Members of several faith traditions gathered at Queen’s Park on Nov. 24 to hear about the possibilities of a basic income and to strategize for effective interfaith advocacy on poverty reduction in Ontario. The annual Religious Leaders Forum was presented by the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition.
Archbishop Colin Johnson helped open the day with a theological reflection that explored ways that the multi-faith audience was “united in our service to both our faith and how that faith intersects with the wider community.” Reflecting on the implications of understanding ourselves as being beloved by God, he insisted that the needs of the poor are at the core of many religious traditions.
“Everyone is beloved,” he said. “The question I have is: What would it look like if all of our policies, if all of our governance, if all of our rules, if all of our activities, if all of our interventions were governed based on that inherent dignity of every person? That each is cherished. That all are declared beloved.”
In his keynote address, Senator Art Eggleton addressed the question of whether poverty eradication is possible and what role faith communities can play in bringing it about.
Arguing that there are considerable economic and social costs to poverty in society, Senator Eggleton insisted that “the biggest cost is the toll on people’s lives: the loss of dignity, marginalization.”
He said the current systems for dealing with poverty are failing. “We’re locking people into a system or systems that trap them in poverty… They are degrading, demeaning, stigmatizing.”
A basic income or Guaranteed Annual Income was one of five “transformative strategies” for poverty elimination he explored in his talk, along with local leadership, stimulating the economy, investing in education and undertaking serious taxation reform. The Ontario government is currently preparing to undertake a basic income pilot project to explore how this strategy might be used to address poverty across the province.
“It’s time to end poverty and reduce inequality in this country we are blessed to live in,” said Senator Eggleton. “It’s time to improve equality of opportunity and better sharing of our resources. It’s time to explore a new way, a new approach. It’s time for a basic income.”
Some of the final messages of the morning encouraged faith communities to become actively engaged in advocacy for poverty reduction. Senator Eggleton observed that “faith communities have the ability to inspire and mobilize human resources; in fact, you have extraordinary capabilities.”
MPP Cheri Dinovo (Parkdale-High Park) echoed this sentiment when she reminded the audience that churches, temples and mosques represent hundreds of voters that politicians need to listen to. “You represent power to them,” she insisted. “You represent voters. You have power – use it.”
In responding to Senator Eggleton’s talk, Rabbi Michael Satz, from Toronto’s Holy Blossom Temple, reminded everyone that real change requires collective action from all faith groups. “Me, as a Jew, people as Christians, people as Muslims, we’re all in this together. And that is what the political is.”