Addressing the ‘moral crisis’ of poverty

Dave Bartlett
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Arnold Bennett (at podium) of the Jewish Community Havura of Newfoundland and Labrador speaks Wednesday at a news conference at the library of the Roman Catholic Basilica in St. John’s. Gathered behind Bennett are other members of the Religious Social Action Coalition of Newfoundland and Labrador. — Photo by Gary Hebbard/The Telegram

Ending poverty is not that complicated if the political will is there, according to one of the directors of the Religious Social Action Committee .

The coalition is made up of many of the province’s religious leaders including Christians, Jews, Muslims and Hindus.

It held a news conference at the Basilica library in St. John’s Wednesday to release the results of a questionnaire sent to all three political leaders vying to be premier in Tuesday’s election.

“This is a gathering of religious leaders from a wide variety of faith traditions who have put aside religious differences and joined together to address our common outrage at the moral crisis of such a large and growing gap between the rich and poor of this province,” said Archbishop Martin Currie, a coalition member representing the Roman Catholic faith.

Religious leaders calling on candidates to take anti-poverty pledge

Currie said while political parties have expressed concern and pledged to eliminate poverty the line-ups at food banks in the province continue to grow.

“We see public policies that do not foster self-sufficiency, but which offer limited means for surviving impoverishment,” he added.

According to the coalition, between 1992 and 2009 the gap between the average incomes of the poorest 20 per cent and the richests 20 per cent in this province has grown from $71,300 to $97,700.

The questionnaire sent to the parties asks 10 questions relative to ending poverty. The coalition has since posted the complete responses to its website —

Arnold Bennett, one of the coalition’s directors representing the Jewish faith highlighted two questions at the event.

The coalition wants the parties to create an independent provincial fairness commissioner to monitor and ensure the gap is closing and to review every piece of legislation to ensure people of all income levels are being treated fairly.

“In the responses that we have on the website, none of the three parties gives a straight answer to this question,” Bennett said.

The second question asks parties to change taxation policy to close loop holes for the wealthy and to repeal tax cuts for the richest people — with incomes of more than $250,000 — as well as add a surtax on incomes over $500,000.

But Bennett said no party wants to commit to raising taxes during an election campaign.

When Bennett was asked by reporters if the issue of poverty is more complex than the questions posed by the coalition, he responded,  “The issues, actually, are simpler than I’ve suggested.”

To illustrate his point, he said the responses from the PC party states the province has cut taxes by $1.6 billion.

But according to Bennett, more than a billion of that went to the richest 20 per cent, with more than $500 million going to the richest one per cent in the province.

Meanwhile, he said, the total spent on poverty reduction in the province is $140 million a year.

Bennett said by plugging that leak in the taxation boat that drains money back to the wealthy the province could afford strategies towards ending poverty.

But Natural Resources Minister Shawn Skinner, who’s running for re-election in St. John’s Centre and attended the event, said while his party shares the coalition’s goals, he wasn’t convinced the issue is as simple as that.

“I think there are many facets to this, and they require discussion,” he said.

Chris Pickard, the NDP candidate in St. John’s West, was more receptive to the idea of a new tax regime to spread the wealth around.

He said he’s seeing what the coalition is talking about on the doorsteps.

“There are an awful lot of people who are struggling,” said Pickard.

Sheila Miller is running for the Liberals in the district of Virgina Waters.

She said as a child care centre owner she was shocked when she opened a preschool some years ago in the city centre at how much families were affected.

“I was mortified that I actually had children coming to my preschool that did not have breakfast,” she said.

The coalition is asking voters to visit its website to review where each party stands on issues related to poverty and to see which candidates in their district have signed the coalition’s pledge to end poverty.

Organizations: Religious Social Action Committee, NDP

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Recent comments

  • Yo mama
    October 11, 2011 - 16:05

    I guess those in poverty should have stayed in school, listened to their parents and put down that joint. You made your beds, lie in it.

  • J
    October 06, 2011 - 19:00

    Poverty is a combination of bad choices and bad luck.

  • Pete Not Peter
    October 06, 2011 - 18:32

    Keep it up guys and you will revive the medieval class structure all over again. Keep the terms poverty and poor out of the discussion. It is more a matter of Justice, IMHO. Case in point: there are many multiple income households in modern society. However each member's salary is based on the assumption that each is a single bread winner. Is this middle class greed or just the economic evolution in society. Is it Just and fair to take their windfall incomes? Are they rich or just lucky? Were their single income parents poor compared to them? Societies need a clever social structure so that those with minimal cash flow are neither warehoused nor trapped between patronizing social strata. Remember it was the afflicted rich man (Job) that was told to pray for his comforters.

    October 06, 2011 - 15:27

    Vote against violence and poverty this election. Mother Teresa, the greatest activist of out time, said "Any country that accepts abortion, is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what it wants." and "It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish." Ignoring this most fundamental advice can be lethal to the preborn, born, and the provincial moral fabric. Why don't these holy men their their ducks in a row and tackle the root problem as Mother Teresa says.

  • Chantal
    October 06, 2011 - 12:50

    I agree. Right-wing Christians are responsible for much poverty.

    • PETER
      October 06, 2011 - 13:25

      Chantal, please read my response to Robert and explain this. The vast majority of poverty in the world is actually in non Christian countires. The poverty in the western world, and specifically in Newfoundland cannot be that easily explained. How much have you been involved with poverty and trying to help those in need? How much have you studied this, or are like like many these day just anti-Christian? My experience with food banks shows that Christians are doing much through their giving, even to non Christians. You seem like Robert to want to place blame, but have no idea on how to fix it. This does not help at all, and in a way hinders. If you cannot give an intelligent response you should give none.

  • Harry Tucker
    October 06, 2011 - 12:33

    I think this goes beyond expecting the government to fix it - this problem belongs to everyone to fix. I wrote about this article on my blog today -

    October 06, 2011 - 11:42

    Alan, I sent a response to this but for some reason it didn't get published here. However, I have been working as a volunteer at a local food back for 15 years now, and I see no reduction in poverty in this province. When I first volunteered we had just over 200 families, today we have over 600 families, and we are adding new ones at the rate of 2 to 3 families per week, this is only in one area. The government does not recognize the use and need of food banks, but social workers for the province continually point people to us, go figure that one. I see the poverty on the front line and see low income workers and seniors fall behind continually. Poverty is on the increase in this province, not on the decrease, ask any food bank or the Community Food Sharing Association, we all see it first hand.

  • Not so sure
    October 06, 2011 - 10:27

    It says the gap has grown from $71,300 to $97,700 from 1992 to 2009. But if that $71,300 figure is in 1992 dollars then it needs to be adjusted to 2009 dollars to make a fair comparison. In that case the 1992, after adjusting for inflation, is more like $95,500. It would seem that the gap has changed very little.

  • Alan
    October 06, 2011 - 09:01

    This province has a detailed and coordinated Poverty Reduction Strategy, which started back in the days of Clyde Wells. It was updated under Danny Williams about two years ago. It has been effective and is being studied by other provinces. This province has been the most successful in reducing poverty and is continuing the strategy.

  • Derrick
    October 06, 2011 - 08:19

    I just about choked when I seen Bishop Currie and the Catholics pretending to be interested in moral crisis around poverty reduction. Take him and the catlicks out of this group and we'd have a legimate group.

    • who is this clown
      October 06, 2011 - 14:16

      Meet Mr. Derrick Head everyone, call him Dick for short (in more ways than one)

    October 06, 2011 - 08:07

    I have volunteered at my local food bank for 15 years. Our clientelle has grown from just over 200 families 15 years ago to over 600 families today. Government does not recognize the need for food banks, and we can't even get donations or assistance from government, however government social workers increasingly point their clients to food banks, go figure that one. Seniors and low income workers are falling behind in our booming economy, and it's heart breaking to hear these people say they have to choose between food, heat or medications. I have talked to politicians directly on the issue, and gotten very confusing responses. My dream is to be able to close food banks because the issue of poverty is settled, but all I see is new clients every week. It's time to fix this issue, keep up the pressure coalition!!!

  • Politically Incorrect
    October 06, 2011 - 07:51

    Leave it to the short-sighted, smug, cerebral light-weights to blame those without work for the unemployment picture by dismissing them as lazy. These are the same ones who demand that workers reject unions and accept layoffs as they race to the bottom while corporate profits continue to grow. Think about it: if the unemployment rate was 0% then what would happen to wages, and subsequently profits? The pool of surplus labour plays an important role in the economy as it keeps wages and benefits low and profits high. The privileged classes are well aware of this and it’s to their benefit that the working class continues to attack itself and its interests. The last thing our masters want is for us to recgonise this for ourselves.

  • Robert
    October 06, 2011 - 07:22

    The Christians in this group should read their Bible. Christ teaches we will always have poor people. And it is Christians who are responsible for the poor not government.

    • PETER
      October 06, 2011 - 12:54

      Robert, this is the strangest response to this article so far, to blame Christians. Are you aware that Christian Churches provide about 90% of the food banks in the province? Are you aware that the vast majority of donations to food banks are through Christian churches. Yes schools and other groups do as well once or twice a year, but the main flow of local donations on a continued flow is from churches and church groups. How do you explain poverty in third world countries that are not Christian countries. This is a very narrow minded and uneducated response to a critical problem.