ChiliBlanket Again Targets Poverty
Prince George, B.C. – The 13th annual Chili Blanket event held outside the Prince George Courthouse on Saturday addressed poverty in the city and province and attempted to help those who struggle to keep warm and fed on a daily basis.
The Northern Women’s Forum (NWF) hosts the event each year to rally against poverty and advocate against violence directed toward women. Organizers have been busy collecting blankets and winter wear at the College of New Caledonia for distribution to those in need who attended Saturday’s ChiliBlanket 13. Local residents also dropped off clothing, blankets, good winter coats and many other items at the event itself.
Hot chili, hot chocolate and music were provided on the courthouse steps, and organizers issued a public call for a provincial poverty reduction plan, noting that an increasing number of families in B.C. have been pushed into poverty due to governmental policies.
Organizer Jan Mastromatteo told the crowd “once again it’s time to attempt to make the current governments listen to voices in northern BC. We’re here to speak loudly about the continuing erosion of social programs in this province, or ever more egregious cuts to services for the disadvantaged and specifically the rights and services for women and families on the part of the provincial and federal governments.”
“Today we invite you to stand up for the struggle to gain measures that support the right of all Canadians to basic requirements of food, clothing and shelter, public services and the provision of fundamental human rights.”
Mastromatteo supplied a list of initiatives the NWF is calling for, including a BC minimum wage of $15/hour, a living wage for regular and contract employees, an increase in income and disability assistance rates, a child benefit for people under 18, implementation of recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a tribunal on missing and murdered aboriginal women in BC and across Canada and a $10 a day child care plan.
North Central Labour Council President Troy Zohner says “we’re hoping that at some point governments also see the importance of making sure that the people who are marginalized and disadvantaged in all our communities in our province get the resources that they need so that we don’t have to keep doing these types of events in the future.”
Representing students, Lexy Dho, member of the Executive Committee of the CNC Student Union said “I know that Canada’s new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, said that he put an equal number of women in (his) government (cabinet) because it’s 2015. That is a great way to empower women but more needs to be done.”
“Violence against women continues to be an issue in Canada. Poverty and a lack of access to education are also serious failures for many women here in the north. These problems will not be solved by saying its 2015. We must have real action and intelligent programs from the federal and provincial government if women are to achieve real equality in Canada.” She added that December 6th marks the 26th anniversary of the killing of 14 women at the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal by a gunman who professed his hatred of women. The gunman wounded another 14 people before killing himself.
A founding member of the Northern Women’s Forum, Dawn Hemingway (below), stressed that Saturday marked “the 13th time that the Northern Women’s Forum and all of you have come together to try and address the question of poverty and also violence against women in our community. It’s much like the food banks that started when I was in university, that was only supposed to be an emergency service for one year and here we are, it’s become a part of our whole structure for providing support to people in our community.”
She pointed to the just-released report by the BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition which showed “that one in five children still live in poverty and for those people who are in a single parent family, the percentage is much, much higher. There’s many people in our community who either don’t have affordable housing or in fact are homeless.”
“Seniors, they can’t make ends meet on the kinds of pensions they’re receiving, and this is even worse for older, single women.”
“I teach at the university. It’s really hard to take the fact that students come out of university with a loan that basically is like having a mortgage on a house. This should not be happening. Many First Nations in BC are without treaties and not necessarily with basic services that they need in their communities. Women, children, transgendered people and other citizens continue to experience violence.”
Hemingway says “there’s many things that are going on right now that make me feel like, has anything really changed?”
“Now, having said all that I think its important for us to recognize that there has been some positive change. I think one of the things that we can look at here is that we did have a change in our municipal government last year, a change for the better.”
“We also know happily that there is no more Harper government. However, I pose the question, will Trudeau’s “sunny days” really be any different on the ground? I know we hope they will be but something to keep in mind.”
And Hemingway pointed to the government of Christy Clark in saying “we continue to hear, especially from our provincial government, that the solution to poverty is to give more money to the large corporations who want to take our resources out of the ground, many of whom are not even from here and have no stake in ensuring that we have our land and environment protected.”
There were no government representatives on hand to address the rally against poverty.