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Fair Elections Act Impact Assessment on Hamilton

The following was a presentation to the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction’s full membership on April 11th 2014.  The presentation and follow-up group exercise, led to a unanimous decision by those present to further engage Hamiltonians in the issue.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the right to vote to every citizen in Canada who is 18 years and older. The removal of Vouch Voting from the Fair Elections Act will exclude some Hamiltonians in poverty from exercising this right and leave many more potentially losing it.  The risk of being disenfranchised particularly affects seniors, students, the disabled, aboriginals and low-income Canadians from all walks of life.

Vouch voting is not solely about proving identity but also proving where they live. The removal of vouch voting alone could affect the approximately 4000 individual men and women who use in an emergency shelter in Hamilton each year, the estimated 3000 to 6500 women alone who live in hidden homelessness, the 5,300 Hamilton households with an active application for the affordable housing waitlist,  the 62% of 18,000 food bank users who state they would lose their homes if they didn’t have a food bank, 46% of low-income renters at high risk of homelessness, currently paying more than 50% of their incomes on housing.

This is not a supposition.  Studies have found that low-income families move much more frequently than the general population.  The reasons for moving vary due to  unplanned or involuntary circumstances occur, such as affordability, illness and/or job loss, eviction or foreclosure. If these occur 4 to 6 weeks before an election, they may lose their ability to provide proof of residence.  For people who are homeless, absolute or hidden, they cannot provide proof of residence at all.  They can and do experience more theft on average, resulting in stolen identification or sometimes misplace their personal identification because of housing instability.

For some, one of the following, issued by the responsible authority of a shelter, soup kitchen, student/senior residence, could in theory, be used as identification if they organizations are willing to do so: Attestation of Residence, Letter of Stay, Admission Form.  Likewise for those people living in alternative facilities in Hamilton; ranging from YMCA/YWCA, nursing homes (especially those who have bills sent to family members), second level lodging, addictions programs, to long term hospital stay.  These examples rely on a third party to provide the necessary documentation which is not always easy.

Furthermore, the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction has always acknowledged the link between poverty and social inclusion; citing low voter turn out in low income areas to be of concern.  With the removal of Elections Canada’s ability to provide non-partisan materials to teachers and community organizations about the democratic system and the importance of voting, voter turn out will further erode. An Elections Canada evaluation of its student vote program, showed that it had increased students’ knowledge of politics and the electoral progress.  It could also affect access to information about our political process for new Canadians.

The right to vote is at the very heart of democracy. The disenfranchisement of any Canadian in this process is a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  Any allowed erosion of that Charter challenges the freedoms of us all.  For this reason, the changes proposed Fair Elections Act should be important to Roundtable members, as it should to all Hamiltonians.

Speech to the Ontario Minister of Finance 2014

Speech made February 10th, 2014 at Wilfred Laurier University (Brantford) to the Ontario Minister of Finance, Charles Sousa regarding considerations for the 2014 Ontario Budget

Good afternoon Minister Sousa and greetings on behalf of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction.  My name is Laura Cattari and I am a member of the Roundtable’s Operational Steering Committee and Chair of it’s Social Assistance Reform Work Group.

Social Assistance in Ontario was set up as a method of last resort, yet the current reality is that this is the only option for many.  Due to precarious employment, lack of long term benefits, less hours and the current structure of EI, community members are left with turning with more frequency and longer duration to provincial benefits.

Given that reality, we recommend the Government of Ontario immediately provide a $100 increase in social assistance rates and commit to establish an arms-length social assistance rates board to assess adequacy, based on the actual cost of living in regions across Ontario.  We also ask that you immediately increase Personal Needs Allowance for residents of residential care facilities to $200 a month and index the PNA to enable residents to live with dignity.

In terms of employment itself, the provincial poverty reduction strategy adopted a before tax low-income measure (LIM) as a poverty threshold; even with an increase of 75 cents this June, minimum wage workers, working an elusive 35 hours a week earns less than LIM.   We recommend the Government of Ontario set minimum wage at 10% above LIM and index annually, as no one should work full-time and live in poverty

The rise of precarious employment in Ontario has meant a significant loss in steady wages, regular hours, traditional benefits, opportunity for advancement, collective representation and an increase in worker exploitation. We cannot stress enough the need to acknowledge and respond to the socio-economic impact of allowing this trend to continue.

We recommend the Government of Ontario establish a Commission on Precarious Employment, in follow up to the PEPSO report, consulting across the province and making recommendations.

Likewise, systemic supports and benefits are needed provincially to make up for the changes in employment practice.  We recommend the Government of Ontario look to addressing the following:

  • The establishment of universal health care coverage (drug, dental and vision care) for all low income individuals.
  • Further provisioning of affordable child care to eliminate wait lists.
  • Regional transit program subsidies that address low income individuals.
  • Adopting a universally mandatory nutritious food program for all school aged children.
  • Pursuing an innovative affordable housing strategy that addresses minimum wage and social assistance rates.
  • And reversing the 50% funding cut made when Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit was transferred to Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing for consolidation, ensuring access to housing and lessening eviction rates.

I realize this list comes to you with little explanation.  A more comprehensive submission will be made this week.  If you have any questions in particular right now.  I’d be happy to answer them.

Thank you.

Presentation to the Ontario Minister of Finance

Presentation to Ontario Finance Minister, Charles Sousa, by the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction’s Social Assistance Reform Work Group Co-Chair, Laura Cattari: April 2nd, 2013

“My name is Laura Cattari. I am Co-Chair of the Social Assistance Reform Work Group for the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction. I am leading the sub-group on Social Assistance Reform implementation.

I am here to say all budget funding to social assistance must reflect the reality that there is nothing left to take away from recipients.

The Commissioner’s recommendations in Brighter Prospects calls for an immediate increase of a $100 for single Ontario Works recipients, we say without eliminating the Special Diet Allowance before new basic rates being established. The effect of it’s elimination would mean higher health care costs for the province.

We ask you allow recipients retention of the first 200 dollars of earnings monthly and increases in their asset limits. This allows for a greater level of personal solvency, making the transition from poverty to prosperity smoother and more sustainable.

We call for the immediate reinstatement of Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefits and Discretionary Benefits. The regressive move in last year’s budget is in direct opposition to the Commissioner’s recommendation of more universal supports. Homelessness costs you far more than providing these benefits. Lost productivity costs us far more than fixing teeth.

The dialogue birthed from the Commissioner’s process should not end there. We call on this budget to include the creation of an office of oversight for reforms and poverty reduction: an arms-length body, inclusive of the community, employers and those of lived experience with the system. Better still, a rates board composed of the same, to determine evidence based rates that reflect an adequate standard of living, as proposed in Bill 235, presented in 2007 by the Honourable Minister Ted McMeekin.

There is an investment cost to this. The reality of creating this vision needs to be founded in a larger context; encompassing policy and spending far beyond the scope of a single ministry. The costing of social assistance and sought after savings, must include costs to other ministries that occur while keeping individuals in sustained poverty.

Investing in recipients sees greater returns than infrastructure spending. This is totally measurable. Dr Kubursi, of Econometrics Research Limited found in Hamilton alone the stimulus effects of social assistance payments averaged 2.33 for every dollar spent, 39% of this is recovered in taxes. In comparison, infrastructure spending is pegged at an average 1.8 stimulus.

Yes, I am speaking of stimulus spending. An IMF report released last January cites global austerity measures as an error in judgement. Every dollar in austerity cuts costs us a $1.50 in GDP.

We cannot slash our way to better health; physically, socially or economically. It is our hope you consider this in your budget deliberations.”

1. Bill 235, Ontario Social Assistance Rates Act, 2007
2. Dr. Kubursi’s report, The Economic Impact of Social Assistance in Hamilton
3. Quote from the Wall Street Journal blog entry on January 3rd, 2013 entitled, IMF Details Errors in Calling for Austerity

“The International Monetary Fund is revising its metrics on how fast governments should cut their budgets, with the IMF’s top economist making the case that Europe’s fiscal diets were too severe.

In a new paper published Thursday, IMF Economic Counsellor Olivier Blanchard and research-department economist Daniel Leigh show the IMF recommended slashing budgets too fast early in the euro crisis, starving many economies of much-needed growth.

In “Growth Forecast Errors and Fiscal Multipliers,” Messrs. Blanchard and Leigh calculate IMF and European economists underestimated the euro-for-euro effect of cutting government budgets. While economists expected that cutting a euro from the budget would cost around 50 cents in lost growth, the actual impact was more like 1.50 per euro.”

Link the the actual IMF Working Paper.