OPINION: 12% of Cornwall impoverished, what will political parties do to end it?

There isn’t a single community in Canada immune to poverty and ours is no different. Unfortunately according to statistics from the 2011 census, 26% of Cornwall’s residents are considered low income. In addition, an outstanding 12% of Cornwall’s residents live in poverty, that’s 3% higher than the national average. With Election Day approaching on October 21st, we at UW/Centraide of SD&G 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.

For most, poverty is an uncomfortable reality we’ve 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 life—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 as others.

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 fulfill 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 Cornwall, Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry, 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 nearly $550,000 during our Annual Campaign to support community services for people struggling to pay the rent, feed the kids and find work. Our investments happen within our three pillars of work – All That Kids Can Be, Poverty to Possibility, and Healthy People Strong Communities. By working with our agencies, we help fund programs that will make the biggest impact for the people who need it the most. Our newest partner agency, Centre 105, serves breakfast alongside conversation, activities, free laundry, haircuts and kinship to all that require it. Partnering with Centre 105 has helped the United Way impact the lives of some of Cornwall’s most vulnerable.

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 having 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 we must ask ourselves if we are 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 and 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 on treating the effects of poverty are better spent in removing barriers and creating opportunities to lift people out of poverty and preventing it tomorrow. Vital investments in affordable housing and childcare, 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 can ensure every person in this community and communities across Canada has the opportunity to reach their full potential.

Juliette Labossière
Executive Director, United Way of SD&G