25 JULY, 2014
Put Food in the Budget visits north western Ontario and listens to people talk about poverty in their communities
Read Mike Balkwill's dispatches from communities along the route.
On the Road to Red Lake
I accepted Kathy Campbell's invitation to visit north western Ontario to meet people and listen to them tell me how poverty is different in Red Lake and other communities. Between July 2 and July 11 I visited Thunder Bay, Atikokan, Fort Frances, Kenora, Dryden, Sioux Lookout and Ignace.
I met with people with low incomes and people who are service providers in these communities.
The leadership of the Put Food in the Budget campaign asked me to pose three questions as I met with people:
- What is poverty like in northern communities—and how is it different from poverty in southern Ontario?
- What do people think it is going to take to make Premier Wynne raise social assistance to a level that ensures people can live a life of health and dignity?
- Do people want to join the Put Food in the Budget campaign?
The idea for this tour came out of a long distance conversation Kathy Campbell in Red Lake has been having with our campaign over the last two years. She has been telling us how poverty in northern Ontario is different from in the south.
Kathy has been the Executive Director for many years of New Start for Women—an emergency women's shelter in Red Lake. Kathy and women and staff have participated in several of Put Food in the Budget campaign initiatives. Most recently, many people at New Starts for Women watched the live streaming of the trial of Premier Wynne in February.
I met with people at meetings organized by women's shelters, Friendship Centres, community health centres, public health units and more.
Premier Wynne did not make a priority of poverty reduction or raising social assistance while she led a minority government. What will Premier Wynne do now that she leads a majority? The leadership of the Put Food in the Budget campaign believes that we need to expand the base of the campaign in order to mobilize the political pressure that will be necessary to get Premier Wynne to act on raising the rates.
These meetings in northwestern Ontario are the first of many community visits the Put Food in the Budget campaign plans in the coming months to build the base of the campaign to raise social assistance rates.
As always we rely on your financial support to help make this happen.
Please make a donation now here to support this important organizing work—and to help build the power of the Put Food in the Budget campaign.
I sent daily "dispatches" as I travelled from community to community. They are posted here (right).
If you wish to comment on anything you read here—please write to the campaign at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for your interest in the Put Food in the Budget campaign.
Put Food in the Budget campaign
Taxi ride to buy groceries: $908
5 JULY, 2014
Usually only towns with more than 5,000 residents can have big discount stores like Walmart food centres or Loblaws. Many small towns have an independent or Northern chain grocery store, but they certainly do not compete on price. In some towns there is only one choice of store. Some smaller towns do not have a grocery store at all.
"Mom, Why are we so poor?"
7 JULY, 2014
This is the question Sasha's son asked her in the grocery store in Atikokan, when she said she couldn't buy the $3 toy he wanted. Sasha has three children. She tells me more than 50% of her income goes to rent, utilities and heat. She doesn't have enough money to put food for herself in her budget. She eats only one meal a day—dinner. This is to ensure there is enough food for her children.
How poverty is different in northern communities—report from Atikokan
7 JULY, 2014
I met with seven women who are service providers in Atikokan. I asked the question 'How is poverty different in northern communities"? Here are some highlights of our conversation.
2012 flood causes permanent loss of affordable housing in Thunder Bay
8 JULY, 2014
100 millimeters of rain fell in a very short period of time on May 28th 2012 in Thunder Bay. The heavy rains flooded the water treatment plant in the low lying east end of Thunder Bay. Sewage backed up into basements displacing hundreds of people—some permanently.
"One month I had to take out a loan to pay my hydro bill"
10 JULY, 2014
There are many things that have been told to me on this trip about poverty in north western Ontario that seem to be similar to things I have heard in rural communities in southern Ontario. Heart-breaking stories of personal impoverishment. Inadequate transportation or no public transportation (there is no bus service from Red Lake anymore) and public transit that leads to isolation and makes it difficult to access health services. These issues can be even more extreme in the north based on distances and longer, colder winter.
Poverty and women
11 JULY, 2014
"Poverty is the biggest form of violence against women" says Kathy Campbell, until recently the Executive Director of New Starts for Women in Red Lake. "It's heart-breaking, but it's not new. No one can really 'afford' to live here, even if your household is two people with jobs. It's just really expensive. So, if you separate or divorce you are instantly in poverty", adds Kathy.
"At the core of poverty is capitalism—for there to be rich, there have to be poor."
14 JULY, 2014
"At the core of poverty is capitalism. For there to be rich, there have to be poor. And Aboriginal people are the poorest of the poor—because capitalism needed their land". This is the first comment that I heard in response to my question about the nature of poverty in Kenora.
"Make the politicians go for just one day without food at Queen's Park."
15 JULY, 2014
"Make them live on my budget and in my house for a month." Another person said to me "Make the politicians go for just one day without food at Queen's Park. No breakfast, no coffee, no lunch or snacks or dinner. Have them work all day and then see what that is like. That would be a start."
Premier Wynne should announce her upcoming poverty reduction strategy at the food bank in Ignace Ontario
15 JULY, 2014
I visited the food bank in Ignace on one of the two afternoons a month that it is open. The food available there—in spite of peoples best efforts—is sad. There is no other way to say it.
"We are a community of abject poverty and conspicuous summer wealth."
17 JULY, 2014
I wrote a post about poverty in northern communities and asked readers to email me and tell me how this compared to poverty in their community. Here is a response from Jennifer Robertson in North Hastings County.