By Brian Dryden, Canadian Catholic News
[Ottawa – CCN] – On a wet and damp October Thursday on a pathway that goes under a street in downtown Ottawa, not far from Parliament Hill, a group of people huddled in sleeping bags and blankets to fight off the chill.
Not far from that pathway, another group of people gathered at Parliament Hill Oct. 17 to deliver a message to all political leaders in Canada that they must take the level of poverty in Canada seriously and make eliminating poverty in Canada a national crusade.
“This is a very important issue that needs to be taken seriously no matter who wins the federal election,” said Willard Metzger, executive director of the Ottawa-based Citizens for Public Justice. “The levels of poverty in this country is something we should not accept.”
The gathering of anti-poverty and social justice activists on Parliament Hill is an annual event held to mark the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. The primary message is that the level of poverty and the inability of many in Canada to put food on their tables goes far beyond just the most visible aspects of poverty in Canada.
“Over five million people in Canada live in poverty and one in eight families (in Canada) struggle to put food on the table,” according to Chew on This!, a non-partisan cross-country campaign coordinated by Dignity for All which raises awareness about poverty in Canada by engaging with people on the street, in schools, at places of worship, and on Parliament Hill, and calls for federal leadership in ending poverty in Canada.
The eradicate poverty call for action in Ottawa was one of numerous similar events held across Canada Oct. 17 calling upon Canada’s next federal government to commit to a poverty-free Canada within the first 90 days of taking office and show that whoever forms the next federal government is committed to taking the issue head on.
“Earlier this year, we welcomed the Canadian Poverty Reduction Strategy as an important first step,” Metzger said of the strategy put forward by the Liberal government. “But the work cannot end there. Millions of people across Canada are living in poverty and they need action now.”
Many of those attending the Oct. 17 rally in Ottawa questioned what good a strategy is if there isn’t sufficient funding to back it up.
Making poverty reduction in Canada a national effort is vital for any government going forward, said Michele Biss, policy director and a human rights lawyer with Canada Without Poverty.
“Canada is standing on a precipice, where, much like the climate crisis, we must act now,” Biss said. “By the next federal election in 2023, we will have only seven years to meet our goal of ending poverty under the UN Sustainable Development Goals.”
Biss said the message of the events held across the country on Oct. 17 was to show that “people in Canada care about poverty.”
According to the anti-poverty campaign, more than 1.1 million people in Canada use a food bank every month and, citing the most recent census data, more than 16 per cent of the population, about 5.8 million people, lives in poverty.
“There is still much to improve in the Canadian Poverty Reduction Strategy that was released over a year ago. Renewed efforts must ensure anti-poverty measures are adequately funded in Budget 2020, and that the plan itself is comprehensive in scope and based in human rights,” the Dignity for All campaign said in a statement.