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.