Ontario Votes 2014

Why isn't poverty an election issue in Hamilton?

Local anti-poverty organizations have launched a campaign to ensure poverty reduction is at the top of the agenda in the provincial election - something they say is sorely missing right now.

Hamilton anti-poverty organizations want to push it to the forefront of the Ontario election

Hamilton mother of two Isabella Daley says politicians need to make poverty a priority in their election platforms. (Adam Carter/CBC)

Isabella Daley works hard to give her two daughters what she calls the “facade of the middle class.”

If they had friends over for supper when they were kids, she wouldn’t eat so the kids all could — then her daughters would go to bed thinking they had the same sort of lifestyle as everyone else. But things were still tough. Working two jobs at minimum wage meant plastic bags in ratty shoes in the winter, hot dogs and Kraft dinner instead of fruits vegetables and rationing Ventolin in her kid’s puffers to make it last.

The worst blow of all came in 2005, when her son died and she couldn’t afford to bury him.

It’s no surprise then that Daley is baffled that poverty doesn’t seem to be a central issue in the 2014 provincial election campaign. “I’m really flummoxed as to who to vote for,” she said. “Everyone is the same.”

This is a non-partisan issue.- Tom Cooper, director of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction

No one is speaking to the issues that really matter to her — and that’s why the north end resident is lending her voice to a campaign by local anti-poverty organizations to ensure poverty reduction is at the top of the agenda in the provincial election.

The group, which includes the Campaign for Adequate Welfare and Disability Benefits, Hamilton Community Legal Clinic, Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction and Hamilton Organizing for Poverty Elimination held a media event Friday to unveil “alternative election signs” and talk about a “get out and vote” campaign to get people with low incomes to cast their ballots.

“If all the poor were together, we would be formidable,” said Elizabeth McGuire, the chair of the campaign for Adequate Welfare and Disability Benefits. “We would be a powerhouse.”

The group plans to go door to door in low-income housing to engage voters on the issues that matter to them — things like fairer rules in the residential tendencies act, revitalizing social housing communities and building more inclusive neighbourhoods with more stock placed on affordable housing.

The group is also seeking to raise rates for single people on Ontario Works, and pushing for extended health benefits for all low-income people.

None of these issues seem to be at the forefront of any campaign, says Tom Cooper, the director of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction. “We’re two weeks in — we’re a third into this election,” he said. “And it really does matter.”

“This is a non-partisan issue.”

Daley just wants somebody to speak to the issues that matter to her, after years of 12-hour shifts on a part-time basis with no benefits. Even with two jobs, she only makes about as much as someone on ODSP — but going that route has never entered her mind.

“I’m a role model. I work for my children,” she said.

“I can’t fall down and give up.”