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Provincial adviser proposes basic income of least $1,320

Hugh Segal, Ontario’s special adviser on basic income, wants province to test the merits of boosting incomes for the working poor and replacing social assistance with no-strings attached payments.

It has been hailed as the magic bullet to end poverty and denounced as a Trojan Horse to dismantle the social safety net.

But there has been little serious research to prove either position. Until now.

Ontario is poised to become ground zero for what may be the largest pilot project yet to test the notion of a basic income in North America.

In a discussion paper released Thursday, Ontario’s special adviser on basic income suggests topping up incomes of the working poor and replacing the province’s meagre and rule-bound social assistance program with a monthly payment of at least $1,320 for a single person, or about 75 per cent of the poverty line.

Participants with disabilities would get an additional $500 a month, according to the proposal by Hugh Segal, a former Conservative senator and a longtime advocate of basic income, also known as guaranteed annual income or minimum income.

The no-strings-attached payments for adults between the ages of 18 and 65 would be non-taxable and participants would be allowed to keep a portion of any additional income earned through employment.

“The pathologies of poverty are not limited only to those on social assistance,” Segal said in an interview. “The pathologies of poverty, illness, early hospitalization, bad educational outcomes and early drop-outs exist for everybody beneath the poverty line.”

Ontarians are being invited to give their views on Segal’s proposal online and in one of 15 public consultations between now and the end of January. The government will release a final report on the consultations and introduce a plan for the pilot by April, 2017. Funding for the pilot will be based on how the program is designed, according to government officials.

About 15 per cent of Ontarians live below the province’s Low Income Measure (LIM), which is almost $22,000 for a single person and about $44,000 for a family of four, after taxes.

A single person on Ontario Works currently lives on about 45 per cent of the LIM, or about $700 a month, while a person relying on the Ontario Disability Support Program receives about $1,130.

Although Segal does not say where in Ontario the proposed three-year experiment should take place, or how many people should participate, he says the pilot should include a “randomized control trial” in a large urban centre as well as three “saturation sites” where everyone living in poverty would be included. He suggests a city or town in both northern and southern Ontario along with a First Nations community should be tested.

Participation would be voluntary and no one would be financially worse off as a result of the pilot, Segal says in his report titled, “Finding a Better Way: A Basic Income Pilot Project for Ontario.”

The trial would measure health and education outcomes, food security, life choices, such as the decision to have children, living arrangements and parenting time, employment status, hours worked and income earned and participants’ perceptions of citizenship and inclusion.

It would also examine how a basic income impacts employment insurance, provincial and federal child benefits and other social programs.

“Testing a basic income is a humane and useful way to measure how so many of the costs of poverty (in terms of productivity, health, policing, and other community costs, to name only a few) might be diminished, while poverty itself is reduced and work is encouraged,” Segal says in the report.

Ontario spends about $9 billion a year on social assistance, excluding costs to the health care, education and legal systems produced by the effects of poverty, Segal notes.

The pilot should help Ontario determine if a basic income can build on other government initiatives, such as increases in the minimum wage, improvements to the Ontario Student Assistance Plan (OSAP) and the Ontario child benefit to cut the depth and incidence of poverty in the province, he adds.

The Wynne government signaled its intention to launch a basic income pilot in this year’s spring budget. Community and Social Services Minister Helena Jaczek appointed Segal in June to prepare a design and implementation plan.

Other countries such as Finland, the Netherlands and Kenya are developing their own pilot projects to test the idea. And a California technology company is planning a five-year project. But in a referendum last summer, Switzerland rejected a universal basic income of about $3,300 a month out of fears it would bankrupt the country and encourage idleness.

Canada explored the concept in the late 1970s when Dauphin, Manitoba tested a “mincome” for low-income residents, set at 60 per cent of the poverty line. Results showed a drop in hospital admissions and mental health problems, an increase in high school completion among young men and little impact on residents’ attachment to work.

Segal says the idea is gaining worldwide attention because globalization and technological advances are leaving large sectors of the population behind.

Although many anti-poverty activists support investigating the idea of a basic income, some view the proposed pilot project and government consultations as more delay in their quest to raise welfare rates which currently lock almost 895,000 Ontarians in deep poverty.

“This government’s track record of studying poverty, reviewing poverty, consulting on poverty and making empty promises to reduce it suggests nothing will be different this time,” said Mike Balkwill of Put Food in the Budget.

“Lack of specificity about how long the basic income pilot will run conveniently provides an additional excuse for the Liberal government to hold off on significant increases to social assistance rates in the 2017 budget, or even before the next provincial election,” he added.

However, Jennefer Laidley of the Income Security Advocacy Centre, a legal aid centre that advocates for those on social assistance said Segal’s report “opens up a critical conversation about how we ensure everyone in Ontario has enough to support themselves and their families and how government programs should treat people with dignity.

“There’s no magic bullet,” she said. “So it’s key that government is now exploring various solutions — reforming existing social assistance programs, improving the quality of work, and considering basic income.”


Ontario ‘recommits’ to tackling child poverty

TORONTO – After failing to meet their own child poverty reduction strategy target — and blaming it on the Stephen Harper government and the economy — the Ontario Liberals are now pledging to eradicate homelessness.

Deputy Premier Deb Matthews acknowledged Wednesday that her government failed to meet a goal it set in 2008 to reduce child poverty in Ontario by 25% in five years.

“We knew that one level of government could not achieve that ambitious goal all by itself so we laid out a very clear plan on how to meet that target,” Matthews said. “We as a province did our part, we did everything we said we would do when we released that strategy in 2008.

“And had the other elements of the strategy — particularly the responsibilities we believe lie with the federal government — had the federal government done its part we would have come very close if not have achieved our goal of a 25% reduction in child poverty.”

In “Breaking the Cycle,” the government of Dalton McGuinty asked the federal government to double the Working Income Tax Benefit and increase the National Child Benefit Supplement to help the province meet the target.

Matthews said almost 50,000 children and their parents have been lifted out of poverty through measures undertaken by her government, such as full-day kindergarten, a minimum wage hike and increases in the Ontario Child Benefit.

The original goal had been to move 90,000 kids out of poverty.

Matthews said her government “recommits” to reducing child poverty put won’t set a date.

In addition, Matthews said the government plans to wipe out homelessness, although there was no deadline provided on that commitment either, and the minister said she would consult with experts before proceeding with a plan.

Doris Grinspun, executive director of the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO), said that even if the government was not prepared to set new target dates for reducing child poverty and eliminating homelessness, it could at least dedicate 1% of its budget to related initiatives.

Tory MPP Jim McDonell said the Liberals are making promises they can’t keep.

“Today’s announcement sets no targets and that means they have no serious commitment to tackle poverty in Ontario. Vulnerable Ontarians are looking for action and a realistic plan,” McDonell said.

NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo said the government has no one to blame but itself in failing to meet child poverty reduction targets.

In Ontario, 130,000 children used a food bank over the past month, and thousands languish on waiting lists for affordable housing, she said.

DiNovo said she was homeless as a child, and she scoffed at Matthews’ comment that more research is needed before implementing a plan.

“I can tell you what homelessness looks like — it looks like you don’t have a house,” DiNovo said.

Peter Clutterbuck, of Poverty Free Ontario, said the coalition has called for significant hikes to social assistance rates which, after inflation, have only risen about 4% since 2003, the year the Liberals gained government.

Matthews’ goal of eliminating homelessness is an admirable one but what’s needed now is action and funds, Clutterbuck said.

By Antonella Artuso, Queen’s Park Bureau Chief

Toronto child poverty rate at ‘epidemic’ levels

TORONTO – Child poverty in Toronto has reached “epidemic” levels with 29 per cent of children — almost 149,000 — living in low-income families, according to new data being released Wednesday by a coalition of community activists and social agencies.

Among Canada’s 13 major cities, Toronto is tied with Saint John, N.B., as having the highest child poverty rate, the coalition says.

Across Toronto, almost 40 per cent of the city’s 140 neighbourhoods have child poverty rates of 30 per cent or more, according to the coalition’s analysis of Statistics Canada’s recently released 2012 tax filer data.

But neighourhood disparity varies dramatically — from 5 per cent in Leaside, Lawrence Park and the Kingsway to 50 per cent or more in Regent Park, Moss Park and Thorncliffe Park, the data show. And residents of African, Asian, Middle Eastern, Caribbean and Latin American background are more likely to be living in poverty.

Most troubling, however, is that after gradually decreasing to 27 per cent in 2010 from a high of 32 per cent in 2004, child poverty in the city is on the rise, the coalition says.

The alarming statistics cry out for strong municipal leadership, starting in the mayor’s office, says the coalition, which includes the Alliance for a Poverty-Free Toronto, Children’s Aid Society of Toronto, Family Service Toronto, Social Planning Toronto and others.

The groups have invited leading mayoral candidates to address the issue at a community event in downtown Toronto on Thursday morning and to sign a pledge in support of city council’s unanimous April 2014 motion to develop a poverty reduction strategy for the city by early 2015.

“We want to make sure that mayoral candidates and city council candidates recognize the severity and the importance of the issue,” said Laurel Rothman, of Family Service Toronto.

“Now is the time for the next mayor of Toronto to take political leadership of this important work and deliver results,” she added.

The coalition’s analysis is part of a larger report on child poverty it is planning to release this fall as the city develops its larger strategy.

“The fact that in 2011 and now again in 2012 we see no reduction but an increase in the number of children living in low-income families is quite disturbing,” said Michael Polanyi of the Toronto CAS.

“The hope was we were coming out of the economic downturn,” he said. “But it doesn’t seem to be translating to improvements in the lives of children.”

Toronto single mother Veronica Snooks, 51, struggled to raise five children in poverty.

Although her children are now adults and only her youngest, a 20-year-old son, still lives with her, Snooks worries about other families following in her footsteps.

The city’s lack of affordable housing meant she stayed in abusive relationships longer than she should have, causing her to lose her children to child welfare and spiral into addiction and depression.

“You stay longer because of poverty. It just seems easier to take the abuse,” she said. “We suffer for our children.”

Snooks, who moved into a Toronto Community Housing townhouse in Flemingdon Park eight years ago, credits the affordable rent and social programs aimed at assisting single moms for helping her beat her addictions and turn her life around.

However, her low-income neighbourhood, where 46 per cent of families live in poverty, is often “like living in the midst of a fire with all the police and drug busts,” she said.

“I love the community, but not the way we are treated by police and housing management,” she said.

The coalition’s analysis is the first detailed look at child poverty in the city since a 2008 report by the Toronto CAS.

But unlike that earlier report, which compared Toronto to other GTA cities, the current analysis looks at how the city stacks up nationally.

“We’re the highest in terms of poverty, but we’re also the highest in terms of wealth and opportunity,” Rothman noted. “We need to make sure that the wealth and opportunity is also spread widely and deeply.”

The analysis is based on Statistics Canada’s After-Tax Low-Income Measure, (LIM-AT) which represents households living on less than half of the median household income after taxes in the city. In 2010, the LIM-AT for a single person in Toronto was $19,460 and $27,521 for a single parent with one child. It was $38,920 for a family of four.

The coalition’s Toronto child poverty rates are not comparable to provincial and federal child poverty data because groups tracking those rates use census and StatsCan’s Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics data.

Province Playing Welfare Shell Game

Re: Ontario takes a pass on real welfare reform, Opinion May 6

Carol Goar appears to have it right, although I would not agree that community advocates and social assistance recipients across the province are just relieved that the budget did not lead to further cuts.

There is a strong sense of disappointment that the previously expressed social justice convictions of the new premier have not moved from rhetoric to action and that the NDP leader never advocated for the interests of Ontario’s poorest with the same vigour as for its car owners.

Goar’s sources indicate that Premier Kathleen Wynne was ready to offer a $100 a month benefit increase to those on the lowest rate but this was derailed by the community’s “lobby” for keeping the special diet allowance. This, of course, is the usual game of playing off one part of the caseload, impoverished single adults without work, against the other, disabled people with medical dietary needs. Some justice.

In fact, our group, which represents voices for welfare reform in 25 communities across the province, recommended to the government that the $100 a month be introduced over this and the next budget year in two $50 installments so that rate increases would not have to be paid for by cutting the special diet allowance.

It is a strange notion of social justice that asks disabled people with medical needs to sacrifice essential health supports in order to begin to relieve the deep poverty of single adults not in the labour market.

Peter Clutterbuck, Poverty Free Ontario, Toronto


Ontario commission calls for integrated welfare program, including for disabled, that removes barriers to work.

TORONTO – Ontario’s $8.3 billion welfare system should be transformed into a simpler, more effective and accountable system that helps move more people, including the disabled, into jobs and out of poverty, says the long-awaited report from the province’s social assistance review commission.

Under this “transformational change,” disability benefits, children’s benefits and health benefits would be removed from social assistance and be available outside welfare to all low-income Ontarians, say commissioners Frances Lankin and Munir Sheikh in their 183-page report released Wednesday.

The commission, established in November 2010 to remove barriers and increase opportunities for people to work, was part of the province’s 2008 poverty reduction strategy.

Central to the report’s 108 recommendations is the proposed merger of Ontario Works (OW) and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) into a single, integrated program with provincial standards but delivered locally by municipalities, which already administer OW.

ODSP is currently delivered by provincial officials. But the commissioners believe municipalities are better equipped to run the new job-focused program because they have connections to local employers and already administer other supports to low-income people such as child care, housing, settlement services, public health and addiction services.

“This report charts a new course for social assistance in Ontario, a course designed to support all recipients to participate in the workforce to the maximum of their abilities and to guarantee income security for those who cannot work,” says the report, entitled “Brighter Prospects: Transforming Social Assistance in Ontario.”

Under the proposed new program, welfare benefits would be based on a standard rate for all single adults that would be adjusted for those sharing accommodations. The rate would be based on a formula that balances the competing needs of adequacy; fairness between those on assistance and low-wage earners; and financial incentive to work. And over time, increases would reflect the differences in living costs across Ontario.

In addition to the standard rate, a disability supplement for those who meet the current definition of disability under ODSP, as well as a children’s and sole-support parent’s supplement, would be available through social assistance until the new system is fully implemented, the report recommends.

Until the new disability benefit is available outside welfare, people with disabilities who get jobs would be allowed to keep a portion of their disability welfare supplement, the report adds.

“Like most of us, people with disabilities have a strong desire to work,” the report says.

“However, given the financial disincentive represented by the lack of a disability benefit outside social assistance to help cover the cost of living with a disability, many low-income people with disabilities simply cannot afford to leave the program,” it adds.

The new simplified rate structure would give case workers more time to support recipients’ transition to employment, the commissioners say. Meantime, the province would partner with corporate leaders to champion the hiring of people with disabilities and generate awareness and support for more inclusive workplaces.

Although the report acknowledges the transformation will take time, it urges Queen’s Park to move quickly to improve financial support for people on welfare.

The commissioners are calling for an immediate $100-per-month increase to $699 for single able-bodied adults — the lowest current rate category — as a “down payment on adequacy.” That amount would become the new standard rate upon which the integrated program would be built.

The rate increase would cost $770 million, but the commissioners say at least $430 million of that would be found through administrative savings and the elimination of the Special Diet Allowance and the ODSP Work-Related Benefit, which would be offset by other changes to the program.

The remaining $340 million needed is less than 5 per cent of the total program costs but crucial “to begin to address adequacy at the lowest level … buy change and create momentum in the transformation of social assistance,” the report notes.

Other first steps include increasing financial resilience by allowing everyone applying for welfare to keep more assets — up to $6,000 for individuals and up to $7,500 for couples. Currently, only people on ODSP are allowed to keep this amount.

Individuals would also be allowed to have up to $60,000 in long-term savings such as RRSPs, RESPs and to keep their primary automobile, regardless of the value.

In addition, everyone on welfare would be allowed to earn up to $200 per month without deductions and keep 50 cents of every subsequent dollar earned until their earnings exceed their welfare cheque. Now, 50 cents of every dollar is clawed back.

Under the reforms, child support would be treated the same as income. Single parents would no longer be compelled to seek child support and those who receive it would be allowed to keep 50 per cent instead of losing it all in claw backs.

Changing the definition of a spouse from three months cohabitation to one year would reflect income tax laws, the commissioners add.

The report calls for a program that moves away from a culture of surveillance to one of support for everyone on social assistance, including the disabled, to maximize their potential.

To ensure the new program is accountable to Ontarians, the report calls for provincial standards, clear outcomes and performance measures with annual reporting from both municipalities and the province.

A new provincial commissioner of social assistance would be appointed to drive change, work with municipalities, establish performance measures and tack progress. Annual progress reports from both municipalities and the province would ensure public accountability, the report says.

Who’s on social assistance*

Ontario Works (OW)

  • 477,339 individuals or about 3.6 per cent of the population
  • 171,867 are children
  • Average age: 36
  • 60 per cent of cases are singles
  • 30 per cent are single parents
  • 3 per cent are couples without children
  • 8 per cent are couples with children
  • About 75 per cent of children are in families led by single parents

Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP)

  • 415,338 individuals or about 3.1 per cent of the population
  • 43 per cent of applicants have a physical disability, 39 per cent have a mental disability, 18 per cent have a developmental disability
  • About 60 per cent of new applicants in 2009-10 were suffering from mental illness
  • 59,403 are children
  • Average age: 46
  • 77 per cent are singles
  • 9 per cent are single parents
  • 8 per cent are couples without children
  • 6 per cent are couples with children
  • Just over half of children are in families led by single parents
Laurie Monsebraaten
Social Justice Reporter

Small fixes to Ontario’s welfare system not enough, says progress report

TORONTO – Small fixes will not be enough to bring about the transformational change Ontario’s social assistance needs, says a progress report by the province’s social assistance review commission.

More employment support for those on welfare, including those with disabilities; streamlined delivery and new benefits available to all low-income people outside the welfare system are some of the ideas the commission is exploring.

“Across the province, people asked us to be bold in thinking about how to reform the social assistance system,” says the report being released Friday by commissioners Frances Lankin and Munir Sheikh.

“While many identified specific policies or rules that are not working under the current system, they also called for more fundamental change to the system as a whole,” it adds.

But mindful of the province’s fiscal tight-jacket, the commissioners acknowledge that “some changes will take longer to implement than others.”

The commission, established in November 2010, is aimed at removing barriers and increasing opportunities for people to work. It is expected to release its recommendations in June.

The progress is the result of 11 community meetings across the province with more than 2,000 participants, numerous informal meetings and 700 written submissions.

Rather than a comprehensive report on options for reform, the update discusses different approaches and highlights areas for more discussion.

“As our work unfolded, we strongly desired to engage in further dialogue and obtain feedback on specific areas of reform to help refine our thinking,” Lankin and Munir write. They are requesting input by March 16.

In the area of employment support, the commission notes that the current approach separates social assistance recipients from other job-seekers, such as those receiving Employment Insurance.

“This reinforces the stigma of receiving assistance and makes it more difficult for people, especially people with disabilities, to access a wider range of services,” the report says. “The separation also results in service duplication and gaps, confusion for job-seekers and employers, and administrative inefficiencies.”

Instead, the report suggests those on welfare, including people with disabilities get access to the full range of employment supports.

Laurie Monsebraaten
Social Justice Reporter


Why poverty isn’t on the agenda

HAMILTON – More than 1.7 million Ontarians live below the poverty line; 89,000 of them live in Hamilton.

But that population hasn’t been getting the attention of the three major party leaders leading up to next week’s provincial election.

It’s the middle class — not people in poverty — who are the focus of the dialogue along the campaign trail, say social planners and anti-poverty advocates.

“I think that the parties have chosen to focus on middle class issues of affordability and taxes, which really neglects the fact that there is a growing number of people who are falling out of the middle class into the poverty line,” said Peter Clutterbuck, a community planning consultant with the Social Planning Network of Ontario.

According to 2009 results from Statistics Canada — the most recent figures available — Ontario’s poverty rate has gotten worse since the 2007 election. At that time, 11.2 per cent of households in the province lived in poverty. The latest numbers show the province’s poverty rate sits at 13.3 per cent.

Despite these increases, politicians are setting their sights squarely on “working families,” rather than Ontario’s poor. The reason, Clutterbuck says, is because those living in poverty are often seen as non-voters — and therefore don’t often hold the political clout of higher-income voters.

“We think that this population is perceived as not being a politically strong constituency,” Clutterbuck said. “I think the parties think the Ontario electorate is only concerned about its own family costs.”

The Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction is hoping to generate more local dialogue about poverty by asking Hamilton’s candidates to declare their support for social assistance reform on Twitter.

The Roundtable is asking candidates to tweet “If elected, I will work to reform social assistance in Ontario” by Thursday, exactly a week before the election. On Monday, the day the challenge was issued, three NDP candidates — including leader and Hamilton Centre MPP Andrea Horwath — one Green, and one Family Coalition candidate accepted.

Social assistance reform is one of the most pressing issues for the Roundtable, said director Tom Cooper. Due to social assistance cuts in the ’90s and increases at or below cost of living, social assistance rates are 41 per cent less than they were 15 years ago (if inflation is taken into account).

“We’ve heard loud and clear that social assistance reform is needed — 75 per cent of people using food banks in Hamilton are on OW (Ontario Works) or ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program),” Cooper said. He said that shows that social assistance rates aren’t reflective of the actual costs of goods or services in Hamilton.

Both Cooper and Clutterbuck say minimum wage also needs to be addressed. Currently, if an Ontario resident earning minimum wage worked full-time for the whole year, he or she would still be below the poverty line.

“We’ve been disappointed in the lack of leadership among all three parties with putting those issues forward,” Clutterbuck said.

In terms of party platforms, Cooper said the NDP and the Liberals have some positive ideas — including a promise to build 50,000 new affordable housing units over the next 10 years from the NDP, and a healthy snack program for kids in schools from the Grits. The snack program is similar to a program the Roundtable has suggested.

“Ours, I think, is looking a bit bigger and deeper, but they’re moving in the right direction,” Cooper said.

Cooper said the party that appears to be focusing the least on poverty are Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives.

“I haven’t seen anything from the Progressive Conservatives yet in terms of a poverty reduction strategy,” Cooper said.

Still, he argues all three parties should be giving greater focus to poverty.

“It hasn’t been a big part of the provincial dialogue,” Cooper said. “Governments need to step up and take responsibility.”


Poverty campaign comes to Oshawa

DURHAM — With the provincial election on, a coalition of social and religious groups wants to make poverty an issue.

Poverty Free Ontario kicked off its campaign last week in 16 Ontario communities, including Oshawa.

Ted Glover, one of the organizers in Oshawa, said, “It’s sad we have to use the words poverty and Ontario in the same sentence. We’re one of the most wealthy provinces. It’s unconscionable.”

About 1.6 million Ontarians, or 13.1 per cent of the population, live in poverty, he said at the rally, held outside St. George’s Memorial Anglican Church in downtown Oshawa. “Fourteen per cent of children in our rich province live in poverty.”

Recently, the Community Development Council Durham released a study on poverty in the Region and it found as much as 15 per cent of Durham residents live in poverty.

“Gandhi said poverty is the worst form of violence,” Mr. Glover said.

The Social Planning Network of Ontario and the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition are co-sponsoring PFO, with the aim of urging all provincial parties to work towards ending poverty in Ontario in this decade.

The aim of the coalition is “to send that message to politicians” to end poverty, Mr. Glover said.

“We want them to include it their platform legislation. It’s an opportunity to step out of poverty. No one chooses to live in poverty.”

The measure of a society is “how it treats poor people,” Mr. Glover stated.

Poverty rates have been “increasing significantly,” Mr. Glover stated.

The provincial government has a goal of ’25-5′, which means a 25-per cent decrease in rates in five years, he added.

He noted food bank usage has risen 28 per cent, while there’s an increasing need for breakfast programs in schools, saying, “Hungry children don’t learn. They act out.¨

Poverty is “visible, but often it’s invisible,” he said.

Among the measures PFO is pushing are:

– a $100 per month healthy food supplement for all people on social assistance (Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program);

– an increase in minimum wage;

– a housing benefit for poor and marginalized people;

– job creation;

– food and income security;

– provisions for health, education and daycare services;

– safe, affordable and sustainable housing.

“You can have the most beautiful clothing, but what good is it if you don’t have a place to stay?” Mr. Glover said.

“I’d like them to know there is hope,” he said of people living in poverty.

Bridges wants politicians to put poverty on the agenda

FORT ERIE – It’s an issue that isn’t brought to the discussion table often — but Bridges Community Health Centre (CHC) isn’t letting it slip past the politicians in October’s provincial election.

The community centre , which focuses on promoting health and developing the community, is partnering with Poverty Free Ontario, a non-partisan provincial initiative representing over 20 communities in the province.

The goal of Poverty Free Ontario is to raise awareness of the need to end poverty in communities like Fort Erie, says Rhonda Barron, a health promoter for the CHC.

“Poverty Free Ontario is a pre-election campaign focused on making sure poverty is an election issue.”

Everyone in the community from families, to businesses and faith-based organizations were invited to drop into CHC to pick up signs, buttons and pamphlets for Poverty Free Ontario and to learn more about how to help communities end poverty on Thursday.

Poverty can affect any one at any time, whether young or old and it makes a large impact on a community, says the health promoter.

Barron says the Poverty Free Ontario initiative has been on the radar for a few months now and she wants people to realize that there are many people living in town who deal with poverty on a daily basis, which she says a lot of people are unaware of.

“This issue effects the entire community — poverty knows no boundaries. We want to end poverty because it is a public issue.”

The pamphlet gives statistics which include the latest figures for Ontario which shows a poverty rate of 13 per cent. It is the highest rate in 30 years and it is the fastest growing rate in Canada since the last provincial election in 2007.

Barron says there is a strong link between poverty and health which needs to be addressed — through the provincial election she hopes more people will take notice and ask their provincial candidates about it.

“We’re giving out pamphlets so when a politician knocks on your door and gives you one of his pamphlets, you can give him a pamphlet on poverty.”

Barron says the point of the pamphlets are to begin a discussion with the provincial candidates and ask them what their strategies are to fix the issue.

“We’re urging politicians to put poverty eradication on the agenda and we want people asking the candidates about their poverty eradication plans.”

She says she hopes to see people wearing the 300 buttons and posting the 100 signs promoting Poverty Free Ontario around the community that were given out by CHC.

“For people who are marginalized, or deal with poverty on a daily basis, it is easy to brush their voices under the carpet. Their voices are not often heard very well, which is why advocacy campaigns like this are important.”

For more information about Poverty Free Ontario, or to pick up a copy of the Poverty Free Ontario pamphlet, Barron says to phone the community health centre at 905-871-9135.

By Sarah Ferguson


Poverty eradication a political priority: group

York Region candidates canvassing your support for the Oct. 6 provincial election can expect a taste of their own marketing medicine.

Poverty Free Ontario, a non-partisan initiative urging all political parties and electoral candidates to make poverty an election issue, launched Let’s Vote for a Poverty Free Ontario at Newmarket’s Inn From The Cold Thursday.

The novel strategy to make poverty eradication a political priority borrows from traditional election campaign tactics, including lawn and window signs, buttons and brochures.

Co-sponsored by The Social Planning Network of Ontario and the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition, in partnership with local social service agencies, the initiative was unveiled simultaneously in more than 40 Ontario communities, network co-chairperson Pat Taylor said.

“The public can get on board by asking their candidates about their position on the issues,” she said, adding window signs can be downloaded from the network’s Internet site. “The intention is to keep the campaign going after the election.”

The initiative is funded by the sale of buttons and donations, she said. Poverty Free Ontario has blanketed the province and hopes community support will sway political will in favour of concerted programs to end the varied hardships of the poor.

Ontario’s poverty rate stands at 13.1 per cent, the highest level in the last 30 years, coalition co-ordinator Peter Clutterbuck said.

“Community members and civic organizations in touch daily with the intolerable living conditions of low-income Ontarians recognize ending poverty is a major political issue,” he said.

Coalition executive director Michael Skaljin is buoyed by the groundswell of support from leaders and communities from all faith traditions across the province.

“Poverty amidst the wealth of our province, even in harder economic times, is morally indefensible and we expect political parties and candidates running for office would not only publicly acknowledge the issue, but make clear proposals about how to reduce and eliminate it within this decade,” he said.

Newmarket Regional Councillor John Taylor bought a button and took a sign for his lawn.

“Going into this election, we want to make sure poverty is an issue,” he said. “To be blunt, poverty hasn’t been getting the attention it deserves. In the United States, the gap between the rich and poor is threatening the social fabric. We’re following.

“I’m proud to say York Region has done much to end poverty, but much more can be done.”

Poverty Action for Change Coalition chairperson Tom Pearson endorsed Mr. Taylor’s remarks.

“The problem is too many groups work in silos, independent of each other,” he said. “By working together to tie up all the loose ends, we can make Ontario poverty free.”

Resources are available in support of the campaign, York Region Food Network executive director Joan Stonehocker said.

Buttons are emblazoned with We are Working for a Poverty Free Ontario. Lawn and window signs state, I am Voting for a Poverty Free Ontario. Reverse canvassing leaflets promoting the poverty issues can be given out at the door when candidates visit or at meetings.

Let’s Vote for a Poverty Free Ontario is one of the largest anti-poverty programs to date, Ms Taylor said.

“A lot of people have put a lot of effort into this,” she said. “If it doesn’t work, it’ll be very disappointing.”

• Let’s Vote for a Poverty Free Ontario signs can be downloaded at faithtoendpoverty.ca. Buttons and a limited supply of lawn signs are available at Inn From The Cold, 510 Penrose St., Newmarket. Program information is available at povertyfreeontario.ca.  For training information, call Yvonne Kelly at 905-967-0428, ext. 205.


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