By Stuart Mann
Effie Trinket, the shallow character from the popular movie The Hunger Games, came to Toronto’s City Hall on Jan. 10 for her first “reaping” – choosing which groups would be pitted against each other for a share of the city’s social service funding in 2018.
Ms. Trinket, in full costume and elaborate hairstyle, was played by the Rev. Andrea Budgey, the chaplain at Trinity College. She was assisted by two “peacekeepers” from the dystopian movie – the Rev. Maggie Helwig, the incumbent of St. Stephen in-the-Fields, Toronto, and Leah Watkiss, the program director for Social Justice, Peace and Care of Earth for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto.
The women put on the skit outside Mayor John Tory’s office as about 25 members of the interfaith group Faith in the City looked on. The group, which is made up of Christians, Jews, Muslims and Buddhists, advocates for better social programs and services for the poor and marginalized.
Her voice full of enthusiasm, Ms. Trinket welcomed everyone to Toronto’s first ever Hunger Games and performed her first reaping – drawing the names of two city strategies out of a bowl that would fight each other for funds. (In the movie, Ms. Trinket chooses two young people from her district to fight other teens to the death in the dominant city of the Capitol.)
With great compassion, she reassured those watching that they would get their chance to compete for funds as well. “Don’t worry: every equity-seeking group will have the chance to fight for its life before it’s all over,” she said. When the 10-minute skit ended, she and her helpers left with a flourish, to the applause of those present.
Elin Goulden, the diocese’s Social Justice and Advocacy consultant, said Faith in the City put on the skit to show how the city is not fulfilling its commitments and is making groups fight each other for what little money is available.
She said city council has approved 12 action plans and strategies in recent years to combat poverty and improve the quality of life for Toronto residents. These plans include improved access to child care, more affordable housing, expanded nutrition programs for students, free transit for children and lower fares for low income residents, and enacting the city’s climate change plan. Council unanimously adopted a Poverty Reduction Strategy in 2015 and Mayor Tory has said tackling poverty is one of the most important commitments of council.
Ms. Goulden says the city has provided just $9 million in its proposed 2018 budget to pay for the programs – far short of the $41 million needed to fully fund them. Citizens and not-for-profit organizations have been making deputations to the city’s budget committee over the past few days to recommend how the $9 million should be spent.
“We believe that the budget process pits groups and citizens against each other to fight for scarce funding for programs that city council has already approved, and that shouldn’t be the case,” she says. “If city council has approved it, they should find the funding for it.”
She adds: “Who’s to say that students in need of nutritional supplements are more deserving than homeless people? It’s pitting people against each other and creating angst and sense of scarcity.”
Faith in the City is calling on the city to fully fund the programs, plus fund additional actions that have been approved by council but are not in the proposed budget. They also want the city to set clear targets and timelines for reducing poverty and waiting lists for housing, child care and recreation programs.
Ms. Goulden says members of Faith in the City are meeting with city councillors, and the group hopes to have a number of senior faith leaders, including Archbishop Colin Johnson, meet with Mayor Tory. “We want to keep holding their feet to the fire, saying that we’re not forgetting what they’ve promised and we do intend them to live up to their promises.”
She urges Anglicans in the city to talk to their councillor. “We have a municipal election coming up this fall, and I think if enough people make it clear to their councillors that they want to see these actions funded and are prepared to see a modest increase in their property taxes over the cost of inflation, we could start to see council implement these strategies.” City council is expected to vote on the budget in February.
For more information, contact Ms. Goulden at firstname.lastname@example.org.