Lo­cal let­ters, opin­ions, anal­y­sis

More than 14,000 peo­ple live in poverty in Peter­bor­ough

The Peterborough Examiner - - FRONT PAGE - JIM RUS­SELL GUEST COLUM­NIST Jim Rus­sell is the CEO of the United Way of Peter­bor­ough and Dis­trict.

There isn’t a sin­gle com­mu­nity in Canada im­mune to poverty and ours is no dif­fer­ent. Un­for­tu­nately, ac­cord­ing to 2016 cen­sus data, 14,645 Peter­bor­ough res­i­dents, have in­comes be­low the low-in­come mea­sure. In other words, al­most 1 in 5 of our neigh­bours live in poverty. With elec­tion day ap­proach­ing on Mon­day, we at United Way of Peter­bor­ough and Dis­trict are wait­ing and watch­ing for all par­ties to share their anti-poverty plans with vot­ers.

In June 2019, fed­eral poverty re­duc­tion leg­is­la­tion was passed. This means the next fed­eral gov­ern­ment — and all those that fol­low — are re­quired by law to make progress against poverty.

Poverty is an un­com­fort­able re­al­ity most of us have come to ac­cept as a part of our so­ci­ety. But our neigh­bours who have lived with poverty know that it is ever present in their lives — the choice be­tween rent and food on the ta­ble, the fear of un­fore­seen ex­penses you can’t meet, the in­abil­ity to give your chil­dren the same ex­pe­ri­ence oth­ers en­joy.

When we talk about poverty, we are re­ally talk­ing about the ‘op­por­tu­nity gap’ — we all have po­ten­tial; we don’t all have the same op­por­tu­nity to ful­fil it. Tack­ling poverty is about build­ing hope — a be­lief in the po­ten­tial of all Cana­di­ans.

Poverty is a driver of the op­por­tu­nity gap in this coun­try. It can be un­com­fort­able to talk about. It can seem too com­pli­cated to ad­dress. But poverty has no place in a re­source-rich, com­pas­sion­ate coun­try like Canada. Our fail­ure to elim­i­nate poverty is so­cially and eco­nom­i­cally un­ac­cept­able. We know Cana­di­ans value tak­ing care of each other when we strug­gle — we give our time, en­ergy and money be­cause we are com­pas­sion­ate. In Peter­bor­ough, in­di­vid­u­als, fam­i­lies, busi­nesses and labour coun­cils show their love for this com­mu­nity by sup­port­ing our ef­forts to make so­cial is­sues like poverty #UNIG­NOR­ABLE.

Last year alone, we en­gaged thou­sands of donors and vol­un­teers to raise $1.75 mil­lion dol­lars to sup­port com­mu­nity ser­vices for peo­ple strug­gling to pay the rent, feed their kids and find work. Our in­vest­ments work and we are proud to sup­port 46 part­ners, neigh­bour­hood ini­tia­tives, and pro­grams that build com­mu­nity.

To ad­dress poverty, modern gov­ern­ment pol­icy must be proac­tive. For our lo­cal can­di­dates seek­ing fed­eral of­fice in Oc­to­ber, it’s time to make the erad­i­ca­tion of poverty in Canada a pol­icy pri­or­ity. Do­ing so will fo­cus our col­lec­tive ef­forts on re­mov­ing the bar­ri­ers that keep so many from par­tic­i­pat­ing in our econ­omy and ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the qual­ity of life that is pos­si­ble here.

The good news for Canada is that we now have the low­est poverty rate in our his­tory, and a fed­eral poverty re­duc­tion strat­egy with tar­gets and time­lines, in­clud­ing re­duc­ing poverty by 50 per cent by 2030. But are we aim­ing high enough with a tar­get that is the min­i­mum of the United Na­tion’s Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goal on poverty? A 50 per cent re­duc­tion will still leave more than two mil­lion Cana­di­ans in poverty, an ap­palling sit­u­a­tion that will con­tinue to drain bil­lions of dol­lars from pub­lic cof­fers. Canada can surely be more am­bi­tious and set its sights on erad­i­ca­tion.

We know that the bil­lions spent to­day treat­ing the ef­fects of poverty would be bet­ter spent re­mov­ing bar­ri­ers and cre­at­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to lift peo­ple out of poverty and pre­vent­ing it to­mor­row. Vi­tal in­vest­ments in af­ford­able hous­ing and child care, ac­ces­si­ble health and com­mu­nity ser­vices, bet­ter train­ing to align with labour mar­ket needs, and strong, modern in­come se­cu­rity pro­grams can make poverty a dis­tant mem­ory.

When we re­move bar­ri­ers, we en­sure ev­ery per­son in this com­mu­nity and com­mu­ni­ties across Canada can reach their full po­ten­tial.

JOELLE KO­VACH/EX­AM­INER FILE PHOTO

Jim Rus­sell, CEO of the United Way of Peter­bor­ough and Dis­trict, takes part in the launch of a new pub­lic cam­paign called Care. Hope. Vote! on Sept. 10 at the Sil­ver Bean.

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