Poverty Task Force

General Superior elect Sr. Pauline Lally spoke during the Mayor’s Task Force on Poverty held in Kingston April 30, 2007. The speech is reprinted here.

In the 19th century the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul set about working on behalf of the orphaned, the sick and the aged. We even made exhausting and humbling “begging tours” to the towns’ wealthier districts, seeking money to clothe and shelter those in our care.

In recent years we have recognized that charity is no substitute for social justice. Indeed, it was St. Vincent de Paul himself who said that when giving charity to the poor we should ask their forgiveness. Why? Because you may give them a bowl of soup or a grocery hamper, but they give up their dignity.

If you walk for a few minutes from Artillery Park you will find a restaurant where you can buy a $15 hamburger and a $12 poutine. If you walk in the other direction you will find a shelter where, earlier this month, the residents dined on crackers topped with ketchup.

In spite of that, we believe that Kingston can do much more to reduce poverty.

The core of the policy approach we will be urging Kingston to adopt is from a report issued from the National Council of Welfare just a few weeks ago. It’s about a workable strategy for poverty reduction. It can be applied here in Kingston just as easily as it could in Ottawa or the provinces. This Council notes that without a long term vision or plan, without officials accountable for carrying out the plan, without resources and without accepted benchmarks to measure results, Canada’s communities will continue to be mired in poverty for generations.

The Council recommends four cornerstones for poverty reduction:

1. A poverty reduction strategy that combines a long-term vision with measurable targets and timelines;

2. An action plan with a budget to coordinate initiatives within and across governments and partners;

3. A government accountability structure based on consulting the people most affected in the design, implementation and evaluation of policies that affect them;

4. Commonly accepted poverty indicators that can be used to plan, monitor change and measure progress on poverty reduction targets.

The main thrust is to make sure that poverty issues are at the heart of all local government thinking. Poverty reduction and social inclusion considerations

must affect policy-making in all departments. How would this work in Kingston?

A few projects currently underway can help us answer this question.

Youth recreation opportunities are a proven way of attacking poverty. Dr. Gina Browne, professor of clinical epidemiology at McMaster, has done pioneering research on this.

She explains that if you give a kid a coach, he’ll be far less likely to need a doctor, a CAS worker, a psychologist, a physiotherapist or a probation officer.

If Kingston had had a clear poverty reduction strategy in place when we were planning the multiplex, would that $30 million project have gone ahead before detailed plans about how to use the community arenas had been worked out?

It may be that the community arenas will survive and find good uses. I certainly hope they do, because the multiplex is far from the places where our most disadvantaged children live. The point is that the recreational needs of these children should have been front and centre when Kingston started to plan its new community arena.

Let’s think about childcare. A large body of research shows that access to affordable childcare is crucial for low-income citizens. High quality early learning and childcare promote children’s well being. At the same time it enables parents to work or receive training. If Kingston had had a clear poverty reduction strategy in place, would the city have recently changed its definition of daycare so that establishing a new childcare centre now requires a zoning change in residential areas? A zoning amendment costs $3000 and adds complexity to the process of setting up a childcare facility.

Our office will be offering the Task Force further ideas in the months to come.

In closing, we cannot place enough emphasis on the need to sustain Kingston as a liveable city. This requires collective citizen action via neighbourhood associations, issue-oriented groups and local coalitions.

We support the 1995 Copenhagen Declaration of the UN Summit on Social Development. Canada signed that Declaration.

So, when planning in the future ask yourself: How will this affect the poor of the city? How will this help our efforts at poverty-reduction and social inclusion, making for a healthy, wholesome Kingston?