Hundreds of students from campuses across Winnipeg were out on the steps of the Manitoba Legislative Building on Nov. 4 to rally for poverty reduction in the province.
The rally was part of the Target Poverty campaign, a joint venture between the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS)–Manitoba and Make Poverty History, to raise awareness and call on the provincial government to reduce the rate of poverty in Manitoba by 25 per cent over the next five years.
The event was based on a report called “The View From Here,” published by Make Poverty History Manitoba and the Canadian Centre for policy alternatives which explained this would be obtained over the next five- years through education and income security assurance.
“I believe that there are underlying causes to poverty in our province that need to be addressed, and our government has put forward a template of an action plan, but I’m here to voice that it needs to be more concrete,” said Julia Rempel, a U of M student, of her decision to join the rally.
Poverty reduction was chosen as one of the main campaigns this year by the CFS because of its immense effect on students and the community.
“We’ve seen hundreds of thousands of Manitobans struggling through poverty. It’s an issue that affects students and it’s something that our membership wanted to prioritize as a major focus this year,” said CFS-Manitoba chairperson Jonny Sopotiuk.
While accessible education was a key part of the agenda, organizers of the rally wanted to raise awareness on a vast number of issues.
“We’re talking about all the issues that affect poverty, from affordable housing, to child care, to education, to different groups that are effected — women and aboriginal people, people living with disabilities that are more affected by poverty in our communities than others,” said Sopotiuk.
“So it’s a broader campaign, and we’re using this day to build a broad coalition, through Make Poverty History, to tackle poverty in our communities.”
Issues affecting international students, including differential fees and language barriers, were also raised during speeches given from international student representatives.
“I came to the university when [differential fees were] just 90 per cent, but now it’s close to 320 per cent on top of what regular students pay. I think that’s completely bogus because we international students come on a budget for four years of our lives, but then your money has just gone up way too much and you just can’t afford it,” said Aisyah Abdkahar, University of Manitoba Students’ Union international students representative.
“That’s just not something that almost anyone can afford. Now I have to work three jobs just to help pay that off. It’s insane,” said Abdkahar.
“If you work too much, your school gets affected — academically, you just can’t get A’s anymore — there’s just no way.”
Jason Syvixay, University of Winnipeg Students’ Association president, explained that racism was also an issue that needed to be addressed.
“We live in the heart of the downtown area. We interact with people in our area all the time. We’re rich in culture and diversity but we’re also bombarded with prejudice and barriers.”
“It’s about trying to eliminate those barriers and just giving everyone the same opportunity,” said Syvixay.
Student representatives felt the day was a success and would hopefully encourage progress.
“For all these students to come out here, take time out of their day on the steps of the Legislature and to speak to our government and tell them that we want them to address poverty — [ . . . ] you can’t ask for more than that, and that’s what influences government,” said UMSU President Sid Rashid.
Some students in attendance felt the messaging from the Target Poverty campaign had been unclear and as such were not in support of the rally.
Blake Hamm, president of the U of M Campus Conservatives expressed his concern that students attending the rally were unaware of what they were supporting.
“Do these people know what they’re here for? Posters around campus have talked about lowering tuition fees, yet I haven’t heard anything spoken yet about tuition fees here. [ . . . ] What is the message? What is the purpose of this? “
“I think perhaps people are misguided and confused as to the real purpose of why they’re here,” said Hamm.
Several MLAs came out to acknowledge and support the students, including Manitoba Liberal Party Leader Jon Gerrard.
“I really welcome this student rally. I think it’s wonderful that there are so many students concerned about poverty and about doing something about poverty in our province.”
The rally ended peacefully without any major security issues.