By Mike Redmond (guest opinion)
Sometimes it takes the thoughts of a 14-year-old child to put things in perspective and provide real clarity on a tradition Islanders can certainly live without. As I was driving my son to school Monday morning, he looked over as we listened to CBC radio and asked, ”Why do we keep doing the turkey drive Dad, if what they say is true, and the need increases every year, why do we keep doing the same things year in year out?” he asks.
I must first admit, I am no fan of a turkey drive that delivers food relief for one day of the year, like a food bank that delivers food one week in a month. Consider that some 200,000 Canadians are homeless every year, almost 30,000 Canadians live on the street every night. Look no further than your street corners and see how many young people are begging for monies, look at the line-ups at the soup kitchen, food banks at both Holland College and UPEI, watch the line-ups for heating oil in January and February when the bitter cold is upon us. Consider that one in six children go to school hungry every day, every day in this province.
Why in a province and a country so rich in agricultural land do we import 80 per cent of our fruits and vegetables? With food prices expected to increase four per cent in 2016, meat will increase 4.5 per cent (nine per cent in two years), food prices will outpace overall inflation. Our dollar is falling fast, and the oil sands will drive workers home with little hope. We must as a society and as a province acknowledge we are failing, we are failing when it comes to addressing poverty.
What does not surprise me is the generosity of all Islanders, who dig deep into their pockets and extend a hand to those in need. Year in, year out, families, schools, business and individuals do what they can to help others. Imagine if our collective energy on P.E.I. was to eradicate poverty. Imagine.
It is disingenuous when politicians walk in and donate turkeys, grab a photo, radio interview, like our premier, environment minister, opposition leader and leader of the third party did this morning. Gentlemen, with a single stroke of the pen you can eradicate poverty in this province, you can enact legislation to change our direction, and provide the example and leadership for the rest of the country.
Keep in mind, it is not just politicians provincially, federally and municipally but the media that must also accept responsibility. Would it not be appropriate for CBC to do the right thing and show Islanders the face of poverty, show Islanders exactly what is happening in our Island communities. If the CBC concentrated its resources in exposing the reality on P.E.I., it would galvanize Islanders to act.
It would put so much pressure on our political elite that they would have to act, and act decisively.
We must address the fact that a large number of people living in poverty are the working poor, that seniors, people living on a fixed income, persons with a disability have been left out of the conversation and are not being well served by our government. The cost of living on P.EI. is one of the highest in the country, we have a regressive tax that is the HST and no social or affordable housing plan.
Our premier, and all levels of government must show leadership. The time has come to focus on our people and address the issue of poverty. How? By deciding what is a need and what is a want. We do not need a Liquor Control Commission, we do not need IRAC, we do not need a $650,000.00 full-time lieutenant governor, we do not need a bloated Health P.E.I. bureaucracy, we do not need to give our politicians another raise. What we need is openness and transparency, a province that has food sovereignty and that has the capacity to feed its own people.
We have the farmers, we have the fishermen, we have the berry producers, apple growers, and the collective will to change our present course. We need the will of media and our leadership to lead the way.
We need a living wage, we need a basic income guarantee, we need to support our farmers, our fishers, innovation in food, and those organizations like P.E.I. Food Exchange and discover real solutions now.
After all, it is 2015, and I did hear someone say they were doing business differently?
Mike Redmond is a long-time community advocate and resides near Montague