My Conversation with Canada’s Prime Minister about Poverty
On January, 24, 2017, I had the opportunity to attend a Town Hall with Justin Trudeau that was held at the Jack Simpson Gym at the University of Calgary.
I will not admit at this point who I vote for at a federal level, but I have known Kent Hehr for many years, not in a social capacity, but more in a community capacity. When I was involved with the Client Action Committee at the Calgary Homeless Foundation one of our goals was to get involved in the upcoming federal election.
The candidate running in our community was Kent Hehr and with some help from those involved in the voting process we helped set up a mock federal election at five shelters in Calgary’s downtown and in the Beltline to get our homeless brothers and sisters involved in the voting process. Kent clearly demonstrated he would work diligently for our community and for that reason he became our MP as the homeless vote put him over the top. It’s a fact that Kent himself will freely admit.
When the Town Hall with Justin Trudeau was announced, one of my colleagues suggested that I ask Kent’s team if I could get an invitation. Myself, and a few of the other members at Poverty Talks wanted to engage the Prime Minister in a conversation about poverty and we though the Town Hall would be the perfect place to it.
I love a challenge. I called Kent’s office and was advised by a staff member that I would be put on a list and sent an e-mail as soon as information becomes available from the Prime Minister’s Office about the event. I received an RSVP invitation just two days later and as soon as I could, called Darrell Howard at Vibrant Communities Calgary about how we could proceed further. Unfortunately, I answered the RSVP not soon enough and all the spaces were taken up.
A few days later, I noticed on my Facebook page that spaces had opened up as a new venue was selected. Seizing the opportunity, I contacted Kent’s office again and still was told that there was no more space. I suggested to Darrell that I could go alone and wait in the huge line-up to try and get into the Town Hall. However, as we were discussing that option I got an e-mail from Kent’s office indicating that an RSVP was on its way. I was going after all!
I came early to be assured a seat, arriving at the gym at 5 p.m. and eagerly waited in line until the doors opened. Everywhere I looked there were people, especially students. At 6 p.m. the line started moving and I was on my way through security where they checked my driver’s license and the e-mail verification I received. The interesting thing is that when I got to check-in, I found out to my surprise that I was in the V.I.P. section. I chose a seat as close as I could get to the centre stage about 50 feet away where the Prime Minister would be taking questions.
There was a lot of anticipation and excitement mixed with some annoyance over having to wait so long. I texted Darrell to inform her that I was there and she gave me the infamous question that I was confident that I would be able to ask him. Mr. Trudeau finally arrived at 7:45 pm, an hour and 15 minutes later than expected to continued heckling which went on for most of the Town Hall. I must mention at this point, there was security all over the gym on three floors. Folks in uniform and the Prime Minister’s detail in well-dressed suits. No selfies.
As the evening continued, I was not surprised when Prime Minister Trudeau pointed to me to ask my question. I felt that it would happen. Kent’s team told me afterward that they were so pleased about how I delivered it and they were kind enough to tell me so with this letter.
But, when I asked the question I was not nervous at all as Justin is very personable, confident and was smiling at me. I got applauded at my question and the Prime Minister also received applause over his answer. In the end, we did not get the answer totally that we wanted but I think I can say that we got an answer we can live with.
So, here it is… my question to Prime Minister Trudeau at the Town Hall. (Click here to watch the full video. I am in the red sweater and I asked my question at the 45 minute mark in the conversation.)
“My Question for you Sir, A National Poverty Reduction Strategy should be developed as part of a larger Human Rights Framework. This includes recognizing that Canada has ratified International Human Rights conventions that oblige us to address Poverty as a Human Rights violation. How will you ensure that a human rights approach is used to develop a national Poverty Reduction Strategy and more specifically Sir , will your Government commit to adding “social standing” as protected grounds under the Human Rights Act?”
The answer in short from the Prime Minister was that he and his government know that they and the committed organizations they work with across the country have more work to do in this area. The Prime Minister explained that we can’t succeed in our communities if we don’t care for the most vulnerable among us.
Two of the ways the Prime Minister indicated the government is trying to work on these issues is by continuing to build on Canada’s Child Benefit which has helped to reduce child poverty by 40% and to also create a National Housing Strategy by working in partnership with municipal and provincial governments to create affordable, accessible housing for those who are vulnerable and to those who require transitional housing.
Prime Minister Trudeau committed that his government will continue to listen and engage in dialogue with advocates from across the country to ensure they do all they can to address this important issue in our communities. – Hilary Chapple
Hilary is an active community volunteer, poverty reduction and homelessness advocate.