We can't afford poverty

Complacency is not acceptable, says Ontario Alternative Budget
April 12, 2006

TORONTO— The Ontario Alternative Budget for 2006 released today by the Alternative Budget Working Group of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives takes on poverty and income inequality as its central focus.

The Alternative Budget shines a spotlight on the McGuinty government’s abject failure to address the financial crises for Ontario’s least advantaged citizens left behind by the previous government.

“The government talks a good game about its success in rebuilding Ontario’s public services, but the reality is that, after you allow for inflation, Ontario’s lowest-income citizens will be receiving less support from their provincial government when the latest announced increases take effect than they were when the McGuinty government took office,” OAB co-chair Hugh Mackenzie says.

“Even the Liberals’ most basic promise to low-income families – to end the clawback of the federal child benefit for families receiving social assistance benefits – has evaporated. Despite the pass-through of the increases in the child benefit, the clawback they campaigned against is still taking millions of dollars in federal child benefit money out of the pockets of Ontario’s lowest-income families. Indeed, for every $1 that the Liberals are passing through, the government is still clawing back more than $5,” Mackenzie adds.

The Alternative Budget looks at the full range of budgetary choices facing the government through the lens of poverty and income inequality, proposing increases in the minimum wage, tougher enforcement of employment standards, increases in social assistance benefits to match the Social Development Canada market basket standard of adequacy, and Ontario initiatives for child care and affordable housing. It also highlights relationships that link poverty with health and educational achievement.

“Taking concrete steps to alleviate poverty and income inequality isn’t just the right thing to do in a society that prides itself on its compassion, it is in the enlightened self-interest of every person in the province,” says OAB co-chair Andrea Calver. “Growing poverty places more pressure on the health care, education and justice systems. It makes our society less productive and it undermines the quality of life of the province as a whole. To put it most simply, we cannot afford poverty.”

“The official Ontario Budget released in late March took a business-as-usual approach to the incomes of Ontario’s poor. That is not acceptable. Hundreds of thousands of Ontario’s most disadvantaged citizens are in a constant state of financial crisis. The government must get serious about poverty and income inequality,” Calver says.

The Alternative Budget also addresses the growing fiscal imbalance between the province and local governments, reversing the download of responsibility for housing and social assistance imposed by the Harris government in the 1990s and proposing a massive ($12 billion per year) investment in infrastructure renewal.

Addressing these public service deficits will require that Ontario face the reality that the tax cuts of the 1990s were far greater than Ontario could afford. The Alternative Budget proposes revenue changes that will rebuild a portion of the fiscal capacity lost in the 1990s.

“Dalton McGuinty’s fiscal imbalance campaign against the federal government is a diversion. The 400-pound gorilla in the room that everyone is trying to ignore is that the Harris tax cuts in the 1990s eliminated fiscal capacity that we desperately need today to address pressing needs,” says Mackenzie.

The Ontario Alternative Budget is a project of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, prepared by a working group drawn from labour, social action, community and faith groups, and has prepared alternative budgets and analysis annually since 1997.


Ontario Alternative Budget 2006: We Can’t Afford Poverty is available on the CCPA web site: http://www.policyalternatives.ca

For more information contact Kerri-Anne Finn, CCPA Communications Officer, at 613-563-1341 x306.