Halifax MP leads anti-poverty panel


Halifax MP Megan Leslie. Conway Photo.


     An anti-poverty panel discussed a wide range of economic problems facing Islanders during the NDP leadership conference in Charlottetown April 5.

     The panel was lead by NDP MP Megan Leslie, a founding member of the Community Coalition to End Poverty. The group is dedicated to ending poverty in Halifax.

     Leslie said the Halifax group was formed after concerned citizens marched to the federal building in Halifax asking for a poverty reduction policy but it fell on deaf ears.

      “We launched our own community written and driven policy based on a similar policy they have in Newfoundland.”

      The community group was working and functioning but the government-sponsored group which was launched did not work as well, Leslie said.

      “The community group is worried about the government’s direction considering there are no benchmarks but the fact we now have a policy in place is a huge win for us.”

       She said the anti-poverty policies in Newfoundland and Quebec work well and they do so because they have a clear set of goals.

       “It can not work properly if the goals are not clearly established.”

        CUPE representative Leo Chevevie said the Newfoundland policy works because of the participation of both governement and the anti-poverty groups.

       Shannon Pollard, the third vice president of the provincial NDP and P.E.I. representative for the National Anti-Poverty Organization, said when she and her group were trying to get a policy for P.E.I. she was told to speak with the provincial treasury, but it was too much of a challenge.

     “They don’t have the time of day to speak with us or even think that the poverty exists here on the Island.”

     Leo Garland, a member of both People First and Alert, said there is a myth about the quality of life on Prince Edward Island which needed to be addressed.

     “After looking at the quality of life of people here on the Island, it should be said that it is more expensive to live in the province than the myth suggests.”

     When Leslie asked what the main issues regarding poverty on Prince Edward Island were, she was given a variety of responses.

      Pollard said there is an isolation of the rural areas of the province and a lack of public transportation.

       Jillian Kilfoil, second vice president for the provincial NDP and a member of People First, agreed with Pollard about the lack of public transportation. She said the bus services in Summerside and Souris had been discontinued and the northern rural areas don’t have a bus system at all.

      Chevevie said there are no programs dedicated to social or co-housing available in the province.

      Garland said there is a major problem on the Island that no one likes to talk about- homelessness.

     “The soup kitchens are filling up at an alarming rate, there are young people who would be homeless if they did not have friends to take them in. I have spent a night sleeping in the streets with the homeless and it has really opened my eyes to the problem.”

       Pollard said all levels of government need to cooperate with the anti-poverty groups to get a policy put in place.

       “Areas in P.E.I. need to be consulted as well, instead of just basing what needs to be done purely on numbers.”

        The members of the panel got a bit of a surprise when Lesile said help can be found when going beyond the “usual” suspects in government.

       “You would be surprised with the amount of small business that have decided to help with the program in Halifax.”

       “An even more surprising case was when we were told by a real-estate agent to help with a housing plan they were working on, which resulted in 24 housing units being built. Teachers with poor or lower income students, nurses and faith-based groups can be helpful as well.”

         Leslie feels it is a huge victory for her riding to even have a poverty reduction strategy in place.

         Plenty of other concerns were raised at the round table.

         The fishery is in a crisis and is in danger of collapse and the prices have been devastating, said Chevevie.

         “Unemployment rates in the province are also beginning to creep up.”

          Kilfoil said the local food banks are beginning to run out of food.

          Leslie commented on the state of the Nova Scotian economy.

          “Nova Scotia is becoming an economically depressed area.”

      Rural migration is a growing problem, with people either moving to rural areas or leaving the province altogether.

      Garland recalled seeing over 100 people the last time he visited the soup kitchen.

      “They just kept coming and coming.”

       Pollard complained about the lack of full-time jobs in Charlottetown, saying, “It is all part-time jobs. You can work for a call centre which are more like sweat shops or work a few hours here and there and then move on to the next job without health care benefits.”

       Chevevie mentioned the problems facing the tourism industry on the Island.

       “Tourism has taken a hit with people being unable to afford to travel. This hurts the province’s annual income.”

        Two members of the panel discussed the lack of media coverage regarding the problems surrounding poverty in P.E.I.

       The representative for the participation of women for the NDP, Lorraine Begley, said the media is too complacent.

        “They are too afraid to critique the government.”

        Chevevie said the media doesn’t do an accurate job of analysing the situation.

       “No real analysis of the number of problems regarding poverty in P.E.I.”

        He also mentioned the need for an increase in minimum wage and the urgency of bringing this to the attention of Legislature.

        School teacher Richard Baker brought the final piece of discussion to the panel’s attention. It was the state of education on the Island.

         He said it is cheaper for students from P.E.I. to attend Memorial University in Newfoundland than to attend UPEI and that also includes the travel expenses.

         “If Memorial can reduce tuition rates, why can’t we?”

          Pollard mentioned a student she knew who told her he wants to attend UPEI but since he can’t afford it, he has to take trade school courses instead.

           “He had to take a course where he could find employment in directly after graduation, so he can afford to go to university later on down the road and that should not be the case.”



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