If we really want change for justice, resolutions need a plan

In 1989, the government of Canada made a unanimous resolution to end child poverty by the start of the millennium. But today, nearly 14 years after that deadline, one million children still live in poverty in this land of plenty.

It’s January and now that we’ve said our resolutions out loud, we wait to test our resolve to make them stick. But if you’ve ever made a resolution you didn’t keep, you have something in common with the federal government.

In 1989, the government of Canada made a unanimous resolution to end child poverty by the start of the millennium. But today, nearly 14 years after that deadline, one million children still live in poverty in this land of plenty. While the sentiments behind a resolution might be laudable, a resolution without a plan is an empty commitment. And a plan without action is just a wish.

It usually takes more than just saying our resolution aloud to make it happen: we have to make a plan. For instance, I’m not just going to make the commitment to “exercise more”—I’m going to walk to work three days a week or make plans to go running with a friend regularly.

After we have figured out the “what,” we need to work on the “how”, if we really want to make our goals a reality.

Canada does not have a national plan to address poverty, despite the government resolution to end it. Many other developed countries do have national plans. Canada has been called on repeatedly both internally (by the Senate and a House of Commons Committee) and externally (the United Nations) to develop such a plan.

Compared to other developed countries, Canada’s poverty rate is shocking, especially in light of our wealth and economic stability as a nation. Among 34 developed countries, 23 have a lower poverty rate than Canada. Our record on Aboriginal poverty is shameful: one quarter of Aboriginal people live in poverty.

The case for Christian concern for the poor is undeniable. The Bible calls us to practice justice, protecting and uplifting those considered the weakest members of our society. Our love for God requires that we respect our neighbours’ dignity and care for their well-being.

While our response to this call may be in the form of donations or volunteering, Christians also have a role in pressing for justice and measures that prevent the causes of poverty. Part of that responsibility is holding government to their important job of promoting just relations between people within God’s creation and fostering conditions that enhance the common good.

The role of government is essential in the task of seeking justice for our neighbours. The federal government has a particularly unique role to play as they handle many of the programs that can make a huge difference in the lives of those living in poverty. These include income security programs and programs and services designed to economically assist Aboriginal peoples, newcomers, and persons with disabilities. The federal government also controls financial transfers to the provinces and territories that provide education and health dollars.

Dignity for All: The campaign for a poverty-free Canada, a non-partisan initiative, has called for a federal poverty elimination strategy. Many Christian organizations have been at the table as they have formulated concrete policy recommendations to address the causes and consequences of poverty. With these recommendations, they’ve created a model national poverty eradication plan to be released this January. The plan speaks to the federal government’s potential ensuring all Canadians can live in dignity and free of poverty.

It’s not enough to deepen our resolve to end poverty: it’s time for a plan and it’s time for government leadership to make it happen. In this coming year, may our resolutions be more than just empty commitments or wishful thinking. May our actions reflect our intentions, particularly when it comes to practicing justice and caring for our neighbours well-being.

Janelle Vandergrift is a Policy Analyst with Citizens for Public Justice in Ottawa, Ontario.


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About the author

Special to ChristianWeek

Janelle Vandergrift is a Socio-Economic Policy Analyst at Citizens for Public Justice.