Despite spending the months leading up to the Christmas break focusing on child poverty, the city's teachers want more to be done to help young people in need.
Members of the Prince George District Teachers' Association came before city council Monday night to ask the group to put the reduction of child poverty among their priorities.
According to a year-end report from First Call BC, a child and youth advocacy coalition, Statistics Canada has ranked B.C. as the second-worst province for child poverty, at a rate of 14.3 per cent.
PGDTA president Matt Pearce said to bring that figure to a local perspective, that means 1,800 out of School District 57's 13,000 students come from a background of poverty.
"Again, to make that number more real, Mayor Green and myself went to school at PGSS in the 80s when the student population was 1,800," said Pearce. "That's a lot of children coming to school everyday underfed and under cared for."
Teachers focused on child poverty throughout November and December and conduct a variety of initiatives quietly through the entire school year to help those in need.
On Nov. 20, the group held a casserole-style march (banging pots and pans) from Duchess Park secondary school to Prince George-Valemount MLA Shirley Bond's constituency office, which association first vice-president Tina Cousins said "got the noise out."
"But honestly, I think we stand to stand and shout it from the rooftops and get this out there because day after day it's not getting any better," she said, noting she sees the same young faces coming to events such as December's Chili Blanket rally every year. "That's why I wanted to come and say we need help with this and that's why we're coming to you as our municipal government to ask for help."
Mayor Shari Green said she appreciated the tough issue the teachers face in the classroom everyday and that she is working with the city's communications and citizen engagement manager Chris Bone in developing a youth initiative which will be coming to council in the near future.
While Coun. Brian Skakun acknowledged that child poverty was an important issue, he said he was concerned about the challenges municipalities already face given the amount of downloading of responsibilities and costs from the upper levels of government.
Coun. Dave Wilbur, whose wife is a retired teacher, said he sees the city as more of a strong lobbyist of the provincial and federal governments to create policies, as opposed to an active funding participant.
"We certainly don't have the coin to make the difference you're talking about," he said. "But we can be an advocate, a strong voice."
There is some light at the end of the tunnel on the provincial front, said Coun. Murry Krause, who sits on the Union of B.C. Municipalities' Healthy Communities committee. The committee has been lobbying hard to get the province to tackle various aspects of poverty.
"This is the first time we've had this level of interest from the provincial government," he said. At the UBCM executive meeting at the end of the month, the group will meet with Children and Family Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux in Victoria.
"We need allies in the community," Krause said. "We need organizations such as yourselves to be allies."
Pearce said the association would like to see council consider and develop a plan of their own, they weren't looking for a concrete commitment Monday night.
"Just getting the awareness out there about the severity of of the problem in our community is valuable," he said. "We do realize that municipal governments have been downloaded upon by both senior levels of government and they don't have the resources to tackle the problem directly. But certainly offers to help lobby senior levels of government, to illustrate how important the issue is in our community, that's welcome news to us."