Whitehorse rally aims to make poverty a campaign issue

A campaign to raise awareness about poverty was launched across the country this week, including at a rally in downtown Whitehorse on Tuesday.

A campaign to raise awareness about poverty was launched across the country this week, including at a rally in downtown Whitehorse on Tuesday.

The Whitehorse Vote to End Poverty event was hosted by the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition, in an effort to educate voters about the effects of poverty before the municipal and federal elections on Oct. 15 and 19.

“We want to make poverty an issue for all the candidates both federally and municipally here in the Yukon,” Charlotte Hrenchuk, co-chair of the coalition, told a crowd of about 20 people. “And we want to increase voter turnout, to encourage low-income Yukoners to cast their ballots.”

Hrenchuk said the Whitehorse food bank served about 1,250 people per month this summer, a third of whom were children. She also pointed to high rents and long wait lists for social housing as some of the major issues facing low-income Yukoners.

She cited research from 2008 estimating that poverty adds $7.6 billion per year to health-care budgets across the country, because people living in poverty are more vulnerable to health problems.

“If some of that money were shifted towards the symptoms and prevention (of poverty), our health-care costs would go down,” Hrenchuk said.

Maura Sullivan, a Whitehorse resident who attended the event, said she doesn’t feel poverty has been adequately addressed so far in the federal election campaign.

“All you hear about is numbers and the economic downturn,” she said. “I’d like to hear more about what they’re going to do about affordable housing, especially in cold places where we live.”

She also worries that people without fixed addresses will have difficulty voting this year, thanks to changes to voter requirements under the Fair Elections Act.

Despite the Vote to End Poverty campaign’s status as a non-partisan initiative, Tuesday’s event was more heavily attended by politicians than anyone else.

All city councillors were present, including Dave Stockdale and Betty Irwin, who are both seeking re-election.

Liberal candidate Larry Bagnell and NDP candidate Melissa Atkinson also both attended, and were quick to point to their respective parties’ plans for addressing poverty.

Bagnell touted the Liberal Party’s Canada Child Benefit, worth up to $533 a month per child. He also mentioned the party’s pledge to spend $60 billion on infrastructure.

“That’ll put a lot of people back to work, so they can feed their families and pay their mortgages,” he said.

Atkinson referred to the NDP’s plan for $15-a-day child care and a $15 minimum wage for workers in federally regulated sectors.

Conservative MP Ryan Leef did not attend the event.

The Anti-Poverty Coalition is encouraging Yukoners to ask candidates how they would fight poverty, and to participate in a national conversation using the hashtag #VoteToEndPoverty.

In 2012, the United Nations issued a scathing report criticizing Canada’s approach to dealing with inequality and poverty. It called for the creation of a national anti-poverty strategy – something that still doesn’t exist. Instead, provinces and territories have developed their own plans – currently, British Columbia is the only Canadian jurisdiction without a plan in development.

The Yukon released a report on poverty in the territory in 2013, which estimated that 16.8 per cent of residents experienced food insecurity, and that over 30 per cent of single-parent families earned less than $30,000 per year. It also pegged the unemployment rate for First Nations people in the Yukon at nearly 22 per cent.

Contact Maura Forrest at

maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

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