A Tale of Two Poverty Panels


In the past month there were two different panel discussions on poverty streaming live online for the world to watch. One from the USA, and one from Canada, both took place in their nation’s capital. I watched both, and must admit the US panel was far more interesting. Here they both are, first the Canadian panel.

“On February 14th, the Dignity for All campaign for a poverty-free Canada hosted “What’s Next? How do we Address Poverty in Canada?” on Parliament Hill. Over 130 people – including a significant number of parliamentarians, advocacy groups, and members of the public – attended the public forum, with many more from across the country watching online via our live feed.

John Ibbitson from the Globe and Mail moderated a panel discussion and Q & A with representatives from all parties. Participants expressed a strong desire to continue the non-partisan dialogue established at the event and to work together to identify and implement concrete, achievable measures for ending poverty with broad appeal and support.

Panelists included:

Jean Crowder, NDP
Senator Jane Cordy, Liberal
Leilani Farha, Dignity for All
Jean-François Fortin, Bloc Québécois
Elizabeth May, Green Party
Senator Don Meredith, Conservative
Harriet McLachlan, Canada Without Poverty

The highlight of this one, in my opinion, was Elizabeth May advocating a Guaranteed Livable Income. That’s about as radical as the coversation got, aside from May’s opening remarks “Capitalism no longer fits the society in which we live today.”
The most ridiculous statement had to be the Conservative Senator, who said ‘putting Canadians back to work is the best way to solve poverty’. A audience member later pointed out that 1 in 3 parents living in poverty ARE working.
Best question from the audience was from a little girl who asked “Can you tell me why they don’t teach poverty in school?”

I was disappointed that there was no First Nations representation on the panel, and that the only mention of indigenous people was the NDP MPs surprising acknowledgement that they were on the unceded territory of the Algonquin people.

And the US panel:

“We need a transfer of power from unaccountable oligarchs and plutocrats to those Sly Stone called everyday people. That’s what we’re talking about. And that means every color, every religion, every non-religion. We’re talking about are you concerned enough about the future that you’re willing to take a risk, pay a cost, live and maybe die?” -Cornel West

Tavis Smiley moderated a conversation on solutions for restoring America’s prosperity. Topics included the white paper from Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA), released the previous day, titled At Risk: America’s Poor During and After the Great Recession, which reveals the “new poor” and how the face of poverty in America has changed.
The conversation was moderated by Tavis Smiley and the panelists included: Cornel West, Princeton University professor and author; Suze Orman, America’s leading authority on personal finance; Michael Moore, Academy Award®-winning filmmaker; Barbara Ehrenriech, prolific author of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America; Jeffrey Sachs, poverty expert and Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University; Majora Carter, Urban Revitalization Strategist; and Vicki B. Escarra, President and CEO of Feeding America.

These panelists are all accomplished and engaging public speakers. Cornel West and Michael Moore are always entertaining, so the panel was much more interesting than a panel of Canadian MPs, Senators and NGO spokepeople. West and Moore speak passionately and from the heart, challenging corporate america and getting to the roots of poverty, where the Canadian panelists seemed to all be reading from party approved written notes. (Although Moore does attempt to dominate the conversation and doesn’t know when to shut up.)

My least favourite part of this panel was Suze Orman, who never should have been up there. Her pre-paid credit card scheme that Tavis Smiley seemed so impressed with is just another scam. Orman is a narcissistic profiteer.

To be critical here, once again we have a discussion about poor people without poor people, not even the token ‘person with lived experience of poverty’ that the Canadian panel had.

In closing, don’t waste your time on the first panel, unless you are a real policy nerd. I mean, I watched it, but I’m curious about how people frame poverty and what they propose. Even then, there is nothing to learn and it makes a city council meeting look exciting. But do check out the US panel for some thought provoking analysis.

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