McGuinty pushed on poverty

Posted on September 8, 2008 in Debates, Equality Debates, Inclusion Debates, Social Security Debates – Ontario – McGuinty pushed on poverty: Coalition leader calls for long-term plan with dedicated funding, not just quick fixes
September 08, 2008. Laurie Monsebraaten, Staff Reporter

Michael Creek isn’t letting Ontario use the softening economy as an excuse to delay plans to fight poverty.

“In good times we are ignored and in bad times we’re told there’s no money. But a year ago the premier made a promise and we’re going to hold him to it,” said Creek, 50, who slipped into poverty 13 years ago when he became ill with cancer.

Creek, who has since landed a job helping other impoverished people advocate for change, is now a leader for the 25 in 5 Network for Poverty Reduction, a coalition of more than 100 individuals and groups from across the province calling on the McGuinty government to cut poverty by 25 per cent in five years and by at least half in a decade.

One year after Premier Dalton McGuinty made fighting poverty a key plank in his re-election bid, the network is urging the government to act on feedback from thousands of Ontarians who participated in community meetings and consultations over the spring and summer.

The network also wants McGuinty to seize yesterday’s federal election call as an opportunity to push Ottawa to play its part in a national effort to cut poverty.

“The economic challenges that have recently beset our province have served to underscore the importance of tackling poverty,” the network says in an open letter to McGuinty, to be released today as the provincial cabinet committee on poverty reduction meets for the first time since the summer recess.

“We need all hands on deck if we are going to build a sustainable path to provincial prosperity into the future,” says the letter signed by Creek and two other representatives of the network.

About 1,000 Ontarians participated in 14 invitation-only consultations last spring with Children’s Minister Deb Matthews, who chairs the poverty reduction cabinet committee. Over the summer, several thousand others attended more than 50 public gatherings across the province to discuss the strategy while the government’s website has received more than 600 submissions.

The consensus is that Ontario needs a comprehensive, long-term plan with dedicated funding, not just quick fixes, the network’s letter says. The plan must prevent and end poverty for everyone, not just children. And those who live in poverty must continue to be consulted while the strategy is implemented to ensure it is working, the letter adds.

Priorities for action include:

* A provincial jobs strategy with higher minimum wages, more access to unionization, expanded health benefits and improved labour laws to better protect temporary and contract workers.
* More generous Ontario Child Benefits and social assistance reform to ensure everyone has a livable income.
* Supportive communities that include affordable housing, early learning and child care, high quality public education and programs that help people connect.
* Measures to target high poverty rates among aboriginals, visible minorities, newcomers, single mothers and people with disabilities.

“There’s no doubt that we all have to work hard to keep the issue of poverty reduction on the political front burner with this government and with all federal parties during this election,” said network member Jacquie Maund, of Ontario Campaign 2000, a coalition focused on ending child poverty.

“Whether we have children in school, whether we are business people seeking to find skilled labour to fill jobs, whether we’re concerned about youth violence in our neighbourhoods, poverty is an issue that affects all of us,” she said. “It’s on the political agenda, we have to continue working hard to keep it there.”

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