The following observations of the Minister’s consultation on poverty reduction in Ottawa on May 9, 2008 are offered by Jenny Gullen.
There was a fairly broad range of people invited to the Minister’s Consultation in Ottawa: Aboriginal persons, persons living on low-income, persons living with a disability, representatives from local community health centres, community resource centres, the Alliance to End Homelessness, the Boys’ and Girls’ Club, and other community organizations/agencies. The meeting was conducted primarily in English, with simultaneous translation provided.
The gathering was divided into tables, for small group discussion, which then reported back to the larger group. The first three questions for discussion, provided in a workbook, focused on “existing” supports and resources:
“…what are the top three things we can do better with existing resources to improve opportunities for children living in poverty?”
“What new ideas could we incorporate into our existing supports that would increase opportunities for children living in poverty?”
“Please describe what you believe is already working in your community to support children, youth and their families living in poverty to achieve their potential.”
The other three specific questions asked about how we can “better integrate the roles that we all play”, about long-terms goals for “improving opportunity with respect to groups other than children”, and about measurement of “our progress in improving opportunity for Ontarians living in poverty.”
The following are some of the points heard by the Minister during the discussions (the list is certainly not exhaustive):
- Social assistance rates must be increased
- The fact that approximately 80% of ODSP appeals conducted on behalf of clients by community legal clinics are successful – this represents a waste of government resources
- A Guaranteed Annual Income would provide at least a minimum standard of living for Ontarians
- Community-based organizations are the most effective way in which to provide responsive, coordinated services
- It is essential that we develop a funding structure that provides stable, core funding to allow these community-based organizations the stability and flexibility to respond appropriately to community needs. (This point was strongly emphasized and, in response, the Minister stated that: “The pendulum has swung too far” i.e. in terms of project funding to “ensure accountability”.)
- A variety of measures must be used to gauge our progress in combating poverty. The Minister expressed concerns about using the LIM, which she described as being “arbitrary”. It was pointed out that the LIM could be calculated as an after-tax, after-shelter measure.
The Minister herself listened intently to consultation participants and engaged often in the discussion herself. She seems genuinely passionate about the issue and, overall, participants seemed to find the event a constructive one. The question that remains is how much influence the Minister herself carries around the Cabinet table.