Meeting with Social Assistance (SA) Review Commissioners Frances Lankin and Munir Sheikh

Presented Social Audit of Y.R. "Behind the Masks" to Slices of Justice, a church group
PACC's Vice-Chair (scooter) Kristine Carbis and Social Audit Co-Author Yvonne Kelly helped present and lead discussions This fellow is located a block from the social assistance reviewers' office

PFIB campaign's Nadia Edwards & Tom Pearson Flank Co-Commissioner Munir Skeikh
Mike Balkwell makes a point to Co- Commissioner Lankin via teleconference call

2 Bloor St W home to the Social Assistance Review Commissioners' office

Before I get to the meat and potatoes (for those who can afford them!) I'd like to mention that I had the unique opportunity to address a (Lutheran) church group called 'Slices of Justice" along with my Co-author Yvonne Kelly (York Region Food Network) of Behind The Masks testimonials from those marginalized by income - York Region's first ever social audit and a feather in our cap if you will...At any rate the social audit means nothing if it is not made available through these types of channels, especially since the audit was completed with direction from ISARC (Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition) which advised us on our hosting of it and how it was conducted. I won't go too far into it but suffice to say it took a good 6 months of my time to complete (with others) and includes input from over 24 people living on the margins, as well as participation from about 35 agencies and 20 politicians...The presentation, similar to another I attended at Trinity United a week previous, was well received with attendees staying right to the end eager to ask questions and engage in discussion......The point I do push home at these events however are the facts such as dignity means providing for one's own self not from hand outs...Oh and they served pie...home made rhubarb..Mmmmm in slices too! Symbolic of their "Slices of Justice" I'm sure..Ha.. Ironically a chronically homeless 50 something man whom we'd given some paid work to through our " House of Hope" program having him help paint a new affordable housing complex, dropped in at the end...he had pie too.

Next up a trip to Toronto for myself and other "Put Food in the Budget" campaign members to meet with Social Assistance Review Commissioners Frances Lankin and Munir Sheikh. Embarrassingly when I first announced I'd be attending a meeting with them I mistakenly called Frances Lankin Boris Laskin - a famous judge I believe..Ha..At any rate I got both the name and sex correct today even though Ms. Lankin unexpectedly joined us all by conference call while her co-commissioner and staff, as well as our four PFIB members which included Nadia Edwards, Susan Bender and Director Mike Balkwill attended in-house. Our strategy was simple as each of us was assigned a portion of the presentation to make, followed by scripted questions to the commissioners making specific requests. The fact that Frances Lankin, our main ally we'd thought was not in the room physically could not deter us from making an impact because let's face it - from my experience we were not likely to walk out with many promises.

We started well with introductions made around the table and then Nadia opened the presentation with a call for the $100 healthy food supplement with a grass roots entry that made for an easy sedge-way to my bit as my portion came up following Nadia's. I picked up from her theme of the dire straits / need people are in right now and that that sense of urgency seems to be missing from the puzzle and a $100 healthy food supplement added to social assistance and odsp recipients cheques was the fastest and most widely accepted ( and most humane option on any option tables I've heard) way to make change with an immediate impact. Municipalities, churches and all sorts had already endorsed this, and surely 9,000 " Do The Math" surveys the public has done with most finding it takes $1300 plus a month to survive - when some get $592 - means something? Surely Rocket Scientists were not needed for any government review to see rates must go up? However we respect the integrity of the commission and process, and did not have overly high expectations at any rate going in.

Frances Lankin opened by saying for the record and the integrity of their review they could not at present say whether they endorsed the Healthy Food Supplement or not however prior to becoming one of the commissioners for the revue is already on record as endorsing it!! Of course the fact they wouldn't publicly endorse it now was not unanticipated, however the Commissioner's previous endorsement was a twist for me. Go figure...but we can't use that or they'd appear biased so...I guess it's times like these that a rock and a hard place come to mind! Ha! At any rate the discussion went on and we made our asks - Namely - Will you do the math? Will you publicly endorse the $100 Healthy Food Supplement and would you consider trying the "Do The Math Diet"?

In the end we got commitments to do the math - and Frances Lankin again has already done it - but not to publish results - that they'd have to get back to us on. Why? That's my question..too late now.Ha. I did manage to ask them to commit to Eating the math diet and got no commitment from either although Commissioner Lankin mentioned having done previous "food-bank" types of diets through various trials means.

Commissioner Munir Sheikh was a little more reserved but very articulate, and when he did speak chose his words carefully. Likely a good choice for a commissioner, if not decidedly optimistic that they will be listened to in the end. Some will remember him as the man who quit the census over the ending of the mandatory long form. You have to respect a man who stands up for his principles that's for sure. He is that second commissioner, not so in tune as Lankin with these issues perhaps and somewhat absorbed I thought with a "working poor" link, and as well both Commissioners seemed semi-consumed by the prospect of a housing which I replied that I knew people already getting social housing and they still couldn't afford to put food on their tables, so that alone( a housing benefit) doesn't cut it..I cited a senior who recently attended the provincial budget lock up with me who has social housing and is a war vet and unable still to feed himself a month. I told them I thought there was something inherently wrong with a system that already gave every benefit its going to yet he can't feed himself.....still they persisted down this line but we reiterated again the wide spread support for the benefit and saw no reason that it should interfere with a long term overhaul of the system, but that short term this would help all people most in need right NOW!

In the end and reading between the lines a bit over the past several months of my dealings with this, I'm thinking it's a sexier sell for the government to sell "working poor" benefits ( like a housing benefit) that may also include some welfare recipients than assisting those most in need, most of whom have not chosen this life of misery in poverty which our governing good brothers and sisters don't often seem to get. Just like selling poverty reduction to the public on helping children ( poverty reduction strategy) , now by helping those hard "working poor" they will be doing their "sexy"thing again...and this will of course (sub text here) put everyone in line ...Sure will - the soup line...and Minister Broten's and Campbell's soup will be supervising at this rate! More on this wacky statement later..

Or maybe Nadia had it right in referring to the rent subsidies that the SA reviewers seem to be being steered towards , " Maybe it should be called a landlord subsidy, they are the ones that will benefit". Hmmm..I wonder how many behind this 'strategy" angle are themselves landlords?
Sad to note that Jackie from 25 in 5 crossed the floor ...more $ perhaps?..NO!!
Sadder note..upon arriving back in Newmarket from my trip downtown I dropped my cell phone as I got to Newmarket and the bus ran over it destroying it..and my contacts...Ahhhh!

Here is an interesting video I took during an invite only prov gov announcement and some funny add ons! Enjoy!

Tom Pearson

PACC Poverty Awareness Neighbourhood Network Breakfast

Fred and I got an opportunity last week to join numerous Chairs and Executive Directors and such at the Neighbourhood Network meet and greet breakfast held at the historic Aurora Cultural building on Church St.
Fred Joly points to the hearty grub available for attendees

Tom Pearson at the Neighbourhood Network Breakfast at the Aurora Cultural Centre

The impressive breakfast was served continental style - kind of like "Inn from The Cold" meets Spagos. Ha! After the usual coffee, tea, and juice choices the tables were littered with mini muffins of all flavours, fresh fruit, granola with plain yogurt, bagels, and a hot baked egg dish seemingly stuffed with healthy accompaniments..mmm? Out of etiquette, I was halfway through my granola yogurt when I realized no one else was eating. Oops..Faux-pas perhaps I thought, as I sheepishly looked up at Fred who too was devouring something deliciously edible. After all he was looking to me to show the ropes. Gulp. Sorry Fred.

Quite the gathering at the annual Neighbourhood Network breakfast

After munching and mingling, we all got to introduce ourselves and give a 2 minute blurb about who and what we were, which I wasted my entire timeslot talking about an event we already held - our annual Friendly Neighbourhood Youth Road Hockey Challenge - free to all kids and awarding one with an $ education award as I want to grow sponsorship. I never got to mention anything new we're up to such as the " House of Hope"work program including a new grow food initiative in it's infancy that rewards land lenders with $ for allowing food to be grown on their property. PACC was able to find 1/2 acre for such use with overflow going to those in need at no cost. We hope to add collaborative partners to expand including training at risk persons to become independent organic growers and farmers.

Tom Taylor (former mayor of Newmarket) shares his perspectives during the breakfast

It was nice to hear about / from other organizations including Big Brothers, Big Sister's E.D. Grant Pickford who went out of his way to tell us to keep up the good work. Nice to hear support from others as, due to the nature of what PACC does - IE: Make noise when needed - we are sometimes somewhat isolated in our work with some allies, but most having to stick to an agenda or mission not quite what ours is. For example although The Heart and Stroke Foundation do great work, the fact that they are the areas main funders for advocacy against poverty through the "healthy living / eating angle, is interesting. They weren't present on this day however, although I'm sure would have approved of the health level of the food. Ha.

Others of note in attendance were Belinda Stronach's (Founder) N.N. crew including Linda Potter, Tim Jones, Steve Hinder, John Crowell - who celebrated a 30th birthday, and Tom Taylor among others. Belinda Stronach was also just honoured with an honourary doctorate I understand as well, so a positive buzz was in the room. It was an opportunity to mingle and make possible collaborative partners such as for our road hockey event or Oct 17 International Day for the Eradication of Poverty or to just plain engage folks with many being outside our usual circles, such as Aurora Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club members and great gents such as Aurora Senior's Centre's Charles Sequeira who shared with me he's noticed an increase in seniors affected by income, and as well it was nice to share with Inn from the Cold's Brenda Northey about our PACC pilot program the Talk 2-one messaging system which has allowed us to distributed phone numbers with voice-messaging 24/7, helping to place homeless and at risk men and women into homes and jobs! We will be reporting results to YR Commissioner Adelina Urbanski soon in hopes of having the service picked up York Region wide!

I also took the opportunity to refer to a program represented by the Salvation Army as dignified to point out that having to ask for handouts no matter how well intentioned - is not dignified - and programs perhaps should not be stated as such. Don't get me wrong the S.A. church do some good work. Luckily, with my wording, not many got the dig - after all - we're all friends here right! Ha!As a PACCer once said to me from her scooter, "Poverty doesn't need a middleman"

Fred chats up Rob Clark explaining his out-of-the-box two-sided business card

Fred Joly, pictured speaking with Snap Aurora and RC Design's Rob Clark, also attended with me as PACC's other representative. Fred, who comes from lived experience, is now an SEO website expert - meaning he can drive targeted traffic to websites by the droves from the search engine results pages - and as well he has helped us with our new "House of Hope" programs which includes training others in painting / drywall taping to professional standards which he used at the "House Of Hope" location at Green Lane and Leslie St's in Newmarket Ontario, to teach the homeless guys and others who got paid work on the project how to do so professionally to standard. Fred Joly is also a talented artist, songwriter and musician with plans to assist workshops and sales spots once the house is up and running among other great work he's done for Poverty Action for Change Coalition. When you'd like increased qualified web traffic to your website (get more donations especially) - Fred's willing to offer special rates for optimizing websites for York Region non-profits or charities.

Check out this Fun Video showcasing services by the Neighbourhood Network by TP Entertainment & Media via PACC!

Up next I visit Ontario Government Poverty Reduction co-chair Frances Lankin in Toronto

Updates and stuff

PFO launch was very informational

Poverty Free Ontario had its launch in Toronto this past May 5 with much success.Representatives from various organizations from across Ontario attended to hear what this coalition of voices will focus on.PACC members like Kristine Carbis (Vice-Chair) pictured here as well as Yvonne Kelly from the YR Food Network attended the launch...Here is the mission - build cross community support make poverty an issue for provincial election Create a public awareness campaign around the roles and responsibilities of Ontario Gov for ending poverty.

Here is a poem we started the day with read from the author John Palmer of Sudbury;

In this country, the poorest don't starve,
They starve awhile get ill,
Eat awhile, Almost get healthy,
Then starve a while again, then get sicker,
Then eat awhile, get a little energy,
then get hungry and go through it all again and again and again.

Some staggering facts that came to my attention...

The poverty-line in Ontario based on the LIM-AT gauge is $18, 582 per year. A Single adult on OW gets $7, 352 Year in 2004 60% of parents were employed making insufficient funds to live above poverty.

This Province has made no strides forward in reducing poverty in 30 years now. A 2010 UK study has found that levels of education did not predict labour market fortunes.Contrary to popular beliefs, regardless of education the sorts of work available often keep people in - not lift them out - of poverty..

This means the jobs are not paying out enough to survive on above poverty..Hmmm..well that can't be ...can it?...and what is poverty anyway in Canada? With no official poverty line and no poverty reduction strategy this country really has a lot of growing to's called sharing..remember that one from kindergarten people? Good.

Phase 1 of the Poverty Free Ontario mandate includes adopting that no person shall live below 80% of the LIM-AT poverty gauge and eradicating - not reducing - poverty..words you can live by.

Tom out

Federal Election 2011 Vote Today

Don't forget to get out and vote. Even if you're not sure who to vote for vote anyway. Any vote for anyone is a vote against someone so get over and vote today!

This message brought to you by PACC a non-partisan group dedicated to Making York Region the Best place for ALL residents!

Watch for me tonight Election news coverage on Rogers 10 now at 10:45 PM...unfortunately they switched my panel time to accommodate someone else...any issue you'd like me to raise that is federally connected let me know!

Tom Pearson