The Sunday Edition

The poor are invisible in Canadian election campaigns — Michael's essay

“I have heard the word “poverty” used once in the last two and a half weeks. That was on Sept. 11, when the prime minister called the election. It is not unusual. Poor people were blanked out in the 2015 election, and the silence was deafening. Which is odd since there are nearly four million poor people in this country.”
"In major cities, Toronto leads with nearly 17 per cent of the population living in poverty. The number of homeless has exploded since government cutbacks in social housing began in 1984," writes Enright. (Shutterstock / Serhii Zavalnyi)
Listen3:40

There's poor. Then there is poor.

There's the kind of poor where your wife or husband has to take a second or third job and at the end of the month you're still behind. And you need to visit a food bank.

You are poor when you have to decide between taking the kids to a movie and paying for your medication.

Then there is the indelibly visible poor where you have no food and no place to sleep except over a warm air grate on a crowded street. Where you sleep in bank doorways and under bridges and overpasses.

You won't read or hear a lot during this election campaign because, it being an election campaign, it's indecorous to talk about poor people.- Michael Enright
"There's the kind of poor where your wife or husband has to take a second or third job and at the end of the month you're still behind. And you need to visit a food bank," writes Enright. (Food Depot Alimentaire/Facebook)

Where people step around you or over you and maybe drop a quarter into your Timmy's coffee cup.

Where you do your shopping in garbage cans and dumpsters.

You won't read or hear a lot during this election campaign because, it being an election campaign, it's indecorous to talk about poor people.

I have heard the word poverty used once in the last two and a half weeks. That was on Sept. 11, when the prime minister called the election.

It is not unusual. Poor people were blanked out in the 2015 election, and the silence was deafening.

Which is odd since there are nearly four million poor people in this country.

This includes 622,000 children.

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during an election campaign stop in Toronto on Sept. 20, 2019. "I have heard the word poverty used once in the last two and a half weeks. That was on Sept. 11, when the prime minister called the election," writes Enright. (Carlos Osorio/Reuters)

The poorest place in the country is Nunavut. In major cities, Toronto leads with nearly 17 per cent of the population living in poverty.

The number of homeless has exploded since government cutbacks in social housing began in 1984.

The last federal election campaign and the current one have focused the attention of party leaders and candidates on the middle class.

The family is seen as the bulwark of the middle class, and that's where the votes are. Promises of tax cuts, increases in social  programs, more child benefits — all aimed at the middle class. But defining the middle class and its members is difficult.

Is membership based solely on wealth and income or does class play a role. Can you fall out of the middle class? Is there a board of regents or overseers that decides who is in and who is out?

It's much easier to describe the desperately poor.

Poverty not surprisingly has its own culture. It has long existed and people come to terms with it. They cease to struggle against the obtrusively normal for the seemingly impossible.- John Kenneth Galbraith

In 1983 the great Canadian-born Keynesian economist, John Kenneth Galbraith, wrote a short book called The Voice of the Poor.

In it, he described how difficult it is to come to terms with the reality of the poor.

He wrote: "Poverty not surprisingly has its own culture. It has long existed and people come to terms with it. They cease to struggle against the obtrusively normal for the seemingly impossible."

That's part of the problem — the poor adapt, they accommodate.

The reality is fairly straightforward. The poor are poor because they don't have money. The homeless are homeless because they don't have a place to live.

Change those two things and you change people's lives. You change everything.

Click 'listen' above to hear Michael's essay. 

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