As a rookie cabinet minister Karina Gould is burning the midnight oil trying to create a better life for Canadians.
But the Burlington MP and Minister of Democratic Institutions must have felt at least a little uncomfortable when she addressed a meeting of the Halton Poverty Roundtable (HPRT) recently.
When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau elevated Gould to her new post in January, Gould receive a whopping 47.8 per cent increase in pay from $170,400 annually to $251,900.
Meanwhile, some sitting in the narthex of St. Christopher’s Anglican Church for the meeting are on disability pensions or welfare.
Asked if a government review of salaries for MPs and Cabinet Ministers is needed, Gould skirted the question.
“My job is in public service, to be engaged with people so that I can be an effective advocate for them when I’m in Ottawa,” she said. “Our office offered a free income tax-filing service for low income residents this year and we served 450 people.”
Gould said the Canada Child Benefit currently is helping get 300,000 youths across the country out of poverty.
“But there are three million Canadians living in poverty,” she said. “We need a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy.”
June Cockwell, co-chair of the HRPT, presents the facts in a video on the group’s website.
“If you’re living on $22,000, which means the minimum wage of $11 per hour, you’re living in poverty,” she says.
To illustrate the almost total disregard for the problem, a few years ago the Edmonton Oilers hockey team spent $18,000 alone on a team dinner.
When the owner of the restaurant presented the tab, there was a listing for 100 shots of tequila, as well as shooters topped with whipped cream.
The definition of poverty also stipulates that accommodation should not be costing people more than 30 per cent of their income.
Yet, a survey conducted by HPRT showed that among low-income family households about two-thirds (63 per cent) spent half or more of their household income on shelter.
A survey of food bank users undertaken by Voices for Change Halton, showed that 43 per cent of adults in the household skipped meals because there wasn’t enough money,
Studies also have shown that some people who use food banks take home only what they can carry because they literally have no place to store much more than that.
Ana Pascall, who was born in Fiji, had her driver’s licence taken away from her in January after she fainted for a few minutes following an effort to lose weight. Pascall’s licence was lifted, in spite of the fact tests showed the fainting episode was not related to any life-threatening condition.
“I’ve lost my independence,” said Pascall a single-mother, who has two sons who need transportation.
Pascall also struggles to get by on a disability pension.
“I can’t afford to go the restaurants and I have no relatives here in Canada,” she said. “I can’t go to an aunt or uncle’s for dinner.”
Anne Smith, director of community impact for the United Way Halton and Hamilton, said affordable housing is particularly important to people with mental health issues.
“If you give them a place to live then they can work on their mental health,” she said. “But if they don’t have a place to live, how can they do it?”
Joanne Vassell-Pittman, who moved to Burlington from Montreal, suffered an injury that forced her to give up her job as co-ordinator of a before-and-after-school program. She could no longer run after a child, in case of an emergency.
Her only source of income now is a disability pension. She is confined to a wheelchair, but still is willing to work part-time at another job. However, if she does the government will claw back 50 per cent of her pension.
Vassell-Pittman had to wait five years to get accessible housing through the Halton Community Housing Corporation.
On the positive side, it was pointed out that children in families earning less than $50,000 per year can now receive free post-secondary education.