By Sean Chase, Daily Observer

PEMBROKE – Art Eggleton charges that parties of all political stripes are ignoring the devastating issue of poverty in the current federal election campaign.

Speaking to the Renfrew County Poverty Reduction Forum Thursday in Pembroke, the Independent Liberal senator was perplexed that while the party leaders talk about what they will do for the middle-class, the word “poverty” is barely mentioned.

“That’s a national shame,” said the former Toronto mayor. “Unfortunately poverty doesn’t register as it should in the halls of Parliament. We just don’t get the traction that the issue demands.”

Eggleton, who served as international trade and defence minister under Jean Chretien before his appointment to the Senate, delivered a non-partisan address noting his formation of an all-party anti-poverty caucus and produced a joint study on poverty with Conservative Senator Hugh Segal. While misconceptions, philosophical divisions and political calculations are preventing MP’s in Ottawa from tackling poverty head on, he praised grassroots organizations, such as the Renfrew County Child Poverty Action Network (CPAN) for taking up the cause.

“I encourage you to use this meeting as a springboard for a greater and more co-ordinated approach in your community,” said Eggleton, who is currently the deputy chair of the Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology.

Citing Statistics Canada figures, the senator noted that one in seven Canadians lives in poverty with one million relying on food banks on a monthly basis. Another four million live in affordable housing, while between 150,000 and 300,000 are homeless.

“That is an enormous population in a very rich country such as Canada,” he said adding the statistics reveal how widespread the problem is. “Poverty has not been defeated nor diminished. It has a strong stranglehold on many Canadian families.”

So many are living pay cheque to pay cheque, saving less and becoming buried in more debt, Eggleton remarked. For some families, they struggle simply to pay rent, put wholesome food on the table and pay for basic medicine, he added.

He suggested communities, including political and business leaders, should be engaged, while citizens should call upon their MP’s to consider poverty a human rights matter where people have a right to housing, adequate food and medicine.

“We need to make this a collective, national effort,” concluded Eggleton. “We need a truly national vision.”