Ontario’s embarrassing social decline

LFPress.com – news/Ontario
August 31, 2012.   Joe Barkovich, The Tribune

This is a good news, bad news story.

First the good news: kNOw Poverty, a lobby group for anti-poverty activists in Welland, is being re-started.

Now the bad news: Ontario, once the richest province, leads in poverty increases and is last in social program funding, says a report released this week.

The good news about kNOw Poverty was shared recently by Paul Turner, one of the local community’s most respected voices on poverty issues.

I hail the return of kNOw Poverty. When active a few years ago, it moved local poverty issues from the back to the front burner and it made poverty a higher-profile issue in election campaigns than in the past by tweaking our social consciences through words and actions.

The bad news is found in the report, Falling Behind: Ontario’s Backslide into Widening Inequality, Growing Poverty and Cuts to Social Programs, released on Wednesday by the Ontario Common Front, a coalition of community groups, labour unions and students.

Here’s a pertinent excerpt: “The fact that incomes are becoming so skewered in favour of the wealthy — that almost half of the population of an entire generation now finds itself falling behind — these are the most important issues of our times. Yet there has been little debate among mainstream political parties nor in most of the media.”

It’s must-read material for Labour Day weekend. Remember Labour Day, when it was more than just part of the last long weekend of summer?

This is not the first report to comment on unemployment, income disparity, social assistance and other key indicators. Nor will it be the last.

But it should make us shudder and whine out of embarrassment at the finding that “Ontario has sunk to last place in Canada when measured against every important social indicator,” says a news release about the report.

Last place.

Tenth out of 10.

According to the report’s findings:

• 40% of Ontarians, about 600,000 families, are struggling with incomes that are stagnant or declining;

• Ontario funds all its social programs — from health care to education — at the lowest rate in Canada;

• While poverty rates fell in five provinces, Ontario had the second highest increase in poverty rates and intensity, leaving 393,000 children in poverty, or one out of seven;

• Ontarians pay the highest school fees, out-of-pocket health care fees and tuition fees in the country while;

• Ontario has led Canada on cuts to corporate and incomes taxes.

Whatever has happened to good ol’ Ontari-ari-ario?

Maybe this comes as little or no surprise to the thousands of people who lost high paying, blue collar industrial jobs in Welland in the past 20 years or so and know through lived experience what this entails and to those struggling to find well-paying jobs, jobs that pay a living wage in order to lift themselves up from ranks of the unemployed and underemployed.

Because it sets the stage for the harsh realities cited in this report, this introduction can’t go by not mentioned in print:

“Thirteen million of the most highly educated people in the world call Ontario home. Endowed with rich natural resources, vast tracts of farmlands, quadrillions of litres of fresh water and an industrial hub that stretches across its southern reaches; it is almost inconceivable that this province houses a generation of residents who are experiencing the largest increase in inequality in the province’s history.

“Yet the evidence is indisputable. Over the last generation, Ontario is falling behind the rest of Canada in terms of growing poverty, increasing inequality and flagging financial support for vital social programs.”

Quick reference fact sheets about the report are topped with headlines such as: Ontario’s Growing Income Inequality, The Richest and Getting Richer … while 40% of Ontario’s families with children are falling behind; Working Harder … is not paying off for almost half of Ontario’s families with children; Women and the Income Gap; Colour-Coded Inequality; Economic Insecurity Among Seniors; and Child Poverty is Increasing.

It isn’t a so-called “fun read.”

It takes the happy-go-lucky glint off Labour Day for providing the last long weekend of the summer. For too many people, there isn’t much if anything to be happy about in terms of improving lives and being able to give their children better lives.

But compilations of statistics and numbers, by themselves, can be tedious and boring, some time meaningless. Next week we will put “human faces” to some of these statistics and findings and try to replace numbers with real life experiences.

Poverty should not be a growth industry in our local communities.

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