The House of Commons has risen for the Christmas break and I’m certainly happy to be home for the holidays.
This season will be especially eventful for my family as we are traveling to New Zealand for my son’s wedding — but we’ll also be taking part in the usual Christmas traditions that every family has.
My wife’s family — part Italian, part Swedish — has introduced me to the wonderful tradition of Santa Lucia. Every December (supposedly on Dec. 13, but we loosen the rules to fit our schedules) we bake Swedish and Italian cookies and cakes and decorate the house with evergreens and candles. The big tradition from my side of the family is the Christmas Bird Count — going out with friends for a full day of, well, counting birds, followed by a big potluck supper.
For most of us, this is indeed a happy time with friends and family. But we must not forget that some in our communities struggle to find enough food for their families or to find a warm bed, even in this time and place of plenty. For seniors or disabled people living on meagre pensions, December is often the cruelest month. We’ve all heard of the rising use of food banks and soup kitchens across Canada as income inequality grows wider every year. Many people give generously to these agencies that have become essential to the survival of many of our neighbours, and I would urge any of you with the time to volunteer in them. It will not only give you a sense of truly paying back to your community, it will also put a human face on many needy folks in your town.
Shelters are also critical for many less fortunate people throughout the year, but especially in the cold winter months. We often hear of shelters for the homeless, but sometimes we forget about the women and children fleeing abusive relationships. Each night in Canada over 3,000 women are forced to stay in shelters to escape abuse. We have a number of valuable centres for women across the South Okanagan-West Kootenay, including the WINS shelter in Trail, the Castlegar and District Community Services Centre, the Safe Home Program in Nakusp and the South Okanagan Women in Need Society (SOWINS) Transition House in Penticton.
I visited the new SOWINS offices in Penticton last week, and was encouraged to hear that they will be opening a new shelter in 2017 — three times larger than their current facility — that will also be more accessible to disabled women. Last year, SOWINS had to turn away 847 people due to overcapacity, so the larger facility is very good news. They also provide more long-term support services for women and girls, and have just received federal funding for a program to help those wishing to exit survival sex work.
I salute and appreciate all the people who work tirelessly for the disadvantaged in our communities. Their efforts are essential throughout the year, but in this holiday season they truly make Christmas possible for many. Thank you, and I hope all of you have a happy and safe holiday.
Richard Cannings, MP South Okanagan-West Kootenay