Ontario’s Poverty Reduction Plan Unveiled

Ontario Government to Reduce Child Poverty by 25% in 5 Years

The Ontario Government’s new poverty-reduction plan has attracted both praise and criticism as it aims to reduce poverty in children by 25% over the next five years.

On December 4, 2008, the Ontario government released its long-awaited $1.4 billion poverty reduction plan as promised. Entitled “Breaking the Cycle”, the timing of this release was unfortunately overshadowed by the so-called “crisis in federal Parliament” and the threat of a non-confidence vote.

Fortunately, it was still business as usual for the Ontario government. As the plan was released, it drew praise from organizations such as the Toronto United Way and the province-wide 25in5 network, a coalition of organizations that lobbied for the plan and pushed for a target of 25% reduction in poverty over the period of 5 years.

In response to concerns of organizations, the Ontario Government agreed to the 25% in five-year target, although this target was narrowed to families with children. Organizations responding to these announcements felt it was the right start and everyone looked forward to its implementation. However, the plan was short on specifics and some organizations expressed concerns about poverty affecting individuals outside of families.

While the proposal itself held few specifics, it did promise to increase the Ontario Child Benefit from the proposed maximum of $1,200 per child per year to a new maximum of $1,350. Further, it promised to create a Community Opportunities Fund that will provide resources to community groups to provide services in low-income neighborhoods, as well as to undertake an extensive review of the myriad of regulations affecting people receiving Ontario Works (OW) or Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) income.

Three small but significant changes will be immediately introduced. First, persons receiving OW/ ODSP who are enrolled in post-secondary education will now be able to keep all of their earnings and savings without it counting against their income supports, or that of their parents (if they are over the age of eighteen and still living at home). This change is significant, as currently, when students living at home are enrolled in college or university studies and receive their OSAP monies, this often puts the family’s asset levels above what is allowed, thus impacting on their parents’ continued eligibility for social assistance and/or social housing.

Second, participants who are engaged in employment assistance activities, such as looking for work or involved in a work-related course, will now be entitled to up-front child care costs. This is significant as this benefit is currently available only when one actually starts paid employment. The final change is administrative, giving those appealing benefits 30 days to ask for an internal review of their case, as opposed to the present 10 days.

While the government has not ruled poverty-reduction strategies out for other stakeholders, such as new Canadians and persons with disabilities, specific proposals for these groups were notably absent, which led to concerns expressed by the Ontario Coalition of Social Justice, ODSP Action Coalition and others, such as the Alliance for Equality for Blind Canadians.

While support for families with children is a good start, it was noted that 86% of ODSP recipients are individuals or couples without children. Other groups, such as new Canadians, aboriginals and senior citizens receiving only the public pension are also vulnerable to poverty.

With significant hikes in housing, utility and grocery costs, the real incomes of low-income persons have significantly declined. According to the ODSP Action Coalition, the maximum amount of money an individual receiving ODSP is given for housing is $454 per month. The average cost of housing in Ontario for a bachelor is $677 and for a one-bedroom, $812. This is very difficult for single individuals with disabilities to make ends meet, particularly as most of them are either unable to work or have significant barriers to the paid labor force.

Regional Development Agency For Ontario

Targets Province’s Southern End For Economic Improvement

It was announced the formation of a Regional Development Agency for Ontario by Stephen Harper - the Prime Minister. The agency’s goal is to help with the province’s economic recovery.

The new agency is to be headquartered in Kitchener, Ontario. Its goal will be to improve the fortunes of Southern Ontario because it was one of the areas hardest hit by the economic downturn.

Ontario Regional Agency Promised In January Budget

The agency named FedDev (Federal Development) Ontario was promised in January’s federal budget. It’s been given $1 billion in funding over the next five years to primarily help the area’s manufacturing industry, which has lost 200,000 jobs over the last few years.

FedDev’s purpose is to help economic development, innovation, and diversify the economy. In comments published by CBC.CA Prime Minister Stephen Harper said it was going to help area businesses take advantage of new opportunities: “The goal of this agency is helping the communities from southern Ontario, as well as the businesses and workers,  to take advantage of the new opportunities that will arise from the economic recovery.”

Minister of State Garry Goodyear is going to take responsibility for the agency. He will soon begin a tour of the area.

Kitchener Waterloo Considered Neutral Location for Headquarters

A lot has been made of the choice of Kitchener as for the agency’s headquarters, with many asking why not Toronto or elsewhere in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area)?

According to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the point of the agency was to have as little money tied up in bureaucracy as possible.

To do that, Harper desired it to be outside the Toronto area. Kitchener being around an hour west of Toronto is centrally located and connected to major area roads including the 401 filled the description. In comments published by the Canadian Press, Harper said the goal was to centrally locate the agency without using Toronto for its base: “The goal was quite simple- to have a fairly central location that wasn’t in the (Greater Toronto) area.”

The designation of holding the agency’s headquarters brings with it some prestige, although not as much as Waterloo regional chair would like. Waterloo Region Chairman Ken Seling cautioned the public to take it with a grain of salt. He wondered about the municipality’s role in the agency pointing out provincial regulations against bonusing a process in which municipalities could give financial incentives to companies who enter the area.

Premier Dalton McGuinty applauded the agency’s formation. Meanwhile, federal Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff named Guelph MP (Member of Parliament) his critic for Southern Ontario. Speaking in a party news release, Valeriote wondered why the announcement took so long: “Southern Ontario has waited six long months since it was first announced in the budget to get this agency underway- the government has wasted precious time determining a site for it while thousands of more jobs have been lost.”