While the pols have been able to dodge the poverty elephant in the room during this provincial election it is hard to ignore it as I make my way up Landsowne. The factories which once were the lifeblood of this blue collar neighbourhood are being hollowed out and bright hoardings surround the charred brick structures advertising condos to come in "the low 300's". Community organizers like Jonah Schein call this neigbourhood around Caledonia and Davenport one of Toronto's forgotten. "The poverty around here is unlike more well known flashpoints like Regent Park or Jane and Finch," he tells me as we sit outside The Stop Community Food Centre. "Look around you. There isn't even a grocery store to buy food. It is very desolate. There are no jobs for residents who once worked in the local factories."
As we talk a gaggle of locals and The Stop employees gather, noise makers, signs and clown costumes at the ready, to participate in yesterday's (Sept.26) anti-poverty demonstration at Queen's Park. But before they head downtown they take a little side trip east along Davenport to tbe office of their local MPP, Liberal Tony Ruprecht.
I walk with Rene. She's a single mother of two living on disability support from the province. "This is my first protest. I'm just so fed up with not having enough to feed my kids. So I've got a part time job but what happens? For every dollar I make the government takes 50 cents from my paycheque. I don't think people realize what's going on."
Ruprecht is there to greet the protesters and in an update to the classic response to hunger from the ruling class he's doling out not cake but chocolate bars. Looking clownish himself in blue polyester pants, a bright red tie and a white cap, the Ontario Legislature's longest serving benchwarmer listens patiently to a litany of criticism from a number of speakers who are using a PA system carted over in a baby carriage. But Tony can't stay quiet for long. "Bull, that's bull" he shouts as a class full of elementary school students on their recess break look on from across the road. "I want to speak he shouts." That ain't gonna happen today Tony. Schein diplomatically tells Ruprecht that he has had many opportunities to speak in the past and that this time it's the poor's turn.
There's a twinkle in Ruprecht's eye though. He's enjoying the melee and when the crowd of about 40 start to loudly urge him to join them on the school bus they've rented to go downtown to join the rest of the anti poverty protest, he gives the candy bars to an assistant and hops on the bus. But before he does he gives me a politics 101 lesson. "You know how I get elected every time," he asks at the doors of the bus. "I care about these people." Benchwarmer maybe, underestimated absolutely.