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Making voters aware of poverty issue

CAMBRIDGE – Local faith groups are banding together in hopes of making poverty a front-burner issue when voters cast their ballots on Oct. 6.

Nearly a dozen local churches and faith organizations are coming out from behind the pulpit to take part in Poverty Free Ontario, a province-wide election sign-styled initiative spearheaded by the Social Planning Network of Ontario.

Aimed at making poverty issues part of the election campaign conversation, the effort was timed specifically to run during the race to the polls, and to encourage voters to become engaged and ask hard questions about where local candidates stand on addressing poverty.

And although the movement is occurring concurrently with the build up to the provincial election, it’s not political in nature, according to Steve Adams, pastor at Cambridge’s Forward Baptist Church where the first Poverty Free Ontario sign went up Thursday.

“We’re not telling people how they should vote,” he said. “We’re saying become an informed voter.”

According to Adams, someone needs to be asking why, in a wealthy province like Ontario, the government is able to find money for all sorts of programs, yet a single mother on social assistance is forced to live $9,000 below the poverty line.

Adams, who is a member of the city’s roundtable on poverty, maintains that it should be no surprise to see faith organizations standing up as a voice for the poor. He said the Bible has 1,200 verses solely dedicated to protecting the poor.

“We believe the faith community has a role in this; we have a responsibility.”

The local Poverty Free Ontario effort is binding various religions together under one banner, Adams noted.

“We don’t believe in exactly the same things, but we care about the same things.”

He said groups care about people who face daily struggles to find food, housing and jobs. Forward Baptist Church is a supporter of local agencies, including the Cambridge Self-Help Food Bank and The Bridges homeless shelter.

Organizers were cautious to ensure the Poverty Free Ontario initiative launch event at Forward Baptist was introduced to the community as a non-partisan event. And any political candidates planning to attend were strictly warned the event was not organized for campaigning. Candidates were not to participate in the event or hand out electioneering materials.

“This is not a campaign stop,” stated Linda Terry, executive director of the Social Planning Council of Cambridge and North Dumfries, which is backing the Poverty Free Ontario sign blitz. “This is a very serious issue.”

Two political hopefuls turned out for the launch, including New Democrat candidate Atinuke Bankole and Progressive Conservative candidate Rob Leone.

Leone snapped some cellphone photos of faith groups and community agency representatives lined up holding their anti-poverty signs. The candidate has come under fire recently for declining to participate in two local all-candidates forums, one set for later in the day, Thursday evening.

He has cited scheduling conflicts for not attending two local candidate forums, but insisted he cares about poverty issues.

“I believe in social issues and poverty reduction,” he told the Times.



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