Everyone Deserves a Decent Life

May 7 2015

Marvyn Novick Decent Lives ForumCanadians have a deep sense of decency and our conversation on May 1 at the "Decent Lives" community forum conveyed the same sentiment in our local community "Everyone deserves to live a decent life". People recognize decency and will support the collective stewardship of our shared resources to invest in healthy communities that create opportunities for everyone. Hear what our guests, Marvyn Novick and Peter Clutterbuck, offered for discussion and read how residents of Kitchener-Waterloo responded. You can continue the conversation with us and gather people in your community for a kitchen table talk this summer! 

Building the Society We Want to Live in Together

Canadians have a deep sense of decency that has been expressed many times over the last century and even longer.  After the 2nd World War, Canadians made a promise to each other that all who made  contribution to the war and during their lifetime would not have an uncertain future. This is the basis for the publicly supported programs we value today: unemployment insurance, pensions and public healthcare.  These came to be because of the values that Canadians shared. 

Our moral foundation reflected equality and compassion; enabled a community of voices and prepared a legacy for the future as our predecessors forged a social contract that shaped the society they wanted to live in. This foundation made is possible for all of us to live decent lives. Their forethought is our heritage.

Countering the Impoverishment of Our Communities

In recent decades, we have witnessed the decline of that same morality that helped built our social safety net after the 2nd World War.  The result is the erosion of security for everyone. Food security began to erode in the 80’s, giving rise to food banks. Housing stability declined in the 90’s resulting in an affordable housing crisis. Labour rights and employment security have been weakened drastically in 2000’s giving rise to an increasing employment crisis.

However, despite the sense that we have lost ground since the 1980s, these core values are still meaningful and important. Communities across Ontario have begun to mobilize and to push back in response to these declines resulting in small wins e.g. the first significant investment in the welfare system since 1988. Everyone understood that no child should grow up in poverty, thus Campaign 2000 and reducing child poverty was the first call to action. People and local leaders came together on the basis of moral propositions that “no one should be hungry in a country as rich as Canada” or that “anyone who works full year, full time should not be living in poverty”. 

The Social Planning Network of Ontario Blueprint for Poverty Elimination was shaped with input from across more than 30 communities in Ontario. Networks, such as 25 in 5, joined forces with a call to reduce poverty by 25% in 5 years. This action influenced the first Ontario Poverty Reduction Strategy.

More people joined activist groups. New campaigns have emerged, such as the Decent Wage campaign for a basic and livable wage. Poverty Free Ontario was born along with the Put Food in the Budget campaign to keep issues of social assistance adequacy in focus. Poverty Free Ontario and the Social Planning Network of Ontario have continued working and talking with other activist groups to make sure decent work and decent income was part of all party platforms and government strategies. As a result of this community based action, there have been small, incremental increases in the social assistance rates and minimum wage that would likely not have been possible without collective action. 

Moral Propositions Gaining Credibility

Austerity propositions made in recent years to justify cutting government investment in Canada’s and Ontario social safety net are losing credibility. Propositions such as “Economic growth will help us care for everyone”, “Tax cuts stimulate the economy and bring prosperity”, “Education will provide for good jobs and security for our youth” have not proven to be true. Hope is emerging as we are at the verge of renewing our social contract based on shared values of fairness and decency. 

Only together, within and across communities, will we see the real change taking shape from the ground up. In our municipalities, the local leaders and decision-makers are responding to compelling messages such as “anyone working full time full year should not live in poverty” and that “Everyone deserves to live a decent life”. People recognize decency and will support the collective stewardship of our shared resources, community assets, and public tax dollars to investment in healthy communities that create opportunities and decent lives for everyone. 

From the presentation made by Marvyn Novick and Peter Clutterbuck, 
Social Planning Network of Ontario

Discussion Paper: Creating Communities of Shared Opportunity across Ontario

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Watch the videos:

Communities of Opportunity - Mavyn Novick, Social Planning Network of Ontario
Decent Work & Decent Income - Peter Clutterbuck, Social Planning Network of Ontario


The following is a summary of what was discussed.

What kind of community do we want? The community we want to live is:

•Inclusive, fair and equitable – having a sense of belonging to their neighbourhoods and their city.

•Having right supports for vulnerable people, offering a sense of caring and a feeling of dignity as all the basic needs are being met.

•Narrow income gap and equal compensation for equal work.

•Progressive, adaptable, thriving and helping people realize their potential and balance work with family and community activities. 

•Safe for young and old to walk and take part in the communities.

•Engaged where people vote, volunteer and participate in civic life.

•Prosperous and safe for young people and allowing them to take initiative and express themselves.

•Providing security for the seniors in their homes and in the community. 

•Welcoming for newcomers, recognizing linguistic differences, educational and professional diversity. 

•Supporting single parents, especially women who are victims of violence and who lack social networks. 

•Affordable for life, schooling and recreation. 


What contributions are needed from all of us, starting in our neighbourhoods to make it happen? To create the livable and safe neighbourhoods, we need: 

•Clear and mobilizing messages that speak to the hearts, messages of love and care.

•Keeping people genuinely informed and offering meaningful opportunities to learn. 

•Re-creating decent manufacturing and industry jobs and ensuring decent wages in our community.

•Advocating for adequate assistance rates and flexible social assistance supports. 

•Making our services and places accessible and inclusive through AODA standards

•Supporting community jobs, projects and groups and innovative ideas that come out of that work.

•Bringing tenants and affordable housing activists together to ensure for decent and stable housing. 

•Rethink taxation for corporations and the wealthy and contributions to the public purpose and advocate against cuts to public services. Making best use of public places (community gardens, parks and cultural crossroads) and creating inclusive spaces for people to contribute. 

•Affordable and convenient transportation for everyone. 

•Breaking barriers between people, “us” and “them”, because we can all be brought together around shared moral values. 


Next steps – in follow up to the Decent Lives Forum, the Social Planning Council will engage in kitchen table conversations in Kitchener-Waterloo to hear from you what opportunities we need to create in our neighbourhoods to ensure decent lives and income for everyone. 

If you are interested to gather together some of your neighbours and friends in a conversation, get in touch with us info@waterlooregion.org.

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Reminder of our Community Committment made in February 2013

As a community, we will aim to do the following:

* Engage our community at a grass roots level to mobilize and advocate for system change

* Contribute to public education campaigns breaking prejudice and stereotypes about poverty that are entrenched in policy making and service delivery

* Advise and lobby at all orders of government against taking a counterproductive austerity approach and to continue to educate our political leaders about the growing economic inequality and its impact

* Work to disseminate information to individuals and develop supports to help people navigate support systems
* Monitor the implementation of reform and participate in local stakeholder advisory activities