Bishop John Chapman, of the diocese of Ottawa, is encouraging federal finance minister Bill Morneau to place a high priority on the needs of “the least among us” in the 2017 federal budget, to be handed down in February or March.
In a letter sent to Morneau January 23, Chapman acknowledges that competition for funding is “undoubtedly fierce,” but says social spending should be seen as an investment in the quality of life of all Canadians.
“In particular, we all stand to gain from a robust and adequately funded national housing strategy, a rich and genuine new dialogue with Indigenous peoples, continued open arms to welcome the stranger through our immigration and refugee programs, and generosity in our international assistance,” Chapman’s letter said.
Those are concerns that the Liberals pledged to address in the October 2015 election campaign, Chapman said in a telephone interview with the Anglican Journal.“And we thought it an appropriate time to remind them of their commitments made during the election and also to remind them that we’re available to work in partnership with them to do whatever we can to ensure the mission of God unfolds.”
Because the letter to Morneau is about conditions that the government is also concerned about, “we are already working on the same page,” said Chapman.
“It’s important, I think, that we work in partnership with every institution in the country that is committed to civil society, and so it would be natural for us to engage with the governments of the day.”
During the 2015 election campaign, the Anglican Church of Canada produced a downloadable resource entitled Compassion, Justice and Reason: An Anglican Approach for Election 2015. It aimed to help Anglicans engage candidates and parties on a range of issues, including protection of the most vulnerable members of society. In his letter, Chapman told Morneau that the church is committed to continue partnering with governments “in ensuring that Canada lives up to its potential as a caring and compassionate country, especially as we celebrate 150 years of Confederation.”
The Rev. Laurette Glasgow, special advisor for government relations for both the diocese of Ottawa and the Anglican Church of Canada, also spoke with the Journal by telephone.
Governments are under such tight pressure fiscally that it is easy to let go of social benefits, she said. “So it [the letter] is a way of providing some balance for the government to rely upon, to say that this is important to some Canadians.”
Issuing a public letter also allows Anglicans across Canada as well as others know that the church is actively involved in some of these areas of concern, she said. “It’s also a way of spreading the good news.”
However, Glasgow, a priest of the diocese of Ottawa and a former Canadian diplomat, said letter writing is not the only approach in dealing with governments. “Government relations is about building relationships,”she said. “And we’re in the midst of doing that with this new government.”
The diocese and the Anglican Church of Canada have been engaged with the government in several areas, including international development, immigration and refugees. “We’ve intervened on refugees very strongly, both to continue to encourage the government to have open arms toward newcomers, but also when the pipeline was running dry and the minister was having trouble getting enough refugees to fill the demand,” she said. “We were there with suggestions that they actually acted upon to help facilitate the flow of incoming refugees.”
One way the church can determine how successful its consultations with government are is through the budget. “The government has not yet come out with anything other than what we’ve heard, particularly on things like affordable housing and homelessness,”said Glasgow. “So we have yet to see how that will shape up as policy.”
The House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance launched its pre-budget consultation process last June and tabled its report in December. During its consultation process, the committee received 442 briefs, and heard from 214 groups and individuals in Ottawa and in various cities throughout the country.