The Ford government says it’s committed to poverty reduction. That’s hard to believe

Posted on December 22, 2020 in Social Security Debates

Source: — Authors: – Opinion/Editorials

Hospitals are sounding alarm bells over their ability to cope with rapidly rising COVID cases, schools are being told to prepare for the possibility that doors won’t reopen in January, and we’re facing tighter restrictions to stave off a pandemic Christmas disaster.

Right in the middle of all this, the Ford government, with absolutely no fanfare or advance warning, decided last week to announce its plan to reduce poverty.

It wasn’t quite the late Friday news dump that governments routinely employ for announcements they hope will fly under the radar, but it wasn’t that far off either.

Poverty reduction is “a priority for our government,” says Todd Smith, minister of children, community and social services.

But, really, it’s hard to see that.

Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives want Ontarians to believe their five-year poverty reduction strategy will “create the conditions to reduce poverty by connecting people with good jobs,” “enabling access to education” and by “making life more affordable.”

But this is the government that killed the planned rise to $15 in the minimum wage as soon as it was elected. It also rolled back two-paid sick days for all workers, equal pay for exploited temporary agency workers and other measures to protect precarious workers from being misclassified and stripped of their labour rights.

How does any of that connect people with “good jobs”?

It doesn’t. And yet the government had the gall to package those regressive moves in a piece of legislation it called the “Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act.”

The government cut funding for specialized school programs that provided after-school jobs for needy teens, classroom tutors and supports for racialized youth, calling it “wasteful spending.” It also eliminated free university and college tuition for low-income students as part of its push to trim a deficit that the government itself inflated through questionable accounting practices.

How do those cuts provide “access to education” for those who need it to escape family poverty?

Ford broke an election promise by axing the basic income pilot project half way through its three-year study to determine whether providing a little more money upfront without any strings or red-tape would result in better outcomes for low-income Ontarians — and produce savings for the government in other areas, such as health care.

His government not only wasted a valuable opportunity to actually learn something important, it unceremoniously dumped thousands of Ontarians, who participated in the pilot in good faith, back into abject poverty.

Soon after coming to power in 2018, the government also cut in half a planned 3-per-cent increase to social assistance.

How do those punitive measure make life “more affordable” for Ontarians who are living in the deepest poverty?

They don’t. But, quite appallingly, the minister at the time managed to claim those were “compassionate” moves.

Making people who are already living in deep poverty even more miserable is not compassionate, nor does it provide a decent foundation from which to lift people off government supports and out of poverty.

So, Todd Smith can say poverty reduction is a government priority all he wants. And he can say, as he did, that the pandemic crisis, which has disproportionately affected low-wage workers, women and racialized worker, has further demonstrated the importance of tackling poverty.

But the Ford government has a history on this issue and it’s not at all good.

It will take a lot more than quietly dropping a five-year poverty reduction strategy on a day most Ontarians are focused on how to get through the next few weeks of the pandemic to convince anyone that this government is ready to change its tune.

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