A coalition of faith groups is urging Ontarians to help get the message out about making poverty elimination a key issue in the provincial election on October 6.
While the overall poverty rate in Canada is about 10 per cent, the poverty rate in Ontario is the highest nationally, at 13 per cent in 2009. At present, 1.7 million Ontarians live in poverty.
On Sept. 15, the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition (ISARC) is urging churches, synagogues, mosques and temples to display a sign on their lawns bearing the message, “Let’s Vote for a Poverty-Free Ontario.” The sign blitz is part of ISARC’s “Faith to End Poverty Campaign.”
In addition, simultaneous press conferences highlighting poverty will be held on Sept. 15 in cities across Ontario, including Cornwall, Kingston, Belleville, Sudbury, Parry Sound, Kitchener-Waterloo, Cambridge, Peterborough, Windsor and Toronto.
Founded in 1986, ISARC includes representatives from the Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish and Muslim faiths. Anglican churches across Ontario are among the participants.
“Ontario needs to attack poverty and inequality with greater vigour,” said ISARC in a statement. “Ontario needs to hear from all political parties how they plan to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality.”
Ontarians must quiz candidates and their parties to determine who among them is most committed to ensuring that the 2009 Poverty Reduction Act is realized, added the statement. The legislation, which was passed with unanimous consent from all parties in May 2009, requires successive governments to develop a new poverty reduction strategy every five years and to report annually on their poverty-reduction initiatives. The Act pledges to cut child poverty in Ontario by 25 per cent by 2014. There were about 400,000 children living in poverty in 2009, according Statistics Canada.
In an election kit distributed to faith groups and interested parties, ISARC said political parties must commit to providing affordable housing, childcare and public transit.
It also asked the provincial government to:
* increase incomes for adults on social assistance by $100 a month so that they can meet basic food needs;
* “poverty-proof” the minimum wage by raising it to $11 in 2011 and indexing it to inflation in future years. (The government has already announced that it would not increase minimum wage in 2011.)
* strengthen labour standards so that employees’ rights are protected;
* establish an employment and pay equity strategy to close the gap in employment and earnings for new immigrants, minorities, women, people with disabilities and aboriginal people.
More information about the Faith to End Poverty Campaign can be found here.