Politics Mixes with Breakfast For Some of Guelph’s Most Vulnerable

The normal Wednesday morning community breakfast at Lakeside HOPE House had some special guests this week, another sign that the Federal Election is just a few weeks, if not a few days, away. Six of the candidates wanting to be Guelph’s next MP visited HOPE House Wednesday morning talk politics with some the City’s most vulnerable people over some scrambled eggs, sausage, and chocolate chip pancakes.

HOPE House was expecting between 80 and 100 people for this morning’s breakfast, some just coming for the meal as usual, but many were eager to engage as well.

“I think there are quite a few political people here that are really invested in injustices in the system, and seeing them for what it is,” said Kimberly Lyons, the communications and events lead at HOPE House.

“What we heard last year in a strategic planning meeting that we had with our community is that they feel like they’re powerless to do anything, that they’re powerless in terms of being heard and having any weight, and in tackling the issues that most affect them, and we took that really seriously,” Lyons added.

Liberal Lloyd Longfield, the Green Party’s Steve Dyck, Conservative Dr. Ashish Sachan, the NDP’s Aisha Jahangir, and Mark Paralovos of the People’s Party were all invited to take part. Juanita Burnett, who’s run twice before as the candidate for the Communist Party, was also in attendance.

The format? The six candidates took turns at the various tables set up, talked to the different members, and enjoyed a delicious breakfast in the process. HOPE House staff noted that this Wednesday was busier than normal because it was the end of the month, and it was a day or two before social service benefits are issued by the government.

In preparing the breakfast meeting, the HOPE House staff saw it as a learning opportunity for their members as well as a learning opportunity for the candidates.

“What we’ve been doing the past two months is sort of canvassing our community members about what federal jurisdiction issues look like, and how they’re affected, and from that process, our committee members actually came up with six really brilliant questions that we’ve handed over to the candidates today,” Lyons explained.

Lyons called the breakfast meeting “an equalizer” having candidates and these constituents talk over a meal is a way of seeing each other as equals, which is not a position that the people that use HOPE House’s services find themselves in when it comes to dealing with the corridors of power.

“In regards to the the amount of human beings that come in here who are political, and are looking for a change but are facing a lot of barriers, every person here faces that sort of challenge,” said Bang Ly, the ongoing support manager of HOPE House. “But I think it’s projects like this that actually give people the tools they need to actually affect change.”

These are the that the six questions that the members of the HOPE House community came up with:

1) Can you explain why water companies have priority over Indigenous people’s access to portable water?

2) What is the purpose of having to renew my Indigenous status card every four years. while also having to provide the same documentation every single time when nothing has changed?

3) Why are people with mental health conditions getting arrested instead of the proper support they need?

4) Do you consider substance dependency a mental health condition or a criminal offence?

5) Our elderly community members feel shame when having to ask for financial help, especially from their family, what will you do about increasing Old Age Security to match the cost of living?

6) What is being done to keep people safe from financial identity theft at the federal level?

Part of the morning’s activities was a mock vote for members so that they might learn the process, what identification they need to vote, and what’s involved in casting a ballot.

“It’s a matter of accessibility for a lot of folks,” said Lyons. “There are a fraction of our community members who don’t know how to vote, they don’t know what that process looks like, and they don’t know if they have the proper I.D.”

“This is part of an initiative by Elections Canada and the Ryerson University leadership lab, and the the point is to work towards building a voting culture,” said Vivian Webb, one of the volunteers manning the pop-up voting booth.

“Today what we’re doing is we have a ballot with issues that were identified by HOPE House that could be of interest to their clientele,” Webb explained. “We’re not voting for people in parties today. This is a practice ballot to talk to people about voter I.D., where they show up, and what’s actually involved in voting, and we hope to take some of the fear or mystique out of the voting process.”

The “pop-up voting booth” was sponsored by the Canadian Federation of University Women, who will be running similar pop-ups at the University of Guelph, the various locations of the Guelph Public Libraries and the YMCA-YWCA as we get closer to Election Day.

The CFUW will also be returning to HOPE House for another pop-up voting booth.

“One barrier is just the mechanics of voting, and there’s a lot of discussion about ‘Oh, I don’t have the right information to show up to vote,’ so this will help with that,” Webb said, adding that they’re not in the business of telling people who to vote for.

“We ask, ‘Who do you want to vote for? What are issues are important to you?’ It requires a certain amount of talking to yourself,” Webb added.

“And knowing what is important to you is probably the biggest question to answer in terms of who to vote for. Know what you want from your government, and then learn who the candidates are and what they stand for,” said Webb’s CFUW colleague Teresa McKeeman.

Webb, who worked last fall with the Better Ballot Initiative, said that the campaign will be making a comeback for the Federal Election, and will be launching on September 11 at 10C shared community space. Details will follow in the days to come.

Photo Credits: 1) Bang Ly counts down to the moment when breakfast is served. 2) and 3) Aisha Jahangir and Mark Paralovos separately meeting potential voters.

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