New provincial law targets poverty fight
TheStar.com – Ontario – New provincial law targets poverty fight: Anti-poverty bill features ’25-in-5′ vow
February 25, 2009. Robert Benzie, QUEEN’S PARK BUREAU CHIEF
The Ontario government will enshrine in law its goal of reducing child poverty by 25 per cent within five years with new legislation being introduced today.
“If we’re going to compete as a province, we need all of us to be at our best. And that includes ensuring kids growing up in poverty have a fair shot at opportunity and success,” a senior government official said last night.
With the bill, which the governing Liberals hope will not be easily undone by any future administration, the government is committing to lift about 90,000 Ontario children out of poverty by 2014.
There are more than 1 million poor Ontarians, including one of every nine children and teenagers.
With studies suggesting poverty in Ontario is costing the federal and provincial treasuries between $10.4 billion and $13.1 billion annually, Premier Dalton McGuinty has argued there is an economic imperative to tackling the problem.
“There is no shortage of evidence that if we don’t address these problems in the early years the costs will only be greater later on,” McGuinty said last December.
Indeed, it has been estimated that provincial coffers would gain $1.3 billion to $1.6 billion in additional income tax revenue each year if child poverty were eliminated.
In real terms, poverty costs every Ontario household between $2,299 and $2,895 annually.
As the Liberals scramble to fight a global recession that is crippling Ontario’s manufacturing-reliant economy, McGuinty is striving to keep his ambitious poverty-reduction strategy on the front-burner.
To that end, sources told the Star that Children and Youth Services Minister Deb Matthews will introduce the much-anticipated bill with dozens of anti-poverty activists watching from the visitors’ gallery in the Legislature.
Last December, the government outlined its war on poverty with an in-depth report entitled Breaking The Cycle.
That 45-page review of a problem that Matthews and McGuinty have repeatedly warned is undermining Ontario’s economic success is the blueprint for today’s legislation.
To achieve the target of cutting child poverty by one-quarter in such a short time, the Liberals have already undertaken a slew of measures, including annual increases to the minimum wage and a $230 million boost to the Ontario Child Benefit that helps 1.3 million lower-income families with an annual stipend of $1,310 within five years, among other initiatives.
But Queen’s Park also needs $1.5 billion in increased child and working tax benefits from the federal government to reach its goal.
The provincial Liberals believe the vastly improved relations between McGuinty and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose Conservatives need to make political gains in Ontario if they are ever to form a majority government, could lead to more money from Ottawa.
McGuinty has confidently pointed out that it’s a case of “enlightened self-interest” to help poor children become productive, taxpaying citizens.
“We will do our part,” the premier said when the Breaking The Cycle report was released.
“There will be annual measurements taken that will be public. And there will be a focused strategy in place to help us achieve our targets,” he said.
Although the targets will have the force of law, it is unclear what penalties would await any scofflaw government beyond the humiliation of bad publicity.