ON Election 2022



- by Michael Craig

I grew up poor in a single-parent home with my mother and a younger brother. That probably explains why I’m so frustrated and angry about poverty, and asking voters to make this issue a priority, along with climate change, as you vote on June 2.

Let me tell you what “poor” meant to me as I grew up in Niagara Falls in the 50s - which, shockingly, is not much different from what tens of thousands of children experience in 2022

Not much has changed! Growing up in poverty means barely enough food, inadequate housing, no money for higher education, and few creative and recreational outlets; and stresses and strains that result in neglect and abuse.

I had enough to eat but nothing like the nutritious diet I enjoy today. My mother and brother and I lived in a small one-bedroom apartment with a bathroom shared with another tenant. The main thing I lacked in a carless family, as my mother worked in a factory, was freedom and options. We never traveled, never rented a cottage, never had music or other lessons.

I worked from the age of twelve, mostly as a hotel bellhop in high school - that was good for me. I was lucky - good though lazy at school, I went to university at a time when tuition plus living expenses could largely be covered by working two or three days a week.

As you go to the polls, and study the parties’ plans to eradicate poverty, think of all the kids in 2022 who are underprivileged. Here is part of what I have learned. The poverty line in Ontario is an income of $19,930 for a single adult, while for a lone parent with one child it’s $28,185. Just before the pandemic, using Canada's Low Income Measure, 1.57 million people in Ontario lived in poverty, including 382,000 children. It really is appalling, unacceptable, that they are living a substandard life while giant corporations and the rich hide their wealth.

Raising the minimum wage to get closer to a living wage is a key way to reduce poverty. This coming October the Conservatives plan to raise the minimum wage to $15.50. The Liberals promise that the minimum wage will rise to $16 early next year and be tied to inflation. The NDP is promising to raise the minimum wage to $20 by 2026, with annual increases of $1 per year after that. The Greens propose $16 per hour in 2022 and $1 extra annually, with a top-up in cities where the cost of living is higher.

Whenever a rise in the minimum wage is proposed or implemented, owners of small businesses, not to mention big retailers like Walmart who pay just a smidgeon above the minimum, warn us that they’ll go broke. But, in fact they prosper as extra dollars flow naturally to their stores and restaurants. Over the past five years as the minimum wage has risen from $11.60 to $15, we have yet to see proof that significant numbers of companies have expired because of higher wages.

But let’s face it, even $16 an hour is not, in Grey Bruce, a living wage. The United Way here determined in 2019 that a two-income family with two young children, requires an hourly living wage of at least $18.39. Three years later, with many costs including rent rising rapidly, it costs much more to survive.

Of course not everyone is able to work. Because of physical and mental disabilities, or the inability to find a job, many people rely on Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). Ontario Works rates have not been increased since 2018.

The Conservatives propose to increase ODSP benefits by 5%, and legislate to increase it annually, tied to inflation. The NDP promises to immediately increase OW and ODSP rates by 20%, and increase rates again as the cost of living rises. They also want to establish a social assistance system, like a guaranteed minimum income, that raises people out of poverty no later than the end of the party’s first term.

The Liberals are also ambitious: they will increase ODSP benefits by 10% in 2022, and another 10% in 2023, and they want to increase Ontario Works benefits by 10% in 2022. They will allow people to earn $6,000 per year in employment income without clawbacks. The Green Party, recognizing how paltry the current rates are, proposes to double ODSP rates. They also want to immediately implement the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, and build 60,000 supportive homes with wraparound mental health and addictions services over 10 years.

Putting more money in pockets is a good way to reduce poverty, but the best way is a universal basic income set at or above the poverty line. This is supported by many commentators including business-friendly types who see the obvious - that money in low-income pockets will be spent locally, boosting the economy. A study has confirmed that 59% of Canadians support a universal basic income program for people earning under $30,000. But, unfortunately, a basic income pilot project was cut by the PC government when they took office. The NDP would restart this pilot, and the Greens and Liberals appear sympathetic to the concept.

That’s a lot of facts and dollar signs, but what it comes down to is that three parties recognize the need to treat people on low incomes with greater respect and move rapidly to improve their lot. The Progressive Conservatives, by the numbers, are lacking in empathy and unable or unwilling to find the dollars. They do have proposals for tax breaks for low income individuals and more money for skills training and employment programs, but they don’t address poverty directly.

The beauty of democracy is that it is up to you in the polling booth. Choose wisely - and above all VOTE! We’re all in this together.




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