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Campaign puts poverty in the election spotlight

KINGSTON – The late Roberson Davies, a writer with deep familial roots in here, said divisions between the rich and poor in Kingston were “as sharp as you could cut them” — words still ringing true for Jamie Swift, director of justice and peace at the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul for more than six years.

Friday at lunchtime, Swift will help bring the issue of poverty to Kingston City Hall, as participants in the weekly Sisters-of-Providence-backed silent vigil there also support the Faith to End Poverty campaign spearheaded by the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition and Poverty Free Ontario.

“Let’s Vote for a Poverty Free Ontario” is the rallying cry for a campaign that is also distributing campaign-like lawn signs to spread the message across the city.

For the last 16 years the sisters have turned out for the silent vigil by the steps of City Hall, an observance that was inspired by former Ontario premier Mike Harris.

“The reason it started is because the provincial government of the day, the government of Mike Harris, cut welfare and described social affordable housing as a boondoggle and they stopped funding it,” Swift said. “This was a public statement about the way the government was treating the poor.”

Swift is using the “Vote for a Poverty Free Ontario” campaign to help mark the 16th anniversary of the vigil and link it to the Oct. 6 election.

“Kingston, historically, is divided between the north end, north of Princess Street — which is where working class and poorer people lived — and south of Princess which is the more middle and upper class area,” he said. “Now these divisions have changed in the past 30 years or so, with gentrification. Kingston has historically had this great divide. This one side of the tracks and the other side of the tracks, physical division. And of course these divisions get reproduced in income and class terms.”

“Kingston has one of the lowest if not the lowest vacancy rates for rental accommodation in Ontario,” Swift said. “That means it’s very, very difficult to find affordable rental accommodation in Kingston because the demand outstrips the supply, plus you have the student population who move in and put pressure on the existing rental housing stock. That’s an issue. The waiting list for affordable housing in Kingston has always been hovering around 1,000 names, 1,000 families for several years now. So these are major issues.”

Swift is also asking local candidates to put the poverty-free Ontario signs in their campaign office window, part of an initiative to help get the conversation rolling about poverty in Kingston.

“We’re not telling people to vote for a particular party. Our hope is to raise the profile and awareness of the issue of poverty in the electorate,” he said. “It’s very difficult to do this because when you see the polls and issues of concern, usually the pollsters don’t even include poverty as an issue that they ask people what they’re most concerned about. It’s usually health care, education, taxes, jobs, the deficit and the environment. The issue of poverty is this silent crisis, this chronic problem for Ontario.”

The Faith to End Poverty campaign is happening across communities in Ontario this week, trying to make the issue of poverty a hot-button topic on the campaign trail.

The Sisters of Providence, along with other local organizations, are also sponsoring an all-candidates meeting Sept. 21 at the North Kingston Community Health Centre, starting at 7 p.m.

“One is always trying to raise the profile of the issue with candidates,” Swift said. “And of course there’s four main parties. We’ll be going after them.”

by Ashliegh Gehl



One Response to “Campaign puts poverty in the election spotlight”

  1. This is a terrific project, but I can’t find any information about how to get a sign to put on my lawn. Please tell me.

    Posted by Toni Pickard | September 26, 2011, 9:03 pm

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