Election time is upon us once again, and the mudslinging has begun. The rhetoric can be entertaining, but it can also sidestep some important justice issues that desperately need to be an important part of the political conversation.
As citizens who care about the community we call home, and about the world we pass on to our children and our grandchildren, I think that we have a responsibility to bring important justice issues to the campaign, and to challenge our local candidates to articulate their stance on these very important issues. At this tumultuous time in our history, democratic rights are at the forefront of many global discussions as activists of all age demand a say in how their communities are governed. Given this global backdrop, an apathetic approach to voting is not acceptable.
For my part, I would like to know how local provincial candidates stand on these important issues:
• With the number of impoverished families in Ontario growing each year, what will your party do to work towards the eradication of poverty and the restoration of dignity for all in our province?
• In light of the heightened awareness of aboriginal justice that has risen from the “Idle No More” movement, how will your party ensure that indigenous communities are consulted with respect to development projects that potentially violate their treaty rights?
• How will your party commit to protecting our fresh water and ensure its sustainability for future generations?
• What will your party do to contribute to an educational system that promotes equity and justice and a generation of critical thinkers who will work for the common good? Do your policies stretch the creative potential of young learners, or do they limit students to the role of workers who we are training to “compete” in a global marketplace?
• With an aging population, how will your party meet the needs of this growing demographic with respect to such important areas as healthcare, drug plans and dental care — so that our seniors who have built this fine province can live out their retirement years with the dignity and respect that they have earned?
• What kind of social commitments can we expect from the businesses we are trying to attract with various tax cuts and incentive programs? Will they be expected to commit to jobs and to the common good in our society — or does their commitment end at the bottom line for their shareholders?
• Where do you stand with respect to the social programs which create the inclusive and welcoming culture that we have become proud of? If you are “cutting” these programs, which specific programs do you see as expendable?
• How will your party work to ensure that all workers in our province have the opportunity to earn a living wage? Does your job creation plan create a working climate where people can find meaningful full-time employment? Will you commit to supporting an environment where labour rights are fostered and respected?
These are but a few of the questions that need to be part of the discussion in the coming weeks. I know that there are many other important questions that need to be asked. This is definitely the time to ask these questions.
I want to applaud the efforts of E.P.I.C. (Empowering People in Community) — a social justice advocacy group led by Elizabeth Anderson and a number of committed volunteers at the Local Community Food Centre in Stratford. They have worked tirelessly to see that all citizens in our community can participate in the political process, and that the needs of the poor and marginalized are brought to the table in this democratic process. With more than 25 food banks operational in Perth and Huron Counties (compared to five McDonalds restaurants), these needs are clearly growing.
For those of us who choose to look at political realities through the lens of our own religious faith, this effort is so impressive. The litmus test of a society is how we treat our poorest and most vulnerable citizens. Those who wish to serve our community as a member of our provincial legislature need to clearly articulate how this treatment is going to improve over the next four years.
Please get involved in the discussion in the coming weeks and ask your candidates how they will work to build a society that is equitable, inclusive and socially just. We should be offended by the suggestion that elections are only about our pocketbooks and a bottom line. Our community is much bigger than that.
The Local Community Food Centre invited all candidates to present their ideas around poverty, food security and a number of community justice issues at an all-candidates’ debate in June. Progressive Conservative MPP Randy Pettapiece politely declined to attend.