As I Please

Monday, October 09, 2006

Thanksgiving in Canada 2006

In Canada, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday in October. Canadians give thanks for a successful harvest. The history of Thanksgiving in Canada goes back to an English explorer, Martin Frobisher, who had been trying to find a northern passage to the Orient. He did not succeed but he did establish a settlement in Canada. In the year 1578, he held a formal ceremony, in what is now the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, to give thanks for surviving the long journey. This is considered the first Canadian Thanksgiving, and the first Thanksgiving to have taken place in North America. As with Labour Day, Canada was first, but as with that day a set day was not established until relatively recently, in the case of Thanksgiving not until 1957. At least we had the good sense to finally make it a Monday, and so give ourselves a long weekend, unlike with the Americans' fourth Thursday in November (I have yet to find out why it's not a Friday or Monday). While traditionally regarded as a day of giving thanks to God, with its origins as a harvest festival God is incidental.
Thanksgiving is a time of celebrating our good fortune, but in that celebration do we remember the hundreds of thousands in this country who if they are having a turkey dinner at all, are having it in a church basement or soup kitchen? An editorial in today's Toronto Star says what should be taken to heart by all. I wonder how many other newspapers have an editorial like the following? I have dropped the first paragraph, the substance of which can be found in any newspaper editorial:
"For far too many families, dinner will be rice or pasta instead of turkey. To get that meal, thousands of families will have to go to their local food bank simply because they did not have enough money left after paying the rent to buy food. Some 74,500 people, including 28,000 children, in Greater Toronto rely on local food banks each month.
Many of the homeless will go without a meal at all today. And breadwinners in working poor families in Canada will struggle on to try to make ends meet just like every other day. A quarter of families using food banks have at least one person working and more than half of them earn at least $10 an hour, still not enough to pay the bills.
Many of those struggling are new immigrants in a strange land who have come here with good educations, but cannot put their skills to work.
It is important to remember all of them today and do what we can to help because many are merely eking out an existence in this land of plenty.
There are multiple reasons for this continuing poverty. Welfare rates in most provinces are lower than they were two decades ago and provide an income that in most cases is less than half the poverty line. Employment Insurance, the first level of the social safety net, is now so full of holes that only 27 per cent of the unemployed in Ontario receive any benefits at all from it, leaving workers who lose their job no recourse except to go on welfare. And despite moves by the Liberal government over the last three years to raise the minimum wage in Ontario, this basic pay rate was frozen under the former Conservative government for nearly eight years and remains below a level that would provide a decent standard of living.
On Thanksgiving, one of the best ways to give thanks and show gratitude for what we have is by helping others.
Citizens can lobby politicians to finally do something about the working poor. Demand answers to why 5 million people in the country — about one in every six — live below the national poverty line, including 1.2 million children. And push politicians for an answer to why food banks, charities and churches have become so critical in the lives of those who cannot obtain decent jobs and wages.
Then take a bag of food to the local fire hall for those who so desperately need it. And take your children to volunteer at the local food bank for a few hours so they too will grow up knowing that not everyone is as lucky as they are and something needs to be done about it.
For the United Way's 50th anniversary campaign, write a bigger cheque than in the past to reflect the fact the agency is dealing with larger needs and more diverse problems than ever before.
At the end of the day, Thanksgiving should be as much about what we have given back as it is about being thankful for what we have."
It is noteworthy that the editorial advocates political action before the standard exhortation to acts of charity. Hardline conservatives will no doubt agree with the latter and condemn the former, for the fact of growing, seemingly intractable poverty in our midst, is a standing condemnation of their own individualist ideology. They may at least say that we should help the poor, but the most we can justifiably be made to do is provide through our taxes a level of bare subsistence, and some will not condone even that. Thus they reject the most powerful and effective instruments for fighting poverty. While the Star editorial is not calling for socialism it seems to me it is calling for capitalism with a human face. Once we had it in this country, though not so much as the Western Europeans. Can we at least return to what we once had so that I am no longer, as in several other instances, ashamed of my country?


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