December 21, 2012

Diary of an Advocacy Associate: Are our efforts making a difference?

As we approach the end of 2012, I've been thinking a bit about what sort of success we've had in our quest to encourage political leaders to take positions on issues of poverty and inequality over the last few months.  I'm happy to report that our efforts have contributed to some discussion of poverty eradication in the political sphere.  (Ok, maybe this doesn't sound like resounding success, however, in this kind of work, especially when we're talking about poverty, a little movement equals exciting times.)

I have to admit, when I woke up on October 16, 2012 to the news that the Ontario Legislature had been prorogued indefinitely I went into panic mode for a bit.  All of our carefully laid plans were put on hold as we tried to figure out what activities to move forward with in this new political landscape and what activities just needed to be cancelled.

Ontario's Liberal Leadership Candidates are talking
about poverty eradication!
Photo Credit: Harinder Takhar Twitter account, @harindertakhar
After a brief mourning period for the loss of all of our hard work, we quickly realized that the prorogation was actually a really interesting opportunity to conduct our work in a different way.  If the Legislature wasn't in session, our political leaders might just have more time to meet with constituents and talk about the things Ontarians care about.

And, over the past few months,  we've been doing a lot of talking.  In fact, a number of groups have been talking to our potential leaders about poverty issues (I should point out that this is nothing new - there are countless people in our province who are in continuous conversation with our leaders regarding the treatment of our most vulnerable citizens).

Along with the progress report from 25in5 Network for Poverty Reduction on the success of Ontario's ground breaking poverty reduction strategy, went a question to all potential premiere's, whether they be liberal, conservative or NDP.  The question:  As potential premiere, what do you plan to do to tackle poverty and inequality in our province?

Though we haven't seen any direct responses to our question, evidence that our leaders are taking notice is starting to trickle in.

The first hint came during the first debate between Ontario's Liberal leadership candidates.  One of the final topics during the debate was poverty and, more specifically, can we fight poverty and be fiscally responsible at the same time.  The answer: a resounding yes.  Though opinions on exactly what policies should  be put in place differ, for the most part, these we can fight poverty and simultaneously be fiscally responsible.  [You can watch the 'poverty' portion of the debate here].

Not only did the candidates talk about poverty, but The Agenda actually allowed for 8 minutes on the topic - we feel this shows that poverty and inequality are an important issue in Ontario.

Some more news coming out of the leadership race are the platforms of the leadership contenders.  Two contenders, Eric Hoskins and Kathleen Wynne, have released plans that specifically address issues of poverty in Ontario.  [Leadership candidate platforms can be found here: Charles Sousa, Sandra Pupatello, Harinder Takhar, Glenn Murray, Gerard Kennedy - where no platform was available, I linked directly to the most relevant page.]

This tiny bit of evidence, to me shows that our politicians are starting to get the message that economic research has been finding for years: economic prosperity is undermined when we don't take care of the most vulnerable in our communities.

I know that these discussions are small steps, but a small step in the move towards making real efforts to eradicate poverty and reduce inequality in Ontario (or anywhere for that matter) is better than no step at all. And I'm looking forward to hearing what Ontario's political leaders will have to say in the months ahead.

December 13, 2012

Diary of an Advocacy Associate: The Report is out!

Today is the day!  The Ministry of Children and Youth Services released the 4th year progress report on its ground breaking Poverty Reduction Strategy today.  You can check it out on the website here.

I suppose it shouldn't be considered one of the most exciting days of the year (especially considering all of the fun this Christmas season is bringing to my life), but if you'll recall: One of the main goals of my work here with MCCO is to see the next poverty reduction strategy become a priority for our political leaders. Momentum, though slow, seems to be building.

As the report points out, Ontario's current Government has taken a number of positive steps in the push to eradicate poverty in our province.  Increases to the minimum wage, investing in the Ontario Child Benefit and the implementation of full day junior and senior kindergarten have all had a positive impact in Ontario - I've written all of this before.  

The important message to take from the report is that good policy leads to results! We need to celebrate when good things happen and acknowledge the progress that has been made.

Unfortunately, reducing poverty is not a one time thing.  It requires constant vigilance and attention to what is happening in our province.  Eradicating poverty requires constant attention to the myriad of programs and policies and how they interact to create and/or reduce poverty in our province.

December 5, 2012

From Compassion to Companionship

by Doug Johnson Hatlem

And they shall call his name Emmanuel, which means, God with us.

Familiar words, for sure. A bit strange, perhaps, because his name is not Emmanuel, but Jesus.  The Gospel of Matthew, in the opening chapter of the New Testament, establishes both the name Jesus and the name Emmanuel.  What does it mean for us, God with us?  Does it change us? Do we live differently as a result?  Is it a lovely story to warm most hearts at this season, what one familiar writer calls The Grand Miracle, God entering into humanity? I have written previous Christmas reflections on feelings of absence and loss rather than presence in this season that has so much joy for a parent of young children like me.  What might it mean to imitate Christ Jesus?  Emmanuel, God with us.
Compassion has been, in many ways, politicized and monetized.  Indeed, some of you, just as some of the people I have been commissioned to walk with, may wince at yet another appeal for funding from Lazarus Rising. Of course, we are all supposed to show our compassion for those who have less.  Some voices, however, are asking that we move beyond charity and pity, to economic empowerment or a fundamentally just and fair society.  These are grand aims and they must be pursued, even, or perhaps especially in long, harsh economic times such as ours.  
But there is something different to dwell on in this passage.  Jesus comes to us with compassion, but even more so than compassion, he comes to us as one of us.  Before taking on a large political role as one of the few Democrats in George Bush's US presidential administration, Phillip Mangano spoke passionately of the need to abolish homelessness.  In Mangano's words, for this to happen, we needed as a society, to move “from compassion to companionship.” 

December 4, 2012

Can Ontario Meet its Poverty Reduction Target?

The 25 in 5 Network for Poverty Reduction released its 4th annual progress report this morning, December 4th, 2012.  The Day marks the 4th anniversary of Ontario's first Poverty Reduction Strategy.

The report clearly lays out the fact that good public policy and strong leadership lead to results.  Even during times of economic hardship and the "great recession", efforts to reduce poverty among children made an important impact.

My colleagues at 25 in 5 report that actions like investing in the Ontario Child Benefit, increasing the minimum wage and rolling out full day junior and senior kindergarten assisted in decreasing the child poverty rate in Ontario by close to 6.6% between 2008 and 2010. (2010 is the most recent information available from Statistics Canada).

This is an excellent start, but the target was to reduce child poverty by 25% by 2013.  Since 2010 and the implementation of this year's austerity budget, efforts to reduce child poverty have stalled.  In a recent article on the front page of the Toronto Star, Greg deGroot-Maggetti asks the question: "Children did not create the deficit, why do we insist on balancing our budget on their backs?"

Furthermore, cuts to important supports for people receiving social assistance and the slow erosion of our social safety net make it more unlikely that the target will be met.  25 in 5 is asking all of our aspiring political leaders what they plan to do to meet the target.  Visit to find out how you can add your voice.

The most important point in this report is that good policy leads to results.  In the future, these results should be extended not just to children, but to all of Ontario's citizens.

The Poverty Reduction Act requires Ontario's political representatives to renew and update the Poverty Reduction Strategy every 5 years - which means that next one is due in December 2013.  Wouldn't it be great if the strategy included targets to eradicate poverty for adults too - because really, who doesn't deserve to live a life of dignity and respect.

The report asks all political parties to commit to creating a strategy that works for all Ontarians - whether they are children or adults.  Recent research is showing that poverty and income inequality actually undermine economic vitality, exactly the opposite of what was expected decades ago when we started down the path of "economic growth at all costs".

Today, we know better.  We know that economic vitality certainly requires GDP growth, but policies promoting economic growth must be balanced by policy to ensure that the growth we seek benefits everyone; the people who hold the capital, those that provide the labour and people who are not able to participate in the labour market either because of a medical condition or because there are no jobs available.

As we move towards a poverty free Ontario, I encourage you to add your voice to the hundreds of people across the province who support this mission.  The 25 in 5 website lists a few ways you can take action today.  E-mail the liberal leadership candidates, tweet the Opposition leaders and ask them what is their plan to eradicate poverty, reduce inequality and make Ontario's economy work for everyone!

November 29, 2012

Hello Young Graduate. How's the life hunt going?

Gen Y Faces Big Risks.  I came across this article Tuesday during my habitual early morning peruse of the twitter feed.  Reading it resulted in one of those "a ha moments" - you know what I mean, when something just finally clicks!  Which is why I thought it important to share.

Members of Generation Y are more educated
and prepared for meaningful work in
our economy, however, they face decreasing
likelihood of getting a good job in their field
with ever increasing amounts of student debt as
governments continue to transfer  what was
traditionally collective risk to individuals.
In this article, David MacDonald, the senior economist for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (one of my favourite Think Tanks) sets out a rationale for why Generation Y faces the possibility of a more bleak future than Baby Boomers did when they were starting out.  And this despite the fact that the life decisions we are required to make today are actually quite similar.

And the reason is..................(drum roll please)...........................................


November 15, 2012

Would Joseph need to sell his technicolour dreamcoat to get on social assistance?

Inequality, social assistance and Joseph: Biblical reflections of an advocacy intern on Gen. 47:13-26

Two weeks ago the Social Assistance Review Commission released its final report. The report outlines over 100 recommendations; some simply reiterate what has long been understood – and ought to be implemented immediately – while others require further discussion and scrutiny.  (For an in depth look at the recommendations, see our previous post).

photo credit:
As a theology student and advocacy intern with MCC Ontario, I have found myself reflecting on the biblical narrative as I slowly digest the 180 odd-page report, and have been struck by the parallels with the story of Joseph (Gen. 37 – 50).

In Sunday school I learned that God was with Joseph and prospered him (Gen. 39:2, 21, 23).  However, it seems my teachers forgot to mention that Joseph also exploits a starving people, that he is Pharaoh’s shrewd investment banker; a ruthless monopolist; the Great Enslaver. Within Joseph’s story there lies a deep tension.

November 9, 2012

Diary of an Advocacy Associate: It's time to lighten things up!

That past few posts have been full of some pretty heavy material.  I have to admit, I've been feeling  a little down thinking about all of the negative effects current government policy is having on the lives of people living on low incomes and on our communities in general.  Don't get me wrong, I very much enjoy my job, but just like many of you who deal with difficult situations in your work on a daily basis, it is important to lighten things up every once in a while.

Which is why I was so excited to hear this gem of a song on CBC radio a few weeks ago.

Shemekia Copeland: "Lemon Pie"

Now, I'm no music critic, but I do know when I hear a song that I like.  And, I ask,  what's a blues loving poverty advocate supposed to do when she hears a powerful blues musician singing about income inequality and the woes of the working poor today?

November 2, 2012

Ontario's recent benefit cuts: What they mean for you and your community

Over the past few months, we have heard (or read) a lot of talk about social assistance in Ontario.  Last week, the Social Assistance Review Commission released its report highlighting a path to reforming Ontario’s social safety net (Please see our previous post for a critical look at the report).  The report sets out a number of recommendations – some that should be acted on immediately and many others that require further thought and scrutiny.  The path is a long one, but reforming our social safety net by preventing poverty, reducing inequality and removing barriers to moving out of poverty will well be worth it.

The CSUMB and HRB prevent homelessness in Ontario by
providing last resort assistance for over 16,000 each month
people who are at risk of losing their places
of residence.
Unfortunately, Ontario’s government started making changes long before the report was released.  Budget 2012 cut funding for three benefits that are very important to preventing homelessness and accessing emergency assistance for people living on low incomes in Ontario - CSUMB, the Home Repairs Benefit and Discretionary Benefits.

October 26, 2012

The Highs and Lows of Ontario's Social Assistance Review

The long awaited review of Ontario’s Social Assistance system was released yesterday and has been received by community members, anti-poverty advocates and social assistance recipients with mixed reviews and feelings.

On the one hand, there are many positive steps that should be taken immediately to improve the lives of people receiving social assistance. 

October 17, 2012

Diary of an Advocacy Associate: A message to Ontario's Party Leaders

Today is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.  What better way to celebrate the goal of a poverty free society than to tell our political leaders (whether they are in session or prorogued for an extended period of time) that we are in support of a strategy to eradicate poverty and reduce inequality in Ontario?

That is just what I did today.  In collaboration with the 25 in 5 network, the advocacy team here at MCCO assisted in composing a letter to our political party leaders reminding them of the urgent need for a new and updated poverty reduction strategy to eradicate poverty and reduce inequality in Ontario. 

Some people may say that inequality is simply an inevitable by-product of a growing economy, BUT there is mounting evidence that income inequality may actually hinder economic growth.   More on that at a later date……

For now, here’s a copy of the letter we’ve endorsed via 25 in 5.  If you’re in support, why not make a copy and send it on to your MPP? (you can look up contact information here).  They don’t have nearly as much on their plates as they thought they would this week.  

October 17, 2012

Dear Premier McGuinty, Mr. Hudak, Ms. Horwath,

On this the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, we are writing to you to remind you of the urgent need to develop a new and updated strategy to eradicate poverty in Ontario.

In 2009, each of your parties voted unanimously for the Poverty Reduction Act. The Act requires Ontario’s Government to update and renew the Poverty Reduction Strategy and set new targets for progress at least every 5 years.  Ontario’s first Poverty Reduction Strategy was launched in 2008. 
We are calling on all Ontario political parties to commit to creating a new and updated strategy to eradicate poverty and reduce inequality in our province. The new strategy needs to engage Ontarians across every community to contribute to a plan that not only addresses child poverty, but adult poverty and growing inequality as well.
Serious action to eradicate poverty leads to results. The first strategy, “Breaking the Cycle” focused on children. Early initiatives – like the significant investment in the Ontario Child Benefit  and continued increases in the minimum wage – helped reduce the number of children living in poverty by over 6% between 2008 and 2010. Government policies were beginning to bear fruit.
But we are deeply concerned that current political realities in Ontario have shifted attention away from continued implementation of the current poverty reduction strategy.
The minimum wage has been frozen for two years and planned increases to the OCB have been deferred. Social Assistance incomes have stagnated, with rate adjustments that fall short of the rise in the cost of living. Significant cuts have been made to emergency supports aimed at keeping people on assistance from becoming homeless. 
Poverty among adults has actually increased. By 2010, 54,000 more adults found themselves living in poverty. And inequality continues to rise. More and more people in communities all across Ontario – many for the first time in their lives – are finding themselves without good paying jobs, unable to make the rent, and relying on food banks and emergency shelters to meet their basic needs. Poverty remains racialized, as members of racialized communities continue to face inequities in the labour market; similar inequities are faced by women and people with disabilities. This at a time when the highest income earners in Ontario continue to enjoy the largest income gains of any group.
Growing inequality and poverty affect us all.  Economic instability results in higher health care costs and more reliance on emergency supports. Income inequality erodes social cohesion and ultimately destabilizes entire communities.

A consensus has emerged across all sectors of Ontario society that eradicating poverty and reducing inequality make social and economic sense.

A new and improved poverty reduction strategy would allow all Ontarians a liveable income, promote high quality employment for all Ontario workers, and build strong and supportive communities. And it would work for all Ontarians, whether they are children or adults, low-income workers or people receiving social assistance benefits, so that we all have access to a higher quality of life.
We believe in an inclusive Ontario, where everyone can develop their talents and contribute to thriving communities. We want a province with a vibrant economy that works for everyone and shared prosperity across economic lines.
That’s why we are calling on you and your party to commit to creating a stronger strategy to eradicate poverty and reduce inequality in Ontario.

For the 25 in 5 Network for Poverty Reduction,
Mike Creek
Voices From the Street
Greg deGroot-Maggetti
Mennonite Central Committee – Ontario
Jennefer Laidley
Income Security Advocacy Centre (ISAC)

October 15, 2012

Diary of an Advocacy Associate: Talking to the people who can help get things done!

It sure has been a busy few weeks!  Like most of you, I feel like there is not enough time to get done what needs to get done in a day.  Which is why this post is coming a week and a half late…….(please don’t tell my boss).

After the 25in5 and ISARC meetings that I wrote about in earlier posts, the next kind of exciting thing to happen in my work life was the opportunity to meet with the Deputy Minister (DM) of Child and Youth Services located in Toronto. 

Now, I know what you are thinking…..SNORE! But, you are wrong. 

Opportunities to speak with the people who are in charge of actually implementing and evaluating the poverty reduction strategy (PRS) in Ontario don’t come around every day.

October 4, 2012

Thanksgiving Vigil to Eradidate Poverty

People from faith communities across Ontario gathered for Thanksgiving vigils today. We gave thanks for the abundance we have in Ontario. But we also asked why it is that so many of our neighbours do not share in that abundance.

I attended the vigil in Waterloo Region. Here is a reflection offered by Matt Cooper, the Program Coordinator for the House of Friendship's Emergency Food Hamper Program. (Matt could not actually attend the vigil. He was busy preparing and delivering thanksgiving food hampers. But he sent this reflection to be read the vigil.)

It is challenging to summarize the current situation and the last 9 months of this year.  Many words come to mind.  
The need we have seen so far has been enormous.  Each day we see an average of 140 families and individuals.  Each week and month, the people who ask us for help manage to find a way to survive and put their best face forward with a little help from our volunteers, and other community supports.  At the end of September our volunteers finished sharing the 25,731st food hamper of the year.  This is the most food hampers we have had to share so far at this point of the year in our history as a program.  When we lock up for the night on the 31st of December it is very likely that we will have broken all previous records of food distribution at House of Friendship.
When someone turns to us for help, our volunteers walk a path through our warehouse and assemble the food for them based on their diet, family composition and health concerns.  To walk this path once is approximately 20 meters.  Thanks to the generous donations of the community and the hard work of program partners like the Food Bank of Waterloo Region at each step there is fruit, vegetables, pasta and other staple items. Often questions, special requests and other issues lengthen this journey.  Our goal is to provide short term emergency support to people a few times a year.  This is the most we have resources to do. At the bare minimum, our volunteers in their journey of sharing 25,731 hampers have walked over 500km this year as they circled through our warehouse putting them together.  As a coincidence, that is approximately the distance between Kitchener and Ottawa, our nation’s capital.
While it is comforting to know that there is sufficient generosity to ensure that there is food for the 25,731 hampers we have done and the hampers that the many other organizations in our community like churches, community centre’s and community meal programs have done as well, the demand is greater than the ability to meet it.
If our volunteers and staff did decide to walk to Ottawa or Queens park (which we could have done five times there and back) we could share the story of how poverty has long term consequences for peoples health.  That poverty is often a near constant state of crisis, that hunger is in more neighborhoods that you would think and that building bigger charities or continuing to look for greater quantities of food donations is not a good long term choice.  Investing in people and ensuring they have an adequate income first and foremost is the best path to walk down as a society.

September 26, 2012

Judaism, Christianity and Poverty - How would you really like to be treated?

On September 13, 2012, the Interfaith Social AssistanceReform Coalition (ISARC), in collaboration with IDI and the Church of the HolyTrinity, held this really interesting event, where individuals from four different faiths – Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Buddhist – all shared their perspectives on social justice based on the teachings of their respective religions.

Avrum Rosensweig speaking at the Interfaith
Perspectives on Social Justice Dinner
One of my favourite quotes from the evening (and there are many) comes from Avrum Rosensweig, a Jewish Scholar and founder of Ve’ahavta (The Canadian Jewish Humanitarian and Relief Committee).  During the discussion he talked about Judaism calling people to do two things:
1) Be a good human being and
2) understand the human being beside you. 

This quote got me thinking about the Christian call to treat others just as you want to be treated (Luke 6:31). 

How do these two important teachings connect for me?

September 20, 2012

Diary of an Advocacy Associate: The 25 in 5 Network is back in Action

About 5 years ago, a group of anti-poverty advocates got together and asked the Ontario government to create a poverty reduction strategy.  The group called themselves the 25-in-5 network and asked that any poverty reduction strategy the government put forward aim to reduce Ontario’s poverty rate by 25% over five years. 

Well guess what, the group actually had quite a bit of success!!

September 14, 2012

Let's Include Single Adults in the Next Poverty Reduction Strategy

Ontario’s Poverty Reduction Strategy defines living in deep poverty as anyone who’s income is less than 40% of the median adjusted family income in Canada (as reported by statistics Canada).  One of the main goals of the current poverty reduction strategy, which was implemented in 2008, was to reduce the number of children living in poverty by 25% by 2013.  As we reported in an earlier post, the government has made some progress in achieving this target. 

In the coming year, Ontario is required, through the Poverty Reduction Act, to review and update its current poverty reduction strategy.    There are many items to consider when updating the new strategy.  One such measure is the depth of poverty, not only for children, but for adults as well.

September 11, 2012

Diary of an Advocacy Associate: The Journey Begins

I've been working at MCCO and contributing to this blog for about two months now, and yesterday I realized that I failed to introduce myself……..

I'm Kaylie.  That's a picture of me at my desk.  I work at MCCO as a poverty advocacy associate and, so far, am really enjoying my job.  Though I've worked as a member of the poverty advocacy team before (as a research intern last summer), this fall marks my first real foray into the world of advocacy.

I’d like to take you with me.

August 29, 2012

Taking Control of the Conversation: Telling our Political Candidates what We Care About

Last night, I attended my first ever all candidates meeting.  As many of you already know, there are two by-elections happening in Ontario next week and one of them is in Waterloo.   The campaigning time has been short, about 4 weeks in total, and the candidates have been very busy telling us why they are our best choice.  But how much time have they spent listening to us tell them what we want and what we need?  

In the spirit of honest writing, I should tell you that my expectations for the all candidates session were quite low.  I assumed that the candidates would spout their party rhetoric; that I would end up sitting there for two hours listening to the candidates tell us what they think we should care about and why the other parties are not as good as they are.  Instead, the organizers of the meeting chose a unique format which, for 2.5 hours yesterday evening, changed the shape of the political process.

Photo credit:
The topic of the evening was poverty,  inequality and the growing income gap between the rich and the rest of us.  Instead of the typical ‘stump speech’ followed by a question and answer period, candidates were asked to listen to us, to people in our community as we explained the reality being faced by a growing number of people who are living on low incomes in Ontario.

August 14, 2012

Monthly Income, Basic Expenses and What's Left Over

An apple a day keeps the doctor away.  This old adage speaks volumes about the importance of a healthy diet to a healthy life style.  Unfortunately, there are many people living in Ontario who cannot afford a healthy diet, let alone other basic needs, in order to achieve the healthy life style that we all deserve. 

Each year, Region of Waterloo Public Health (and other public health authorities around the province) publish local information about the weekly cost of eating a healthy diet.  The cost information accounts for family size, age and gender.  The Region of Waterloo also does some number crunching and provides a bit of information about basic shelter costs and annual incomes for a number of different family types and income brackets.

Taken together, all of the information tells us a very interesting story.  A family of four with a median after tax income earns about $76,320 a year.  After healthy food and basic shelter costs are taken into account, this family will have over 70% of its income left over for other expenditures.  However, if this same family of four is receiving Ontario Works benefits, they will have less than 12% of their monthly budget ($237) left to purchase the remaining basic needs including school supplies, toiletries, cleaning supplies, transportation and communications. 

A single person receiving Ontario Works benefits, on the other hand, will have over spent their budget by 36% simply by eating a healthy diet and paying market rent for housing.  In reality, a single Ontario Works recipient will be forced to choose between healthy food and a decent place to live and they will have very little money, if any, left over for transportation to job interviews, to purchase used clothing or to buy the cleaning products needed to keep their apartment clean.

One of the main differences between the income (in)adequacy of families and singles living on low incomes are Child Benefits -- the Ontario Child Benefit and the Canada Child Tax Benefit.  Data from 2011 indicate that child poverty has been reduced by more than 6.5% since 2008, when the Ontario Poverty Reduction Strategy was launched.  The Child Benefits help ensure that all children in our province have an income with which one can afford healthy food and appropriate shelter.  Though there is still much progress to be made in meeting the target of a 25% reduction in child poverty by 2013, recent increases in the Ontario Child Benefit are making a difference in the lives of children and families living on low incomes.

August 9, 2012

Moving beyond Growth to Measure Wellbeing

In a recent post, I discussed the idea that economic growth alone cannot eradicate poverty in a developed nation.  But, you may be asking, if we do not measure progress through increases in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) then how will we know if we are making progress? 

There are actually a number of indicators of well-being that have been developed over the years to measure changes in overall well-being. Perhaps the newest and closest to home is the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW).  Based out of the University of Waterloo, the CIW measures our well-being in 8 different categories, including how we treat the environment, our living standards, opportunities for leisure and culture, how we use our time, our health, our education and even our democratic engagement and the overall vitality of our communities. 

Far more than a measure of average living standards, the CIW measures our quality of life.  Average income is certainly a part of this, but just as important is environmental protection and how much time we have to simply have fun and engage with our friends and neighbours outside of work.  If you ask me, this is a far more comprehensive and relevant measure of our wellbeing than whether or not GDP has increased.   

August 1, 2012

Economic Growth Alone will Not Eradicate Poverty

In a recent piece from the Fraser Institute, Mark Milke states that we do not have to accept poverty as an inevitable part of life.  He points out that economic growth has done wonders for poverty eradication throughout the world over the past 200 years.  Through reliance on innovation, free trade and resource exploitation, the living standards of billions of people have lifted far above subsistence.  As a result we have healthier, happier and live longer.

He is not wrong.  In developing nations, economic growth is an important tool for poverty reduction.  Innovation and access to markets have done wonders for the standards of living of all of us.  There is much evidence, however, that in wealthy nations, it is no longer enough to rely on economic growth to produce increased well-being,either for the rich or for the poor.

July 30, 2012

"Poverty and Inequality..most powerful determinants of health..."

Here is an insightful letter to the Globe and Mail editor regarding the recent Council of the Federation meeting.

30 Jul 2012
The Globe and Mail Metro (Ontario Edition)

Health-care iceberg

    The Council of the Federation and its health-care-innovations working group have suggested useful measures to reorganize purchasing, health-care delivery and evaluation (Premiers Take HealthCare Reins – July 27). But they can be accused of reorganizing the deck chairs while ignoring the iceberg: Persistent poverty and inequality are the most powerful determinants of health status and, therefore, health-care expenditure. The federal government has increased the size of the iceberg with its eligibility restrictions on Old Age Security and Employment Insurance.

    Canadian physician and health analyst Michael Rachlis estimates that poverty accounts for at least 20 per cent of all health-care costs. The premiers ignore this at their peril.

    No one remembers the crew of the Titanic for making service more efficient by reorganizing deck chairs, but rather for causing a disaster by ignoring reality. – Sid Frankel, Faculty of Social Work, University of Manitoba 

July 26, 2012

Award Winning Program Provides Hope and Home

"You feel very, very, very alone. You don't know who to reach out to. But now when you know, you don't feel so alone anymore. You think maybe there is some hope, maybe I can solve this problem."
Keri, a participant  in MCCO's Circle of Friends program, travelled to Toronto to receive a Canadian Urban Institute award as part of a delegation from Waterloo Region's innovative STEP Home collaborative.

Keri spoke about the dramatic transformation in her life from the time she first connected with Circle of Friends when she was at the YWCA Kitchener- Waterloo's emergency shelter -- Mary's Place -- to her life today. An apartment, a roommate, a car, a laptop. "Wow. I never thought I would have all this again."

Circle of Friends is part of the STEP Home collaborative, "a set of 12 interrelated programs in Waterloo Region designed to end and prevent persistent homelessness and foster respect, hope, home and community."

The Canadian Urban Institute selected STEP Home as one of "Eleven individuals and groups have been chosen as the winners of this year’s Urban Leadership Awards program for making Canada’s cities healthier, safer, and more dynamic places to live and work."

STEP Home won the award for Innovation. "This award celebrates new technologies, programs or ideas that advance research, celebrate diversity, propose to solve urban problems or advance opportunities for innovation in a creative, entrepreneurial and ethical manner," states the Institute's media release

"MCC Ontario is proud to be part of the STEP Home collaborative," states Rick Cober Bauman, MCCO's Executive Director. "We know that Circle of Friends has made a real difference in the lives of the women and children who have been participants. And we also know that Circle of Friends provides social benefits and savings to the broader community. Circle of Friends is one of the ways MCCO responds in the name of Christ to needs of people in our local community. And the partnership with STEP Home makes Circle of Friends stronger."

June 26, 2012

Paté, Parks and Paul the Apostle on Taxes

Here are two different takes on taxes.

From the Fraser Institute, a humorous music video marking tax "freedom" day. Among other things, the singer laments the big bite taxes are taking out of his paté budget.

A Day in the life of Your Taxes.

Here is another take. Trish Hennessy at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives sees taxes as a gift we give one another.

And what does the apostle Paul have to say about taxes?
In his letter to the Romans (13: 1-7), Paul instructs the early Christian community to pay their taxes "as a matter of conscience" because government is "God's servant for good."

John Redekop, past moderator of the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches and past president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada expands of this instruction.
... Jesus also addressed the payment of regular political taxes. The Herodians asked him one day, "Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?" Jesus' unequivocal response was, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's" (Matthew 22: 17, 21). 
Redekop notes that Jesus' exhortation to pay taxes "is particularly telling in that Jesus lived in a colonial setting under an oppressive dictatorship that opposed him and his teaching." (Politics Under God, p105).

He points out the difference between the role of government in Jesus' and Paul's day and the role of government today. "Most governments now undertake major activity in areas such as health, welfare, insurance, emergency relief, disease control, sanitation, hospital services, placement of orphans in care, care for the disabled, control of HIV/AIDS, environmental management, childhood education, higher education, professional training, assistance for the poor and the elderly, pension regulation, maintenance of safety, quality standards in production and trade, child labor, and much more." (Politics Under God, p115)

For Redekop paying taxes is only one of the responsibilities of Christians in civic life. Another part is the requirement to keep calling our governments -- our elected leaders and the civil servants who make public services function -- to live up to their calling as God's servant for good.

Flowers and paté on Valentines Day is one way to express our love for someone. But contributing to make sure our neighbours have clean water to drink, schools and parks for their children, affordable housing and safe streets in vibrant communities is certainly another important way we love one another.

May 29, 2012

Circle of Friends makes a difference and pays dividends

Check out this story about MCC Ontario's Circle of Friends program. A great partnership with the YWCA-Mary's Place in Kitchener and part of Waterloo Region's STEP Home collaborative (Supports to End Persistent Homelessness.)

May 22, 2012

United Nations has no Appetite for the State of Hunger among Indigenous communities in Canada

The price of milk in Attawapiskat First  Nation

By Lyndsay Mollins Koene

"… the situation of Aboriginal peoples in Canada raises specific concerns"  says the UN SpecialRapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter while visiting Canada on May 16, 2012.

Not long ago, while in Kashachewan First Nations, an isolated First Nation along the James Bay Coast, I was working with a woman who wanted to try a new recipe, but noted that her family was very diabetic.  I offered up a recipe of my own, chicken legs, tomatoes, and rice.  Together we shopped for the ingredients at the only store in the community, and for her family of six, spent close to $70 on this meal.

A recent visit from De Schutter called for changes to the way First Nations access food.  The first of these would be a reform of the Nutrition North Canada program that subsidizes retailers to serve remote communities. He then called for a structural approach to tackling the socio-economic and cultural barriers to opportunities for those living on reserves that result in their not enjoying fully their right to adequate food. Finally, De Schutter notes that neither the federal Government nor the provinces consider that they have a responsibility to support off-reserve Aboriginal peoples in overcoming the structural discrimination they face; often leading to poverty.
“In our community, 4 liters of milk costs us $15. Our kids watch the milk commercial on the television that tells them to drink milk to help build young bones and teeth, and our families are unable to afford it. I feel that this basic need is being denied our children.” Chief Donny Morris, Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (Big Trout Lake)
The First Nations Regional Longitudinal Health Survey (RHS 2008/10) indicates that 17.8% of First Nation adults aged 25-39 and 16.1% of First Nation adults aged 40-54 reported being hungry but did not eat due to lack of money for food. Comparably, only 7.7% of Canadian households were considered food insecure during 2007-2008.

Bananas at $6.15 kg in Kashachewan First Nation
De Schutter concluded his United Nations visit by sharing the following insights:  “What I’ve seen in Canada is a system that presents barriers and for the poor to access nutritious diets and that tolerates increased inequalities between rich and poor, and Aboriginal non-Aboriginal peoples.”

Mennonite Central Committee in Ontario continues to work in partnership with First Nations communities in the Far North, with the goal being sustainable and nutritious options.  Whether it is connecting local farmers in Timmins, Ontario to Health Services in Attawapiskat, or connecting St. Jacobs Mennonite Church to the King Fisher Lakes community garden, both are working, through community leadership, to access sustainable food.  

Lyndsay Mollins Koene is MCCO's Aboriginal Neighbours Coordinator

April 23, 2012

Let Justice Flow Down

Poverty and inequality don't just happen. There are things that we do in society that create poverty and inequality. And there are things we can do to reduce poverty and inequality.
Below is the text of a presentation I made at the annual meeting of the United Church Women Waterloo Presbytery on April 16, 2012. The UCW Waterloo Presbytery has been focusing on the theme "Let Justice Flow Down."

"Let justice flow down like a mighty river and righteousness like an ever flowing stream." (Amos 5:24)

That prophetic call comes halfway through the book of the prophet Amos. It is a book full of grim warnings about God's judgment on Israel.

And what were Israel's iniquities?

April 5, 2012

Asking a lot from low income Ontarians to balance the budget

Sharing the costs of austerity fairly doesn’t mean expecting the same contributions from everyone. It means that contributions are based on capacity. The lowest income Ontarians, whose health is most at risk, should not be expected to share equally in solving a deficit problem that was not of their making. -- Sheila Block, Wellesley Institute
We ask Mr. Duncan and Mr. McGuinty to hold their knives. We join with the doctors and say, Tax us. Ontario is worth it!” -- Omar Ha-Redeye, Lawyers for Tax Fairness
Strong Action for Ontario -- the title of the 2012 Provincial Budget -- takes an unbalanced approach to balancing the budget. According to Finance Minister Dwight Duncan, "for every dollar in new revenues outlined in the 2012 Budget, there are four dollars of savings and cost-containment measures."

Those cost-containment measures include proposed wage freezes for workers and executives across the public sector, including Members of Provincial Parliament it should be noted. 

But another group which will see their incomes frozen are the poorest in our province, people who rely on social assistance. And we should mention that the lowest paid workers, those who are paid the minimum wage, have a wage freeze for the second year in a row. Since the cost of living has risen, those wage and rate freezes mean a real loss in purchasing power for people who can least afford it. 

March 22, 2012

Smart Social Investments Save Money

There is no doubt that Ontario has to deal with the current deficit.  But the Drummond Report itself points out "spending is neither out of control nor wildly excessive. Ontario runs one of the lowest-cost provincial governments in Canada relative to its GDP and has done so for decades."  Rather the current deficit is largely the result of the recent economic recession. And alot of the economic challenge facing Ontario stems from the high dollar, as the Drummond Commission also indicates. To tackle the deficit we have to make decisions based on accurate information. The risk with over-estimating the deficit is that it can lead to rash decisions that could result in higher costs for Government.

Public investment in programs to end homelessness is a good example. Here is an illustration from MCCO's experience. MCCO's Circle of Friends program in Kitchener helps women who have experienced persistent homelessness as they make the transition from the emergency shelter at the YWCA-Mary's Place into stable housing of their own. It is a program that does receive some public funding from the Region of Waterloo. That funding is more than matched by many volunteer hours of women who become the circle of friends, meeting each week with the women moving from Mary's Place.

Circle of Friends works. It has helped dozens of women in recent years maintain housing and stabilize their lives. MCCO recently evaluated Circle of Friends and found that every dollar invested in the program delivers more than $3 in social benefit. A large part of that benefit comes in the form of fewer ambulance calls, emergency room visits, police calls, in-patient mental health unit stays and shelter nights. Many of the women still rely on Government supports, like subsidized housing and income supports. But that costs alot less than more expensive Government services they used when their lives were in crisis. And as a result, many are able to get involved volunteering and working in the community.

There is alot in the Drummond Commission report that aims to deliver public services more effectively and efficiently. But as the report Ontario's Fiscal Reality explains, the Drummond Commission artificially inflates the size of the deficit -- manufacturing a fiscal crisis that is out of proportion to the real challenge. And that leads to the Drummond Commission recommending deep cuts in  social services, cuts that would ultimately drive up costs to more expensive public services like health care and policing. Better to make smart social investments that save money.

March 20, 2012

How to manufacture a fiscal crisis

In his recent report on reforming public services in Ontario, retired bank economist Don Drummond painted a picture of Ontario on the verge of fiscal ruin. But a close analysis of the assumptions that Mr. Drummond used to reach his projected $30 billion deficit by 2017-18 contends that number is unrealistic.

That analysis was done by another economist, Hugh Mackenzie, for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Mackenzie has years of experience analysing and forecasting provincial finances. Here is a summary of the findings of his analysis, Ontario's Fiscal Reality: Cup Half Empty or Half Full.

Although the Drummond exercise ended up producing a massive report with hundreds of  recommendations, its main role was to establish the atmosphere of financial crisis that is needed to create the political space for painful spending cuts.
To that end, the exercise began with a pessimistic economic forecast that implied a modest but manageable deficit persisting until 2017–18. From that base, step-by-step, it built that economic forecast into an unmanageable fiscal crisis.
That forecast of crisis is based on five key assumptions, each of which was carefully designed to inflate the 2017–18 deficit.
It assumed that Ontario’s corporate tax cut plan would remain intact and on schedule, despite its growing impact on the province’s fiscal capacity.
In a departure from the norm in long-term fiscal forecasts, it added a contingency amount of $1.9 billion to the projected deficit in 2017–18.
It assumed that debt service costs in Ontario would soar from their current rate of 3.5% for new debt to 5.3%.
It assumed that program spending would increase at a rate greater than the rate of inflation and population growth, creating a politically-inspired straw man on the expenditure side of the fiscal projection.
And most tellingly, it assumed that revenue would grow at a substantially lower rate than the already pessimistic assumed rate of growth of Ontario’s economy—a development which, if it were to take place, would be without precedent.
Together, these five assumptions turned a $6.4 billion projected deficit in 2017–18 into a $30.1 billion catastrophe. More to the point, this manipulative exercise turned an issue that would go away by itself with even a modest improvement in growth rates (and would be readily manageable even without) into a steadily increasing deficit culminating in a fiscal crisis.

Mackenzie's analysis suggests Ontario has the fiscal room to make the kind of smart social investments that MCCO recommended in its recent letter to Finance Minister Dwight Duncan.

March 19, 2012

Ontario needs a balanced approach to fiscal sustainability and commitment to poverty eradication

MCCO recently wrote to Finance Minister Dwight Duncan with recommendations for the 2012 Provincial Budget.  Our submission emphasizes the need to balance fiscal restraint with smart social investments, ongoing commitment to caring for creation, fostering community safety and considering ways to raise more revenue based on the principle of fiscal fairness.
Part of MCCO’s Budget submission is based on our response to the Social Assistance Review Commission’s second discussion paper. That letter underscores the need to redesign and revision income security with the goal of eradicating poverty in Ontario.
You can send your own message to the Provincial Government through Make Poverty History's recent Ontario provincial budget action: Let's create an Ontario that doesn't put people into poverty.
Finance Minister Dwight Duncan will release the 2012 Provincial Budget on Tuesday, March 27.