Poor to get dental plan

TheStar.com – Ontario – Poor to get dental plan
Premier’s agenda focuses on poverty, economy, education and climate change
November 29, 2007
Robert Benzie, Queen’s Park Bureau Chief

Fighting poverty will be a cornerstone of today’s throne speech and Premier Dalton McGuinty has conscripted his most powerful ministers to ensure the poor are championed at Queen’s Park.

McGuinty is giving his anti-poverty initiative teeth with a $45 million dental care plan for the working poor.

The speech, entitled “Moving Forward The Ontario Way,” will outline an agenda focused on improving life for the province’s needy, curbing climate change and bolstering public education – all while strengthening the economy.

Sources say the Speech from the Throne, to be delivered by Lieutenant-Governor David Onley in the Legislature today at 2 p.m., will repeat the goal of poverty-reduction targets in 2008, promise additional measures for combating child poverty and highlight the Liberals’ denticare plan unveiled during the election campaign.

McGuinty gave reporters yesterday the sweeping scope of the poverty crusade.

“This is a huge issue for us,” he said. “A lot of the hard work will consist of properly defining the indicators and then putting in place targets.”

The new dental program – developed after an investigation into the problem by the Star’s Moira Welsh earlier this year – will help about 500,000 low-income workers unable to afford private insurance coverage for their teeth.

It will cover preventive care, including fluoride treatments and cleanings by dental hygienists, and fillings and extractions by dentists.

McGuinty has appointed Health Minister George Smitherman; Finance Minister Dwight Duncan; Education Minister Kathleen Wynne; Municipal Affairs Minister Jim Watson; Training, Colleges and Universities Minister John Milloy; Attorney General Chris Bentley and Citizenship and Immigration Minister Michael Chan to a new anti-poverty cabinet committee led by Children and Youth Services Minister Deb Matthews.

Insiders say the composition of the influential working group proves the Liberals plan a broad-based approach with, for example, Milloy focusing on apprenticeships and job training and Watson on new affordable housing.

The government is expected to tout “creative financial options” to build non-profit and co-operative housing and launch special programs with banks to make it easier for low-income Ontarians to save for a house.

McGuinty, who has travelled to the United Kingdom to study the work of the Labour government there, said he was “taking a very close look” at poverty targets set by former British prime minister Tony Blair.

“I’m a fan of targets – we’ve established them for class sizes and (medical) wait times and test scores,” the premier said.

In 1999, Blair vowed to end child poverty by 2020 and cut it from 4.1 million kids to 3.1 million by 2005.

In the end, child poverty in Britain fell by 700,000. Activists said the aggressive goal spurred action even if the target was missed by 300,000.

Here at home, many anti-poverty groups have urged the province to commit to reduce poverty by at least 25 per cent within the next five years and 50 per cent within the next 10 years.

McGuinty noted that improving the lot of Ontario’s poor is also beneficial to the province’s economy because he needs “all hands on deck” to compete with jurisdictions around the globe.

“We need everybody at their best if we’re going to succeed both as a society and as an economy,” he said, adding Ontario’s economic outlook faces “challenges” due to a strong Canadian dollar that is hurting manufacturers here.

His moves come after a United Way report released Monday concluded Toronto is the poverty capital of Canada with 30 per cent of families considered poor.

While NDP Leader Howard Hampton has long been urging policies to help the least fortunate in society, he expressed doubt that the Liberals’ plan will do much.

“I expect a repetition of promises that have already been broken several times. I think we will see many of the things that were promised in the past and haven’t happened,” said Hampton.

“If that’s all there is, it will be a disappointing throne speech,” he said.

Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory, who has to watch the speech on TV because he failed to win a seat in the Oct. 10 election, urged McGuinty to focus on jobs.

“Ontario’s economy isn’t the well-oiled machine it once was,” warned Tory.

“Empty words and empty promises won’t fix that. We need to see a real economic plan and some concrete action coming out of the throne speech.”

In the 107-seat Legislature, the Liberals hold 71 seats, the Conservatives 26 and the New Democrats have 10.

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