Poverty strategy needs firm goals

hands hold a candle next to a flyr that reads "talking about social justice"
By 
 on November 1, 2014

Archbishop Colin Johnson sent this letter to Premier Kathleen Wynne in September, in response to the government’s second phase of its Poverty Reduction Strategy.

The Hon. Kathleen Wynne
Room 281,
Main Legislative Bldg, Queen’s Park
Toronto, ON   M7A 1A4

Dear Madame Premier:

On Sept. 3, 2014 the Ontario government released the long-awaited second phase of its Poverty Reduction Strategy, Realizing our Potential. The document provides an important opportunity to focus public attention on the continued prevalence of poverty in our province. Anglicans in the Diocese of Toronto have been actively working to address poverty in our communities for decades, and we welcome any effort by the government to engage with this issue. This latest phase of the Poverty Reduction Strategy contains several ambitious proposals to root out poverty, including a bold goal to end homelessness, a commitment to expand health and dental care programs to all low-income Ontarians, and a continued focus on reducing child poverty levels across the province.

While these proposals are admirable, the lack of a firm timeline or concrete goals in the strategy are cause for concern. The first phase of the Poverty Reduction Strategy, released in 2008, contained concrete, measurable goals and plans for implementation, such as the central commitment to reduce child poverty in Ontario by 25 per cent over five years. Although this ambitious goal was not met over the first five years of the strategy, the stated commitment and timeline were important in moving the issue forward and achieving real successes in this effort. Over the course of the first phase of the Poverty Reduction Strategy, low-income families saw significant increases in the Ontario Child Benefit, the implementation of full-day kindergarten across the province, and an increase in the minimum wage. According to the government’s own statistics, these initiatives helped to lift 47,000 children out of poverty in the first three years of the strategy, and prevented 61,000 children from falling into poverty. Without the firm commitments contained in the first strategy, it appears that the second phase of this strategy will struggle to achieve comparable developments.

It is encouraging that the new phase of the Poverty Reduction Strategy expands its focus beyond child poverty to address poverty issues for all Ontarians. The government’s commitment to end homelessness in Ontario is especially positive news. Anglican parishes throughout the diocese have long been actively involved in supporting our neighbours who are homeless or precariously housed through the development of affordable housing projects on church lands, advocating for increased funding for supportive housing, or supporting Out of the Cold programs. We welcome the renewed attention this strategy will provide to this issue.

We see the new Poverty Reduction Strategy as a positive step toward addressing poverty in our province. We now look for some concrete action plans on the part of the government to achieve the important goals they have laid out in this strategy. The Diocese of Toronto is committed to working with the government, and with our partners such as the 25in5 Campaign and the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition, to move towards taking action on poverty in the province. Together, we can live out our commitment to embody “God’s reconciling love, justice, compassion and liberation” in our communities and make a tangible difference in the lives of our most vulnerable neighbours.

I would welcome the opportunity to speak to you about this, as I hope that we can continue to work together in solidarity to the benefit of all of the citizens of Ontario. Please be assured of my ongoing prayers for the work that you do.

Yours faithfully,

The Most Rev. Colin R. Johnson
Archbishop of Toronto

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