Ontario’s Poverty Reduction Strategy: Still missing a federal partner

Posted on in Social Security Debates

http://behindthenumbers.ca – Federal Election/Ontario/Poverty&Income Inequality
September 3, 2015.   Kaylie Tiessen

#elxn42’s [federal election #42’s] campaign promises on income inequality have, so far, largely focused on the middle class.

While this may be politically expedient (for instance, 88% of respondents polled by Pollara consider themselves to be either middle class or working class), let’s not forget about the importance of alleviating poverty across the country — and the glaring need for federal leadership on this file.

Ontario began unfolding its plan to reduce poverty in 2008. And today marks the first anniversary of the province’s announcement that it is committed to a second poverty reduction strategy, including the bold and welcome commitment to end homelessness in Ontario.

Early data showed that the first strategy made a difference, reducing child poverty by 9% in the first three years.

The province made some big investments during the initial years of that first strategy: increasing the Ontario Child Benefit, introducing full-day kindergarten for four- and five-year-olds, and increased funding for child care. The strategy included labour market policies like minimum wage increases and investing in the youth jobs strategy.

The recession hit the same year that the first strategy was introduced — and with it came an increase in unemployment and an acceleration of precarious and unstable work across the province. Those early investments in poverty reduction made a difference during the worst of the recession.

Ontario was arguably hit hardest by these trends and the shift from manufacturing to other industries. While the strategy made early dents in the poverty rate (it dropped to 15.1% in 2011) by 2013 it was back up to 15.6% — almost as high as it was in 2008 and higher than it was before the recession. Further progress on poverty reduction stalled as the province entered in budget austerity mode, putting the brakes on some aspects of its strategy.
That shift away from manufacturing employment has had a huge effect on local labour markets across the province — chipping away at solid, middle-class jobs and leaving a lot more Ontarians in precarious situations.

My home town of Leamington is one of those Ontario communities hurting from the loss of a large, international employer and it’s being reflected in the province’s poverty numbers: Leamington has the highest poverty rate in the province at 32.8%. Hawkesbury comes in second worst at 20.5%. Toronto comes in next with a poverty rate of 18.6% — that’s higher than pre-recession levels. Another important fact: in 2013 more than 20% of all people living on low-income lived in Toronto.

See Chart: http://behindthenumbers.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/poverty-graphic-4.jpg
Source: Statistics Canada, T1FF, CANSIM 111-0015

Nationally, the poverty rate sits at 14.6% — down slightly from its pre-recession rate of 14.9%. Across the country, 10 out of 13 provinces and territories have implemented poverty reduction strategies over the last number of years. While they should be doing more, they are, in fairness, missing a committed federal partner.

A comprehensive federal poverty reduction plan was developed in 2010 by the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities but no concrete action has been taken to implement that plan. Instead we’ve seen the government double down on skills development and labour market connections, with very little recognition that the nature of work is changing or that our social safety net has eroded.

This lack of federal leadership on poverty reduction has not gone unnoticed by the international community: Canada has been called out on its human rights record a couple of times in the past few years, including in 2013, when the UN special envoy on the right to food found that Canada is failing indigenous people and the poor.

But, still, no federal action.

Most provinces and territories have been taking steps to do their part. It’s time the federal government did the same. Poverty reduction deserves full consideration during this year’s federal election campaign.

For more information about what the federal government could do, visit goodforcanada.ca – CCPA’s platform to end income inequality across the country.

Kaylie Tiessen is an economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ Ontario Office.

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One Response to “Ontario’s Poverty Reduction Strategy: Still missing a federal partner”

  1. Paul Pasanen says:

    It is really well past time for the Federal government to step up and become that necessary partner in fighting poverty in Ontario and across Canada. On November 24, 1989, the House of Commons’ unanimously resolved to “develop an immediate plan to end poverty for all in Canada.” The plan was called Campaign 2000 and the goal was to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000. It didn’t happen. Campaign 2000 offers a yearly report card complete with a comprehensive list of recommendations for the federal government that if enacted would go far in reducing child and family poverty in all the provinces. This 12 page report lists several recommendations that would go far to lessen child and family poverty across Canada and the top of the list is implementing a plan to work with all provinces and Aboriginal governments.

    The 2014 Campaign 2000 report marked the 25 year anniversary and the irony is that we are still asking for support from the Canadian government as the Federal partner in poverty reduction in Ontario as well as across the country. 25 years of asking for stronger federal support and funding for social poverty initiatives has resulted in, arguably, less federal support. High rates of child and family poverty still persist and Federal leadership is still missing. By shirking their responsibility to fund programs and by enacting economic and trade policies that decrease manufacturing and employment in our provinces the Harper government has in fact increased poverty for the citizens of this country. It is my hope that this newly elected Liberal government and their fresh new leader will be taking their responsibility towards poverty reduction programs seriously and become the active partner that has been required for over two decades. The statistics are published in the reports and the recommendations are also there. It seems all that is needed is the will and the action to implement some of the suggested steps. Then we may actually begin to see a reduction of child and family poverty in Ontario and Canada. All eyes look to the Justin Trudeau Liberals.

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