"What’s Next: How do we Address Poverty in Canada?"

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On Tuesday February 14, more than 130 people gathered at the Government Conference Centre in Ottawa for an exciting event organized by CPJ along with Dignity for All campaign co-partner, Canada Without Poverty (CWP), with the aim to renew the national conversation on poverty issues and find a way forward for a poverty-free Canada.

The event was moderated by John Ibbitson, Ottawa Bureau Chief of the Globe and Mail, and included parliamentarians from all political parties, CPJ staff and members, advocacy and faith groups, and the general public. Nearly 90 others watched the event from their homes via live-stream.

Panelists (from left to right): Moderator John Ibbitson (Globe and Mail), Harriett McLachlan (CWP), Leilani Farha (Dignity for All), Senator Jane Cordy (Liberal), Jean Crowder (NDP), Senator Don Meredith (Conservative), Elizabeth May (Green Party), and Jean-François Fortin (Bloc Québécois).

The event featured a discussion panel comprised of the following parliamentarians: Senator Jane Cordy (Liberal), Jean Crowder (NDP), Jean-François Fortin (Bloc Québécois), Elizabeth May (Green Party), and Senator Don Meredith (Conservative). Leilani Farha (Dignity for All), and Harriett McLachlan from CWP also spoke.

The evening began with a welcome by Rob Rainer, Executive Director of CWP, who reminded everyone present, especially members of the public with direct lived experience with poverty, that they had “an important perspective and a valuable role to play”. He also gave an overview of the Dignity for All campaign and highlighted that 9,000 individuals, 90 Members of Parliament and Senators, and 562 organizations have endorsed the goals of the campaign, including the need for a federal poverty reduction strategy.

Senators Jim Munson and Jane Cordy receive awards of appreciation for their hard work on the 2009 Senate report “In from the Margins” from Executive Directors Joe Gunn (CPJ) and Rob Rainer (CWP).

CPJ’s Policy Analyst Simon Lewchuk thanked and acknowledged parliamentarians for their hard work and efforts on the 2010 report from the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities (HUMA), and 2009 Senate report “In from the Margins”. Two parliamentarians - Senators Jim Munson (Liberal) and Jane Cordy (Liberal), were on-hand to receive awards of appreciation that will be given to all former members of the two committees.

Following the presentation, Joe Gunn, CPJ’s Executive Director, and Megan Yarema, from CWP gave some context of the reality of poverty in Canada, what’s been said and done by the federal government, and emphasized the importance of building consensus and moving forward together to achieve the common goal to end poverty in Canada. The discussion was launched with the question: “What can Parliament do to advance the spirit of the 1989 and 2009 motions to end poverty?”

Senator Jane Cordy emphasized the importance of education, the necessity to work together in a non-partisan way, to spend wisely, and have a national housing strategy in order to break the cycle of poverty.

Senator Don Meredith concurred with Senator Cordy on the necessity of working together and on the importance of education. He mentioned his own lived experience in poverty, and offered that: “We cannot leave everything to government, we need to begin to look at other partners, including the private sector, and how they are working together”.

Jean-François Fortin defended the necessity of federal action for better employment insurance and housing strategies.

Leilani Farha added a humorous tone to the discussion by telling a story about her sister who had fallen in love with a “conservative with a capital C.” Through this love story, Farha learned the lesson that “conservatives are people too” and that “sometimes we do share the same goals. It is just that we are often committed to different means of achieving those goals”.

Harriett McLachlan shared her moving personal story of surviving 33 years of poverty. She emphasized the need for a national housing strategy and the importance of working collaboratively.

Jean Crowder spoke eloquently about working collaboratively with all levels of government regardless of what government is in power. She also stressed the necessity of putting pressure on parliamentarians in order to identify and implement concrete measures to ending poverty.

Elizabeth May stated that the only way of ending poverty is having a Guaranteed Annual Income for everyone.

The event included a Q&A session between the panelists and the audience. The panelists, despite their ideological, political and personal differences, unanimously expressed a strong desire to work collaboratively in a non-partisan way to eradicate poverty.

This event marked a very important step in the fight against poverty, supported by individuals who are passionate and committed to this common goal. CPJ will continue to play an integral role in working across party lines to find lasting solutions to ending poverty in Canada.

We look forward to working together to ensure Dignity for All.

Patrícia Graça is CPJ's former Socio-Economic Policy Analyst.

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