TORONTO, Canada — Poverty knows no boundaries. It is a worldwide problem that affects people of affluent countries and developing nations. In the province of Ontario, Canada, poverty is still a significant problem. But unlike some governments of developing nations, Ontario’s anti-poverty plan that has been in the works since 2008.
In 2009, Ontario’s Liberal Government unanimously passed the Poverty Reduction Act, a piece of legislation that aims to eliminate poverty in the province. The law is an important development in the fight against poverty, as it “requires successive governments to draft poverty-fighting strategies with specific goals every five years and to report annually to the legislature on progress.”
The results have been impressive, despite the province having not met their initial goal of reducing poverty by 25 percent.
According to Statistics Canada, as of 2011, some 371,000 — about 13.8 percent — of Ontario’s children were living at or below the poverty line. There has been a 9.2 percent reduction in child poverty since 2008, accounting for more than 47,000 children — impressive because this was accomplished amid the financial crisis of 2008.
Much of the success in poverty reduction has been attributed to increases in both minimum wage (up to $11 from 2008’s $8) and Ontario Child Benefit (increased to $1,310 yearly from $250 in 2008), which helps provide support for low-income families with children.
Acknowledging that the province had not met its poverty reduction targets on Wednesday, Deputy Premier Deb Matthews stated that ending homelessness is “not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.” Much to the chagrin of social activists, however, the Deputy Premier was non-committal on specific targets or a new timeline.
Speaking to reporters, Matthews argued, “We wrestled with putting a time on that and the reality is we don’t even have a sense of the magnitude of the problem. So I think it would be a bit irresponsible to say when we will end it when we don’t even know what that challenge is.”
While the government’s seeming lack of understanding is disconcerting, supporters like social housing expert Michael Shapcott point out that the government’s position is at least an acknowledgement that poverty and homelessness are its responsibility.
Looking at the new plan, it would seem the government is taking this responsibility seriously. While 2009’s plan was focused on addressing child poverty, the new plan is broader in scope and range.
According to sources, “In addition to addressing street homelessness, it calls for continued reform of social assistance, with new programs to help the chronically unemployed find jobs… The plan will also look at how existing anti-poverty programs measure success to ensure they are working, particularly for women, newcomers, people with disabilities and aboriginal people.”
Other poverty-reducing measures include an extension of dental and prescription drug benefits for children and $50 million over the course of the next five years for “local poverty reduction efforts, annual minimum wage and child benefit increases indexed to inflation, wage hikes for daycare and personal support workers and more money for youth employment.”
Whether or not the liberals will meet their poverty reduction goals in the next five years is really up to them. Said Greg DeGroot Maggetti, co-chair of the 25-in-5 Network for Poverty Reduction — a coalition of social groups tasked with ensuring the province meets anti-poverty goals: “It will be crucial to see how the pieces fit together and how we get to where we’re going… What we need now is to move from strategy to implementation plan.”
– Pedram Afshar