For whatever reason, there are several issues in our election campaign that no one is talking about.
I spoke of one, recently, that of aboriginal rights. Here is another.
It’s not about jobs or opportunity or cutting waste and spending.
It’s about poverty.
Now let me introduce you to one voice of poverty, the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition or ISARC. ISARC is a group that crosses all faiths from Christians of all denominations, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Hindus to Baha’i.
They have been at anti-poverty work since 1986. Their primary principle is simple.
"When anyone is hungry while others have too much to eat, when anyone has no shelter while others live in luxury, or when anyone lives in poverty while others enjoy affluence, justice is not present. Where justice is not present, the quality of all our lives and communities disappears."
This working for justice and fairness in community is central to their work. When elections happen, ISARC asks questions of all our political parties.
"We are perplexed that the Opposition parties were able to support an austerity budget in 2012, yet were unwilling to support a progressive budget in 2014 that raised social assistance rates, indexed the minimum wage, increased the Ontario Child Benefit, provided affordable housing funds, and raised wages for many low-income workers," says the Rev. Susan Eagle, the coalition’s Chair. "We challenge both Opposition parties to tell us, the people of Ontario, what exactly they oppose in the 2014 budget and how they plan to reduce poverty."
ISARC suggests that we ask candidates in this election a series of questions and consider the answers carefully.
The questions are:
Does your party support raising the minimum wage above the poverty line? A minimum wage of $14/hour would lift full-time workers 10% above that line.
Will your party raise social assistance rates for single individuals on Ontario Works by $100 per month? Will your party increase rates by 5% for other social assistance recipients?
Emergency dental care for low-income adults costs Ontarians $30 million a year. Will your party provide preventive dental care for low-income adults?
Will your party match federal funding for new affordable housing? Will your party invest in the Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative?
Will your party support indexation of the Ontario Child Benefit to help low-income families?
Will your party raise taxes on affluent Ontarians and corporations to provide the revenue needed for these and other measures to help low-income Ontarians?
The response from all political parties has so far been a deafening silence.
All the political parties are trying to solicit votes based on what they think voters want.
But what about the rest of the people?
What about people in precarious work or working two or three jobs?
What about people on social assistance because of disability who have seen their entitlements frozen for years, eroded by inflation, with no chance to get ahead, much less keep their heads above water.
People in this province and our community are struggling, not because they don’t have a job, but because the job they have doesn’t pay a living wage.
People are struggling, not because they don’t have a place to live, but because they don’t have a safe and affordable place to live.
Children are hurting because they don’t have enough to eat; not because their mother or father made bad choices but because there simply isn’t enough in their home.
Ask election candidates what they intend to do to bring justice to our communities so that people can have safe homes, food to eat and a reasonable life.
It’s the least we can do.
Rev. David Shearman is the minister of Central Westside United Church, Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County, Cable 53.