Welcome boost for poverty bill

TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorial – Welcome boost for poverty bill
May 07, 2009

It is significant that a bill committing the Ontario government to a plan to reduce poverty was passed with all-party support in the Legislature yesterday. It suggests there is widespread agreement among the politicians that it is no longer acceptable – either morally or economically – to leave more than a million Ontarians in poverty.

That acknowledgement – and the law now on the books – is a wonderful beginning. But it is just a beginning.

We ought not to forget that in 1989 our federal politicians voted unanimously to “achieve the goal of eliminating poverty among Canadian children by the year 2000.” Sadly, two decades after that resolution, the number of poor children is nearly the same.

The new provincial law requires the province to have a strategy “that reflects Ontario’s aspiration to be a leading jurisdiction in reducing poverty; and that is guided by the vision of a province where every person has the opportunity to achieve his or her full potential.”

Translating those words into dramatic improvements for the poor will require the provincial government to do as much as possible, not as little as it can get away with, to meet the goal. It is particularly encouraging, then, that the opposition parties are both pressing the government to commit significant dollars to the poverty fight.

Eyebrows may legitimately be raised over the Conservatives’ depth of commitment to poverty reduction, but MPP Julia Munro hit the right notes during debate in the Legislature: “Fighting poverty does not take legislation. It takes political will, good research and it takes money.”

Poverty reduction requires housing that people can afford; clearer paths off welfare for those who can work; welfare rates that provide a life with some dignity for those who remain in need of it; better education and training opportunities for those left behind; affordable daycare so that low-income parents can join the workforce; and good jobs and labour laws for them when they get there.

NDP MPP Michael Prue summed it up nicely: “This bill cannot stand alone; it will never stand alone.”

Deb Matthews, the minister responsible for the poverty file, deserves applause for keeping the issue alive in the face of an economic downturn. With all parties onside, the less fortunate among us may finally have something to celebrate.

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