Dealing with poverty, a measure of our democracy

The Lonely Planet travel guide editors and contributors recently drew up a list of the world's happiest places. Montreal made the top 10. A walk down a crowded Rue St.

The Lonely Planet travel guide editors and contributors recently drew up a list of the world’s happiest places. Montreal made the top 10. A walk down a crowded Rue St. Denis last Friday night would have confirmed this view. Terraces filled with patrons, boutiques attracting evening strollers and the general unhurried, convivial ambiance seemed imbued with the famous Quebec ‘joie de vivre’.

You don’t have to wander far off the non-stop, summer festival hubs of Montreal like St. Lawrence Boulevard or Ste. Catherine’s Street, though, to see another face of the city. High unemployment mixed with dense areas of low income housing in districts like Park Extension, Hochelaga or Montreal North generate their own decidedly not happy mixture of social pathologies.

Right across the country our collective failure to effectively deal with poverty is painfully obvious. A roundtable sponsored by the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg and Campaign 2000, an organization dedicated to ending child and family poverty, convened in Winnipeg last week. It met there on the occasion of the Premier’s Council of the Federation gathering there.

As the statement from the roundtable to the national leaders read, “There is growing recognition within Canada and internationally that persistent poverty is a serious health issue, erodes the social fabric of communities, and is a moral blight on the democratic integrity of nations.”

Participants from anti-poverty groups from across the country sought to ensure that our provincial and territorial leaders demonstrate their commitment “to work together to eradicate poverty in Canada during the next decade.” Senator Art Eggleton was among the roundtable participants. He had chaired the Senate committee that issued a study on Canadian poverty this past spring entitled ‘From the Margins: A Call to Action on Poverty, Housing and Homelessness’.

Speaking to a Winnipeg Free Press reporter, Eggleton estimated that poverty costs Canadian taxpayers $30 billion a year when you factor in everything from health care to justice to housing. He reminds us that the poor among us who “make up one-quarter of the community … use twice the average health-care services.” Further “deprivation is the fate of the more than 40 per cent of low income children whose parents work full time throughout the year only to have their families live in poverty.”

We have choices to make. Inequality and poverty disproportionately afflicts our First Nation citizens, single mothers, identifiable minorities, persons with disabilities and recent immigrants. As Eggleton starkly stated, facing up to the reality of poverty means either increasing taxes to deal concretely with its many faces or, alternatively, dealing with the rising costs resulting from inaction by cutting back on key services like health care.

Other politicians, like Stockwell Day, recently tried to refocus our attention onto the symptoms of the problem rather than the problem itself. This approach erodes attempts at building a more healthy, equitable society. Wouldn’t solutions like building more prisons actually result in increased taxes with no real resolution of the basic underlying issues?

The health of our democratic system can be measured in no small part by our choices. Our efforts at eradicating poverty will demonstrate the vibrancy of our society and ultimately serve as a true gauge of our happiness.

For the full Winnipeg statement have a look at http://www.campaign2000.ca/whatsnew/releases/Winnipeg StatementAug2010.pdf

While you are at it, see the August newsletter of the Yukon Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Strategy folk at www.abetteryukon.ca .

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact pazypan@yukon.net.

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