This is the executive summary of “A Budget for the People,” a brief submitted to the Provincial Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs by Bishop Andrew Asbil and the diocese’s Social Justice & Advocacy Committee, as part of the province’s annual pre-budget consultation process. Submissions such as these may be used by the Ontario Ministry of Finance in developing the annual provincial budget.
Called by our Christian convictions, Anglicans throughout the Diocese of Toronto regularly engage in meeting needs in our communities through food and clothing banks, meal programs, Out of the Cold shelters, drop-in programs, and funding of more than a dozen non-profit ministry partners. At the same time, our faith calls us to speak out on behalf of, and in solidarity with, the most vulnerable among us.
Many Ontarians struggle daily to meet their most basic needs. More than 500,000 Ontarians relied on food banks in the last year. Housing is increasingly unaffordable, not only in the GTA but in places like Barrie, Peterborough, and Port Hope. A budget that is truly for the people must address this growing inequality.
Social Assistance: We agree that the current social assistance system isn’t working: it traps people in poverty. However, some of the government’s proposed changes will actually exacerbate the problem. Social assistance rates do not even come close to covering basic needs for recipients, with the result that people live in degrading conditions or go without, at the cost of their health and dignity. We urge your government to make a significant investment in social assistance rates, so that recipients can meet their basic needs. We also urge the government to maintain the clawback income earned by social assistance recipients at 50 per cent. Increasing the exemption slightly while raising the clawback on earnings above that limit to 75 per cent, as proposed, would undermine the goal of returning people to the workforce by punishing those who work more. As well, we urge the government to maintain existing eligibility criteria for ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program). Moving to a stricter definition of disability will throw many people with conditions which preclude their full participation in the workforce onto the lower benefit rates of Ontario Works, making their health worse and leaving them even less able to participate in the economy, creating an even heavier burden on the healthcare system.
Minimum wages and working conditions: We also agree that a job ought to be a pathway out of poverty, but for this to be true, there must be decent wages and working conditions. Raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour would put more money in the pockets of low-income earners than a tax credit for people making less than $30,000 per year – money that will be spent in the local community and stimulate Ontario’s economy. We urge your government to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour by September 2019.
We are also concerned about the loss of paid sick days. This forces people to decide between taking care of their health and losing a day’s pay. As a result, workers come to work sick or injured, spreading infection and resulting in higher healthcare costs and lower productivity. We urge you to restore the provision of two paid personal leave days under the Employment Standards Act.
Housing: Too many Ontarians are spending more than 50 per cent of their income on housing. With matching funding available under the National Housing Strategy (NHS), now is the time to invest in truly affordable housing in Ontario. We urge your government to match federal funding under the NHS for the 2019 fiscal year. Seventy-five per cent of this funding should be invested in non-profit, co-operative and supportive housing, to encourage long-term affordability. We also urge you to use additional incentives, including making surplus public land available below market value, exemption from development charges, and streamlining of the regulatory process, to encourage development by non-profit, cooperative and supportive housing providers.
While our recommendations involve some spending, they will put money back in the pockets of low- and moderate-income Ontarians, lower healthcare costs, and boost productivity. The people of Ontario are waiting for this kind of leadership.