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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 25in5.ca 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!