Look for the party that will do the most to help those in need

TheSudburyStar.com – News
September 19, 2011.   By Ruth Farquhar

In this provincial election, do you vote for the party who addresses the many issues you are interested in, or do you vote for the party that addresses one issue that is near and dear to your heart?

It’s a dilemma that many of us go who through each election and this one is proving to be no different.

Obviously I am someone who votes for parties on the left. The issues near and dear to me are the ones that show compassion to the most disenfranchised in this province. But at the same time, there are the occasional issues that bring me up short. For example, I am not at all enamored with the Liberals’ Green Energy Act because they are not showing any compassion for those directly affected by industrial turbines. They don’t care about property values or health issues, and they have just barreled over small municipalities and taken away their power.

It is my understanding that both the NDP and the PCs, should they win, would give power back to the municipalities on this issue. But here’s the thing, would you vote for either one of them because of that one issue, or would you look at each party’s stance on all issues? (Full disclosure, my brother works for the incumbent MPP, Liberal Mike Brown in this riding, Algoma- Manitoulin. As you can probably tell it makes for interesting discussions in our family.)

So far in this election, there has been little talk of the issue that I pay the most attention to: what each party would do to lift people out of poverty in this province. It seems most media would rather focus on divisive issues, such as the whole immigrant-foreign workers thing.

But last week, on TVO’s The Agenda, the whole program was devoted to poverty issues. But guess what? No Conservative attended. There was Liberal Laurel Broton, NDP Cheri DeNovo, the Greens’ Michael Schriener and a woman who works in the field of poverty, but there was no one to debate from the Conservative side. Maybe they had a reason not to be there and I didn’t catch it. But not attending a provincewide program on poverty, when one in five children live in poverty in this province, would have me voting for any party but the Conservatives.

On Sept. 15, a press release was issued by the Social Planning Network of Ontario and the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition calling for a vote for a poverty-free Ontario.

In this release, Peter Clutterbuck the co-coordinator for the Social Planning Network, says, “Ontario’s poverty rate stands at 13.1%, the highest level in the last 30 years.”

And the executive director of Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition says, “poverty amidst the wealth of this province, even in harder economic times, is morally indefensible and we expect that political parties and candidates running for office would not only publicly make clearer proposals about how to reduce and eliminate it within this decade.”

Even with this press release, which encourages people to ask their candidates questions concerning poverty, there is very little in the news about these issues. I’m not talking about how hard it is for us to pay our bills these days, or removing the HST from hydro bills. I’m talking about people living in deep poverty, or who are on assistance of some kind. This is the grinding poverty that no one seems willing to discuss in any detail. The kind that has 160,000 kids using food banks, the kind that has parents wondering if they can pay their rent this month, or will they be on the street.

The Liberals have taken some steps to address issues during the last eight years, such as dental care for children from low incomes and child tax credit, but as far as raising assistance rates to any livable rates, that seems to never gain traction. And the only party that I have heard tout the Guaranteed Annual Income that has been proposed time and again from Conservative Senator Hugh Segal is the Green Party.

In 2008, I quoted Ken Dryden who said, “poverty is a young child growing up just a little more sick, a little more often, away from school just a few more days than other kids, just a little behind. Poverty is that “just a little” that isn’t just a little bit at all.”

When I look at the ballot this Oct. 6, I will be looking at the candidate and party that is the most compassionate to the people who need it most in this province.

Our economy will grow if everyone has a chance to participate, and that includes those who are struggling every day to be included.

Ruth Farquhar is a freelance writer based on Manitoulin Island.

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