The Canadian Social Forum: Dialoguing on Poverty

Mariel's picture

How and why does poverty happen? Who is experiencing poverty in Canada? How are communities and institutions addressing poverty? What further action must be taken?

These are some of the questions that CPJ staff members Chandra Pasma, Karri Munn-Venn and Mariel Angus will be reflecting on next week when they attend the Canadian Social Forum. The first of its kind in Canada, the Forum will be held May 19-22 in Calgary, and is hosted by the Canadian Council on Social Development (CCSD).

The Forum will bring together community leaders from health, environmental, social development and aboriginal organizations for a dynamic conversation on poverty in Canada. The gathering presents an exciting opportunity for non-governmental organizations, citizens, community leaders and political representatives to dialogue on the causes, symptoms and possible solutions to poverty in Canada.

The four-day event will feature workshops a range of issues related to poverty, including food security, guaranteed livable income, measurements of poverty, the role of the business community in poverty reduction, and much more. The Forum will also feature personal stories from low-income individuals to engage the lived experience of poverty within the dialogue.

The Forum offers a significant opportunity for CPJ to promote its work on poverty, network with advocates from across the country, and engage with organizations and individuals in working towards a poverty-free Canada.

In addition to participating in the Forum, each CPJ staff member attending will be offering a presentation or workshop relating to poverty in Canada.

On Thursday, May 21, Chandra Pasma will be co-facilitating a workshop on Guaranteed Livable Income (GLI) on behalf of the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN), of which CPJ is a founding member. The workshop will explore current thinking around basic income models and will invite participants to explore issues of design, public support and strategies on GLI.

The same day, policy intern Mariel Angus will be presenting a poster on childcare in Canada. The presentation will examine early childhood education and care through the lens of poverty and gender equality, and will demonstrate how childcare investments can help alleviate poverty and promote the equal status of women in Canada.

On Friday, May 22, CPJ and our partners at Canada Without Poverty (formally known as the National Anti-Poverty Organization) will be jointly facilitating the official launch of the Dignity for All Campaign, which aims to end poverty in Canada by the year 2020.

Dignity for All: The Campaign for a Poverty-free Canada is grounded in the conviction that freedom from poverty is a human right, and the belief that everyone is entitled to social and economic security. The campaign calls for vigorous and sustained action by the federal government to combat the structural causes of poverty in Canada.

It calls upon the federal government to establish a comprehensive federal plan for poverty elimination, create a federal Act to eliminate poverty, and provide sufficient federal revenue to invest in social security. The campaign aims to build a network of organizations and individuals to engage in working together meet these goals.

The focus of both the Social Forum and the Campaign on poverty is timely. A growing number of Canadians are living in poverty, but there is also an increasing public awareness of the critical need for action on the issue.

“The Canadian Social Forum represents a critical moment for social justice in the country,” says CPJ policy analyst Karri Munn-Venn. “There is a growing consensus around the need for action at all levels – churches, communities, governments, business, to name a few – and that now is the time to act.”

Despite substantial growth in GDP, poverty rates in Canada have barely changed in the past twenty years, and income inequality has grown significantly. Government commitments to reduce poverty have so far been met with little concrete action.

Many government policies and programs are not designed or sufficiently funded to adequately address the needs of Canada’s low-income population. The wholly inadequate EI system is a primary example. In the current recession, the number of people living in poverty will only continue to grow without substantial action.

However, there are also signs of hope. Momentum on the issue of poverty in Canada has been building, most notably at the local and provincial level. The creation of a number of poverty reduction strategies in local communities has been followed by the establishment of provincial strategies in four provinces.

The Canadian Social Forum offers an exciting opportunity to build upon this momentum. CPJ is looking forward to participating in the conversations fostered at the Forum, and continuing to work with our supporters and partners after the event to build a poverty-free Canada.

Mariel Angus is CPJ’s former policy intern.

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