Vol 7 No. 2 CBWC Advocacy

Dear Folks,

 

The following is an article that appeared last week in Making Connections, a quarterly newsletter for Canadian Baptists of Western Canada leaders.  We decided to reprint it here since the constituents of these two newsletters are distinct.

On November 30, Jeremy Bell was asked to attend a press conference to support the call for a $10 minimum wage.  We would like to take this opportunity to explain the process Jeremy went through to determine whether or not to accept this invitation to speak publicly on an issue of justice. We share this to demonstrate the thought and care that goes into these types of decisions.

Before we begin this discussion, we wish to outline Canadian Baptist of Western Canada’s mercy and justice initiatives that have changed the face of mercy and justice in Canadian life since the 1940’s. Setting aside for a moment the 3 Nobel Laureates that Baptists have won, and to be very specific about the Canadian situation, we cite 2 individuals.

Tommy Douglas is known for being the father of Medicare. It is true that he was the primary shaper of Medicare. From a balanced, socio-political view, however, Tommy Douglas is more like a prairie, populist Preston Manning, who paid off Saskatchewan’s considerable provincial debt, produced 17 annual budgetary surpluses, and believed that people should be charged a nominal amount for medical services so that we will value those services properly.

The second set of accomplishments came under John Diefenbaker: giving First Nations the vote in 1960, issuing the Bill of Rights, appointing the first female Cabinet Minister, putting the first First Nations person in the Senate, and leading the challenge against apartheid in South Africa in the early 1960’s.

We want to make the point really clearly that Canadian Baptists of Western Canada, as individuals, and because of their faith, gave the Canadian nation public medical care, modeled deficit repayment, modeled budgetary surpluses, nominal fee for service but universal access to health care, enfranchised First Nations, declared a Bill of Rights, put the first female in the Cabinet, the first Aboriginal person in the Senate, and as Canadian Baptists, were some of the first to speak fiercely about apartheid in South Africa.

To not be concerned about active mercy and justice would be to break with an existing tradition. It is not to create a new one. Ask Sam Breakey, Chris Riddell, Tom Oshiro, Jeff Dyer, Bruce Curtiss, Janet McPhee who are involved in Mustards Seeds and Union Gospel Missions in Victoria, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. Or ask Bob Webber, who is on the board of the Canadian Food Grain Bank. The Lord doesn’t need us for this task, but small in numbers, we have been used nonetheless. He will use others if we are not willing.

Says Jeremy:  “I like to think that folk could say of us, as they said of William Wilberforce, a diminutive man extremely physically challenged, once called the “nightingale of the British Parliament”; I would like people to say of us that like Wilberforce when he spoke “Behold the shrimp became a whale.” Might we project our voices too.”

We are determined that the light that is lit in the darkness of our land in areas of evangelism, mercy and justice, that small light will become a bonfire.

Because of that long-standing involvement in justice issues, during the summer Jeremy had Claudia Wakeman, one of the CBWC’s administrative staff, investigate the minimum wage in each province as well as the cost of renting studio and one bedroom apartments in communities across Canada.  BC’s wage rate, which had been courageously raised 10 years ago, was now the lowest in the country. The monthly cost of renting studio and one bedroom apartments in New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Ontario, which were $10 / hour jurisdictions, were between $300 to $700 less than the cost of renting similar accommodation in British Columbia. This was a concern for many people, especially if we wish people to have the dignity to work and have the ability to be independent of the state.

BC’s minimum wage has been frozen at $8 an hour for almost 10 years, making it the lowest in Canada.  BC also has an optional training wage of $6 an hour, primarily impacting students and immigrants who have less than 500 hours work experience.  When implemented almost a decade ago, BC’s minimum wage was the highest in the country.  It is now the lowest.  Ontario has the highest minimum wage at $10.25 and Alberta has the next lowest at $8.80.  Most provinces and territories have a minimum wage between $9 and $10.

As a result of this research, it is reasonable to conclude that, “BC has the highest cost of living and the highest cost of housing in Canada, yet we have the lowest minimum wage in the country,” justifying a support for the $10 minimum wage.

There are always a variety of responses to this information. When the CBWC received the invitation to speak at the press conference, instead of immediately agreeing, Jeremy sought the wisdom and input of about 20 people, including members of the CBWC’s Board, the Executive Staff and the Justice and Mercy Task Force.  These people shared their individual perspectives and cautions but encouraged him to proceed with attending the press conference.

With that support, Jeremy then sought to involve leaders from other church denominations to bring the weight of their endorsement to the issue.  He spoke personally with leaders from the Presbyterian, Mennonite, Salvation Army and Catholic denominations.   Some were very much in favour, others needed to process for a longer period of time. None of them had the general consensus model that we have attempted to develop.

The process itself on this particular topic; being challenged by a social issue, doing research, presenting that research to a broad cross – section of CBWC leadership, and seeking the co-operation of other Christians, was an excellent forming of a pattern for these kinds of topics. We chose not to attend the press conference, but to seek other opportunities for advocacy on this topic. It should be noted that this is a non-partisan issue in which both the BC NDP and Liberals support an increase. It is Christians who have had no opinion – how appalling is that?

***

Believing in the separation of church and state, the CBWC does not support or oppose any political party.  We still believe in speaking prophetically. So, from time to time, the CBWC, may wish to participate with community and faith leaders on important issues to speak truth to power where there is general consensus on the issue within the CBWC leadership.

Before we do so, we would like to hear your thoughts about the types of issues you believe the CBWC should address with a prophetic voice.  Since we cannot speak on all issues that confront us as Christians, we would ask you to share your thoughts:

 

  •      How should we identify those issues we could speak on?
  •       What issues should be our top priorities?
  •       What process should we use to get input before speaking out on issues, and after we have done so?
  •       How many people must be affected before we speak out?
  •       How local, regional, national or international must the issue be before we take a position?
  •       How much agreement should there be within the CBWC before we speak?
  •       How might we speak when an issue is controversial or hard to agree on?
  •       Is feedback from the Board, the Executive Staff and the Justice and Mercy Task Force a sufficient consensus to make a public statement?

 

We have more questions than answers.  Help us begin a conversation about these important matters.  If you have any thoughts, please convey them to Jeremy at jbell@cbwc.ca and / or Ceal Mclean at celiamclean@gmail.com

 

Warmly,

In Christ,

Jeremy

jbell@cbwc.ca

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