Give poverty the respect it deserves

Focus on such an important city issue has been lacking thus far

Seemingly, the only two issues that have been debated during this civic election are crime and property taxes. There is no question that these are important issues to some Winnipeggers.

However, there are many other issues facing citizens in an urban environment, with poverty being the prevailing one that affects many in our city in various ways.

David Northcott, executive co-ordinator of Winnipeg Harvest, recently stated that “we need to hear all candidates’ comments about the fabric of our neighbourhoods and how the city will provide leadership and support to a complexity of issues.”

Unfortunately, so far there has been minimal discussion regarding these issues in all forms of local media.

As well, many think that these issues fall under provincial or federal jurisdictions and have no bearing on civic politics. This is simply not true.

Cities can, and do, play a major role in areas such as poverty, though they do require assistance from the federal and provincial governments.

Unfortunately, Winnipeg has not addressed social issues in a significant way in over a decade.

For example, some people who have disabilities depend on social assistance for their basic living expenses, due to their inability to work because of health or barriers to finding employment.

The level of assistance they receive does not always provide for the necessities of life and disability supports. While many people with disabilities work, they are often unemployed or under-employed because of attitudinal barriers to finding employment.

Food security is also an important issue that needs to be addressed in our communities. If people don’t have food security, then they cannot be secure in their work, home or anywhere else in their lives

Poverty is an issue that affects people with disabilities disproportionately to other groups in society. The city has a responsibility, along with the province, to deal with these attitudinal barriers and assist people with disabilities in finding work.

Other municipalities, like the municipality of New Westminster in British Columbia, have adopted a living wage policy that has gained public attention. Many other Canadian cities like Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto are debating whether to implement a similar policy as well.

Around the world, even representatives of some of the world’s largest companies have begun to embrace a living wage policy that ensures that their employees and the employees of the companies they contract out to will be able to earn a decent living.

This kind of policy is something the city could implement to ensure that people working for the city, as well as companies who do business with the city, could provide a decent living to their employees.

Food security is also an important issue that needs to be addressed in our communities.

If people don’t have food security, then they cannot be secure in their work, home or anywhere else in their lives. A food security council needs to be established in Winnipeg in order to co-ordinate a program that will ensure a food secure Winnipeg.

If the city takes an active role in reducing poverty, we can increase social inclusion.

By committing to the creation of something like a poverty action committee consisting of both councillors and community members, the citizens of Winnipeg could realize the strong message that poverty is just as significant a civic issue as crime and taxes.

Nick Ternette is a community and political activist, freelance writer and broadcaster who lives with his wife in McFeetors Hall Residence at the University of Winnipeg.

Published in Volume 65, Number 8 of The Uniter (October 21, 2010)

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