Federal campaign fails to tackle poverty, food bank director says

Winnipeg Harvest director David Northcott says a focus on poverty in this election is "not there" and is "disappointing." Northcott says reducing homelessness has taken a back seat.
David Northcott says reducing poverty and homelessness has taken a back seat to other issues and none of the candidates has made Harvest a stop on the campaign trail. (L.Tsuji/CBC)

Winnipeg Harvest director David Northcott would have liked to hear candidates running for office in this election campaign offer a strategy to put his organization out of business.

Instead the food bank director says a real discussion of poverty in the election is "disappointing" and "not there."

Northcott says reducing poverty and homelessness has taken a back seat to other issues and none of the candidates has made Harvest a stop on the campaign trail.

"We've invited all the parties to visit with us. We've invited all key candidates in the city to visit Winnipeg Harvest over the last months and no one has come to the table. So the interpretation for us is there must be things that are more important to them than poverty."

Northcott says the Green Party has come closest to offering a real strategy to end poverty and cites their promise of a guaranteed livable income as an example. He says all the federal parties at one time pledged to end child poverty in Canada by the year 2000.

Twenty-four-thousand children will use a food bank in Manitoba this month, says Northcott. 

Northcott's dismay at the lack of dialogue on poverty also rings true for Kate Kehler at Winnipeg's Social Planning Council. She says there has been "a complete lack of discourse" on the issue of poverty and "it doesn't seem to be on anyone's agenda."

Kehler says she has seen plenty of discussion about the middle class, but "that's talking about people who've seen their wealth slip away. They get out and vote. People living in poverty generally don't [vote]."

Kehler says there "seems to be no glory" in consistently fighting poverty, even with smaller initiatives.

"A real leader would be satisfied with small victories," Kehler says.

Northcott says the staff and those Winnipeg Harvest serves will stick together and do their best to improve lives, but admits there is generally a lack of leadership on the part of politicians.

"It's pretty thin for all the parties. There is nothing of substance there that we can hang our hat on that says there is a sense of hope for the future that we can have a future without poverty and hunger in it. I don't see it starting here."

Winnipeg Harvest and food banks across Manitoba help feed more than 60,000 people every month.