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Poverty activists prepare for new battles

GUELPH — Poverty activists turned a classroom into a war room this week, plotting their return to the fray of electoral politics after a few years in the wilderness.

About 60 people came out to the community forum on poverty policy in Rozanski Hall at the University of Guelph where three panellists highlighted concerns facing low-income Canadians.

“Change comes from the collective energy of people in a room like this,” said political science professor Byron Sheldrick, the forum’s MC. “They don’t have to listen if we don’t speak.”

The event served as an informal launch of a local effort to put poverty back on the agenda. Right-wing cost-cutters triumphed in the recent federal election as well as Toronto’s 2010 mayoral race.

“Poverty can only be reduced and eliminated when there’s a political will,” Brice Balmer, one of the panellists, said. “It’s time for that political will to show.”

The panellists were unanimous in their support of a $100 food allowance for people on welfare.

“We keep on hearing we can’t afford it. There’s not enough money,” Mark Woodnutt, a co-ordinator with the Stop Community Food Centre, said. “But we know that’s not the truth. We know there is money.”

The 2011 provincial budget includes $4 billion in corporate and capital tax cuts primarily for banks and insurance companies, Woodnutt pointed out, adding since the government of former premier Mike Harris took power in 1995, social assistance rates have been almost cut in half.

“These are conscious, political choices to keep people in poverty.”

Currently, a single adult on Ontario Works gets about $592 a month to cover rent, heating, water, clothes, personal items and food, Woodnutt said. “When it doesn’t add up, people need to make impossible choices.” Since food is a flexible budget item, it’s often the first thing to be sacrificed, he added.

Panellist Peter Clutterbuck, co-ordinator of the Social Planning Network of Ontario, outlined his organization’s campaign for a poverty-free Ontario.

He said raising the minimum wage to $12.50 from the current $10.25 and ending the clawback of Ontario Works earnings would help keep everyone in the province out of poverty. Of social assistance, he said we must “stop degrading it” and “stop demonizing the people who get it.”

Balmer, a minister with the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition, said Canada’s middle class has stagnated for decades while the wealthiest have grown wealthier. “We now have a growing gap between the rich and the average,” he said.

An underground economy exists where low-income seniors buy dentures retrieved from funeral homes, Balmer said, and a Kitchener man required ambulance service 157 times because of chronic, poverty-related health problems.

“Think what that costs,” Balmer said. “We need to change how we spend the health care dollars.”

The event was organized by the Guelph and Wellington Task Force for Poverty Elimination. Coordinator Randalin Ellery said she hopes the task force will reach more voters and politicians this time around.

“The federal election came up so quickly, there wasn’t a lot of time to prepare,” she said.

Guelph MPP Liz Sandals has been active on the task force, Ellery said, adding she hopes whoever is elected continues to meet with the group. “It is a great spot for a dialogue,” she said.



Social planning group aims to end poverty in province by end of decade

THUNDER BAY – The Social Planning Network of Ontario is calling for a poverty free Ontario.

“We’re part of a struggle,” said Marvyn Novick, community activist with the Social Planning Network of Ontario. “Aboriginal peoples have their historic dimension to that struggle that has to be honoured, but we also have a struggle about the things in common because all peoples need good wages in the labour market and need to know that the rents they pay won’t take food money.”

Speaking at the Lakehead Social Planning Council’s annual general meeting May 18 in Thunder Bay, Novick said Aboriginal peoples need institutions to end poverty.

“The government of Canada has a fiduciary responsibility to honour commitments made to Aboriginal peoples so Aboriginal peoples can develop their collective institutions and work for ending poverty,” Novick said.

He said the federal government should work with Aboriginal peoples to develop strategies to end poverty on and off reserve and where to get the powers and resources to do so.

The Social Planning Network of Ontario has been holding Moving to a Poverty Free Ontario sessions in 21 communities across Ontario.

The policy agenda for a poverty free Ontario focuses on three key areas: ending deep poverty by upgrading social assistance, ending working poverty by assuring basic living wages, and protecting food money by phasing in a full housing benefit.

The Social Planning Network of Ontario is aiming to build cross-community support for a poverty free Ontario by the end of the decade.

“Human dignity reminds us that there is a moral issue underlying local poverty,” Novick said.

“We’re now recognizing that poverty is not a condition that we have to accept.”


Published in Wawatay News, May 26, 2011, Volume 38, No. 11

Social councils fighting to eradicate poverty

CORNWALL – Social development councils throughout Ontario are taking a stand against poverty and are trying to encourage governments to take steps to eradicate it.

The Social Development Council of Cornwall and Area in partnership with the Social Planning Network of Ontario and other social councils throughout the province are joining forces to fight against poverty.

Marvyn Novick, consultant with the Social Planning Network of Ontario and Peter Clutterbuck, Research & Community Planning Coordinator with the Social Planning Network of Ontario presented their statistics and plans for the eradication of poverty at St. Paul’s United Church on Monday.

” We believe that there are real policy approaches that could be taken that would move beyond just poverty reduction strategies for children and families, which is a start, to actually eliminate poverty in general, especially those in deep poverty and the working poor,” said Clutterbuck.

The evening began with Michelle Gratton, executive director of the Social Development Council of Cornwall and Area who explained some stories of local people who are living on the streets in what’s called, “deep poverty”.

She told the room of a man who was kicked out of his home and was living in the Sears parking lot and a women who finally got her electricity back after not having it for two months.

“Our poverty rates are high right now,” said Gratton.

“We’ll probably be looking at a very serious situation when the census comes out this summer.”

The night proceeded with an explanation of what the Social Planning Network of Ontario is and who it’s made up of.

The presentation included information about poverty, covering what it is to be poor and the steps that are (not) being made to reduce or eradicate poverty.

“Our agenda is to come into communities present with them an analysis to what the situation is like here in Ontario and make some proposals for priorities for the next (provincial) election to engage their electoral candidates around,” said Clutterbuck.

Novick explained that many people in Canada are living under the poverty line when it comes to having an annual income.

According to his presentation, the poverty line for an average single adult per year is $18,582 a year (after taxes) while the average person on Ontario Works(OW) makes about $7,352 a year.

He suggested that the Government should raise the income that people on OW makes but they won’t because of a dogma or stigma that those who need the system are “begging for handouts” and/or don’t wish to work.

“We have to stop using demeaning language and stop referring to Social Assistance as a social and economical ghetto or broken system,” said Novick.

“It’s not a broken system, it’s a degraded system.”

The evening concluded with a poem, written by someone from Sudbury who was experiencing poverty for themselves and then a question and suggestion period was held.

“It’s important for people to come out to meetings like this in the spring of 2011 to start to think about what they expect of their election candidates in the Provincial election for October and to recognize that poverty is an issue for all Ontarians whether you’re low income or not,” said Clutterbuck.


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