Public Meeting, June 9, hosted by Hon. George Smitherman, MPP (Toronto Centre)
Over 150 persons, both people who live in poverty, and people working in and volunteering in organizations to end poverty, packed Rose Avenue Public School in Jamestown on a sweltering hot evening to give their views on what should be in Ontario’s Poverty Reduction Strategy. People stressed that the strategy should not only focus on children – children are part of a family unit which needs to be assured a stable income, whether parents are in the workforce or not.
They also identified the need for the strategy to particularly look at the needs of socially and economically vulnerable groups such as Aboriginal people, young people, seniors, members of racialized groups, newcomers, transgendered people, and people with disabilities, many of whom get lost in government red tape or whose needs are neglected.
An increase to social assistance rates was called for to ensure livable incomes for people not able to work, or work full time. A committee should be set up to review rates. People with disabilities need accommodations and supports so they can get jobs. Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support payments need to be indexed so they keep up with increases in cost of living. The Ontario Child Benefit should be increased, and the winter clothing and back to school allowances should not be ended. People on social assistance who are able to work should be able to keep more of the money they earn. They should be allowed to attend university/college without losing their benefits.
An economic strategy needs to be part of the poverty reduction plan. There was a call for more good jobs, with benefits – sustainable employment. The minimum wage should be increased. Training programs must be improved so people can find sustainable jobs with a living wage – not just temp jobs at minimum wage without benefits. Government needs to broaden economic opportunities for new immigrants with more language services and recognition of international credentials.
There were many calls for the services and programs that build strong, supportive communities. Affordable housing is key to ending poverty – people called for the Province to get back into building affordable housing and bring back rent control. There’s a 10 year wait list. Mental health issues need to be addressed with more programs and supportive housing. Ontario should expand affordable child care spaces – develop a $7/day program like in Quebec.
The number of people living below the Low Income Cut Off or Low Income Measure is useful to track progress in reducing poverty levels, with a target of 25% reduction in 5 years. Other indicators of progress are: reduction in food bank use, reduction in high school drop outs, gap between rich and poor, availability of child care spaces, number of homeless, people working more than 1 full time job, and tracking poverty numbers by group (Aboriginal, women, people with disabilities, new immigrants, etc.).
At the meeting end people called for ongoing consultation on the government plan and more public discussions like this one. Minister Smitherman listened to the entire proceeding and expressed his own interest in how to reduce poverty. He committed to setting up a local riding advisory committee to work with him – an encouraging sign.