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June 2, 2014

Who has the best plan to lift people out of poverty in Ontario?

May 6, 2009 was a memorable and uplifting day for me. And it happened in the Ontario legislature.

The Ontario legislature is not usually a place associated with uplifting memories. More often it’s a place known for acrimonious debate and other antics.

But on that memorable day, I was sitting in the balcony and watching the vote for third reading of the Poverty Reduction Act.

As the Poverty Advocate for Mennonite Central Committee Ontario and an active member of the 25 in 5 Network for Poverty Reduction, I had taken a keen interest in this legislation.

The Liberal Government had tabled Bill 152, as it was numbered, earlier in the year. It followed the introduction of Ontario’s first poverty reduction strategy in 2008. And it echoed poverty reduction legislation passed in Quebec a few years before.

I spent many hours in community meetings poring over the draft legislation and crafting recommendations to strengthen it. We met with members of all three parties to talk about the legislation and proposed changes.

On that memorable day in May 2009, I watched as poverty reduction legislation which included many of the recommendations from community groups and also constructive amendments from the Progressive Conservatives and New Democratic Party was debated and voted on.  To my amazement, the Poverty Reduction Act was passed unanimously.

You might be sceptical. After all, voting to reduce poverty is like voting for motherhood and apple pie. Who could be opposed to it?


But this legislation was different. Unlike the 1989 child poverty motion in the House of Commons, where all MPs voted in favour of the notion of ending child poverty in Canada by the year 2000, this legislation actually required the Government of the day and successive Governments to do specific things. One of them was to update the Province’s poverty reduction strategy at least every five years.

Every new or modified poverty reduction strategy is to include the following:
1.       A specific poverty reduction target.
2.       Initiatives designed to improve the economic and social conditions of persons and families living in poverty.
3.       Indicators to measure the success of the strategy that are linked to the determinants of poverty, including but not limited to income, education, health, housing and standard of living.

The reason I am recalling that day is because we are in the midst of a Provincial election. And it is five years since the legislation passed. So whoever forms the Government after the June 12 election will need to introduce Ontario’s second poverty reduction strategy.

The first strategy set a target of reducing child poverty by 25% over five years. The policy initiatives included increases to the Ontario Child Benefit, creating full-day junior and senior kindergarten, and increasing the minimum wage among other things.

The strategy has helped reduce child poverty in Ontario, even though we went through a very bad recession.
What I am looking forward to hearing from Kathleen Wynne, Tim Hudak and Andrea Horwath is what their poverty reduction strategy would be. What is their specific poverty reduction target?  What initiatives will they take to reach that target? How are they going to measure the success of their strategy?

I guess you could say I’m looking at this election as a race to bottom. Who has the most credible plan to get poverty in Ontario as low as possible over the next five years?

Or maybe it’s a race to the top. Who has the best plan to lift the most Ontarians out of poverty?

And I feel justified in expecting all three party leaders to present their poverty reduction plans during this election.  After all, each of their parties’ voted for the Poverty Reduction Act. And it is fair to expect the Government not just to follow the law but to implement the law.

There are many things that divide us politically. But as the vote in the legislature on May 6, 2009 demonstrated, the shared commitment to reduce and eliminate poverty is something that brings us together. Where there is rivalry it should be over who has the plan to get us farther, faster.


Greg deGroot-Maggetti lives in Kitchener and works for Mennonite Central Committee Ontario

This column appeared in the Waterloo Region Record on Friday, May 30, 2014.

1 comment:

  1. Me and everybody I know actually went deeper into poverty during that five year period. I know nobody that was poor before that got lifted out of poverty. Anybody can jig the numbers but who is making them accountable for them? Maybe some of us are sick of working eighty hours a week for nothing?

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