Maytree Opinion, June 2012
By Alan Broadbent
While Ottawa engages in partisanship around the budget bill, a significant multi-party effort has just been launched, sadly with little notice. Canada’s parliamentarians have come together to form a Parliamentary Anti-Poverty Caucus to help create the conditions to make progress in our fight against poverty, and its attack on people’s hopes and dignity, and on Canada’s path to continuing shared prosperity.
The Anti-Poverty Caucus is co-chaired by Senator Art Eggleton and Members of Parliament Jean Crowder and Michael Chong. The treasurer of the Caucus is Senator Don Meredith. Eggleton is a Liberal, Crowder is a New Democrat, and Chong and Meredith are Conservatives. Thus the Caucus is across party lines, and involves both chambers of Parliament.
Maytree and its sister organizations, the Caledon Institute of Social Policy and Tamarack: An Institute for Community Engagement supported and attended the launch of the Caucus on June 12 in Ottawa. The launch brought together members of both the Senate and House with Canadians active in anti-poverty work.
Fighting poverty is essential to the missions of Maytree, Caledon and Tamarack. Each organization uses the phrase “relentless incrementalism” to characterize its approach. We know that on big issues like poverty the dramatic breakthroughs and overnight successes are few and far between. The great work is done in the creation of small steps that create incremental change, and that eventually may contribute to the conditions for the breakthroughs.
Those small steps are easier to take when there is visible leadership. The conditions for the breakthroughs are easier to identify when that leadership is engaged in fashioning the necessary alignments of policy, practice, and politics.
So it was encouraging to see Canada’s parliamentarians to come together across party lines and the two chambers to provide this leadership.
Many of the Senators and MPs at the launch were people who had been active in their communities on issues related to poverty before being elected to the House or appointed to the Senate. While their political parties may not have embraced anti-poverty issues comprehensively, their own interest has remained alive in issues like low income and supportive housing, connecting marginalized communities to the labour market, and health and education for at-risk populations.
The Caucus will give them an outlet for those old interests that can both connect to Canadians working on such issues, and to policy and legislation formation in their own parties.
A great deal of credit for the creation of the Caucus goes to Senator Eggleton, a former mayor of Toronto. As Mayor, he often championed the cause of marginalized communities, especially during the “group home” controversy when he kept these critical treatment facilities in neighbourhoods against the protests of NIMBYism. As a Senator he co-chaired an important investigation of poverty with Conservative Senator Hugh Segal.
It is always premature to praise such an effort as the formation of the Caucus until we see what they actually do. It is easy to be cynical about governments, and about such unusual initiatives that cross party lines and engage both chambers.
But in these hard fiscal times when poverty seems to be getting scant notice, we should appreciate a show of leadership from Parliamentarians, offer our help to make them succeed, and wish them success.