Poverty is a serious problem worldwide. It is a problem that is assumed to be a way of life for the majority of the population in third world countries, but poverty hides its head behind many landscapes. It is a problem that the wealthiest need in order to gain more wealth, but in a first world country such as Canada, it is for many, a special disgrace.
There are many Canadians who see a better vision for Canada. They see shame in the way the poor are overlooked time and time again by politicians. A special showing of Poor No More at the hall in the United Church brought with it a panel of conscientious individuals who see Canada with more promise for all and less monopolizing by the rich, the corporate and the elite. Councillor Ray Jarvis, Member of Parliament Alex Atamanenko, Member of the Legislative Assembly Harry Lali, regional vice-president Rhonda Bruce of the HEU (Hospital Employees Union) and Crisis Centre director Allan Kovaltsenko headed a worthy discussion after the viewing.
“My biggest concern is inequality of our people,” said Jarvis. “There still exists an inequality for women that is not acceptable.” Jarvis held a spotlight on inequality through a personal story. “My daughter has disabilities and struggles on a small pension while people around her make ridiculous wages. The government leaves her to be taken care of by her family and friends with little help from outside. It is a disgrace.”
Poor No More is a documentary hosted by actress Mary Walsh best know for her comedic roles, but in this role Walsh asks serious questions about Canada’s future including barging in to speak with, Bob Peter’s, president of the liquor branch of Ontario (who earns over $400,000 annually) looking for answers as to why one of their long time employees was not getting the benefits she needed to help her deal with her medical issues. Vicky had worked for the company for 20 years yet was being kept as a casual worker in order for the company to avoid giving Vicky benefits which would have made a world of difference for her during her fight with cancer.
Vicky was just one Canadian who is suffering at the hands of an employer who is earning billions of dollars annually yet devaluing their workers out of greed according to many facts laid out by director Deveaux Babin. Poor No More magnifies the inequalities that the federal and provincial government of Canada have turned into a way of life. “Average Canadians are having a tougher and tougher time making ends meet,” said MP Atamanenko, “while an end to corporate tax cuts could change society. We could increase child care benefits, increase wages and make a significant impact of the lives of the average Canadian by refusing to let a few people make the majority of decisions.”
“Taxes are good,” added MLA Harry Lali. “Taxes pay for our services. They pay for things we sometimes take for granted. I am not philosophically against tax cuts, but I know even though I have three kids myself, I don’t need them. Give them to someone who is poor and that money goes into the local economy for basic needs like food, shoes and such; give it to a corporation and it leaves Canada. Tax cuts to the rich go right out the Canadian window. Corporate tax cuts don’t work. Tax cuts to low income earners benefit the province the most, but the richest 7 per cent of British Columbians receive the most tax cuts.”
Rhonda Bruce regional vice-president of HEU said that “Bill 29 introduced in 2002 led to the firing of the biggest population of women in B.C.’s health care history.” Over 9000 health care workers lost their jobs. “This was done by our government. Privatization of these jobs brought in minimum wage workers at $8/hour. This is not acceptable. Eight dollars an hour is not a living wage in our province. We are fighting for the right of every living Canadian to earn a living wage.”
Kovaltsenko added, “I deal with the end result of poverty. It is a great thing to work hard, make a living and not go broke. I can only do what I can do. I can’t do everything. The government is supposed to look after us…that is why we pay them our taxes. Our social services are disappearing and the only way we can make a difference is to vote.”
Atamanenko said, “change only comes out of desperation and desperation brings courage. We need to join forces with like minded people. If you don’t have the courage of your convictions you have no business running for a political party.”
“I’m here because of the way things have been going in our province,” continued Atamanenko. “I’m just one small person who has been forced to go up against 50 conglomerates to try and stop the implementation of genetically modified food into our food chain and I have people talking. Right now wealth is dictating policy.”
“The power balance is beginning to shift,” added Lali. “The pressure is starting to mount and force MLA’s to stand up for their constituents. Lali movingly quoted great Canadian Tommy Douglas, “We are all in this world together, and the only test of our character that matters is how we look after the least fortunate among us. How we look after each other, not how we look after ourselves. That’s all that really matters, I think.”
“The next decade will be a battle for our country,” stated Atamanenko also a fan of Douglas.
The average income of families of students at Vermilion Forks School in Princeton is $24,4000. Statistics Canada identified the poverty line at $21,666 for a single person in 2007. For a family, that number is much higher, meaning that the average Canadian family attending VFE is at or below poverty level.
“Canada is not what it was 30 years ago,” stated Atamanenko.
“I would love to see Princeton become a role model for larger communities,” said Kovaltsenko. “It doesn’t have to be this way here. We can’t just sit and watch things deteriorate.”
Poor No More featured Sweden and a changing Ireland in the second half of the documentary. Looking at the Waterford company in Ireland and Ikea in Sweden, the movie made comparisons between doing it right and doing it wrong. There are no working poor in Sweden. Princeton’s panel for the documentary agreed on one common denominator. “Every Canadian has a right to earn a living wage.”