It was an afternoon of tactical contrasts. On a bright, crisp autumn day last Thursday, October 17, two protests with distinctly different communications strategies targeted the same government failure on poverty.

At noon, OCAP, along with reps from OPSEU and CUPE and members of Put Food in the Budget, headed down to the minister of finance’s office at College and University, where they chanted “Raise the rates” and made fiery speeches against Liberal austerity preoccupations.

An hour later, a more subdued expression of dismay about the 12.9 per cent of Ontarians living in poverty took place in Queen’s Park. There, Stitching Our Safety Net, a coalition of 30 groups from Social Planning Toronto to St. Stephen’s Community House and the Christian Resource Centre, displayed a huge quilt illustrating in pictures and text the unravelling of social services and income support in Ontario.

The styles surely differed, but the message was pretty much the same: raise social assistance rates significantly and implement a $14-an-hour minimum wage.

To focus on food charity is to ignore the root of the problem. Yes, people need access to emergency food in tough times – that is why food banks were created – but over 30 years later food banks have boomed and their numbers steadily increased. Ending hunger is not about charity, it is about justice and respect for human rights.

The consequences of poverty hurt more than those relying on local food banks. And it will hurt Canadians more to do nothing about it.

The financial consequences of not doing anything about poverty are dire. The 2012 Brock University Niagara Community Observatory report Are the Consequences of Poverty Holding Niagara Back? estimates the financial consequences of poverty on a local level at $1.38 billion a year. However, experts say to not do anything about poverty could double or triple that amount.

Poverty is costing us too much. This is a conclusion that countless studies have determined. According to Canada Without Poverty, a federally incorporated, non-partisan, not-for-profit and charitable organization dedicated to the elimination of poverty in Canada, the annual cost of poverty in Canada is $72-84 billion a year. Ontario’s portion is between $32 and $38 billion. This means Ontarians each spend between $2,299 and $2,895 per year on poverty, according to the Ontario Association of Food Banks.

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr is reported to have said, now famously:

“I like to pay taxes. With them I buy civilization.”

Taxes aren’t the only way to pay for civilization, of course: community groups, charities, and churches also contribute. But I consider myself a fairly prudent consumer, and I want my money to be used well.

Even excellent charities are inefficient. Take food banks. We have a distribution system that goes from farms to warehouses to grocery stores. Food banks then set up more warehouses and pick-up sites to get sustenance out to those in need, often food that’s already gone down the first chain. It’s far more efficient to give people the means to use the retail distribution network than to create and have them use an alternate system.