Ontario poor still waiting for strategy

TheStar.com – Ontario – Ontario poor still waiting for strategy: McGuinty accused of ‘abandoning’ people in need by hinting weak economy could slow poverty plan
September 25, 2008. Kerry Gillespie, Queen’s Park Bureau

Premier Dalton McGuinty says he’s absolutely committed to creating a plan to help the 1.3 million Ontarians who live in poverty – he’s just not saying when his government will act on it.

“The issue is not whether we go ahead with the strategy, it’s how quickly we can move on this particular strategy given our financial challenges,” McGuinty said yesterday, referring to his pre-election promise to release, by the end of the year, a comprehensive plan to reduce poverty in Ontario.

Josephine Grey isn’t impressed by the distinction.

“Talking about putting a plan in place without implementing it is basically talking about a lot of hot air,” said Grey, a Toronto grandmother struggling to escape poverty and co-chair of the Ontario Coalition for Social Justice.

“Obviously, when we’re looking at an economic downturn, we’re losing jobs across the province, people are struggling in rural areas, child poverty has got to the point where it’s 1 in 4 in Toronto, it’s reaching crisis portions.

“And here he is talking about pulling back and abandoning the people who are most in need at a time when help is most needed,” said Grey, who was at Queen’s Park where the NDP released its report on poverty meetings held across the province this past summer.

More than 400 people attended the NDP’s eight public meetings on poverty and income security, and access to affordable housing topped their list of concerns, Beaches-East York MPP Michael Prue said.

Welfare rates must be raised so people can afford to eat properly and take care of themselves; minimum wage needs to go up so a full-time job actually means an end to poverty; and more good quality, affordable housing is needed, the report states.

Children and Youth Services Minister Deb Matthews, who chairs the committee developing the poverty-reduction strategy – and targets to measure the government’s progress – said she’s sorry the poor feel abandoned because it’s not true.

“We’re as committed as ever,” Matthews said yesterday.

Noting that the Liberals were elected on a platform that included not running a deficit, she said some improvements will be immediate regardless of the economy.

“Not everything we need to do costs money,” Matthews said, referring to the myriad rules governing social services that can end up penalizing the poor.

“There’s a sense of urgency that I feel, that our members feel, that the premier feels. In terms of dollars we have to live within our reality, but are there things we can do right away? Absolutely,” she said.

Like what?

“I’m going to let the strategy unfold in due course.”

Matthews began work on the plan shortly after the election last October and held consultation meetings through the summer, but has not released any reports or findings.

That’s part of why advocates are trying to read between the lines and figure out just what McGuinty’s recent statement – that progress on implementing the poverty-reduction plan “will likely” be slower than expected – really means.

Advocates want a poverty-reduction target of at least 25 per cent in five years and 50 per cent in 10 – for everyone, not just children.

By focusing on sustainable employment, livable income support and community investment, it can be done, according to the 25 in 5 Network for Poverty Reduction, a coalition of more than 100 individuals and groups.

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