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Canada Needs Less Talk and More Action To Battle Poverty

02/19/2015 05:23 EST | Updated 04/21/2015 05:59 EDT
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Street beggar

Today is the World Day of Social Justice. Who among us would disagree with such a concept?

The term social justice has become commonplace and tends to go down pretty easy. But what if it goes down a bit too easily? Do we just hear the word, make a mental check mark, and move on? Are we more concerned with saying the right things than actually changing our actions?

Two weeks ago, Motion M-534 was passed almost unanimously in the House of Commons calling for an end to child poverty in Canada. The motion states: "the government should work in collaboration with the provinces, territories and First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities to eradicate child poverty in Canada by developing a national poverty reduction plan."

For this Motion to actually make a difference, Canada must follow through and deliver a national anti-poverty plan. And for this plan to become real, it will take more than just feel-good moments of agreement. It's going to take work.

Our goal should not be to just say the right things, but to enact policy change that will make a difference in the lives of those living in poverty in this country. We can't stop at a Motion. We need real change.

Poverty is a matter of social justice. It undermines human dignity, limiting people's ability to fully participate in their community. In a socially just world, all people would live in dignity. Poverty undermines dignity from the perspective of many different groups: human rights activists who recognize each person's inherent rights, people of faith who affirm that we are created in God's image, and citizens who know that we have responsibilities to each other.

With the Dignity for All campaign, Citizens for Public Justice and Canada Without Poverty have been calling for a legislated national anti-poverty plan for five years. The federal government still does not have a plan to do something about poverty in this country and as far as we know, there are no plans to develop one any time soon. This is curious, because in a nearly unanimous motion just two weeks ago, MPs including the Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Official Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair and Finance Minister Joe Oliver all agreed that a plan is needed.

But where is the action?

This is where we come in.

Canadians are likely not okay with this motion becoming an end in of itself. But we can't just throw up our hands, roll our eyes and occupy ourselves elsewhere. Believing in social justice means that we have something to say and do when things aren't right, aren't just.

As citizens of a democracy, we have both the right and responsibility to make a difference in the policies and actions of our government. Our political leaders have a responsibility to do more than pass motions to end poverty -- they must listen to the will of the people, and each of us has the responsibility to express our views through active citizenship. This means staying informed, voicing our opinions, and working to end poverty.

Why not see if your own MP voted for Motion 534 and ask them what's next? Let them know that you're not okay with the fact that so many people in Canada live in poverty and ask them when Canada will actually adopt this national anti-poverty plan.

Social justice and poverty eradication should not be nice-to-have additions to public policy, nor should their mention only inspire rounds of back pats and warm fuzzies. Motions imply movement -- there's a chance now to start, not end -- real action on poverty.

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