One of Canada’s champions in the movement to eliminate poverty, Senator Art Eggleton, says a national effort is needed with support from all provinces.
“And yet where is the federal government? The federal government is missing in action. This October, we have a chance to correct that,” he says, referring to the federal election.
Eggleton, speaking at the National Summit to Reduce Poverty in Ottawa, acknowledges that poverty doesn’t poll high enough to get noticed by many people, and therefore the politicians choose to ignore the issue.
“Poverty doesn’t register — as it should — in the halls of Parliament. Political parties don’t believe the issue of poverty wins elections. And that’s a real shame and it needs to change,” he says.
Eggleton was mayor of Toronto for 11 years from 1980-91, the longest serving mayor in the City’s history. He was appointed as a senator in 2005. In 2012, he co-founded and is co-chair of the All-Party Anti-Poverty Caucus, a group consisting of members of parliament and senators from all political parties.
The senator says that the top 20 percent of Canadians have 70 percent of the wealth, and that the growing nature of inequality is a real problem in Canada.
“The more unequal we are, the worse off we are.”
The senator offered a laundry list at the summit — hosted by Tamarack and Vibrant Communities Canada — of how poverty is affecting millions of people across Canada. In one example, he noted that nearly 900,000 Canadians used food banks in 2014.
“Imagine this, in such a rich country as Canada,” he says.
Acknowledging the hard work taken on by community groups and many of the provinces, he called for “a national effort” to truly stem the tide of inequality. “We need commitment at the top.”
Eggleton says all candidates in all federal political parties need the issue of poverty and inequality placed squarely in front of them. “They have to be exposed to this. We have to help create the political will to act, so we have to do a better job of informing the candidates” who are choosing to run for office, he says.
Provinces can help by pushing hard for a national agenda on poverty, says the senator, and that pressure is vital leading up to the October election.
As he closed, his voice rising with passion, Eggleton implored his audience not to give up.
“Let’s not waste this chance. Let’s help create the political will. Let’s force them to care.”
The National Summit to Reduce Poverty concludes today.