Faith groups can help end child poverty, says former senator

Hugh Segal

Hugh Segal

June 15, 2015
EVAN BOUDREAU
THE CATHOLIC REGISTER

TORONTO – Former senator Hugh Segal is encouraging faith groups to use their collective voice to help put an end to child poverty in Canada.

Although faith communities may not have the authoritative power of politicians, Segal said their voice is not to be underestimated.

"The power to inspire, the power to show commitment, care and compassion, the power to convene may not be statutory, it may not be backed up by any law or enforcement, but in my view it is the greatest power in the world," said Segal.

"That any one child goes to school hungry in this great country, this great province, this great city, is unthinkable and unacceptable," he recently told about 150 leaders from various denominations at the Faith in the City symposium at Toronto City Hall.

"You, the leaders of our faith and outreach communities, face the challenges every day in the outreach intakes of your churches. (You are) people who are not only concerned but committed to . . . action that will assist and alleviate the seemingly never ending problem of social inequality."

It is estimated that one in four children in Toronto live in poverty, and Segal believes "it is actually getting worse."

"This is not about right and left (conservative and liberal views), this is about humanity," he said. "We need a fundamental fix here. Band-aids . . . will do very little to make any difference."

Segal, a Conservative who resigned his Senate seat last June, is now master of Toronto's Massey College.

He spent much of his final years in politics applying internal pressure on the government to address poverty.

After being appointed to the Senate in 2005 he worked on the extensive In From the Margins report, tabled in 2009, which was a joint effort between Liberal and Conservative senators.

RECOMMENATIONS REJECTED

The Harper government, however, rejected all 74 poverty reduction recommendations in the 300-page report.

That didn't deter Segal, who spent more than four decades in politics. He continued his fight for the disadvantaged and published an essay promoting the benefits of a guaranteed annual income in Literary Review of Canada.

Joe Abbey-Colborne, director of Faith in the City – a multi-faith symposium of Toronto's faith communities – says Toronto's faith groups are already making strides toward poverty reduction through action and advocacy.

"It has been the faith communities who were on the vanguard of this work, both in providing services directly to the people affected and in advocating for justice and changes to the system," said Abbey-Colborne.

FIND THEIR VOICE

However, "many faith communities need to be encouraged to find their voice," he said.

They could do so much more if they would advocate "to change public policies and systems that aren't working for people," he said.

Jack Panozzo, Catholic Charities program manager for social justice and advocacy initiatives, said faith communities have enough leverage to influence government.

"Faith communities are not dismissed, they are taken seriously," Panozzo said.

"People in politics know that faith communities represent large numbers of people who feel the same way."