Ontario government has failed the poor, group says
TheRecord.com – news/local
Oct. 5, 2013.
KITCHENER — A Cambridge-based anti-poverty group boycotted government talks Friday on the province’s poverty reduction strategy, saying the government has failed Ontario’s poor.
“What we need is action, not more talk,” said Lyndsey Butcher, social planner with the Social Planning Council of Cambridge and North Dumfries, which boycotted the government-hosted community consultation at Kitchener’s YWCA.
In December 2008, the Ontario government announced a poverty reduction strategy with the target of reducing child poverty by 25 per cent in five years. That target has not been met.
Prior to that, Butcher said the Cambridge group held community meetings in 2007 and the key message to the government was to raise both the minimum wage and social assistance rates to lift families out of poverty.
While initially the government implemented measures to reduce poverty such as introducing the Ontario Child Benefit allowance, Butcher said over the last couple of years, the government has chosen to take the austerity path at the expense of Ontario’s poor.
Now the government is in the midst of a second round of consultations to develop a new poverty reduction strategy.
On Friday, Kitchener Centre MPP John Milloy and Ted McKeekin, minister of community and social services, hosted a consultation session attended by about 60 community members. The news media was barred from the meeting.
Butcher said her organization chose not to participate because “we want them to implement the strategy they set out to do before moving on to a new strategy.”
For instance, the council said in a news release that the government has not raised Ontario’s minimum wage for three years and only raised welfare rates by $14 a month, a far cry from the $100 increase recommended by commissioners Frances Larkin and Munir Sheikh in their 2012 review of social assistance programs.
“We are waiting to see the provincial government take some action on wages and income assistance rates,” Butcher said.
In an interview, McKeekin said his preference is to raise social assistance rates and index them to the cost of living.
“The biggest challenge I have is convincing my colleagues on all sides of the legislative assembly … about the importance of social assistance and social justice issues,” said the Liberal member for the riding of Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale.
“It’s a tough sell. But we can’t function as a province at our best until all people … are at their best and make their contribution,” said McKeekin, a social worker by profession.
“My biggest lament about this situation we have is that many people, through no fault of their own, are deprived of that opportunity and I’m bound and determined to change that.”
He said the province has made some strides, namely taking 97,000 children and their families out of poverty, but more work needs to be done.
Milloy said he’s disappointed that the Cambridge group chose not to participate.
“There is nothing sugar-coated about these sessions,” said the former minister of community and social services. “If they are disappointed about what the government has done … they were welcome to come and tell us.”
“I am disappointed that they didn’t want this dialogue,” said Milloy, who is now government house leader.
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