Letter to Minister Matthews from Anglican Diocese of Niagara

June 2008

Growing Stronger Together
Whitney Block, Room 4620
99 Wellesley St. West
Toronto, ON M7A 1A1

Attention: The Honourable Deb Matthews,
Chair of the Cabinet Committee on Poverty Reduction
Minister of Children and Youth Services and Minister Responsible for Women’s Issues

Dear Minister Matthews:

Opening our hands to share the bounty

Greetings from the Anglican Diocese of Niagara.

We are writing to express our thanks for your leadership in the development of the Province’s Poverty Reduction Strategy and to add our voice to the many you have already heard.

The Diocese lies at the western end of Lake Ontario. Its backbone is defined roughly by the Niagara Escarpment from the Niagara River in the east to the Dundas Valley in the West and north to Shelburne, Mt. Forest and Orangeville. The area served includes the Niagara Peninsula, Hamilton, The Region of Halton, Guelph, Wellington County, and Dufferin County.

Christ’s Church Cathedral, the centre our Anglican life in this diocese, is located at 252 James St. North in Hamilton and is one of the historic buildings in the City of Hamilton. It is also at the centre of one of the most impoverished communities in the country.

Our mission as Church calls us to both loving service of our neighbours and to action to transform the structures of society that oppress our neighbours, leaving them living in poverty. As people of faith, we seek the development of a just society where all can flourish, even the most vulnerable, poor and dispossessed.

We are filled with hope that true structural change and improvement in living conditions is possible at this time as those who live in poverty, research poverty, serve those in poverty, and the provincial government work together on the development of Ontario’s poverty reduction strategy.

We acknowledge that the government has announced that its first focus is child poverty. However, a focus on children needs to recognize that children live in families in communities – we need healthier, stronger and more inclusive communities now.

As Church, we daily bear witness to all those who suffer due to poverty. We must name the injustices experienced by those who live in poverty – those people of aboriginal background, those living with mental illness, newcomers and refugees, visible minorities, single people, the elderly, the disabled, women fleeing abuse – and we call on the government to develop an effective poverty reduction strategy that will assist all people living in poverty in the province to live with dignity in a more just society.

We support the 25 in 5 founding declaration in that we agree Ontario’s poverty reduction plan should address three priorities:

1. Sustaining employment – means assuring a living standard above poverty for any adult who works full time throughout the year. It means fair pay and stable working conditions for all Ontarians. It means appropriate labour standards and increased enforcement especially for contract, temporary, and part time work as well as regulations and supervision of temporary employment agencies.

2. Livable incomes – means dignity for all Ontarians – including those unable to work. It means increased social assistance rates for recipients of Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program benefits.

3. Strong and supportive communities – means affordable housing, early learning and child care, public education and community programs that help people connect.

In the short term, we realize that charity and compassion are essential when people are suffering and we will continue to respond to the needs of our neighbours. But for too long, faith and community groups, individuals, volunteers and social service agencies and ministries have carried a disproportionate load in meeting the needs of individuals at the local community level through the operation of community centres, daycares, breakfast programs, thrift shops, food banks, overnight shelters, hospitality programs and other social services.

These temporary measures have not broken the cycle of poverty nor alleviated the diminishment of people’s dignity. To do more than respond to emergencies and crises, more resources are needed in our communities.

We recognize that we all have a role to play to reduce poverty, however, only government can accomplish the structural changes to law, programs and policies that are essential for a successful poverty reduction strategy. Only government can re-allocate the resources of society more equitably through its regulatory and taxing powers and increase its funding of social programs.

Please hear our communities’ call for social justice.

Bishop Michael Bird

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