The new Premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne, has just declared that she would like to be known as the "social justice premier." She lends hope that serious consideration will be given to the recommendations outlined in the report, "Brighter Prospects: Transforming Social Assistance in Ontario," of the Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario. On March 8th, 2013, cross-community partners in Poverty Free Ontario (PFO) convened in Toronto and discussed a good faith start to a social justice agenda. A Six Point Plan for a Social Justice Agenda was developed. Premier Wynne is urged to incorporate these six measures into the upcoming provincial budget. These are six practical, achievable steps that will positively impact the lives of Ontarians living in poverty. I wish to share this six-point plan with you as Halton continues to work for poverty alleviation.
- Joey Edwardh
Since assuming leadership of the Ontario Government, Premier Kathleen Wynne has not been very specific about her social justice agenda. The Throne Speech in March included only a few brief references to affordable housing and several recommendations from the recent social assistance reform report by Commissioners Lankin and Sheikh were mentioned. Besides generally referring to an interest in helping social assistance recipients move into employment, the only specific recommendation that the Premier has suggested she would act on is the $200 per month earnings exemption for working social assistance recipients before the claw back on earnings would be implemented.
Neither NDP nor Progressive Conservative opposition party leaders have shown any greater interest in serious social justice action to this point. PC leader Tim Hudak's policy proposals harken back to the worst visions of workfare and punitive practices of the Mike Harris days. Andrea Horwath (NDP) has shown little inclination to go beyond the earnings exemption recommendation in her negotiation on the spring provincial budget with the Premier. Social justice for the most vulnerable is searching for a champion among our political leadership in Ontario.
It has been almost five years since the social assistance reform was announced as one of the cornerstones of the Government's Poverty Reduction Strategy. Such lengthy research, consultation and study were not required for an earnings exemption to be the only specific measure under consideration.
The budget being delivered in April offers an opportunity for the Kathleen Wynne to show "good faith" in her expressed intention to be the "social justice premier" for all Ontarians.
Still, more than 100 Poverty Free Ontario (PFO) leaders from more than 20 communities across Ontario came together in Toronto on March 8. They discussed and endorsed the following Six Point Plan for a Social Justice Agenda:
1. It is fitting to footnote here that Commissioners Lankin and Sheikh's recommendation for the $200 earnings exemption in their report actually proposes that the clawback on additional earnings be increased from the current 50% to 57% — not indicated in the body of their report but in footnote #46 on page 73, reducing the benefit to recipients of even this minimal measure of reform.
Poverty Free Ontario's "Bulletin #11 – PFO's Six Point Plan for Action on Poverty Eradication" can be found at http://www.povertyfreeontario.ca
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