By Colleen Sym
Published: January 2009
Related Topics: Social Justice
In the Bishop's Charge to the 134th Synod, Bishop Bird identified a challenge – to reclaim our prophetic voice in a troubled and broken world and to lead the fight against poverty, violence and injustice that continues to pervade our communities and our societies. He takes that challenge seriously and in the last six months has himself been an active advocate for the province to adopt a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy.
It started last May, just a few weeks into his episcopacy, when Bishop Bird wrote a letter to the chair of the province's cabinet committee for poverty reduction. In that letter, he expressed support for the 25 in 5 Network for Poverty Reduction's Founding Declaration. That letter also contained a call for justice that has been incorporated into the message of the 25 in 5 coalition.
The 25 in 5 coalition is a multi-sectoral network comprised of more than 350 provincial organizations and individuals working on eliminating poverty. The coalition is organized around the call for a Poverty Reduction Plan with a goal to reduce poverty in Ontario by 25% in 5 years and 50% in 10 years.
On November 21, 2008, the Bishop attended the Hamilton stop of a 22-stop provincial tour by 25 in 5 to promote a realistic and achievable plan that would make Ontario a leader in poverty reduction. The tour, "Leadership in Hard Times: 25 in 5's Tour to Promote Poverty Reduction" was scheduled to take place just weeks before the Ontario government was to announce its poverty reduction strategy.
One of the main architects of the plan and the key note speaker at the Hamilton tour stop was Marvyn Novick. Professor Novick was a co-founder of Campaign 2000 and since his retirement from Ryerson University where he taught social policy and community practice, has donated his time and expertise to 25 in 5.
The opening slide of the Tour presentation quoted from Bishop Bird's letter to Minister Matthews. With the slide projected up on the screen, Professor Novick called the Bishop to the podium to address the audience. Bishop Bird shared with the audience his vision for social justice making, referencing the story of his grandfather that he shared at Synod.
Two weeks later, on December 4, 2008, Minister Matthews released "Breaking the Cycle, Ontario's Poverty Reduction Strategy". The target of the plan is to reduce the number of children living in poverty by 25 percent over the next five years.
The Hamilton Working Group on Ontario's Poverty Reduction Strategy met the next day in Myler Hall at Cathedral Place. It was a rally of response and celebration. An opportunity to reflect on the accomplishments of the people from across the province who work to improve the lives of those in poverty and of people living in poverty who have hope that we can do better as a society to respond to their need; an opportunity to assess the government's plan; and an opportunity to acknowledge that the work is not over.
The province's focus on children has to be broadened. While Hamilton has the slogan the best community in which to raise a child, the best communities in which to raise children are communities without poverty.
Bishop Bird was the closing speaker at the rally. Thanking everyone for their hard work, expressing his admiration for what has been accomplished and pledging diocesan support of the work still to be done.
As the province's plan moves into implementation, the 25 in 5 coalition will focus on making sure that all low-income Ontarians escape poverty and that progress is achieved quickly on affordable housing, early learning and child care, better education and training, and that social assistance is transformed into a program that advances the living standards of the people who are forced to rely on it....
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