaches, a growing number of Anglicans and parishes are ramping up their efforts to make sure that housing and poverty issues are raised during the campaign.
Bishop Philip Poole addressed a rally outside St. James Cathedral on Sept.15 to launch a campaign called Poverty Free Ontario, a non-partisan effort to urge all parties and electoral candidates to make a commitment to end poverty in Ontario during this decade. The event was organized by the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition, which includes the Anglican Church and the Social Policy Network of Ontario.
“Elections are opportunities for citizens to reflect on the kind of province we want to live in,” said Bishop Poole. “What kind of people are we and how do we want to treat the most vulnerable among us? It is appalling to see increasing numbers of people on the streets of every major city.”
The bishop affirmed key goals of the Poverty Free Ontario campaign, including an immediate $100 per month Healthy Food Supplement for people on social assistance, social assistance rate hikes, and an increase in the minimum wage to $11 per hour, from the current $10.25.
Muslim and Jewish leaders affirmed how people of diverse faiths are united by a common concern about poverty and a belief that governments must do more in response. “We come at this not from a sense of charity, but a sense of justice,” said Myer Siemiatycki, president of a Jewish congregation. After reading the Isaiah 58 passage which urges freedom for the oppressed, he said “that’s a hell of a political platform,” as the crowd applauded.
Rene Adams, a community advocate at Toronto’s Christian Resource Centre who has lived in poverty herself, told the crowd: “Band-Aids are not the answer. Foodbanks are not the answer. What people in poverty want is to move on in their lives.”
About 20 Anglicans from a dozen parishes attended the rally. David Taylor, an accountant and a member of Grace Church, Markham, said Ontario’s growing gap between the rich and poor led him to take part. “We seem to be focussed on cutting taxes and not on the people who fall through the cracks when we cut social programs,” he said.
“The Gospel is very clear that we have to be concerned about those on the margins,” added the the Rev. Lucy Reid, incumbent of St. Aidan, Toronto.
The rally was one of 15 that took place across Ontario to launch the Poverty Free Ontario campaign. Ted Glover from St. George, Oshawa, invited three dozen people, including the mayor of Oshawa, to a prayer vigil about poverty at his parish on Sept.15, to launch the campaign there.
Meanwhile, many other Anglicans are also raising poverty housing issues during the election campaign. Ruth Schembri, a member of All Saints, Kingsway, has helped at an all-candidates meeting in Etobicoke, working with an ecumenical committee. An all-candidates meeting held in August, organized by Scott Riley of St. Martin, Bay Ridges in Pickering, drew 45 people. Sue Ann Elite from St. Barnabas, Toronto, led a community delegation that met with local MPP Peter Tabuns on Sept.15 to urge him and his party to develop a stronger anti-poverty stance. More than 15 parishes have erected lawn signs that say, “We’re voting for a poverty-free Ontario.”
More than a million people in Ontario—one person in eightl—lives in poverty, and 400,000 must rely on foodbank handouts.
If you’d like a Poverty Free Ontario lawn sign for your parish, contact Beth Baskin.