God has called us, redeemed us, and transformed us to be agents of change. ‘For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life’ (Ephesians 2:10). We will therefore offer a faithful response to God’s call for love, justice and stewardship.
These are the words with which we, at Citizens for Public Justice, greeted 2010. And, these are the words that we came back to again and again throughout the year as we were blessed by strong supporters, rich relationships, new ideas, critical openings, and profound faith.
2010 was marked by a number of significant moments for CPJ that, we hope, will serve to advance a legacy of public justice in Canada.
In collaboration with our Dignity for All campaign partners, CPJ convened “The Dish on Dignity: A Discussion about Eradicating Poverty” on February 1, 2010. This event, which brought people living in poverty together with Members of Parliament, Senators, federal candidates, and social justice advocates, was a tremendous success. Despite prorogation, 27 federal politicians participated in the dialogue that explored social and economic rights, as well as justice and equality issues. A key element of the discussion was the presentation by low-income citizens of concrete measures that could address poverty in Canada.
These recommendations, along with input from a number of anti-poverty advocates, including CPJ and Dignity for All, served to inform the development of Bill C-545, “An Act to Eliminate Poverty in Canada.” A private member’s bill drafted by New Democratic Member of Parliament Tony Martin, Bill C-545 was tabled in the House of Commons in June, where it was notably seconded by Liberal MP Mike Savage and Bloc Québécois MP Yves Lessard.
Having pressed hard for parties to come together to advance action on poverty, CPJ enthusiastically welcomed the November release of the report, “Federal Poverty Reduction Plan: Working in Partnership Towards Reducing Poverty in Canada.” The report was the result of a three-year study by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and Status of People with Disabilities (HUMA) and cited CPJ several times. Immediately following the release of Federal Poverty Reduction Plan, CPJ and our Dignity for All partners held a press conference to commend the committee for their contribution towards creating a federal poverty elimination strategy in Canada. (Our commentary was picked up by a number of media outlets).
Climate Change as a Moral Issue
As part of our 2010 strategic plan, CPJ committed to further developing policy capacity in the area of ecological justice. As a critical early step, Joe Gunn, along with 75 others, participated in a spring retreat at the headquarters of the United Church of Canada to discuss how climate change has become one of the foremost challenges to living faith with integrity. The retreat launched a national inter-faith project on “Climate Change and Environmental Decline as Moral Issues,” which CPJ now co-chairs.
Deepening dialogue was undertaken in the fall at three more public events (co-organized by CPJ) that brought together non-government organizations, faith leaders and Members of Parliament to explore the question, “Whose responsibility is it to deal with the effects of climate change?” The speakers urged participants to get active, get involved and get political representatives on board as well. If the Canadian public does not make this a priority, they said, its politicians never will.
Leadership and Learning
At the international conference, “Basic Income in a Time of Upheaval: A Path to Justice and Stability?” Chandra Pasma presented on “The Great Recession: What Happened to Economic Security in 2009?” By looking at key economic indicators, Chandra offered an analysis of poverty trends in 2009 and the lessons they suggested for GLI.
Karri Munn-Venn delivered the keynote address at Community Justice Camp in Hamilton. A gathering of approximately 100 Christians – predominantly Anglican – from across Canada, Justice Camp 2010 explored the role of community in our collective pursuit of justice. Housing, the environment, marginalized communities, Aboriginal issues, and food security were just some of the issues addressed in this intensive week-long event.
Later, CPJ joined Kairos Spirituality for Social Justice Centre, Polaris Institute, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Council of Canadians in welcoming David Korten to Ottawa for an evening presentation of the Great Turning. Featuring responses to Korten’s vision for the global change from a Canadian perspective by CPJ’s own Kathy Vandergrift, the evening was both thought-provoking and informative. Combined with the workshop the next day, the event did a lot to raise CPJ’s profile in the Ottawa social justice community.
CPJ’s annual brief to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance called for a responsible and caring federal budget focused on building sustainable and lasting change. Specifically, CPJ recommended: (1) A comprehensive, federal plan for poverty elimination; (2) action towards introducing a universal, Guaranteed Livable Income for all Canadians; and, (3) the rollback of recent corporate tax cuts and GST cuts.
Major Report: “Bearing the Brunt: How the 2008-2009 Recession Created Poverty for Canadian Families”
In a context where official statistics are only available two-years after the fact, CPJ made a significant contribution in 2010 to understanding the impact of the recession on Canadian families. In a major research report, “Bearing the Brunt,” CPJ examined key economic indicators and charted the rise in poverty caused by the recession. We found that Employment Insurance was inadequate in meeting the needs of the unemployed; social assistance caseloads rose and the rate of precarious work increased across the country; and low income Canadians had to stretch their incomes farther as the cost of living increased more than inflation. The result was rising debt loads, an increase in bankruptcies and skyrocketing food bank use. This report received extensive media coverage across Canada. And, it also became a go-to resource for many in the anti-poverty community, including Members of Parliament who referenced the report on more than one occasion in the House of Commons.
Reaching Out Across Canada
In addition to these major events ovet the last year, CPJ appreciated the many opportunities we had to meet with our members, supporters, and partners across the country. In 2010, CPJ staff travelled to Moncton, Quebec City, London, Hamilton, Waterloo, Toronto, Belleville, Ottawa, Pembroke, Renfrew, Chilliwack, Abbotsford, Surrey, Langley, and Vancouver. We were also well represented by our Board of Directors in Ottawa, Aldergrove (BC), Halifax, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, Chatham, Regina, and Whitby. Throughout the year we met with MPs from all of the major political parties on issues ranging from poverty and housing, to immigration reform and the environment.
Reflecting on the Year Gone By
As we look back over the year that has been, we praise God for the many blessing we have received, and we extend our thanks to you, our faithful readers and supporters for that that you have done – and continue to do – to enable us to be successful agents of change. Blessings for 2011!
Buoyed by the generous support of our members, we at CPJ are excited by the plans we have for 2011 as we continue to work towards our common goal of public justice. Later this month we will be sharing more on what you can watch for in the year to come.