By Sister Elizabeth Davis
Eating a nourishing meal; finding voice; caring for this place — these are simple phrases that challenge government to be more accountable for ensuring equity, inclusion and participation, and shaping the culture and environment citizens deserve.
Government assumes responsibility for education, health, safety and a robust private sector. However, it is not appropriately responsive to the needs of vulnerable citizens or care for the Earth.
Eating a nourishing meal symbolizes advantages most citizens enjoy — for example good meals, warm clothing and access to a doctor. But many citizens are denied such advantages. Assessment of economic improvements shows that the poorest persons remain poor despite growing affluence.
Newfoundland and Labrador’s poverty reduction strategy states: “One area of concern highlighted by the Newfoundland and Labrador Market Basket Measure is that the number of people living in extreme low income has not decreased at the same rate as low income overall.” Government has not well integrated two realities into policy-making: (1) economic development is not a prerequisite for social development — economic and social development can only be achieved together with one making the other possible; and (2) correlations among poverty, homelessness, mental illnesses, unemployment, imprisonment and situations of abuse form intersections of vulnerability. The cause or consequence is not clear, but one visit to the Gathering Place, Stella’s Circle or Choices for Youth (community organizations in St. John’s providing support for vulnerable persons) would confirm the correlations.
Eating a nourishing meal symbolizes advantages most citizens enjoy — for example good meals, warm clothing and access to a doctor. But many citizens are denied such advantages.
Democracy depends on finding voice, or citizen participation. Poor persons do not have the resources to be engaged; their everyday circumstances do not allow opportunity for civic action; and their limited engagement is provided primarily through organizations like Stella’s Circle and the Gathering Place. Increasing evidence demonstrates that building the capacity of communities through social enterprises and community development is a viable, complementary alternative to the market-driven economy: an alternative that Canada and this province have been slow to develop.
Caring for this place encompasses respect for Newfoundland and Labrador’s land, sea and air. While the provincial government is committed to creating a safe environment, there is limited recognition of its responsibility for the balance among health, environmental integrity and ecological sustainability.
An emerging ecological and economic order is exemplified by recent global agreements such as the Paris Agreement and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These global agreements integrate the pillars of sustainable development: economic, social and environmental well-being. Success in implementing these agreements requires all levels of government to act.
Many SDGs relate to the intersections of vulnerability for which the provincial government has primary responsibility (i.e., Goals 1, 2, 5, 8 and 16). The Paris Agreement and SDGs 6, 7, 13, 14 and 15 relate to health, environment and sustainability considerations.
The provincial government must act to shape the new order.
• Build an integrated social, environmental and financial agenda.
• Implement the Paris Agreement and SDGs.
• Create circles of engagement for vulnerable citizens.
• Develop the social economy.
• Commit to decent work for all.
Only then will Newfoundland and Labrador have the inclusive governance its citizens and land deserve.
About the Author
Elizabeth Davis (Sisters of Mercy of Newfoundland) is leader of the Congregation with responsibility for the Gathering Place, St. Patrick’s Mercy Home, and the Mercy Centre for Ecology and Justice in St. John’s. She has previous experience in health care as administrator of St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital and as the first president and CEO of the Health Care Corporation of St. John’s (now Eastern Health).