Federal Election: The Liberals should eliminate poverty and racism as well as handguns

Today, the Liberals are announcing a ban on handguns in response to a rise in gun deaths in Toronto.

CUPE Federal Election Campaign Page

Getting guns off the street is a good idea, of course, but this is not the sophisticated solution to the complex problems facing marginalized communities in Canada that we need.

The deeper problems facing these communities are social barriers like racism, sexism, alienation and police harassment. The economic barriers they face are too often tied to ethnocultural background, including high unemployment and underemployment, inferior housing and low-wage jobs.

Studies of Toronto poverty have shown unemployment rates amongst racialized groups are extremely high. Toronto’s unemployment rate averaged 7 per cent, but it was up to six times higher in some groups. The growing gap between rich and poor is also a racialized one, and politicians have known this for years.

Paul Martin’s Liberals have been cutting funding for social supports and programs for over 10 years. The resulting downloading, underfunding and “laissez-faire” policies have given rise to whole generations of Canadians struggling to make ends meet in minimum wage jobs in a white mainstream culture that is turning its back.

The National Anti-Poverty Organization estimates that 1.2 million youth are living in poverty and are in danger of falling into a life-long poverty trap. NAPO estimates that almost 1.5 million adult women (one in seven) live in poverty.

Work is no guarantee against poverty, NAPO notes. The value of the minimum wage has been so eroded that in no province does someone working a full-time, full-year job at minimum wage earn enough to escape poverty. And social assistance rates have been cut back while eligibility rules have been tightened.

Today, welfare rates fall far below the poverty line everywhere in Canada. We now have a system that offers few opportunities for marginalized youth.

If the Liberals were serious about improving the lives of marginalized groups they would implement a wide range of sensible and responsible policies. They would reinstate the federal minimum wage at $10 an hour and index it to the cost of living. They would improve the EI system by reducing qualifying hours to 360 and increasing benefits. They would provide targeted employment and training programs for marginalized youth. They would increase the Canada Social Transfer to $10 billion over the next three years supported by accountability and welfare rights legislation.

The Liberals need to eliminate racism and poverty, not just handguns. How? First, by acknowledging that racism and poverty are alive and well in Canada, are inextricably linked, and need to be tackled if we are serious about the welfare of all our communities.

The above steps are a start. But more is needed, including more funding for settlement programs and building more affordable housing. Affordable housing matters to all of us. Without stable, affordable housing, we can’t have safe, liveable strong communities.

Canada needs a comprehensive national housing strategy backed by predictable, long-term funding. The money is there to revitalize and expand Canada’s stock of permanently affordable housing. The Liberals must act, not just grand-stand at election time.

These steps would demonstrate a serious commitment from the federal government. People living in these communities would take it from there, and would contribute happily to the wider society in the ways they are being denied today.