Liberals seek public input
TheStar.com – GTA – Liberals seek public input: Social activists welcome chance to weigh in on McGuinty strategy to reduce poverty
June 09, 2008. Laurie Monsebraaten, Social Justice Reporter
Social activists are calling it Super Monday in the provincial fight against poverty.
Toronto-area Liberals are holding three public meetings across the city this evening for the public to weigh in on the McGuinty government’s plan to draft a poverty-reduction strategy with measurable goals and timetables by year’s end.
Activists see the meetings, which are being held in ridings across the province this month, as the public’s chance to let local MPPs know there is broad backing for the effort and to bolster Liberal caucus support for a strategy with teeth.
“We want to position this as a positive leadership issue,” said Peter Clutterbuck of the Ontario Social Planning Network, which has been helping MPPs set up consultations. Clutterbuck expects at least 200 people to show up at the various Toronto meetings tonight.
“But we also want them to know we will be measuring their plan against our call to reduce poverty by 25 per cent in five years,” said Clutterbuck, who is also a member of the 25-in-5 Network for Poverty Reduction.
At a Queen’s Park forum in April, the network, a diverse coalition of groups including the City of Toronto, teachers’ federations, nurses and immigrant organizations, urged the Liberals to adopt the 25-in-5 goal and focus on three broad areas: Sustainable employment, livable income support and community investment.
“We want to encourage MPPs to move forward with this and to let them know the public is behind them â€“ everyone from faith communities, chambers of commerce, health care workers, educators as well as the community sector,” said Clutterbuck. The group hopes all cabinet ministers and key Liberal backbenchers as well as prominent opposition members will hold consultations.
The meetings with MPPs are in addition to the government’s official public consultations at 14 invitation-only gatherings with Children’s Minister Deb Matthews, who heads the government’s poverty reduction cabinet committee.
MPPs have been encouraged to consult on the strategy, Matthews said in an interview.
“I hear back very frequently from MPPs who have done consultations,” she said. “And we’re all learning. I think it’s a great education opportunity for our members and for myself to really learn more about the issues and the solutions.”
Matthews’ province-wide consultations brought her to the GTA last week with meetings in Markham and Mississauga. She’ll be in Kingston today. Her Toronto closed-door consultations include a meeting in Scarborough tomorrow and a second gathering in Rexdale next Wednesday.
“People really want â€“ and are hungry for â€“ leadership on the issue,” she said of what she’s heard at the nine meetings she’s attended so far. “They want to name the problem, understand the problem and respond to it.”
Common themes include a growing consensus that the province’s future economic health depends on everyone reaching their potential and the need to better integrate existing services, she said.
“We have a lot of supports for people … trying to move out of poverty. But they’re not delivered in a co-ordinated comprehensive, person-friendly way,” she said.
Matthews said she’s surprised she hasn’t faced more opposition to the government’s focus on children and families as its priority in fighting poverty. She’s also been struck by the near unanimous call for more neighbourhood-based services people can reach by walking.
Matthews said she has no plans to produce a report on her consultations and needs to use the summer and fall to “get to work on building the strategy.”
However, activists are posting reports on meetings with MPPs as well as other community activity related to the poverty-reduction effort on the Internet at povertywatchontario.ca.
The province’s website is growingstronger.ca.