Wendy Pedersen’s speech at the 2009 Poverty Olympics

Hello. I’m with the Carnegie Community Action Project and Raise The Rates. I want to tell you, our audience in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES), and the world, why we’re holding the 2nd annual Poverty Olympics - 1 year before the 2010 Olympics come to Vancouver, Canada.

Our government says that British Columbia is the best place on earth. Well, for those of you out there in the world who think Canada is a rich country, LOOK AGAIN. This is NOT the best place on earth. People in BC live in shocking poverty:

  • Our neighbourhood, the DTES, just a few blocks from the site of the Olympic Athlete’s Village - has the same HIV rate as Botswana.
  • The average income of low-income parents in BC is $11,000/year BELOW the poverty line.
  • 21% of children in British Columbia… live in poverty. That’s the highest rate of child poverty in Canada.
  • Women are slipping through the cracks in the social safety net and are still going missing.
  • Aboriginal people in the lower mainland represent 32% of the homeless even though they make up only 2% of the population.
  • Between 2002-2008 street homelessness in the City of Vancouver increased to a shocking 373%.
  • The homeless are being ticketed and harassed by police and they are dying on the streets.

This is completely unnecessary. If governments made ending poverty and homelessness a priority like they made the Olympics a priority, they would end poverty and homelessness.


  • They spend Millions on bailouts and billions on Olympic venues;
  • Security alone, will cost $1 billion, which could build 5000 homes in Vancouver or replace every single crummy residential hotel room in the DTES with decent self contained homes;
  • A First Grade ticket to Opening Ceremonies costs $1181, while a single person on welfare gets $610 a month; with a disability $906 a month.
  • There’s no money in the federal stimulus package for housing homeless people.
  • There’s no welfare increase, no increase in minimum wage, no ongoing provincial social housing program, no funding for the 12 city lots ready for social housing.

Maybe governments are afraid that voters don’t want them to end poverty – WRONG!

  • People want them to: According to polling done by Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives 87% of British Columbians want strong political leadership to reduce the number of poor people; 87% also want targets and timelines to reduce poverty. Just like Feb 2010 is a target for the Olympics, we could have a target for government action on poverty. 91% said they’d feel proud if our premier took leadership on poverty reduction, and 77% believe that an economic recession is exactly the time for government to take action.
  • It’s true…. Now is the perfect time to invest in low income people. Building housing will create good jobs, save millions medical care, policing and social service costs. Invest in low-income people with more social housing, better welfare and higher minimum wages. Low-income people won’t spend their money on a trip to Hawaii or buy stocks; instead, they would help keep money circulating in neighbourhoods – they would eat out at a restaurant once in a while, buy a newspaper, shop at the local stores – a great stimulus for local economies.

Join the movement everyone. We’re calling on people everywhere, here in the DTES, in BC, Canada and the world to pressure our government to put the same energy into ending poverty and homelessness as they do into holding the Olympics. End poverty, it’s not a game.

Last year, we even asked the International Organizing Committee for the Olympics (IOC) to help us put pressure on the Canadian governments to end poverty. They wrote back to us and said NO. And I quote: “any expectation that the IOC put pressure on governments of host cities is misplaced…”.

They went on to say the IOC’s role is specifically to use sport to bring “HOPE TO THE WORLD.” HOPE TO THE WORLD. Oh, the terrible irony, that this mega-corporation, responsible for bringing us the Olympics, was the same group that received the top award from the International Centre of Housing, Rights and Evictions as a HOUSING VIOLATOR. You deserve it IOC.

And, as for Canadian Governments, people everywhere are discovering that you are not looking after the needs and human rights of Canadian citizens. The foreign media are already paying attention to us. Hey Canadian governments, just imagine all your peers from around the world turning on their TV to see a bit of Canada next year. When the world comes to Vancouver, what will they see indeed?

This is what the world will see: Hello world! Welcome to the Poverty Olympics! Even though our message is serious, today is meant to be educational and fun. We hope you enjoy yourself and will help us keep up the pressure in the year to come.