Pot smoke clouds anti-poverty battle
City hall conversation to ensure human rights of ‘those furthest behind’
When I started hearing news stories this week discussing the first 100 days of Ontario’s new government, I couldn’t believe my ears. Surely they’d been in place for years now with all the announcements of abrogations, cancellations and discontinuations. I did some fact-checking.
Since June 7, that fateful election day, 130 increments of 24 hours have passed, give or take, mostly take under this government. (“Take my government … please!” Thank you, Henny Youngman.)
However, if you count from June 29, the day the 26th premier claimed he took an oath to “set the stage for a government that will always be accountable to you, that will only answer to you,” (he sure wasn’t speaking to me or anyone I hang with) you end up at 100 long, darkening days as of Oct. 8. Fact checked.
“My friends,” (and by “friends” he means the 2.3 million who voted for him, not the 3.3 million who said, ‘no, please, no’) “a new day will dawn in Ontario, a day of prosperity and opportunity … not just for the privileged few but for every person in Ontario.”
That day seems eons away from this vantage point.
There’s another countdown of 100 days that seems to be taking forever for people in this province who rely on social assistance. On July 31, the minister irresponsible for Children, Community and Social Services proclaimed “an accelerated 100-day deadline to develop and announce a sustainable social assistance program that focuses on helping people lift themselves out of poverty.” Lift themselves out of poverty. DIY. Nice.
We already know the small increase to social assistance of three per cent will be cut in half. Nevertheless, this cut was magically marketed by Minister Lisa MacLeod as “an across-the-board 1.5 per cent increase in support rates to help them with a higher cost of living.” Them. Nice. There’s half the problem right there. Instead of “us,” it’s “them.”
This is a government which will increasingly foment an “us versus them” attitude in our province, which we must vow to love against.
Another 100-day countdown started on July 9, that is 100 days until Oct. 17, the day pot will be legalized in Canada. You may recall the original day planned for this monumental event was to be July 1, 2018. However, with the fear of Canada Day becoming Cannabis Day, Prime Minister Trudeau changed the date to October 17. I am not in favour of this day one ounce.
No, I’m not coming out against legalizing pot, although I am afraid of the implementation plan proposed under this provincial government. What I am against is the prime minister’s choice of October 17, the United Nations’ International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, as the day to do this.
Was this intentional as a way of creating a smokescreen, literally, to cover up the reality of poverty in our nation?
It was December 1992, when the United Nations first invited all member states to devote Oct. 17 to “presenting and promoting, as appropriate in the national context, concrete activities with regard to the eradication of poverty and destitution.”
I do not think legalizing pot is an appropriate concrete activity with regard to poverty eradication given our national context with one in seven (4.9 million) people living in poverty. I simply wish he’d picked another day.
The first time this day was marked was actually in 1987, when Joseph Wresinski, a French Catholic priest, later identified by the UN as one of the first voices to highlight the direct link between human rights and extreme poverty, unveiled a plaque in the Human Rights Court in front of the Eiffel Tower with the following words: “Wherever men and women are condemned to live in extreme poverty, human rights are violated. To come together to ensure that these rights be respected is our solemn duty.”
I’m worried with all the toking likely to be taking place out front of City Hall on October 17, our solemn duty to come together to ensure human rights are respected when it comes to poverty, will be shirked. Inside the council chambers that evening will be a conversation reflecting this year’s theme from the UN, “Coming together with those furthest behind to build an inclusive world of universal respect for human rights and dignity.”
High or not, let’s come together with those furthest behind.
Deirdre Pike is a freelance columnist for The Hamilton Spectator. She will be attending a “Conversation on Poverty and Inequality in Hamilton,” in council chambers of Hamilton City Hall on October 17, 6-8 p.m. For more information you can follow her @deirdrepike or write email@example.com