If you have been a follower of Citizens for Public Justice for a while now, you are probably familiar with our call for a comprehensive national anti-poverty plan. You may be familiar with statistics like “4.8 million Canadians live in poverty” or “1 in 8 households struggle to put food on the table.” You are probably familiar with the complexity of poverty and government processes. And perhaps, if we’re honest, you have become familiar, too, with doubts as to whether or not we will ever see a poverty-free Canada.
Let me first encourage you by saying that you are in good company. We should not underestimate the challenges before us, nor the stakes. And yet it is precisely in engaging with the many facets and faces of poverty in Canada that we will find the key to overcoming it together.
This month, CPJ and the Dignity for All campaign released Living in the Gap: A Snapshot of Precarity in Canada. This report includes six infographics highlighting households across Canada struggling to make ends meet. These profiles represent compilations of typical people’s experiences, with numbers drawn from the actual communities in which they are situated.
The main message of the report is that if we are serious about ending poverty, we need more than piecemeal programs and siloed approaches.
“People’s lives are complex. When a family is struggling with prohibitively high costs of childcare and housing, for example, they need more than one simple program like the Canada Child Benefit.” says Sarah DelVillano, CPJ’s public justice intern who authored the report. “Canada’s upcoming anti-poverty plan needs to recognize the intersecting root causes of poverty. We need a strategy that tackles precarity and poverty in a targeted and comprehensive way.”
To tackle such a complex problem in a comprehensive way, we need all hands on deck. This is precisely why federal leadership is so important. We need national targets, timelines, and measurements to make various federal ministries, as well as provinces, territories, and municipalities, work together towards a common goal. The symptoms and causes of poverty and inequality know no jurisdictional boundaries.
Here’s where I see an opportunity for us as citizens. Consider the combined power of all the charities, advocacy groups, and churches across this country. We can come together with a united voice. What if every elected official, including Cabinet Ministers, MPs, provincial and territorial representatives, and city councillors, heard that their constituents have had enough? Enough waiting, enough debating about whose job it is, enough fear-mongering about how much it would cost instead of acknowledging what we have to gain, enough of poverty in the midst of such wealth. We would see change happen quickly.
We are already seeing it. Thanks to the outcry of many voices, we are about to get Canada’s first national anti-poverty plan. Will it have everything we want? Surely not. But it will be a step in the right direction. And it will formalize an acknowledgement that the government is responsible for putting in place policies and budgets that dismantle current barriers and build new systems of support. Our job as citizens will be to keep them honest, to monitor the impact of their policies and point out where gaps persist. And we must continue calling on our elected officials to push forward best practices and reform barriers that stand in the way.
Our work is not nearly done, but our work is working. There are people in government and civil society committed to making Canada a more equitable society. Now we need to get others on board by showing them how they can—and must—help. Consider sharing Living in the Gap with your friends, church, elected officials, and anyone else in your community who has a voice to lend to the call.
Together, we can build a poverty-free Canada.