EDITORIAL: Minister needs real lessons in poverty - Dec. 19, 2013
Federal Industry Minister James Moore needs to broaden his horizons. Moore last week declared the federal government has no role to play in alleviating poverty and hunger in this nation: “Is it the government’s job — my job to feed my neighbour’s child? I don’t think so,” he stated to a journalist, a statement he said he never made, until audio proof spread like wildfire through social media. Caught in that lie, he later apologized, but that is an empty gesture.
Rather than offer a meaningless apology, Moore would do better to abandon his expensive suits, and clothe himself with garments he must wear for the next 14 days, using a budget of $15 or so at the local thrift store to do so, to represent the many Canadians who simply can’t afford to buy new clothes often, if at all.
To better outline how some Canadians live, Moore should for those two weeks reside in a rooming house, with no more than $24.50 (a sum deemed an average impoverished person’s allotment for food for 14 days, by poverty advocates), and be prohibited from going home, and barred from any other source of money, shelter, or food for that two-week period.
In the time he would have on hand, Moore should spend his days panhandling and learning that some homeless people sleep in libraries and bank entrances by day so they can remain awake at night, in part because inadequate federal funding for homeless shelters leaves many out in the street in -25C temperatures in places like Saskatoon, Calgary, Toronto or Winnipeg.
Moore, at some point, ought to visit one of the thousands of soup kitchens orchestrated by the many generous Canadians who give thanklessly of their time because they understand poverty and hold a vastly more charitable view of aiding one’s neighbour than the Minister. As a bonus, given that people with mental illnesses are over-represented among poor, Moore has a good chance of meeting someone at such a place who would allow Moore a chance to reflect on the continued underfunding of mental health care in this country.
Moore would also learn much from walking into an entry-level employer to ask for a job. There he should intentionally bungle the job application form, to help him understand that 42 per cent of adult Canadians have marginal literacy skills: a key barrier to employment not often recognized by Moore’s peers in Ottawa.
Perhaps in his travels, Moore might run into a hungry child of First Nations descent — a staggering 50 per cent of First Nations children live below the poverty line. Would he feel a pang of sympathy, feel the urge to delve into a dumpster to find a spare doughnut thrown away by a supermarket to feed that child? Would he feel the urge to alter Ottawa’s casual attitude towards First Nations poverty, housing and education?
The minister would also be well advised to visit a food bank, one of the 8,000 in the nation driven, often, by under-paid or volunteer workers. If he can find a facility solvent enough to serve a single man, he could then share an experience with the 800,000 Canadians who rely on food banks monthly, a number that has increased by 23 per cent in the time the Tories have been in power, according to foodbankscanada.ca.
Maybe after two weeks of such existence, Moore would realize a little of what it actually means to be poor, to be hungry and to be without options. Maybe, just maybe, after realizing $24.50 doesn’t even remotely feed a person for two weeks, Moore would realize neighbours are often the only ones helping the poor in this nation, and further understand governments do a lousy job of helping those in need because decisions are too often made by folks just like Moore, a member of the political elite earning more than $200,000 per year, complete with an $85 per day food allowance, who has not a whit of understanding about the realities of the nation’s poor and its starving.
(Editorial as published in the Dec. 17, 2013 issue of The Saint Croix Courier.)