July 29, 2010

MCCO calls for G20 public inquiry

MCCO letter to Premier Dalton McGuinty


MCCO's Peace and Poverty staff and program participants were directly affected by the events on the streets of Toronto during the recent G20 summit. As a result, Mennonite Central Committee Ontario added its voice to many others by writing a letter to Premier Dalton McGuinty calling for a public inquiry that is transparent, open to public participation, thorough and fair to all involved. The content of the letter follows below.

Dear Premier McGuinty,

Given our long standing commitment to peace, restorative justice and walking with low income people across Ontario, we are writing this letter to add our voice to the call for a comprehensive public inquiry into the events surrounding the G20 in Toronto earlier this month.

Mennonite Central Committee responds to basic human needs and works for peace and justice as a global Anabaptist ministry. We work in some 60 countries around the world. Founded in 1920, we respond to human need, in the name of Christ, through sustainable community development, peacebuilding and disaster response.

Mennonite Central Committee (Ontario) plans and administers this work in Ontario. Our peace, poverty and restorative justice programs are all very active in the Toronto community. The events on the streets of Toronto during the G20 summit as directly witnessed by our staff and program participants have left us with many questions and concerns regarding safety and security for all, including low income people, shop-keepers, police, state leaders, and the thousands of citizens who came to voice their concerns at the G20 summit. A key issue is related to the plans for, and implementation of security in the Security Zone. We lament the fact that the G20 meetings, that had the potential to address poverty and human needs around the world, have instead contributed to further pain and suffering in the host community.

We join many others who have called for a public inquiry that is transparent, open to public participation, thorough and fair to all involved. For example, we note that the Canadian Civil Liberties Association has issued a report raising alarms over tactics police used during the G20, including mass arrests and systemic searches. The report concludes: “In an effort to locate and disable 100-150 vandals, the police disregarded the constitutional rights of thousands.” We also hope that a broad based inquiry will address issues beyond policing. These could include reviewing the methods that were employed for maintaining security, the implementation of the Public Works Protection Act and exploration of alternative security methods that could have been used.

We hope that the lessons learned from a comprehensive public inquiry will be shared broadly so that others can learn from this experience. Mennonite Central Committee Ontario would welcome an invitation to participate in an inquiry and look forward to your response to our request.


Dan Driedger

Acting Executive Director

Mennonite Central Committee Ontario

July 27, 2010

Ontario Sales Tax Credit

On August 10, the new refundable Ontario Sales Tax Credit (OSTC) will be sent to low and modest income households.

The introduction of the Harmonized Sales Tax came with several other tax changes. In June the province sent out the first of three "Sales Tax Transition Benefit" payments to Ontarians -- three payments of $100 for a single adult, $333 for a family.

The Ontario Sales Tax Credit is a permanent refundable credit worth up to $260 per person. It is based on your income and household size and will be indexed to inflation. An individual with taxable income less that $20,000 qualifies for the maximum benefit, households of 2 or more people with under $25,000 get the maximum.

When the Ontario Government announced the creation of the new Ontario Sales Tax Credit separate from the Property Tax Credit, anti-poverty groups like the 25 in 5 Network for Poverty Reduction urged the Government to make those payments quarterly rather than in one lump sum at tax time. They also recommended that those quarterly payments be paid out in a different month than the GST credit. That is because members of the 25 in 5 Network living with low incomes said that payments spread out through the year would be more helpful for managing cash flow than a single lump sum payment.

The Ontario Government listened. Here is a chart with the payment schedule for the GST Credit and the Ontario Sales Tax Credit (and the Transition Benefit Payments) through June 2011.

Starting in the summer of 2011, the Provincial Property Tax Credit will be replaced by an Energy and Property Tax Credit, which will also be paid quarterly. Renters and home owners are eligible to receive the Energy and Property Tax Credit. I have heard from Ministry of Revenue staff that those payments will be made in the months when there is no GST credit or Ontario Sales Tax Credit paid. This means that, beginning in the summer of 2011, low income Ontarians are eligible to receive a refundable sales or property tax credit each month of the year:
  • GST Credit in January, April, July and October
  • Ontario Sales Tax Credit  in February, May, August and November
  • Energy and Property Tax Credit (EPTC) March, June, September and December.
For a single adult, the maximum GST credit is $381 a year (or $95.25 quarterly), the maximum OSTC $260 a year ($65 quarterly) and the maximum EPTC $900 a year ($225 when it is paid quarterly starting September 2011).

As with federal and provincial Child Tax Benefits (which are paid monthly) you have to file a tax return to be eligible to receive the sales and property tax benefits. The 25 in 5 Network recommended that the provincial Government implement outreach strategies with community organizations to ensure that low income Ontarians are receiving the refundable tax credits for which they are eligible, for example by funding annual tax clinics for low income households. Efforts to get the Provincial Government to implement outreach strategies are ongoing.

July 22, 2010

Count Me In! An ode to the long form census

The Harper Government seems committed to eliminating the mandatory long form census. The head of Statistics Canada has resigned over the issue.

For a musical take on the long form census, have a listen.

July 19, 2010

The census and poverty reduction

Statistics ain't the kind of thing that you'd think would stir up controversy. But the Harper Government's decision to make the long-form census voluntary has done just that.

At one level, I'm amazed by the unanimity of opposition to the decision. It's not just academics who oppose the change but business groups, municipalities, and religious groups too. But when you consider that all those groups rely on the accuracy of information from the census to do their work, you can begin to understand that a change in the census that threatens to undermine the accuracy of the data would stir controversy.

So it is for efforts to end poverty. Effective strategies to end poverty rely on accurate information about how many people are living in poverty. Good information can help governments and communities plan policies and programs to meet the needs of the people most impacted by poverty.

For example, census data has shown that over the last two decades povety rates have been climbing for new Canadians. This is despite the fact that recent newcomers to Canada are more highly educated than those who immigrated to Canada thirty or forty years ago.

Census data has helped map poverty in Canadian cities, helping to identify where programs to help low-income families with young children, for example, are most needed.

Those are just a couple of examples. Good census data is also needed to see how other groups disproportionately impacted by poverty -- people with disabilities, people from racialized groups, aboriginal people, women -- are faring.

The Canadian Council on Social Development has this to say about the Long Form Census:

What is the Long Form Census? It asks 53 additional questions to 20 per cent of Canadian households at census time, mostly focusing on social, economic, cultural questions. It typically takes 20 minutes on average to complete. The average household will receive the long-form once every 25 years (once every 5 censuses). Filling out the long-form is significantly less work and is certainly no more "invasive" than filling out tax forms which we are required to do every year. Identifiable Census data on individual respondents has never been compromised or revealed or released to anyone - privacy is assured.

Jeffrey Simpson at the Globe and Mail had an insightful column on the ideological rationale behind the Harper Government's decision on the census.

You can sign on to a petition if you want to support efforts to keep the mandatory long-form census and ensure reliable information is available to inform efforts to end poverty and develop good social policy and community programs.