Fund the poverty fight – Opinion/editorial – Fund the poverty fight
December 03, 2008

Child poverty has spread to the GTA’s suburban cities and is growing even faster there than it is in Toronto. Food bank use is soaring across the province, and soon the number of Ontarians depending on food handouts to survive will hit record numbers.

These, and other reports released this week, show just how much is riding on the province’s poverty reduction strategy. After a year of work, it is being unveiled tomorrow.

The wait is filled with equal parts hope that the provincial government is finally serious about fighting back the poverty that ensnares more than 1 million Ontarians and fear that the failing economy will cause the Liberals to pull their punches.

Premier Dalton McGuinty delivered a mixed message in the Legislature yesterday. In one breath, he said: “We are going to reach far.” And in the next: “We’ll do the best that we can given our circumstances.”

When the Liberals first came to power in 2003, they faced a $5.6 billion deficit. That didn’t stop McGuinty from moving on his promise to invest in education or tackling problems in health care. Today’s $500 million deficit, and the challenging economic times ahead, shouldn’t stop him from keeping his promise to the poor.

It also makes sense for economic reasons. “In the short term, increased support for the working poor and other low-income households provides the most powerful economic stimulus to Ontario,” economist Hugh Mackenzie argues in a report for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. That’s because the poor don’t save extra money; they spend it.

Longer term, the benefits are even greater. Poverty drives up health care and social service costs and leads to more crime and lost taxes.

Tomorrow, Ontario is expected to make Canadian history by being the first province to set firm targets for poverty reduction. But acknowledging the poor among us and the need to help them is just the first step. Putting the resources in place to make it happen quickly is what’s really needed.

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