Faith and poverty: A reason to believe

TheStar.com – opinion/editorials
Published On Fri Jun 10 2011.

Ontario’s faith-based communities have long opened their doors to the needy. Daily they ease suffering by offering food programs for the hungry and emergency shelters for the homeless.

Now, they’ve decided to take on a more difficult task: reducing the need for those acts of compassion and generosity by getting Queen’s Park to live up to its commitment to reduce poverty.

“In previous elections we have waited in vain for the public debate around poverty and social policy issues,” says Susan Eagle, a United Church minister and chair of the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition.

The faithful are a patient lot, but time’s up. The coalition, which includes leaders from the Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist faiths, is marshalling its members to make sure poverty becomes — and remains — a key issue in next fall’s provincial election.

There are more than one million Ontarians living in poverty who need this campaign to succeed. But an empty chair at the coalition’s political roundtable on Thursday served as an early warning sign of one difficulty ahead.

The Liberals, New Democrats and Greens were all present to outline their party’s position and to debate the others in a discussion moderated by Torstar chair John Honderich. However, the Progressive Conservatives — despite more than a month’s notice — sent no one.

Where was Conservative MPP Julia Munro? She once passionately argued in the Legislature that “fighting poverty . . . takes political will, good research and it takes money.”

Where was Conservative MPP Ted Chudleigh? He criticized the Liberal government’s goal to reduce poverty, stating that in a country as rich as ours the plan “should be to eliminatepoverty.”

Indeed, in 2009 more than a dozen Conservative MPPs stood in the Legislature to support a long-term poverty reduction plan for Ontario. Where is that support now?

It is not acceptable — either morally or economically — to leave so many Ontarians suffering in poverty. We hope the addition of new faith-based voices calling for change helps allparties remember that.

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