As we celebrate Canada’s 150th year, I am reflecting on the things about our country that make me proud to be Canadian. I value our acceptance of diversity in all its forms; the generosity and compassion that power our communities; and, our access to universal healthcare.
Unfortunately, not all Canadians equally benefit from that basic right to healthcare. Access to a doctor or hospital does not guarantee good health; social conditions and income directly affect our wellbeing. The 15% of Canadians living in poverty – a population disproportionately comprised of women, children, Indigenous peoples, and those experiencing a disability – are more likely to suffer poor health and die sooner.
So, as a gift to our country in its sesquicentennial year, it is time to take a stand against this inequality. Pervasive poverty has a negative impact on us all – it affects children, their nutrition, and their ability to learn and grow; it makes our communities less inclusive; it drives up costs for healthcare and infrastructure; and, it limits our country’s economic growth and competitiveness.
Our identity as a country is built on compassion and caring, where we all do our part to ensure that no one is left behind. At United Way, we believe in being a vehicle for this generosity and a force for change in our local communities. We bring people together to create opportunities for all Canadians to reach their full potential. Together with donors, volunteers, and partners across the country, we move people from poverty to possibility.
We also believe in the critical importance of public policy as a driver of social change. United Way has long worked closely with municipal and provincial governments to create solutions to poverty in local communities. Our federal government has now made a commitment to tackling the issue nationwide with the development of Canada’s first Poverty Reduction Strategy. This can serve as a powerful catalyst for change.
To ensure its success, United Way believes that this Strategy must address four key themes – prosperity, opportunity, inclusion, and reconciliation. When all Canadians have the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to society, to feel included in the fabric of our communities, and to achieve their dreams, our country becomes more prosperous. We all share the benefits associated with improved health, happiness, and wellbeing.
We cannot achieve these aims without recognizing past injustices committed against the Indigenous peoples of Canada. Together, we must take proactive steps to address the unacceptable impoverishment and marginalization resulting from these actions. It is critical that we work to rebuild trust, understanding, and respect among all Canadians.
So what can we do to fuel this change? First, we can take responsibility. The liberties we proudly earn through the Charter of Rights and Freedoms come with an obligation to help others in our communities. We can all play a role in making our country more prosperous and inclusive for everyone – this is the starting point for change.
We can also speak up. We can contribute our ideas to Canada’s Poverty Reduction Strategy through government consultation and online conversation. Discussing poverty with our friends, family, and neighbours can help to change our collective view of the issue. Please join United Way in our efforts to ensure that the national plan to tackle poverty benefits from the collaboration, expertise, and unique insights of all Canadians.
Finally, we can get involved. Lending our time and talents as volunteers provides local organizations with the resources they need to help our most vulnerable. We can donate to a non-profit that is breaking down barriers, and creating opportunities for everyone to be included in our communities. Or we can simply lend a helping hand to someone we know who may be experiencing hardship.
I want to raise my daughter in a country where we all succeed, and where no one is left behind. My Canada is one where future generations can continue to take pride in the place they call home. Join me, as proud Canadians, in our collective work to address poverty. Together, we can build a stronger Canada.
Dr. Jacline Nyman
President & CEO
United Way Centraide Canada
This opinion article was originally published in the Globe and Mail.