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November 30, 2010

Effective and Efficient: You Be The Judge

In May 2010, when the federal Government announced the end of the ecoENERGY Retrofit- Homes program, I wrote my MP to voice my protest.

I also asked for specific information about the program -- its targets and outcomes, how many jobs it created and how much public revenue it generated.

The official Government line explaining the cancellation of the program was that it was "reviewing its energy efficiency and emissions reductions programs to ensure that they continue to be an effective and efficient use of Canadian tax dollars."

The other day I received a letter from The Honourable Christian Paradis, P.C., M.P., Minister of Natural Resources responding to my query.

Here is what he had to say:

The Program has had a considerable impact on energy savings in Canada, with each participating home averaging a reduction of more than three tonnes of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This translates into an average of a 22-percent energy saving per home.

The original target of the Program was to reduce GHG emissions by 0.48 megatonnes (Mt) but this target has been surpassed as the GHG reductions achieved are currently at 1.02 Mt. These results can largely be attributed to an increase in program funding as part of Canada's Economic Action Plan. Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) now expects to reach a reduction of between 1.29 and 1.66 Mt before the Program end date of March 31, 2011.

More than 1,700 energy advisors have been employed by more than 80 service organizations licensed by NRCan to deliver the energy evaluation services to Canadians in every part of the country. The nature of the Program has also positively impacted employment in the renovation and manufacturing industries, though exact figures are not available. It is estimated that, for every $1 invested by the Program, homeowners are investing $10 directly into the renovation sector, thus creating and supporting jobs.

Again, it is not possible at this time to determine the exact amount of money the Program has generated in government revenue as a result of its activities and impact on the job market.

I want to know what you think. Based on the Minister's response, do you think the ecoENERGY Retrofit - Homes program has been an effective and efficient use of public resources?

Why not let Minister Paradis know if you would like the Government to restore funding for the EcoENERGY Retrofit - Home program: paradc0@parl.gc.ca

November 24, 2010

Child Poverty Climbs in Ontario

The impact of the recession has shown up in the latest report on child poverty in Ontario. In 2008, the rate had climbed to 15.2%, reversing a trend of a slowly declining rate between 2004 and 2007. And if food bank demand which is more up to date is any indicator, the child poverty rate has likely risen through 2009  and 2010.



Campaign 2000's latest report card explains that child poverty would have been 40% higher if it had not been for government transfer programs, particulalry child benefits.

But the report urges the Government of Ontario to strengthen its commitment to reduce poverty in three ways:
  • Start the promised Social Assistance Review and raise adult rates with a $100 a month Healthy food Supplement;
  • Release the promised Long-Term Affordable Housing Strategy, including a new monthly Housing Benefit for low-income tenants;
  • Develop a Good Jobs Strategy in partnership with business and labour that leads to more full time permanent jobs with good pay and benefits.

November 22, 2010

Persistent Poverty: ISARC Religious Leaders Forum

On Thursday (November 18), religious leaders from across Ontario gathered at Queen's Park for the ISARC religious leaders forum. The theme this fall was Persistent Poverty, also the title of the forthcoming report on ISARC's 2010 Ontario social audit.

If you were not able to be at Queen's Park for the forum on Thursday, you can get a quick sense of the day from the ISARC religious leaders forum web page.

And here is the opening prayer from the forum.

November 16, 2010

Hunger Count at all time high

No sooner did I post about upcoming reports on poverty then I received news of Food Banks Canada's Hunger Count 2010, released today (November 16, 2010).

Hunger Count 2010 reports that 867,948 Canadians were served by food banks in March 2010. That is up 9% since 2009 and the highest number on record.

It is clear that the economic recovery has not arrived for many Canadians. And it underscores the need for Governments and communities across Canada to redouble their efforts to reduce and eliminate poverty.

Hunger Count 2010 makes the following recommendations:

1 Implement a federal poverty prevention and reduction strategy, with measureable targets
and timelines.
2 Maintain current levels of federal cash and tax transfers to provincial, territorial, and First Nations governments.
3 At the provincial government level, continue to reform income support programs of last resort, based on consultations with those living on low incomes.
4 Create a federal housing strategy to increase and monitor investment in affordable housing programs in Canada’s cities, towns, and rural areas.
5 Make the Employment Insurance system more fair, inclusive, and responsive to changing labour market conditions.
6 Increase federal investment in a system of quality, affordable, accessible child care.
7 Address the high rates of low income among our most vulnerable seniors.
8 Increase investment in the Canada Child Tax Benefit (CCTB), raising the maximum benefit to $5,100 per child, per year.

Reporting on poverty in Ontario

The next two weeks will be a busy time of reporting on poverty in Ontario. Here are some of the reports that will be released.

November 24 -- Campaign 2000 national and Ontario report cards on child poverty. You will be able to find the reports at http://www.campaign2000.ca/

November 29 -- 25 in 5 Network for Poverty Reduction's Progress Report on year two of Ontario's poverty reduction strategy. http://www.25in5.ca/

December 1 -- launch of Persistent Poverty: Voices from the Margins, the report on Ontario's social audit led by the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition. You can order a copy on-line:  http://www.isarc.ca/

December 4 -- the second anniversary of Ontario's poverty reduction strategy. Last year the Government released its first year report on December 2. http://www.growingstronger.ca/

Early December -- Ontario Hunger Report from the Ontario Association of Food Banks. http://www.oafb.ca/

The Government of Ontario is due to announce
 -- the launch of the social assistance review this fall. http://www.mcss.gov.on.ca/
 -- the long-awaited affordable housing strategy. http://www.mah.gov.on.ca/

November 4, 2010

Poverty Reduction in Ontario -- Nearing the two year mark

December 4, 2010 will mark the two year point for Ontario's Poverty Reduction Strategy. That strategy -- Breaking the Cycle -- set out to reduce child poverty in Ontario by 25% within five years.

The Poverty Reduction Act, which was passed uanimously by Ontario's legislature in May 2009, requires the Government to report annually on progress in the effort to reduce poverty. In addition to the Government's report, the 25 in 5 Network has produced its own report on the first year of the poverty reduction strategy and will be releasing a report on year two at the end of November 2010.

For a quick overview of Ontario's poverty reduction strategy, you can listen to an on-line interview with two Ontario Government officials responsible for helping deliver the strategy, Marian Mlakar, the Director of the Children and Youth at Risk Branch at the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services and Catherine Laurier, a Policy Advisor at Cabinet Office with responsibility for poverty reduction and children’s issues.

This interview was done by the Tamarack Institute as part of a series looking at poverty reduction strategies in the seven Canadian provinces with those strategies.

November 3, 2010

Reducing Poverty Through Statistical Trickery?

There are different ways to try to eradicate poverty. One which has been adopted in European Union countries and seven Canadian provinces is to create a poverty reduction strategy with a goal, targets, timelines and an action plan.

Another way to reduce poverty is through statistical sleight of hand; simply stop counting some of the poor.

A real poverty reduction strategy does not simply choose to not count some people who live in poverty. Rather it relies on sound data to help identify where to focus attention.

When the Federal Government decided to scrap the mandatory long-form census and replace it with a voluntary National Household Survey, it created the conditions to undercount the number of people living in poverty and undermine the efforts of provincial government and local communities with poverty reduction strategies.

Statistics Canada explains how the shift from the mandatory long-form census to the voluntary National Household Survey will lead to bias in the data it collects. That bias results from the fact that some groups -- including people living in low income -- will be less likely to fill out a voluntary survery than a mandatory census.

...it is believed that the most significant source of non-sampling error for the National Household Survey will be non-response bias. All surveys are subject to non-response bias, even a Census with a 98% response rate. The risk of non-response bias quickly increases as the response rate declines. This is because, in general, non-respondents tend to have characteristics that are different than those of the respondents and thus the results are not representative of the true population. Given that the National Household Survey is anticipated to achieve a response rate of only 50% there is a substantial risk of non-response bias.
The Statistics Canada analysis shows that the number of households with incomes below $1,000 or with no income would have been 4% lower in Toronto if the voluntary National Household Survey rather than the mandatory long-form census had been used for the 2005 census. Similar results would have occured in Winnipeg and Bathurst, New Brunswick. By contast the voluntary survey would have shown more people with incomes above $50,000.  The voluntary survey would have skewed figures for various demographic groups.

While Statistics Canada will be making an effort to overcome some of the problems it has identified with the sudden replacement of the mandatory long-form census, it still means the data will be less reliable than before. And it will be impossible to make accurate comparisons with data from previous censuses.  That means it will be harder to see whether Provincial and local poverty reduction strategies are working or to get an accurate sense of where priority for updated action plans should be placed.

The Federal Government has made no commitment to create a Canadian Poverty Reduction Strategy; changing the census does not count as a poverty reduction strategy.