“7. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.”
CONSTITUTION ACT, 1982, PART I, Legal Rights
On Sunday, October 16, 2016, I joined MLA’s Melanie Mark and Spencer Chandra Herbert for the 5th annual Welfare Food Challenge.
This is my final day of the challenge and I want to share with you some personal observations.
- Food and shelter are a fundamental right. B.C. has one of the highest poverty rates in Canada (1/5 children living in poverty). As the NDP nomination candidate for Courtenay/Comox, I am prepared to take a bold new position on the subject of poverty in B.C.
- The next B.C. government must have a progressive poverty reduction plan in place. All citizens of this great province have the right to life and liberty and security of their person. To deny someone assistance in acquiring food and shelter is to directly put their safety and security at risk (including health risks which may affect an individual’s basic right to their own life).
- A government that ignores poverty is a government that has lost its capacity to care for the people. It is a government that has lost its way in the erroneous advice of lobbyists and elitists. It is a government that no longer cares about our founding constitution or our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is a government that would rather rely on charity and community programs instead of taking responsibility for the people under its care. It is a government that must be changed by the collective will of the people.
- Over this past week, I lived on $18 of food. Unlike many people in this province, I was able to shop at a major grocery store where there were lots of sales. Despite getting a good deal on my groceries, I was hungry by day 3. While others went about their week, cheering me on, I felt more and more isolated from my usual group of co-workers and friends. When people in the office went for their daily lattes, I could not. When family had a dinner planned, I could not share the food. I was invited out for dinner by friends and I had to decline. “We can go next week when you’re done your food thing.”
I noticed immediately that while my situation is temporary, for over 185,000 British Columbians the hunger, social isolation and constant search for food and shelter is a permanent way of life.
- I have received some critical comments on social media about taking the food challenge and how after one week I cannot possibly know what it is like to live on the streets. I left these posts public on my social media sites with no response – because they are true. I have a job and a regular pay cheque. By my own admission, I agree, I do live a life of privilege. While I have supported myself since I was 17 years old, and while I have struggled and fought to be where I am today, I also recognize that for many people, government bureaucracy stands in the way of the right to life, liberty, and the security of their person.
Those who receive social assistance are expected to live off $610 a month – a rate that has been the same since 2007.
- This must change. Being hungry is a distraction – from work, school, friends, family. When you are hungry, you can’t focus. It makes learning and concentrating difficult.
Searching for food and shelter is full time work.
- Those on limited income are forced to eat cheap, often over-processed foods with little to no nutritional value – full of preservatives and other additives. Whole foods, organics, all-natural foods are more expensive. In the long-term, these cheap foods will compromise human health (which the taxpayers just spend more money paying for healthcare to cover illnesses related to poor health).
Providing healthy food to those in need is not only the moral, ethical, and socially responsible thing for a government to do, it is also the most economic thing to do as it reduces long term health problems and the need for expensive medical services.
- Transportation to access food can be a barrier for many people – it’s expensive, and for those with health conditions or impairments, it can be very challenging. Even when there is food available, there is a distribution problem. For example, food waste adds about $700 a year to each household’s grocery bill in Metro Vancouver. Much of this food could be redistributed to those who need it most. A great example of an NGO working to solve this problem is Quest Outreach – a great model of how to redistribute food.
So, what can we do?
Poverty reduction is not just simply about providing more money for food and shelter (although that is an immediate need). Poverty reduction is about a government taking responsibility for the overall root cause issues that contribute to poverty and implementing an effective plan to start combating this collective social problem in our society.
Poverty reduction is about building a capacity to care within our society and government.
As a public figure seeking office I am advocating for the following steps to be taken:
- Ensure that our Charter of Rights and Freedoms is specifically added to our daily language when we discuss poverty issues in government and charitable programs.
- Formally recognize that poverty is a threat to one’s life, liberty, and the security of their person.
- Structure and implement a provincial poverty reduction plan which will review and revise current provincial policies pertaining to housing availability, minimum wage, social assistance rates, and job placement and retaining programs for those that are seeking work.
- Legislate a pilot project on food distribution issues (similar to France).
- Explore the costs/benefits of a Guaranteed minimum income – similar to what Ontario is now exploring.
I am here to fight for you, to ignite that spark of hope which has been for too long snuffed out. Together we can achieve change. Together we can build a capacity of caring for others in need. Let’s work together this next election and hold the government accountable for the needs of the people.