The Religious Social Action Coalition is asking all candidates running in the May 2 federal election to pledge to end poverty.
The group — made up of many of this province’s religious leaders, including Christians, Hindus, Jews and Muslims — relaunched a website Monday which tracks which candidates have signed the coalition’s pledge to end poverty.
It will be updated throughout the campaign, as candidates in all ridings across the country respond to the pledge request.
A number of candidates from the St. John’s area attended the event, including Conservative Loyola Sullivan, Liberals Scott Andrews and Siobhan Coady and the NDP’s Ryan Cleary, Matt Fuchs and Jack Harris.
“Poverty in a rich country like ours is a failure of the community,” said Veeresh Gadag, past chairman of the Hindu Temple in St. John’s and a director of the coalition.
Another director, Rev. Paul Lundrigan of St. Kevin’s Catholic Church in Goulds, said after the Second World War all political parties worked to addresss issues of poverty for about 20 years. But in the last 40 years, the issue has largely been ignored on the political agenda.
“We see too many things happening to allow the wealthy to become even richer and the poor to become poorer,” said Lundrigan.
“We still see more and more people lining up at our food banks. We see our senior citizens going to malls and shopping centres to keep warm because they don’t want to spend the money to heat their homes because they can’t afford the drugs that they need.”
Arnold Bennett of the Jewish community Havura said the “questions that needed to be asked, were not asked and are still not being asked.”
“Poverty in a rich country like ours is a failure of the community." - Veeresh Gadag
He called on reporters and voters to ask these questions of politians for each and every government policy announced: who benefits and who pays — the rich, the middle class or the poor, and if the policy will help close the poverty gap or make it even wider.
After outlining what was on the coalition’s website, the directors present took questions from reporters.
Bennett was asked if the coalition has seen any advances in poverty reduction since it asked all candidates to take the same pledge during the 2008 election.
“No,” he said. “Poverty has continued to get worse. We see it on the front lines in the food banks ... and the growing gap between the enormous and expensive houses that are being built here and the longer lines of middle class and poor folks who can’t afford to buy any of them.”
But Bennett said, last time the coalition attempted to get answers from all candidates itself and this time it has partnered with other religious groups across the country to ask candidates in their areas to also take the pledge.
However, Bennett suggested it might take more than pledges to get politicians to act.
“We think (poverty) will continue to get worse until Canadians demand the answer to the question. When you give us a campaign promise, tell us not just that somebody will benefit but whether that someone is going to be rich, middle income or poor,” he said.