December 19, 2011

Know Your Rights at Work

In it's recent report Divided We Stand: Why Inequality Keeps Rising, the OECD found that "weaker employment protection" has been one of the drivers of growing inequality.

The folks at the Workers' Action Centre have been working diligently to correct that problem in Ontario. They have pressed successfully for more provincial employment standards officers and better legislation to protect temporary agency workers.

With the Christmas and New Year's holidays approaching, the Workers' Action Centre has put out a reminder that temporary agency workers are entitled by law to paid statutory holidays. Unfortunately many such workers do not have that right respected.

If you do not already have a copy of the Workers' Action Centre resource guide, Your Rights at Work: Action Guide for Fair Employment, why not download a copy today.

December 12, 2011

Health, Not Health Care -- Time to Change the Conversation

"It is time for a new conversation about health in this province ... and very little of that conversation is about health care."
Dr. Arlene King, Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health, issued her annual report on December first (2011) -- Health, Not Health Care -- Changing the Conversation.

This one is a must read.

With Ontario dealing with a $16 billion deficit and the economy on the ropes, public policy appears straight-jacketed by the McGuinty Government's determination to hold public spending growth to no more than 1% a year -- while allowing health care and education spending to grow by 3% annually. And it appears the Government is unwilling to consider ways to bring in more revenue.

Dr. King's report offers a timely word of caution for such an approach:

December 7, 2011

Common Ground: Moving forward on poverty reduction in Ontario

On Monday (December 5, 2011) the 25 in 5 Network for Poverty Reduction released its third annual report on Ontario's poverty reduction strategy. Titled Common Ground: A Strategy for Moving Forward on Poverty Reduction, this is the first report where there has actually been data available to see what impact Ontario's poverty reduction strategy has had on poverty rates.
The lesson is that we can reduce poverty and inequality -- even in tough economic times. It takes policy commitments matched by strong public investment.
The good news is that in the first year of the Provincial Strategy,

November 30, 2011

Tax Filing, Tax Credits and Tax Refunds

Here is some useful information from the folks at the Income Security Advocacy Centre (ISAC) about changes to how tax credits and tax refunds are paid in Ontario and how you can find help filing your taxes for free if you have a low income.
The way that tax credits are paid to low-income people in Ontario is changing. This information bulletin is to tell you about these changes and what you should know before you file your tax return.

November 15, 2011

Circle of Friends

Check out this new video about MCC Ontario's Circle of Friends program. It is a great introduction to this wonderful program -- a partnership between MCCO and the YWCA-KW Mary's Place.

To learn more, visit the Circle of Friends website.

Circle of Friends is also part of Waterloo Region's STEP Home (Support to end persistent homelessness) group of programs.

October 21, 2011

What do you do when the 1% say "Raise my taxes"?

Do you remember this from the Globe and Mail (February 11, 2010)?

Ed Clark, TD Bank CEO

Last week at a conference in Florida, TD Bank CEO Ed Clark said Prime Minister Stephen Harper isn't listening to the overwhelming view of Canadian CEOs that tax increases are the best way to reduce a record deficit.
He told the conference that almost every person at a recent meeting of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives said “raise my taxes” to erase it.
Mr. Clark and all those other CEOs are part of the 1% whose incomes have soared while the incomes of the 99% have stalled. They are willing to pay more taxes. Sadly, the Prime Minister essentially told them to keep their money. Tax increases, even for the wealthiest are off the table -- even if they are willing to pay them.

Armine Yalnizyan did some number crunching on what it would mean if the federal government took up the CEOs on their offer to pay more taxes. Here are some of the things she found:
Canada’s federal personal income tax rate is 29% on all incomes above $129,000. That’s much lower than the current top rate of 35% in the U.S.—a rate that’s likely to rise. A new bracket that taxed incomes over $250,000 at 32%, lower than the 33% rate applied to that income level in the U.S., would raise about $2 billion. That could pay for the federal share of a national child-care program.
A 35% tax bracket for Canadians whose income is higher than $750,000—the U.S. top rate, except there it’s applied when your income hits $373,650—would yield $1.2 billion. That, for example, could start to address all our aging nationwide wastewater infrastructure. 
Maybe it's time to let the 1% contribute a bit more to the common good.

MCCO message to Premier McGuinty on the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty

On, October 17, the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, MCC Ontario's Executive Director Rick Cober Bauman wrote to Premier McGuinty congratulating him on his recent re-election and urging the Government to work for a poverty free Ontario.
As a new legislative session approaches, Mennonite Central Committee Ontario (MCC) urges your Government and all parties in the legislature to work for a poverty free Ontario. We also commit to work towards that same goal in MCC’s Ontario programs.
Read the entire letter here.

MCCO's E-D also wrote to opposition party leaders Tim Hudak and Andrea Horwath urging all-party work for a poverty free Ontario.

October 19, 2011

Understanding Occupy Wall Street

"We are the 99%" -- the slogan of Occupy Wall Street, a movement that has grown to hundreds of cities in dozens of countries around the world.

That slogan gets to the heart of  a serious problem -- one that even business groups and central bankers acknowledge. It is the growing inequality in incomes. Recent decades have seen the lion's share of growing income go to the richest 1% of people. That is the case not just in the US but in Canada, too.

Meanwhile, the other 99% of us have seen little or no growth in incomes -- despite working longer hours if we have work!

That is bad news.

It is bad news for all of us.

It is bad news for a host of reasons.

There is powerful evidence on the negative effects of income inequality on health, education and community safety. And not just for the poor but for everyone.

And inequality is also bad for business. Yep. You read that right -- inequality is bad for business.

Economist Armine Yalnizyan with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and an expert on Canada's growing gap, has been tapped by Canadian  Business Magazine and the Business News Network to explain why inequality is bad for business.

Here are three reasons.

1. No income growth for most households means little demand for the goods and services businesses want to sell.
2. Excessive wealth at the top leads to ever riskier investments searching for the highest rate of return. Think of the sub-prime mortgage crisis that brought the global financial system to its knees and required costly bailouts of big banks.
3. Greater household debt -- which is another financial ticking time bomb just awaiting an increase in interest rates to detonate.

It is no wonder business groups and bankers are joining the ranks of those who realize we have to do something to reduce inequality.

So how can we turn things around? How can we create greater equality and build stronger, healthier communities?

Check back for coming posts that explore solutions to the problems Occupy Wall Street has highlighted.

October 18, 2011

Advocate for Change: Bill C-10 the Safe Streets and Communities Acti

MCC's Ottawa office is lobbying for changes to Bill C-10, the Safe Streets and Communities Act. Please have a look at the information below and take a moment to let your MP know you want this bill to receive careful consideration before it becomes law.

October 13, 2011

Dollars and Sense of Solving Poverty

A major report from the National Council of Welfare argues that it makes far greater sense to invest in measures to solve poverty than it does to pay the cost of leaving millions of Canadians in poverty.

This report is about the high dollar cost we are currently paying for the consequences of poverty, and why investments to end poverty make better economic sense. There are different approaches to poverty. An approach based on short-term spending to help people in poverty get by can often carry indirect costs. It does not do a good job of reducing poverty itself.

October 4, 2011

Crunching the Numbers on the Party Platforms

Political parties make a lot of commitments on the campaign trail. How do you know if they can really deliver -- and what its going to cost?

Hugh Mackenzie from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has crunched the numbers on the party platforms. He offers a snapshot summary in a blog post based on a detailed analysis he made of the party platforms. Here is a bit of what he found.

The first thing that strikes you when you look at the three platforms is how much bigger the Conservative platform is – measured in fiscal impact – than either of the others. My analysis shows that the total value of the promises in the Conservative platform is approximately $4.4 billion, compared with the Liberals at $1.8 billion and the NDP at a net $2.9 billion. 

September 30, 2011

Take action for a poverty free Ontario

Here is a simple action you can take to urge Ontario's politicians to work for a poverty free Ontario.

Make Poverty History, a national anti-poverty coalition with a cross-Canada and international focus, has put together an easy way for you to voice your support for a poverty free Ontario to Ontario's party leaders.

September 29, 2011

Where do Ontario's political parties stand on ending poverty?

In May 2009, the Ontario Legislature voted unanimously for the Poverty Reduction Act. As the October 6, 2011 provincial election draws near, where do Ontario's political parties stand on ending poverty?

Campaign 2000 asked the parties what specific policy steps they would take to eradicate poverty in Ontario. Check out what the parties had to say. There is a short grid with the party positions. And there is a longer grid, with more detailed responses from the parties.

September 27, 2011

A Call to Action on Poverty in Ontario

We call on all Ontario’s political parties to outline their plan of action to fight poverty in our province and ensure progress for all.

Today, the 25 in 5 Network for Poverty Reduction, which played a pivotal role in getting poverty reduction on the agenda in the 2007 election, has released a Call to Action on Poverty in Ontario.

Despite the hard economic times we are facing and the reality that food banks are swamped, poverty has received little attention during the current provincial election campaign.

That is not to say that Ontarians are not committed to eradicating poverty. In fact, people across the province are calling on politicians to commit to doing just that. They are raising their voices through the Let's Vote for a Poverty Free Ontario campaign and ISARC's Faith to End Poverty initiative.

Coming on the day of the televised leaders debate, the 25 in 5 Network Call Action and the hundreds of individuals and organizations who have already endorsed it aim to get Ontario's political parties to recommit to the goal of eradicating poverty and to be specific about how they intend to do that.

September 20, 2011

Confronting Poverty on the Agenda

TVO's public affairs program The Agenda has been running a series of episodes focusing on the October 6 provincial election in Ontario.

The September 13 episode featured an (almost) all-party debate on confronting poverty

Ontario's four leading political parties were invited to send a representative. The Green, the Liberal and the New Democratic Parties each sent a representative. The Progressive Conservatives declined to send someone. Included in the conversation was Laurel Rothman, Executive Director of Campaign 2000.

September 19, 2011

Let's Vote for a Poverty Free Ontario

MCCO Program Director Wenda Adema helps me
place a Let's Vote for a Poverty Free Ontario
sign at the MCCO office in Kitchener
There is a new election sign springing up on lawns across Ontario this fall. It does not ask you to vote for a particular politician. It says Let's Vote for a Poverty Free Ontario.

It is a part of a campaign to remind all the parties in this fall's provincial election of the commitment they made on May 6, 2009 when they voted unanimously to pass Ontario's Poverty Reduction Act.

We have signs available at MCCO's 50 Kent Ave. office in Kitchener if you would like to post one on your lawn or at your place of worship.

To learn more about this campaign and find out how to participate wherever you live in Ontario visit the Poverty Free Ontario website and ISARC's Faith to End Poverty website.

And check back here in the coming days for information on what Ontario's political parties propose to do about tackling poverty in Ontario if they form the next Provincial Government.

September 8, 2011

Ontario Political Party Leaders -- In their own words

Day two of Ontario's election campaign.

Here is a sampling of video from Ontario's political parties featuring their leaders talking about their plans for Ontario.

September 7, 2011

What does the Provincial Election Mean to You?

The Ontario election is on. October 6 is voting day. Will you vote? How will you vote? What matters to you in this election?
  • Lower tuition?
  • Reduced public transit fares?
  • Forced labour for provincial prisoners?
  • Tax credits of various sorts?
These are just some of the policies on offer by different political parties.

MCC Ontario has pulled together some questions and resources for this election. 
We ask how we can build stronger, healthier and safer communities, where everyone is included and we can all live free from poverty.

Check out some of the materials that are already available and check back for more resources in the coming days.

August 29, 2011

Pay the Workers Their Wages

LOOK! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. (James 5:4)
Workers at a pizza franchise in Toronto worked for months without getting paid. When the Ministry of labour finally looked into the case, they found the employer guilty of not paying its workers. But the government failed to follow through and make sure the workers received their pay.

Workers at a pizza franchise in Toronto worked for months without getting paid. Photo: William Stadler
Door-to-door marketers for a major Canadian cable company faced a similar problem. After weeks of canvassing, they were paid only 10% of what they were owed. The company avoided responsibility by contracting out the work, and the workers were considered independent subcontractors. It turned out that neither the cable company nor the contractor were liable to pay the missing wages.
Throughout the 1990s, governments at both the federal and provincial level tried to revamp social programs to encourage more people to move into paid work. The rationale was that a job is the best route out of poverty. But for many people, that has not been the case. One reason is that some jobs just do not pay enough. That is why people across Canada have been working to achieve living wages. (See the Catalyst, spring 2007, for an article describing different approaches to achieving living wages.)
The extent of the problem
However, for many workers, the problem goes beyond low wage rates. Like those harvesters in the letter of James, many Canadian workers are not even being paid their due.
Most Canadian families are putting in a lot more paid work today than a generation ago (Yalnizyan, 2007). For the 40% of families at the bottom, that extra work has yielded a drop in income. Think of that. By 2004, those families put in nearly 8 weeks more paid work per year than their counterparts did in 1976. Yet, their real earnings fell by a whopping 35%. Working harder just to fall behind.
This drop in earnings reflects changes in the Canadian labour market (Vosko, Zukewich, & Cranford, 2003). Throughout the 1990s, more workers found themselves in part-time jobs, temporary jobs, working for temp agencies or self-employed. This kind of employment is known as precarious work. It generally pays low wages, provides few if any benefits, and offers no job security.
The problems run deeper. The pizza workers and door-to-door marketers are just two examples of a serious problem plaguing Canadian workers: unpaid wages, unpaid overtime, minimum labour standards not enforced. Many so-called independent workers, like the marketers, are not really independent at all. But, when employers contract out work to these self-employed workers, they do not have to abide by provincial or federal employment standards. They do not even have to pay the minimum wage.
As well, even for workers who are employees, labour standards are not properly enforced. It is no surprise that a large number of workers in these situations are new to Canada. They may not be familiar with Canadian labour laws, nor feel confident enough to challenge unfair labour practices. So, most complaints come only after an employee has left their job.
What can be done?
Ensuring that paid work does work for Canadian families requires not only that minimum wages be raised to a decent level, but also that employment standards be better enforced and updated to the new labour market realities (Workers’ Action Centre, 2007;Saunders, 2006) .
It requires information campaigns to make workers and employers fully aware of employment standards.
It requires governments to invest more resources into enforcement. Currently, governments deal with labour standards complaints on an individual basis, seeking redress for an employee, usually after they have left their job. Better enforcement means that individual complaints should trigger a full inspection of an employer’s labour practices to make sure other employees are treated fairly. Unannounced workplace inspections, especially in industries with high incidence of labour standard infringements, are another necessary ingredient.
Labour standards also need to be upgraded to better regulate the temp agency sector and to clarify the employment relationships between contractors and independent workers, for example.
In his review of federal labour standards, Harry Arthurs grounded his work on the following principles:
Labour standards should ensure that no matter how limited his or her bargaining power, no worker … is offered, accepts or works under conditions that Canadians would not regard as “decent.” No worker should therefore receive a wage that is insufficient to live on; be deprived of the payment of wages or benefits to which they are entitled; be subject to coercion, discrimination, indignity or unwarranted danger in the workplace; or be required to work so many hours that he or she is effectively denied a personal or civic life (Federal Labour Standards Review, 2006).
Those principles reflect the message in the letter of James. Implementing them is necessary if we hope to ensure that Canadian families receive fair recompense for the hours they work. It is the work of public justice – work required of employers, of governments and of citizens demanding justice in Canada’s workplaces.
This article first appeared The Catalyst, summer 2007, Volume 30 / Number 3
Works Cited
Federal Labour Standards Review. (2006). Fairness at Work: Federal Labour Standards for the 21st Century. Ottawa: Government of Canada.
Saunders, R. (2006, May). Making Work Pay: Findings and Recommendations. Research Highlights. Ottawa: Canadian Policy Research Networks Inc.
Vosko, L. F., Zukewich, N., &; Cranford, C. (2003, October). Precarious Jobs: A New Typology of Employment. Perspectives on Labour and Income.
Workers' Action Centre. (2007). Working on the Edge. Toronto: Workers' Action Cetner.
Yalnizyan, A. (2007). The Rich and the Rest of Us. Toronto: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternative.

August 22, 2011

Parable of the Vineyard Workers

The sun has not yet risen. You make your way to the market. Others have already gathered. Then the bosses arrive. They select the workers they need. After all the landowners have hired the day laborers they need, you and several others are left. You wait through the heat of the day in the hopes that someone will hire you.
This is the scene for a familiar parable that Jesus told his followers – the parable of the vineyard workers (Matt 20: 1-16). It is a parable about the Kingdom of God. That is the way Jesus starts the story: “The Kingdom of God is like….” It’s relevance is not so much as a metaphor about faith and heaven. It is about the Kingdom of God in the direct sense of when we pray: “… your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

August 15, 2011

There Should Be No One in Need

(This article is a chapter from the second edition of Lives in the Balance, published by the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition in 2007. Some things have changed since this article first appeared. Ontario now has a Provincial Poverty Reduction Strategy and legislation -- passed unanimously by all parties -- requiring future governments to set new poverty reduction targets with an action plan, resources and timelines to meet those targets.)

By Greg deGroot-Maggetti

After years of economic growth, Ontario’s most vulnerable citizens had by 2007 not yet received a signal from their government that it was committed to the elimination of poverty and social exclusion. It was as if successive governments were basing policy on a familiar biblical quote: “The poor you will always have with you.”
How many times have you heard that line?

August 4, 2011

Restorative Justice and Canada's Prisons

What do we do about crime? Ontario's provincial election campaign is underway and one of the issues that has already featured prominently is crime and punishment.

Here is another perspective. It is from Pierre Allard, former Director of Chaplaincy for Correctional Services Canada. He asks, "How do we bring healing when a crime has been committed?" Restorative

If you want to learn more about restorative justice and how you can get involved, check out MCC Ontario's Restorative Justice Programs.

July 22, 2011

Poverty Deserved?

By Kaylie Tiessen

Two months ago, I began working as a poverty program researcher at MCCO. At the time, I thought I knew a lot about poverty – I certainly knew all of the stereotypes that we, as a society, have for people living in poverty—I have learned, though, that I don’t know squat.

One of the most important lessons for me so far is that poverty is about a lot more than just money.

Technically speaking, I live in poverty.

July 18, 2011

Remembering Gerald Vandezande

A friend and former colleague, Gerald Vandezande, passed away on the weekend. Gerald helped to found Citizens for Public Justice, an ecumenical Christian voice for justice in Canadian public affairs. I had the good fortune to start my career in anti-poverty advocacy working with Gerald. I learned a lot just watching Gerald as he appeared before Commons committees at pre-budget hearings or in meetings with federal cabinet ministers and Members of Parliament.

Gerald had a passion for social justice that was infectious. I certainly caught the bug working with him. And Gerald had a way of drawing good things out of people to advance the cause of justice in Canada.

I have been blessed by having had the chance to know and work with Gerald. And will miss him.

July 13, 2011

Where do Ontario's political parties stand on ending poverty?

Every political party in the Ontario legislature voted for the Poverty Reduction Act that passed into law on May 6, 2009. That means whoever forms the Government after the October 6, 2011 provincial election has a commitment to take concrete steps to reduce poverty in Ontario. 

Here is what you need to know. It comes directly from the Poverty Reduction Act:

July 11, 2011

Changes needed to eradicate poverty in Ontario

What kind of changes are needed to end deep poverty and give people a real chance to get ahead?

Some of the answers can be found in the Waterloo Region Social Audit Report. The Waterloo Region aocial audit was conducted in February 2010 as part of an Ontario-wide Social Audit organized by the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition (ISARC). This report is a companion to Persistent Poverty: voices from the margins, which pulled together findings from the social audits conducted in twenty-six communities across the province.

July 8, 2011

Your Tax Dollars At Work for You

Take a walk through your day. What public services do you value most?

Is it the clean water you use to make your morning coffee or to brush your teeth ? Is it the sidewalks and roadways you use to get to work or school or to go shopping? Is it the local park or the provincial park where you love to camp? Maybe it is the school you or your children attend.

It turns out that we get a lot more from our tax dollars than we think.

July 6, 2011

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

Kaylie Tiessen is working as an Poverty Programs Research intern at Mennonite Central Committee Ontario. She has worked on a report from the ISARC Waterloo Region Social Audit, participated in meetings with federal candidates and a Talking About Jobs forum in Kitchener. This is the first in a series of reflections on her work.

Jobs, jobs, jobs – it seems like everyone I run into these days is talking about jobs.  People want a new job, a better job, any job.  People are worried about their children finding jobs.  Government is telling us that they have created jobs.  Researchers are warning us to ask what kinds of jobs have been created.  We’ve even asked candidates from the federal election what they heard most about during their campaigns.  The answer – jobs! 

June 27, 2011

Poverty Reduction Does Make a Difference

Here is an opinion editorial I had published the Toronto Star today.

The evidence is in. A lot of people in Canada took a real hit during the recent recession.

Recent figures from Statistics Canada show that poverty became a reality for more people in Canada between 2007 and 2009 .

No surprise there, really. It's hard to imagine poverty falling in the worst global recession in recent history.

But look a little closer and something more interesting appears.

June 24, 2011

MennoHomes Elmira Build

Wednesday (June 22), I was happy to attend the groundbreaking ceremony for the MennoHomes Elmira Build. This project, in Elmira, Ontario, will provide two, new affordable homes for families from the Low German Mennonite community.

When I think about the need for affordable housing, I often think of the needs in Ontario's large urban areas -- Toronto, Hamilton, Kitchener. But the reality is that the need also exists in rural communities. The families that will benefit from this new MennonHomes build are currently living in housing that is too small and in poor condition. The community outreach worker talked about families paying more than $2,000 in winter for heating. These new homes will be big enough, well-built and affordable.

Last November, MennonHomes invited me to speak at their AGM. I talked about the Put Food in the Budget Challenge I had participated in -- eating for a week on a social assistance income. When you have limited income, the cost of housing is one of the things that eats into your food budget the most. So, we talked about how important the work of MennoHomes is and how important it is for our Governments to invest in affordable housing, as well as a healthy food supplement.

It was at the MennonHomes AGM last fall, that I learned about the Elmira build. One of the neat features of this build is the partnership with Elmira District Secondary School. "Under the daily supervision of teacher, Scoot Shantz," the press release explains, " up to 15 trades students will be framing, roofing, shingling, insulating, drywalling and doing general prep work. The students with their teachers will be on site for the semester spanning from September, 2011 to January, 2012."

This project will cost $500,000 in total. MennoHomes is most of the way toward raising the costs of the project. Another $70,000 is needed. If you want to make a contribution click here.

June 21, 2011

Connecting the dots on the economy

Check out this video on the economic woes in the US. It features economist Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labour in the Clinton administration. While the US case is more extreme, Canada's experience in the past few decades has been similar. For more on the story in Canada, visit the Growing Gap Project.

June 17, 2011

Treading Water

"We're not sinking. We're not drowning. We're treading water."

With those words Ken Seiling, chair of Waterloo Regional Council, summed up the fourth annual Waterloo Region Housing Stability Report Card.

June 14, 2011

6 Good Ideas About Jobs

During the recent federal election, voters had jobs on their minds. Here is an interesting resource from folks at the Wellesley Institute to get us talking about jobs and how to generate goods jobs.

June 8, 2011

Talking about jobs

Here is a report back on conversations with candidates. So far we have talked with half a dozen candidates who ran for MP in Waterloo Region. Green, liberal, conservative and NDP.

We asked what they heard from people on the doorstep. One thing they almost all said was that people were not talking about poverty.

The number one thing people were talking about?Jobs. Not being able to find a job. Having lost a decent paying job and finding one that does not let them make ends meet. Worry about whether their kids could find a good job -- or any job. Recent immigrants not being able to find jobs that used their skills or paid a decent wage.

This in a region with one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country.

June 3, 2011

Tackling inequality is everyone's business

The call to tackle inequality is coming from a new quarter -- one of Canada's largest banks.

Raise taxes on the rich and cut taxes for the most overtaxed -- the poor.

Sounds radical. But that is the prescription from one of Canada's top bakers, Toronto-Dominion Bank CEO Ed Clark, and from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

May 31, 2011

Talking to candidates

Carol Goar's article on painful lessons for anti-poverty activists got me wondering what was really on the mind of my neighbors during the federal election. So I decided to find out. How? Why not ask the candidates who ran for election what they heard on the doorsteps? After all, they just had a chance to talk

I talked it over with partners in the Poverty Free Waterloo Region Network. We decided to try to talk with candidates in Waterloo Region about what they heard going door-to-door during the campaign.

So far I have had a chance to talk with Stephen Woodworth, the Conservative candidate for Kitchener Centre (who got re-elected), and with Cathy MacLellan who ran for the Green Party in Kitchener-Waterloo. Other members of the group met with Peter Braid, Conservative candidate for K-W (who also got re-elected). Later this week, I'll be meeting with Karen Redman (Liberal, Kitchener Centre) and Peter Thurley (NDP, Kitchener Centre).

One thing Stephen and Cathy both said is that people were not talking about poverty -- at least not in those terms. In coming posts, I'll let you know what people did have to say to the candidates.

May 19, 2011

A Good News Story

Let me share with you a good news story.

On March 23, Waterloo Regional Council voted to add nearly a quarter million dollars a year to the Regional budget for programs to help end persistent homelessness.  The money is to fund programs that Regional staff had identified as very important but that were not originally included in the budget.

It required a Councillor to move a motion to add that money into the budget. That Councillor was Jane Brewer from Cambridge. The motion was seconded by Councillor Jane Mitchell from Waterloo. And it passed unanimously!

Councillor Brewer was actually surprised by the level of support around the table. How did it happen?

May 16, 2011

Insecurity and the politics of fear

Here is another perspective on what lay behind the recent federal election results. This one is from Trish Hennessy of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. In contrast to Carol Goar's limited soundings, the folks at CCPA have done a more systematic series of focus groups to better understand what Canadians are thinking. Economic insecurity looms large for most of us it seems.

This one is worth a read.

May 13, 2011

Painful lessons to anti-poverty groups

After several years of action in Ontario's Poverty Reduction Strategy -- the launching of a strategy in 2008 with targets and timelines; increases to the Ontario Child Benefit; 7 straight years of increases to the minimum wage; and poverty reduction legislation -- I feel like momentum has stalled. It is not just that the sharp recession of 2009-2010 threw many more people out of work and into poverty. The latest provincial budget offered little to build on earlier anti-poverty steps. There is a new long-term affordable housing strategy, but no new funding for affordable housing. The long-anticipated social assistance review is about to get underway, but the 1% increase to social assistance rates in the last budget does not even keep up with inflation. And for the first time since they were elected to office, the McGuinty Government did not raise the minimum wage this year.

Add to these realities a trenchant analysis from Toronto Star columnist, Carol Goar, of the short-comings of anti-poverty groups.

April 19, 2011

Ending Persistent Homelessness

It is homelessness awareness week (April 17 - 23, 2011). Check out this video about the STEP Home program in Waterloo Region. STEP Home stands for Supports to End Persistent Homelessness. The video explains what persistent homelessness is and how a set of outreach and support services is helping people move from persistent homelessness into stable housing. It also asks us all to think about what role we can play to create community with people who have experienced persistent homelessness.

April 18, 2011

MP Exit Interviews

The National Post ran an interesting story on MP exit interviews and the dysfunction of party politics in Canada. The article was based on a report from Samara, a non-profit group studying citizen engagement in Canada. One of the projects Samara does is to conduct MP exit interviews. Here is a brief introduction to the third report on these exit interviews.

The realities of how Canada's Parliament works will help you understand why MCC Ottawa's election primer focuses questions on how candidates will work in caucus and committee.

April 14, 2011

Some more election resources

Here are some federal election resources:

1. Check out MCC Ottawa's election primer with questions you can ask candidates. They are designed to get candidates thinking. Here is one example:
What will you do to ensure that Canada meets its commitments to upholding human rights standards?
2. Concerned about poverty in Canada and abroad? Make Poverty History offers 8 ways to make poverty an election issue.

3. Law and order. Community safety and crime prevention. Two different approaches to issues of crime and community. The Church Council on Justice and Corrections provides some thoughtful background and throught provoking questions for candidates:
Questions to ask candidates:
- Given that more than half of people in prison are non-violent and that more than a third have not been convicted of a crime, will you work toward safe and effective alternatives to costly imprisonment?
- How will you and your party reform the criminal justice system to be more fiscally responsible and to heal offenders, victims and communities?

April 12, 2011

Election action idea from Street Level

Here is a message I just received from Greg Paul from Sanctuary Ministries of Toronto -- an MCCO partner.

Folks, here's a really easy way to raise the issues of poverty and Biblical justice in the current election campaign:

Email a question about what the party leaders intend to do about poverty in Canada to the consortium hosting the TV debates at

Simple, huh? Here's one of the questions I submitted: "About 3 million Canadians are living in poverty, and a disproportionate number of them are First Nations people. What do you intend to do to care for the poorest and most excluded Canadians?"

Peace -
Greg Paul

March 28, 2011

For a better approach to community safety

Something to think about when it comes to community safety. 

The federal government has estimated an expense of allegedly $6 billion to build more prisons and to house for longer periods more both convicted and un-convicted prisoners (57% of people in jail at any time have not been convicted of anything!).  If the majority of prisoners are non-violent (31% of federal’s 13,300 per year and 78% of provincial’s 23,901 per year), why is prison and longer imprisonment the solution?

The Church Council says that $6 billion would cover the cost of supervising in the community 240,000 prisoners at a cost of $25,000 per year, likely with far more effective rehabilitation.  Given that there were about 40,000 total imprisoned in 2008/2009, the proposed spending increases alone would allow for community treatment for a number equivalent to the entire current prison population for almost 6 years! 

This makes no sense, particularly when crimes rates have been going down for the last decade.

Go to for the poster and more info.

From the ISARC newsletter.

February 24, 2011

Fixing the poverty escalator

When the Collectif pour un Quebec sans Pauvrete held meetings across the province to craft a citizens Bill to Combat Poverty more than a decade ago, someone said living in poverty is like being on a down escalator. The people on the up escalator tell you to just try harder to climb out of poverty. But with every step you take to climb up, the escalator carries you down.

February 7, 2011

Building a Resilient Ontario

The 25 in 5 Network for Poverty Reduction made a submission to Ontario's pre-budget hearings.

It's recommends the most effective public investments to both stimulate the economy and help move people out of poverty.

Building a Resilient Ontario cautions against two challenges: allowing poverty to be put on the back burner and getting knocked off course during troubled economic times.

January 31, 2011

The Pros and Cons of Corporate Tax Cuts

There is an interesting and important debate going on about corporate tax cuts. The belief of the Federal Government and the Government of Ontario is that corporate income tax rates have to be cut to spur investment, economic growth and job creation.

January 27, 2011

Globe and Mail series on prisons and mental illness

The Globe and Mail has been running a very insightful and troubling series on prisons and mental illness. The Federal Government has embarked on an expensive plan to build more prisons. Those prisons will be needed to house all the people that their "tough on crime" approach will lock away.

The argument from the Government is that the key to safe communities is locking away the "bad guys,"  to quote Prime Minister Harper.

Unfortunately, many of the people in Canada's prisons are suffering serious mental illnesses.

The Globe series is thought provoking (and the comments from readers are worth reading, too). Here are links to several of the articles in the series:

Why Canada's prisons can't cope with flood of mentally ill inmates

Prisons grapple with increase in mentally ill female inmates

Coalition of churches condemns Ottawa’s justice plan

Mennonite Central Committee Ontario has long been engaged in restorative justice -- a different approach to creating safe, healthy communities, which has been funded by Correction Service of Canada. To find out more, visit MCCO's Restorative Justice homepage.

And here is a link to the Church Council on Justice and Corrections mentioned in the article about churches condemning Ottawa's justice plan.

January 13, 2011

Poverty Free Waterloo Region events

Poverty Free Waterloo Region has couple of events happening on January 25, 2011.

January 25, 2011
1:00pm : Community Services Committee Meeting -- 150 Frederick St., Kitchener
Please attend this meeting in the audience to show your support for Council to include the creation and implementation of government-sparked, community-owned poverty elimination strategy in the 2011-2015 strategic plan. If you’d like to speak at this meeting, you can register as a delegation, and if you would like to provide a letter detailing your own perspectives and support, you can do so by submitting it directly to the Clerk, or through Poverty Free Waterloo Region.

January 25, 2011
7:00 – 9:00pm An Act to Eliminate Poverty in Canada: MP Tony Martin
Victoria Park Pavilion, 80 Schneider Ave., Kitchener. Free Parking

MP Tony Martin will speak about his Private Member’s Bill to create a Federal strategy to eliminate poverty. We are also pleased to welcome Rob Rainer of Canada Without Poverty to share his insights.

In June, 2010, Tony Martin tabled a Private Member’s bill mandating the creation of a federal poverty elimination strategy in the House of Commons, seconded by Mike Savage of the Liberal Party and Yves Lessard of the Bloc Québécois. 

Bill C-545 directs the federal government to consultatively develop a federal poverty elimination strategy, creates a new, independent Poverty Commissioner to monitor progress of the strategy, and provides a stronger advisory role for the National Council of Welfare, to be renamed the National Council of Poverty and Social Inclusion. 

The poverty elimination strategy would focus on three major elements: income security, housing and social inclusion. The bill emphasizes the need for gender-based analysis, different urban and rural responses, and a strong human rights framework.

January 11, 2011

Tackling inequality from the top and the bottom

Several recent posts on this blog have talked about the problem of inquality -- Persistent Povery and the Rise of the Richest 1% and Cutting Health Costs by Cutting Poverty, for instance.

Readers have sent me links to interesting approaches to tackling inequality from the top and the bottom.

Ben Janzen commented on the Persistent Poverty blog and directed me to some information from Meritas Mutual Funds on the "Say-on-Pay" movement among sharelholders aiming to rein in Executive Compensation. Gluttons at the Gate, an article from Macleans, looks at the efforts of Gary Hawton, Meritas' own CEO, to champion "say-on-pay" shareholder motions.

For background on the rise of Executive pay in Canada, see Hugh Mackenzie's recent report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Recession Proof: Canada's 100 Best Paid CEO's. It not only describes how the pay of Canada's top 100 CEOs has grown phenomenaly, both in relation to average pay for all workers and inflation, it explores what led to that rise and possible solutions. Mackenzie is not convinced that the 'say-on-pay' movement alone will bring executive compensation back to earth. Evidence from the U.K., where shareholder 'say-on-pay' has been around longer, supports that view. He recommends tax changes: changing the way stock options are taxed and increasing the tax rate on high incomes, as well.

The important thing is that as shareholders and citizens we challenge the notion that some people should get paid excessively, esecially when other people have obscenely low incomes.

Ken Ogasawara sent me a link to a story in the New York Times that examines how basic income programs in Mexico and Brazil have helped reduce inequality by giving money to poor families. The Bolsa Familia in Brazil and the Opportunidades program in Mexico give conditional cash grants to poor families. The conditions include things like children staying in school and getting regular health check-ups. These programs have had a demonstrable impact on reducing poverty and inequality.

Canada actually has its own such programs -- the Canada Child Tax Benefit (CCTB) and provincial counterparts like the Ontario Child Benefit. These programs do not include conditions that families need to meet. They are simply based on the level of family income: the lower the income, the higher the benefit. Campaign 2000 reports that Government Transfers like the CCTB lifted nearly 725,000 Canadian children and their families out of poverty in 2008. Campaign 2000 recommends raising the CCTB from its current annual maximum of $3,436 to $5,400 per child.

Old Age Security (OAS) and the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) have done for seniors what child benefits are doing for children. The OAS and GIS have helped reduce poverty among Canadian seniors dramatically over the past thirty years.

What we are missing in Canada is a basic income for people 18 - 64 years of age. The expectation is that able bodied people of those ages will earn income through work. But as the Ontario social audit found, work does not work for everyone. Many jobs are precarious -- providing low wages, little or no employment security and few or no benefits. The majority of unemployed workers do not qualify for E.I. and welfare rates guarantee that you will live in poverty. Basic income security for adults 18 - 64 years of age is one gap preventing Canada from making real headway in reducing poverty and inequality.