Poverty in This Election

This powerful statement on poverty issues in the PEI Provincial Election campaign comes from the PEI Working Group for a Livable Income. The PEI Advisory Council on the Status of Women is a long-time active member of this coalition of groups.

PEI Election – 2011: People Living in Poverty, Absent and Vulnerable

The meaning of the expression, “forbidden history, hidden history” comes to mind as we notice political candidates in this election skillfully avoiding any serious discussion about poverty. It seems so obvious. But politicians effectively made a painful reality invisible, hidden, forbidden: tens of thousands of women, men and children in PEI do not have enough income to cover their basic needs.

We are talking of people on low wage jobs, the working poor. We are talking about people trying to get by in off-season with EI at 55% of low wages. We are talking about people who are not able to participate in the workforce and need to rely on inadequate social assistance or mean disability benefits. We are talking about seniors with miserable pensions. We are talking about the thousands of Islanders who are forced to use food banks and soup kitchens on a regular basis. We are talking of farmers, fishers, and small business people who cannot cover their costs.

The Liberal Government just before the election, seemed to rush to publish its first document in its long-awaited Poverty Reduction Strategy. Their discussion paper, Preventing and Reducing Poverty in Prince Edward Island: A Strategy for Engagement, as difficult as it was for most people, was a start. However, in the election campaign, the Liberal Party of PEI went on as though they had started nothing. It would have been a splendid opportunity to lay out what the probable next steps and processes would be.

The other four parties, even though they had access to the discussion paper, showed very few signs that a poverty reduction/elimination strategy was high in their list of priorities. Though on a couple of occasions, welcome reference was made to “livable income” or a “guaranteed adequate income”.

Besides impoverished people’s absence from the main discussions of the election, another constant in PEI elections is the fear factor. We may like to deny it, but we are a long way from getting rid of the patronage hold on people facing hard times. Many people still think and hope that a politician should be able to find you money or a job if you are in difficulties. This gives candidates and/or parties too much power which some are all too willing to use. And it takes pressure off them to enact appropriate policies. Above all, it makes poor people very vulnerable.

Can you still buy votes in PEI?

Not much can be done to salvage this election campaign. Policy changes based on social justice (not charity) are needed to give hope to the many Islanders living in poverty. The whole community will have to pressure the next government to take progressive action to reduce, and eventually eliminate, poverty. We can do it. We will all raise our heads a bit higher when life is endurable for everybody, not just the few. And hopefully this will be the last election campaign in PEI that, by its silence, denies and hides poverty.

“…forbidden history is still history; we react and think according to our history even though we may not know it. Except our actions are slower, confused And since our history’s been misused old mistakes are often repeated.” (Milton Acorn)

Marie Burge
John Gallie


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