Posts Tagged ‘poverty’

Green Party of Manitoba candidate in Wolseley, David Nickarz. Photo: Paul S. Graham

Green Party of Manitoba candidate in Wolseley, David Nickarz. Photo: Paul S. Graham

Next April, Manitobans will elect a new government. Based on recent polling, if that election were held today, the winners would likely be the Progressive Conservatives. A September 2015 poll of 1000 Manitobans by Probe Research indicates 45 per cent of decided voters province-wide would vote PC; the governing NDP was tied for second place with the Liberals, at 20 per cent.

Of course, having the most votes doesn’t guarantee one the election in our antiquated first-past-the-post electoral system. Support for the PCs is overwhelming outside of Winnipeg (where the Tories have 59 per cent of decided voters and NDP holds third place with 16 per cent). But in Winnipeg, where a slim majority of the seats are, the situation is more competitive; the Tories and Dippers are in a statistical tie (35 and 32 per cent respectively) and the Liberals are beginning to challenge at 27 per cent.

Despite being almost invisible, the Liberals have shown steady growth among decided voters both outside and inside of Winnipeg. NDP support has declined in lock step with Liberal advances while Tory vote in and outside Winnipeg has remained fairly stable. If the Tories do win next year it will likely be because the NDP hemorrhaged crucial support to the Liberal Party.

Given that the Liberal Party has not done anything to date to distinguish itself, the NDP could still win this one if it can convince soft supporters that a Liberal vote is not only a wasted vote, but a dangerous vote because it will lead to victory for the dreaded Tories. At this point, it’s anybody’s guess.

Whether the next government is formed by Dippers or Tories, the outcome will be the same in at least one very important respect – it will be business as usual. Neither party has shown real interest in or capacity for discussing the major issues of the day, much less offering solutions. (The same goes for the third party in the Legislature, with its promise to allow Uber to compete with taxi companies, but I digress.)

By major issues, I’m talking about the failure to address widespread poverty and inequality in Manitoba society that manifests itself as the thousands of children in provincial care (we have one of the highest rates in the world), the growth of food bank usage, the epidemic of homelessness  and our nation–leading homicide statistics.

As serious as these are, they pale in comparison to the existential challenge posed by climate change. Whether or not Manitoba matters in the overall scheme of things, the province has consistently failed to meet its own carbon emissions targets and, recent announcements notwithstanding, shows no sign that anything is about to change.

As well, the province has shown no interest in stopping the TransCanada Energy East Pipeline – a project that is will enable the expansion of the Alberta tar sands. Not only is tar sands expansion a driver of global climate change, the pipeline itself is an environmental menace that should have no place in Manitoba.

So, as you may have guessed, I’m not at all optimistic about the outcome of the next election. I do, however, have reason to hope that we will see the beginning of change in my little part of the province.

I reside in the provincial constituency of Wolseley – a neighbourhood in central Winnipeg where the Green Party of Manitoba has placed second in each of the last three elections.

This time around, the Green candidate is David Nickarz. I like him and think he’d make a great MLA. He’s youthful, mature, energetic, intelligent and a seasoned environmental campaigner. You can read his bio, here.

I’ve decided to support his bid for office because we need to have at least one Green voice in the Legislature. Neither of the likely winners will provide this. The NDP has had more than a decade to deliver on the environment and in some regards we have moved backwards. As for the Tories, the environment is not even on their radar.

And so Dave Nickarz will have my vote and my volunteer time. If the Greens will make a breakthrough anywhere in Manitoba, it will be in Wolseley. As shop-worn as the phrase is, it really is time for a change.

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A poverty “shoe-down” at the Manitoba Legislature
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Jan. 4, 2013: Demonstrators calling for an increase in rental rates for income assistance recipients, left dozens of pairs of shoes on the steps of the Manitoba Legislature. Photo: Paul S. Graham

Make Poverty History Manitoba rallied at the Manitoba Legislature on Friday to demand that the provincial government increase the rental allowance provided to recipients of provincial Employment and Income Assistance (EIA). Recalling the kindness of a Winnipeg Transit driver who gave a homeless man a pair of shoes, demonstrators left dozens of pairs of shoes on the steps of the Legislature to send the message that they no longer wish to depend on isolated, random acts of kindness.

EIA recipients are provided with a rental allowance that has increased only slightly over the past two decades. During that same period, rents have gone up by 60 to 70%.

According to Kirsten Bernas, Make Poverty History Manitoba is asking the Province to increase the rental allowance to 75% of median market rent, a move the provincial government estimates would cost approximately $18.5 million annually.

In this video report, Ms. Bernas explains why this increase is long overdue.

Poverty on the increase in Manitoba

According to the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, “While the national poverty rate has remained relatively stable since 2006, the child poverty rate in Manitoba has been gradually increasing and remains 6.4 percentage points higher than the national average.” The SPCW reports that Manitoba had the second highest child poverty rate in Canada in 2012, with over 20% of our children (about 54,000) living below the poverty line as defined by Statistics Canada’s Low Income Measure After Taxes.

In Manitoba, the fastest growing banks are the food banks. Some statistics gleaned from the Winnipeg Harvest food bank web site tell the story:

  • Winnipeg Harvest provides emergency food assistance to nearly 64,000 people a month across Manitoba. Therefore, Winnipeg Harvest clients are Manitoba’s second-largest city. This figure is up more than 14% over the same period last year.
  • More than 47% of its clients are children. For each of the last two years, Manitoba is the #1 province for food bank use.
  • Winnipeg Harvest feeds more 30,000 children each month. Ten years ago, that number stood at 5,500 children.
  • Seniors and refugees have more than doubled in food bank use since 2010.
  • 1/3 of families experiencing hunger are dual wage-earner families, i.e, the working poor.
  • Winnipeg Harvest distributes food to more than 330 agencies throughout Manitoba
All Aboard

With great fanfare, the Manitoba government announced its ALL Aboard: Manitoba’s Poverty Reduction and Social Inclusion Strategy in 2009. In 2011, the The Poverty Reduction Strategy Act became law, committing the Province to include a poverty reduction strategy in its annual budget. In April, the Province released it’s four-year poverty reduction plan. While the strategy appears, upon first reading, to take a comprehensive approach to tackling poverty, two serious shortcomings are immediately evident:

  • The authors appear to believe that poverty rates in Manitoba are shrinking; they make the claim that the number of Manitobans living in poverty went down by 6,000 between 2000 and 2009. Research from the above-cited sources suggests that the opposite trend is more likely.
  • There are no concrete goals against which the government’s performance can be evaluated. Instead, we are given vague indicators against which progress will be measured.

A second reading of the strategy reveals it to be a glossy, feel-good kind of document which does little to instill confidence that the provincial government is seriously committed to poverty reduction. But don’t take my word for it; read it yourself.

Déjà vu all over again
Child Poverty in Manitoba and Canada

Source: Statistics Canada (2010). Income in Canada, CANSIM 202-0802 as cited in the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg’s “Child & Family Poverty 2012 Report Card.”

Manitoba’s child poverty rates have remained above the national rate since 1989 when Canada’s House of Commons passed a unanimous all-party resolution to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000. Canada’s national poverty rate remains pretty much where it was in 1990.

In 2009, the House passed another unanimous motion to “develop an immediate plan to eliminate poverty in Canada for all.” The Manitoba government seems to have bought into the legislative zeitgeist. However, unless there are some significant changes in their approach, nothing will change. The rich will get richer and the poor poorer — all of this occurring in the heartland of one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

A good place to start would be to acknowledge that poverty is growing and to act accordingly. This would include setting real goals and dedicating more resources to meet them. It would also mean backing away from its failed strategy of regular tax reductions so we have more resources to allocate to alleviating poverty. It would mean educating the public about the true nature of poverty and taking the risk that an honest dialogue would win over all but the most diehard reactionaries in the province.

Finally, for starters, why not increase the funds allocated to housing in the EIA budget, so that disabled, unemployed and other immiserated Manitobans don’t have to choose between paying the rent or putting food in their bellies?


Winnipeg’s fabled North End, long known for its contributions to the arts, popular culture and radical politics, has always had a reputation for being a tough place to grow up. These days, however, crime, violence, gangs and poverty seem to be its defining characteristics, at least in the minds of folks who do not live there.

On January 15, 2012, the United Jewish People’s Order and the Association of United Ukrainian Canadians — organizations with deep, historic roots in north Winnipeg, held a public forum entitled “The North End – the Good and the Bad.” Their intent was to engage North Enders in a discussion of challenges they face and to highlight some of the forces for progress in the neighborhood.

Moderator: Roz Usiskin, United Jewish People’s Order

Panelists (in order of appearance):

– Sel Burrows, Point Douglas community activist
– Kevin Chief, MLA, Point Douglas and Minister of Children and Youth Opportunities
– Cindy Coker, executive director, SEED Winnipeg, Inc.
– Jim Silver, co-director, University of Winnipeg Urban and Inner-City Studies Program

It was an informative and useful discussion, as far as it went. I learned a lot. Cindy Coker and Jim Silver described some of the programs they and others are providing and the encouraging results that are emerging. Kevin Chief’s account of his election campaign showed that high levels of citizen engagement are manifesting in an area more known for political apathy. I particularly enjoyed Sel Burrows’ account of how the residents of the Point Douglas neighborhood banded together to reduce the local crime rate to levels comparable with those of much more affluent neighborhoods.

Michael Champagne challenges the audience to join with the young people of the North End who are "organizing ourselves to make a difference in our community." Photo: Paul S. Graham

That said, much was left unsaid, and I hope that UJPO and AUUC, in collaboration with other community-based organizations, offer future opportunities for discussion. Glaringly absent from this forum was any radical critique that would shine a light on the inadequacy of the social work approach to community development that seems so in vogue these days. Right at the end of the question period a young man named Michael Champagne stood up and challenged the audience to join with neighborhood youth who are self-organizing to reinvigorate their community. I hope that Mr. Champagne and others like him are on the podium the next time UJPO and AUUC hold a public forum.