Anti-poverty plans still on track

Posted on October 28, 2008 in Governance Debates, Inclusion Debates, Social Security Debates – Ontario – Anti-poverty plans still on track: Children’s minister tells activists Ontario strategy, due for year-end release, ‘remains a high priority’
October 28, 2008. Laurie Monsebraaten, Social Justice Reporter

Ontario’s souring economy has not slowed provincial plans to release a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy by year’s end and to start work on it immediately, Children’s Minister Deb Matthews said yesterday.

“We will do everything we can to implement it as quickly as possible,” Matthews told reporters after meeting with about 300 anti-poverty activists at Queen’s Park yesterday who are urging the government not to waver on its election promise to address the issue.

“This remains a high priority for our government,” said Matthews, who chairs the province’s 15-member cabinet committee on poverty reduction. “We want an aggressive, but doable plan and that’s the work we’re doing right now.”

Matthews met with hundreds of groups and individuals over the spring and summer and received thousands of submissions. As a result, expectations are high.

“We are here today to remind the government we are not going to be satisfied with anything less than a comprehensive strategy to reduce poverty substantially for all those who are suffering, who are in need,” warned Pat Capponi, who co-ordinates an advocacy program that helps poor and homeless people push for change.

Matthews’ assurances yesterday, echoing earlier pledges by Premier Dalton McGuinty and Finance Minister Dwight Duncan, came as some relief to the 25 in 5: Network for Poverty Reduction, which organized yesterday’s forum. But with a growing global recession, the coalition of more than 450 organizations and individuals who want the government to cut poverty by 25 per cent in five years, worries the Liberal plan will lack the bold action needed for real progress.

The group released an Environics Poll commissioned by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives that shows 90 per cent of Canadians would be proud if their premier took the lead in reducing poverty and that 77 per cent say a recession is all the more reason to act now.

New money for poverty reduction in the 2009 budget is among five “tests” the group said it will use to judge the strength of the Liberal plan when it is released this year.

The other tests are:

* A commitment to cut poverty by 25 per cent in five years. This would mean cutting the overall provincial poverty rate from 10 per cent to 7.5 per cent and the child poverty rate from 12 to 9 per cent. That would lift 323,000 people, including 80,000 children, out of poverty.
* Legislation to ensure the plan becomes Ontario law with annual reporting so the public can monitor the government’s progress.
* A clear poverty measure to track progress starting with an income level such as the Low Income Measure used in Europe. Under the LIM, someone is poor if they live on less than half the median income.
* Specific policies to make work pay, provide livable incomes for those unable to work, and improve community supports.

The minister didn’t respond to the tests, but she said financial commitments to cut poverty that were part of last year’s budget are safe.

“We’ll move as quickly as we can. The Ontario Child Benefit is going to be increasing because it’s already in the plan next year anyway. The minimum wage goes up next March to $9.50 an hour,” she said.

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