From Geneva

Monday, May 01, 2006

"All governments aren't doing enough" - Bill Dunphy, Hamilton Spectator

(Apr 29, 2006)
The politics of poverty makes for strange bedfellows.
A surreal air suffused Hamilton's council chambers yesterday morning as politicians from all three levels of government gathered to praise and applaud a man about to step onto an international stage and excoriate two of those same governments for failing to protect the rights of the poor.
Poverty lawyer Craig Foye is bound for Geneva, Switzerland, where on Monday he will address a United Nations committee and accuse the provincial and federal governments of violating international human rights covenants by failing to ensure an adequate standard of living for Hamilton's -- and all of Canada's -- poor.
During a sendoff yesterday morning, Foye reminded an appreciative audience that the Canadian government has signed an international covenant defining poverty as a human rights issue and called inadequate social assistance levels an "emergency" and "our great shame."
Our low levels of social assistance are "sending thousands and thousands of families spiralling ever deeper and deeper into poverty," Foye said.
His remarks were greeted with prolonged applause from the audience and the politicians gathered to see him off.
"I think it is so important to stand in solidarity (with Foye) here today," MPP Ted McMeekin announced from the podium. "Clearly governments aren't doing enough -- all governments aren't doing enough!"
Those critical comments were echoed or amplified by Mayor Larry Di Ianni, MPs David Christopherson and Wayne Marsden, and fellow MPP Andrea Horvath.
Foye's report -- sponsored by the Income Security Working Group's human rights subcommittee and co-authored by Chabriol Colebatch and Deirdre Pike -- uses census data and research from the Social Planning Research Council to document the dire straits many Hamiltonians find themselves in if they depend on government assistance.
The report also documents the way seniors, immigrants, children, aboriginals and single mothers are disproportionately affected by poverty in this city. The report argues that government policies lie at the root of much of our poverty problem.
"The right to an adequate standard of living is not being protected by either (senior) level of government ... social assistance rates remain arbitrary numbers, numbers not tied to any meaningful costs," Foye said yesterday.
"It's not that we don't know or can't figure out these costs ... it's that we ignore those costs."
Two months ago, the report received unanimous approval from city council and yesterday Di Ianni reminded his political colleagues and the audience that "we don't often get unanimity around this table.
"So many people are disadvantaged in this city, 100,000 or so who have to make the kinds of choices none of us here have to make. We have a very long way to go."
The incongruity of hearing politician after politician praise a report and author, who is so strongly condemning politicians and governments, was dealt with head on by Christopherson.
"Some might wonder why are we so excited by having this (report) put on the international stage," Christopherson said at the start of a short but loud and powerful speech.
"All of us, and I'm the most senior politician in this room, bear responsibility of not doing enough."
He looked around the council chambers and continued.
"We've allowed our social agenda to be hijacked by our economic agenda."
Poverty is an issue that can be tackled, if governments will summon the will, he said.
"Post 9/11, all you have to do is say the word 'security' and there's millions of dollars for whatever you want to do. There are things we can do."
Meanwhile in Ottawa, government officials declined to comment on Foye's report or discuss what Canadian officials would be telling the committee in Geneva next week.
"It's true that we will make a statement to the committee, but we cannot talk about the statement until it is tabled with the committee," said Rejean Beaulieu of the Foreign Affairs Department.
"I'll be happy to send you a copy once it is tabled."
bdunphy@thespec.com
905-526-3262
Craig Foye will be filing occasional dispatches from Geneva. You can find them at www.thespec.com and at www.hamiltonlegalclinics.ca

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