Ontario targets the poor by freezing welfare and delaying child benefit increase
TheStar.com – opinion/editorials
Published On Mon Mar 26 2012.
If a sense of sour irony could be bottled and sold, Premier Dalton McGuinty would be well on his way to erasing Ontario’s deficit. Instead he’s trying to do it, in part, by hurting this province’s most vulnerable residents while claiming to protect them.
That’s a sorry signal to send in the run-up to Tuesday’s provincial budget. Given Ontario’s $16-billion deficit, McGuinty said this was the “toughest budget by far” since his Liberals were elected in 2003. But, as hard as it was on him, it will be even more difficult to bear by the poor on the receiving end of McGuinty’s changes. And that’s despite reassuring words uttered by the premier on Sunday.
“We are not prepared to balance this budget on the backs of families who may find themselves in difficult circumstances . . . or on the backs of our children,” McGuinty said. He then proceeded to do exactly what he’d said he wouldn’t by announcing that Ontario’s welfare rates will be frozen at their already lamentable level. Even worse, poor children will be denied a $100 payment they were to receive next year.
The location chosen to serve as a backdrop for McGuinty’s bad news announcement was the Cabbagetown Youth Centre, dedicated to helping kids in underserviced neighbourhoods. Call it a mixed blessing for local residents. Yes, McGuinty is shortchanging many of the children who come here. But, on the bright side, they were granted the privilege of sharing in his weekend photo op.
When times are hard, and governments must impose pain on the public, people who are already in dire circumstances need to be shielded, not targeted for additional sacrifice. That’s why McGuinty is wrong to freeze welfare rates, including for the disabled, as the cost of necessities jumps.
According to the latest Statistics Canada release, food prices rose 4.1 per cent, on a year-over-year basis, last month. Energy costs leapt 7.2 per cent in the 12 months to February. Nice time to put the freeze on folks who depend on welfare.
After all, they just got a raise. On Dec. 1 last year Ontario’s 475,000 neediest people were granted a one per cent increase — or $7 a month for an individual receiving help. It means a single mother raising two preschool kids remains 56 per cent below the poverty line.
According to McGuinty, there’s good news coming. Poor families eligible for the Ontario Child Benefit will get an additional $100 next year. He’s holding back only the second $100 that kids were supposed to receive. They’ll wait an extra year for it. Meanwhile, the change saves the government $90 million. A “tough” budget choice, indeed.
In fact, it’s easy for cash-strapped governments to target the disadvantaged; the poor don’t make big political donations and they’re too busy surviving to do much lobbying. What remains to be seen Tuesday is just how bold McGuinty will be in challenging Ontario’s real vested interests. That will show the toughness of this budget, and this premier.
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