By Wayne Campbell and Joe Barkovich, Scribblers-at-large
Toronto Star columnist Joe Fiorito in observations and readings drew a grim sketch of Canadian society today.
He gave examples of politicians, social workers, and social housing operators turning their backs on those in most need of help.
In his column, Fiorito writes about social problems and triumphs in Toronto.
Too often it is the former rather than the latter, he said. The popular column appears in The Star’s Monday, Wednesday and Friday editions.
He would like to stop writing about the misery and start writing about a revolution.
Something is wrong when governments are not really motivated to help “the lowest of the low,” he said.
He told the story about an elderly man evicted from his apartment who died after sleeping under the porch of his building for a week.
The inquest into his death brought down 85 recommendations in what was called “death by bureaucracy.”
It basically told social workers, housing officials and other government workers “to do your damn job,” he said.
A major problem today is that governments are afraid to collect taxes.
“By saving money in the short term they are causing incredible misery.”
This in turn leads to increasing costs in policing, health care, and other major expenditures to deal with the outcome.
Fiorito said the work done by churches “should be the icing on the cake for society, unfortunately the cake is disappearing.”
More and more social services are falling on the shoulders of churches and other charities.
“Food banks were supposed to be a temporary measure now they have become an institution.”
(An unforgettable headline is one that appeared in The Star, June 30, 2003, about how food banks moved from a short-term to long-term measure: “How a snack became an endless meal”).
Fiorito said Canada is moving toward an American model where the reliance for care is on private charities. Those in need must come to them as supplicants rather than as deserving citizens.
Despite the gloom Fiorito sees solutions.
“We have to call our politicians to account,” he said.
“They have to be led, cajoled and kicked in the butt.”
“Churches now do it individually, not collectively,” he said. “Do you realize what your collective power would be?”
To the audience of about 80, Fiorito suggested starting a community newspaper as a worthwhile project to tackle community issues. But it should not be as an organ of the church, he said.
Throughout the evening, the columnist stressed the need for each person to take responsibility for the society they want to live in.
“Take pride in your contribution and don’t let it be whittled away.”
To those in despair of acting, he said “we are all in this together, there is no use sitting around doing nothing.” ‘We’re All In This Together’ was the theme of his address.
Later in the evening, Fiorito said those promoting social justice and a caring society “should not just make moral arguments but also make economic arguments.”
If you have less poverty and more people working, you have more contributing to economic health of the society, he said.
The money spent on training, housing and other programs to get them out of poverty are paid back many times over.
Fiorito declined the honoriam for being guest speaker, choosing to donate it to St. Kevin Food Bank.
(Wayne Campbell and Joe Barkovich are long-time journalists and also parishioners at St. Kevin Church, Welland, where Distinguished Speaker Night is held annually. The next is on Monday, Nov. 23, 2015.)