Stronger communities are created and sustained when people believe opportunities exist for them to achieve success, said former Ontario Minister Mary Anne Chambers at last week’s launch of the Colour of Poverty Campaign (COPC) project to address the racialization of poverty.
Chambers served as Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities and Minister of Children and Youth Services before quitting politics two years ago.
“When I was Minister of Children and Youth Services and youth from some neighbourhoods told me that they would have to use the addresses of relatives or friends in other neighbourhoods if they wanted to be successful when applying for summer jobs, I knew that our government would need to create an opportunities strategy specifically for youth from neighbourhoods where incomes are lower than average, academic achievements levels are lower than average, unemployment is higher than average and crime rates are higher than average,” she said.
It was under her watch that the provincial government implemented a youth opportunities strategy to enable young people in underserved communities to access employment, programs and services that can help them achieve their potential.
While Chambers was Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, the Ontario government established non-repayable income-based tuition grants for first and second year college and university students after a senior public school principal told her most of his smart and bright students wouldn’t complete high school because the majority of them were from families living below the poverty line.
“The project that is being launched today is important because we all, individuals, governments and businesses, pay for poverty in one way or another,” said Chambers who worked as a senior executive in the banking industry before entering politics.
The COPC, a coalition of advocacy and human rights groups from visible minority communities in the province, recently received an Ontario Trillium Foundation grant of $225,000 to undertake a province-wide initiative to address poverty among racialized and other marginalized communities.
The 30-month project, that will engage community partners in Toronto, Hamilton, London, Ottawa, Peel and Windsor, is titled “Building Community Capacity to Facilitate the Healthy & Equitable Integration of Racialized Communities in Ontario”.
“I am really excited about what you are doing here today because I think we are at the beginning of a new chapter of Ontario’s history where we now acknowledge poverty and are learning more about what causes it and what steps we need to take to reduce poverty and enhance opportunities,” said Ontario’s Minister of Children and Youth Services, Deb Matthews, who earlier this year helped roll out the province’s poverty reduction strategy aimed at reducing the number of children living in poverty by 25 per cent over five years.
Former Chief Justice and Attorney General Roy McMurtry who, along with former House Speaker and diplomat Alvin Curling co-chaired “The Review of the Roots of Youth Violence” set up in 2007 to help identify and analyze the underlying cause of youth violence, shared some of the report’s findings.
“Deep concerns about racism pervaded our consultations and we were taken aback by the extent to which racism is alive and, unfortunately, well and wreaking its harmful effects on Ontarians and, indeed, on the very fabric of the province,” they wrote.
“How can it not erode your self-esteem to feel that no matter what you do or what you achieve, you can be excluded or under-valued simply because of your race? How can it not be alienating to know that you can be – or have often been – sought by the police or followed in a store or denied housing for the same reason? How could your willingness to study and work hard to get ahead not be eroded by a clear sense of having more limited prospects than others and how could that not reduce your sense of hope.”
McMurtry reminded the audience that poverty and racism have been of enormous interest to him for decades and that, as Attorney General, he was privileged to be appointed the first chair of the Cabinet committee on racism in former premier William Davis’ government.
“In the wake of Obama’s victory, I hear from people who are not informed that we are now living in a post-racism society and the issue has been resolved,” he said. “In 2005, the Supreme Court of Canada stated in the Spence case that racial prejudice against visible minorities is notorious and indisputable and it’s a social fact not capable of reasonable dispute.”
As part of it’s strategy, the COPC is working on the re-introduction of policy imperatives of employment equity in Ontario and the collection and tracking of disaggregated data across several institutions and sectors in order to identify racialized and other structural and systemic disadvantages and develop clear definitions and indicators as to who are the poor and why they are submerged in poverty.
University of Toronto Ontario Institute for Studies in Education assistant professor Dr. Lance McCready fully supports this approach.
“For example, if we look at the overall disparities in academic performance between boys and girls, it becomes clear that not all boys are underachieving or at risk,” he said. “This realization has the potential to lead to a more productive approach to addressing gender equity and social justice in schools. Such an approach would be governed by the commitment to address the question of which boys and which girls are not achieving.
“This would lead to identifying how other factors such as race, ethnicity, social class, immigration status and sexuality intersect with gender to impact students’ engagement with schooling. This kind of intersectional perspective can only be made possible with disaggregated data.”
Ontario Federation of Labour vice-president Terry Downey also attended the launch.