September 23, 2015

Social justice requires choices for common good

As published in The Erin Advocate

Of course, we should pay heed to events like Hunger Awareness Week, now in progress. It is so easy to let it slide by, since the issue never seems to go away. We should not be lulled into thinking, however, that there are no solutions.

Poverty may well be part of the human condition, but that does not relieve us of an obligation to better the lives of people other than ourselves. We have the capacity to ensure that everyone gets enough food.

East Wellington Community Services (EWCS) is urging us to wear red this week, to show common cause with those in need and others who care. We can certainly educate ourselves at sites like

But what does it profit a wealthy town, in a wealthy nation, to merely read up on the problem, to wring its hands and say to the hungry, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill”, yet not supply their bodily needs?

We can make the leap from words to action by actually bringing food to the EWCS office at 45 Main Street, or donating money to help their food banks in Erin and Rockwood.

In the last year, EWCS distributed 50,000 pounds of food, valued at $125,000. They handled 1,350 visits and provided for some 300 individuals – 42% of them children.

With food bank use rising 25% in the last seven years, Canadians need to ask themselves what kind of country they want to live in, and identify the areas where the social values we cherish have been eroded.

We live in a world dominated by competition, but we are not mere victims of market forces. We can make choices that promote the common good. We can ask questions that push the discussion of hunger beyond the need for charity.

What does it profit a wealthy nation to channel more and more of its wealth into the hands of a very few, who are already wealthy? Will that promote prosperity and stability?

The creation of a middle class, imperfect as it may be, has been about sharing the wealth. Its impending demise is quite properly an election issue.

If we are forced to become a less wealthy nation, perhaps due to the rise of previously impoverished nations, are we willing to share the reduction equitably? Can we abandon the myth of perpetual growth?

What does it profit a wealthy nation to channel more and more of its workers into low-wage jobs – part-time, casual, temporary and casual work, with no security or benefits – while allowing real estate values to skyrocket? It is the epitome of unsustainability.

How can we lie to our children, telling them that education and hard work will allow them to maintain a standard of living that is, in fact, slipping away from the majority? Does their education include ways to be happy with less?

One of the pieces in this economic puzzle is the minimum wage, which finally hit $11 last year and will soar to $11.25 next month. Considering the value of these jobs to our economy, it is not nearly enough.

There’s a movement for higher increases (read up at, which make good economic sense. People need hope of decent work, not charity. A higher minimum wage would stimulate growth in the economy, providing more spending at small, local businesses.

Tax cuts for profitable corporations do not produce the same benefits. They are under no obligation to create more jobs or pay better wages.

That’s why we elect governments, whose job it is to do what’s best for society as a whole. Let’s make sure they get on with it.