by Bill Thomas
In April 2010, a conference was held to develop a Yukon social inclusion and poverty reduction strategy.
The minister of Health and Social Services at the time, Glenn Hart, made a few introductory comments in a pamphlet. He wrote: “All citizens should have the opportunities to participate as fully as possible in all that Yukon has to offer and together we can work to make this a better Yukon for everyone.”
These are good words, strong words.
“All citizens” refers to the need for more social inclusion in the territory. “Opportunities” relates to people taking advantage of education programs, job training, assistance programs and suitable accommodation. “Participate as fully as possible” reminds me of a statement many have made that the best poverty-reduction program is a well-paid job.
That comment, though powerful, does not recognize the reality for many Yukoners who cannot participate in the employment market because of medical conditions, mental health factors and physical incapacities.
“Working together” recognizes that no one group can make for a better Yukon. All of us, our communities, all levels of government – federal, territorial, First Nation and municipal – as well as the business sector, the NGOs, First Nations organizations, our youth, must work together.
In January 2011, a workshop was held to develop a framework and further direction for the strategy.
Many representatives from both the private sector and public sector produced many thoughtful and creative ideas for a potential framework. For me the workshop was a major advancement of the whole process. I applaud the efforts made on the part of all participants.
That was 15 months ago. The strategy is stalled. This is unfortunate as it indicates poverty and social inclusion concerns are a low priority area for the new Yukon government.
We in the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition believe there has to be a renewed effort, a revitalization, to get the strategy back on track. The challenges and the issues are still here. Many Yukoners need support and resources and all of us need to work together with a caring and compassionate spirit.
We have done our homework. Research done in the Yukon indicates the extent of poverty, homelessness and social exclusion in the territory. This tells us a very important story. It tells us how many people are in need, what resources might be necessary and what programs, incentives and support systems could be put in place to lift people out of poverty and remove the weight of social exclusion.
There are other stories to tell. The major story is about the relationship between people and material. What about the story of the relationship between people and people? Let’s pull the camera in closer. Information alone can’t provide the connection that binds one person to another or that stirs our hearts to action.
Our challenge is to link visions to narratives that touch all of us and give us a sense of being a part of a better Yukon.
The stories we tell each other can lead us to make that gesture, that act, that choice to move us forward. Our stories can move us towards what is worth seeking, what is worth doing.
This strategy is worth doing.
So, what should we do? We can call on the territorial government to renew its efforts to get the strategy back on track. We can join together to start a “get the strategy back on track” campaign.
Do you have any ideas for what such a campaign would look like? Let us know by calling (867)334-9317 or email firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts and ideas.
I recall Senator Hugh Segal’s comments at the April 2010 conference. He said, “It’s expensive not to address poverty” and “poverty kills more Canadians than cancer.” Sobering thoughts.
Let’s renew our efforts to reduce poverty and social exclusion in Yukon. Let’s get the strategy done.
Bill Thomas is the co-chair of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition and a member of the Community Advisory Committee, Social Inclusion and Poverty