Local event wants to make ending poverty a top election issue

Todd Donahue expresses his concerns to politicians at KNOW POVERTY on March 23 at Gordon Bell High School. THE PROJECTOR/ Lauren Hollins

Todd Donahue expresses his concerns to politicians at KNOW POVERTY on March 23 at Gordon Bell High School. THE PROJECTOR/ Lauren Hollins

Hundreds of people gathered in a heart-of-the-city high school on March 23 to talk about poverty and how the province’s politicians plan to fix it.

Gordon Bell High School was so crowded for KNOW POVERTY’s social policy and poverty provincial election debate that there weren’t enough seats. NDP MLA and Health Minister Sharon Blady, Liberal candidate Althea Guiboche, Green Party leader James Beddome and PC MLA Ian Wishart sat on the panel to debate how their political parties would address poverty in Manitoba if they were elected in the upcoming provincial election on April 19.

KNOW POVERTY is a community campaign that wants ending poverty to be at the top of the agenda in the upcoming Manitoba general election. CJOB’s Richard Cloutier moderated the debate.

Todd Donahue, 51, is actively involved with KNOW POVERTY and said this was one of the campaign’s biggest event turnouts he has ever seen. He works as a social justice advocate and is also on Employment and Income Assistance for disability.

“This one was extremely well attended,” said Donahue. “People from all walks of life and all segments of society were here tonight.”

At the end of the debate, people had the opportunity to line up and ask the panel questions. So many people lined up to voice their concerns that Cloutier had to cut people off. Donahue was one of them. He asked why the NDP has taken 24 years to increase benefits for basic needs for people living on income assistance.

“They’re literally living on a 1993 dollar, which in 2016 doesn’t mean a whole lot,” said Donahue. “It’s bismal that people have to live so far below the poverty line. If you’re on general assistance, you’re earning just a little over $250 for your basic needs after your rent is paid. And that is for everything. That’s for all of your food, your toiletries, communication, transportation, everything. Nobody can live off that.”

KNOW POVERTY has five main poverty-reduction priorities: a poverty reduction plan with targets and timelines, a $15.53 minimum wage, 300 new rent-geared-to-income housing units per year, 12,000 new funded childcare spaces and to double funding for community mental health.

RRC’s business administration graduate Brittany Black, 23, agrees with KNOW POVERTY’s goals.

“I definitely think that increasing minimum wage would help,” she says.

Despite the lack of financial support, Donahue has seen a “ground swell” of people who are or who have been living in poverty get more involved through KNOW POVERTY.

“I’ve seen change. I’ve seen people start hearing themselves, hearing their voices, and recognizing that their voices have some power that can make change,” said Donahue.

“People would still be asking questions because it’s such an important and powerful issue in this provincial election that everybody is sort of taking notice, and in turn making the politicians take notice, which is key if we want to get things changed,” he said.