By Rubén Domínguez, ONE Parliamentary Riding Leader for Toronto Centre
On Thursday, December 15, a huge snowstorm hit Toronto —but Bill Morneau (Canada Finance Minister and the Member of Parliament for my riding) was still set to host his holiday party. As a relative newcomer to Canada, I am amazed at how Canadian politicians keep in touch with their fellow citizens. Would the Finance Minister just show up and talk to people one on one? On the other hand, as one of the ONE Campaign’s Toronto Parliamentary Riding Leaders, I thought this was a fantastic opportunity to reinforce the message that 16,000 Canadians had directed to Mr. Morneau: Help Canada get back on track to ending extreme poverty!
Luckily, by evening the snowstorm seemed to be getting lighter. My wife and fellow ONE member, Isabel, decided to walk to the event. There was a large turnout despite the weather. I recognized one of Morneau’s staff members, AJ, because he’d kindly met with a group of ten ONE representatives in November when we delivered handwritten postcards and online signatures asking the Canadian government to increase foreign aid from 0.28% to 0.34% in the 2017 budget.
Once Bill Morneau arrived, he instantly attracted a crowd. I realized I would just have a few seconds to talk to him…if I found the courage to get close to him at all!
The musicians finished their sets and passionate speakers took the stage. A refugee from Sudan spoke about how he had been two hours short of being deported until Morneau’s team helped him stay and become a permanent resident. That was followed by a short speech by Bob Rae, former Ontario Premier, who finally introduced Bill Morneau. The Finance Minister took the stage to talk about some of the changes that the Canadian government has implemented over the last year, thank the attendees for supporting him during the campaign and, finally, celebrate diversity as one of the successes of Canada, highlighting the country’s leadership in the Syrian refugee crisis.
As Morneau finished his speech and left the stage, I saw the party attendees get close to him again to start another round of chatting and selfies. Isabel and I tried to get closer and I wondered what should I say to Morneau. Should I talk about ONE and its 7 million members around the world? About the support of the Canadian government to the #PovertyIsSexist campaign, and the Global Fund replenishment? The 2017 budget campaign and all the great reasons we heard from Canadians about why increasing ODA is important to them?
Finally, my turn arrived: I introduced myself as a constituent and a volunteer for the ONE Campaign in Canada. I thanked Mr. Morneau and his staff for receiving us last month when we delivered more than 800 handwritten postcards and more than 15,000 online signatures asking the Canadian government to increase foreign aid. He said that reviewing development aid is “on his list” and that “we will see what can be done with the money we have.” He quickly pointed out that “we increased development aid last year,” to which I replied that it was fantastic and that Canada could still do more. We exchanged thank yous and shook hands. It may have been only a minute in total but it felt much faster!
Mission accomplished! As we left, it was still freezing outside, but the storm was gone, leaving a beautiful, clear night sky. I take it as a metaphor of how the evening went: Overcoming many self-doubts to finally finding the courage to do what I had come to do. And I took it also as a sign for 2017, which will be full of great activities and successes towards ending extreme poverty and working towards meeting the Sustainable Development Goals!