In the famous New York Sun letter of 1897, a veteran editor, Francis Church, had to address head on the direct question of an eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon. “Is there a Santa Claus?”
In his response he talked of their skeptical age where nothing could be believed “except they see.” Where the feebleness of human intellect fails to grasp “the whole of truth and knowledge.”
We obviously live in a skeptical age as well. However unlike in Church’s time the many images confronting us of shrinking glaciers and vanishing polar ice or shrivelled crops in sub-Sahara Africa and typhoon damage in Southeast Asia do not move many of us off our comfortable perches. Nor does it seem that the reality of the current global economic crisis significantly assails our fanciful faith in bedrock notions like the essential nature of ever upward spiralling consumption and growth to our economic well-being.
Earlier this week the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities from the House of Commons visited Whitehorse. A dozen or so local groups and individuals got invitations to appear before them just last week. It seems that they had managed to tack on a few belated northern stops in the western consultative round of their process.
The four MP committee members who made it up wanted our input on the federal contribution to reducing poverty in Canada. I used my brief seven minutes to try to make the link between the local and global. The Make Poverty History (www.makepovertyhistory.ca) analysis fit the bill for me. As they very simply say, “We need a shift in national and international policies to eliminate poverty.”
They like other groups such as KAIROS (www.kairoscanada.org), the Canadian church-based social justice movement, see a definite link between deep reforms to the global economic system and eliminating poverty here and abroad. They both call for the implementation of fair trade rules, true social welfare assistance and aid that breaks dependencies not fosters them and equality stimulating measures such as debt forgiveness for the poorest rather than bank bailouts as the way forward.
In a private, candid aside after our session ended, one member of Parliament confided to another panelist and myself that given the present economic deficit and the need to trim costs that social programmes were always likely candidates not for enhancement but for the chopping block. After all the unorganized voice of the poor of Canada like elsewhere is rarely heard or for that matter counts for much at election time.
The day after the parliamentarians visit to the Yukon those words unfortunately rang very true. I received word that the funding from the Canadian International Development Agency to KAIROS had been cut without explanation and in the face of a recent, very positive program evaluation by CIDA itself.
An appeal for letters to Prime Minister Stephen Harper (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Bev Oda, minister of International Co-operation (email@example.com) urging them to reverse this decision has gone out. This move will have a severe impact on the ability of KAIROS to continue its’ national and international social justice work. If at the same time you have a minute to urge the prime minister to work for a truly effective climate deal in Copenhagen, please do.
“Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond,” Church noted in 1897. These are indeed needed if we are to break the chains that currently bind us to an Earth-destroying and poverty-creating economic system. But it won’t be some climate or anti-poverty Santa that get us through these difficult times. Rather sacrifice, hard work and tough decisions will be needed to turn from the destructive path we are on.
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.