2012 Ontario Budget Response - Read between the Lines

 I attended the lockup for the Ontario 2012 Budget called Strong Action for Ontario. For those not aware the lock up is an opportunity afforded invited guests of concerned organizations to view the budget before it is released publicly. During this time you are not allowed to carry communication devises or even leave the room without a security escort. Wow, is it ever weird not having a cell phone. What happened to me? Ha. It's like you've agreed to have your rights suspended for 3 hours.. like jail! The coffee was likely on par with the latest institutional blend and where were the sandwiches promised in the invite? Luckily I avoided any escorted bathroom breaks and went to task feverishly reading over the budget.

  I like to read the throne speech that accompanies it first so I know what issues to watch for and the ones most glossed over are often the ones you have to watch, such as the discovery that in addition to freezing social assistance rates - including disability support programs rates - they've cancelled the Community Start up and Maintenance Benefit which helped put the lowest income recipients in and enable them to keep  homes.

Having followed and read the direction the social services review is headed, there seems to be some preemptive assumptive measures put in place in the budget even though the review is not completed or approved which I find alarming. Was there ever going to be any serious input from anyone other than this review commission who from the outset seems fixated that people need "incentives" to work.These "incentives" include creating enough income instability it would seem as to 'scare' people into "wanting' to work. Do they really think access to work is the only problem? Or jobs that have a pay structure enough to keep a roof AND pay for daycare?

  People don't need incentives like forced labour on our disabled as the two ( social assistance review and budget) seem to suggest ("integrating ODSP with Ontario Employment") to want to work, they already want to contribute. This part you seemed to hear, that people want to contribute, but not by force by CHOICES. And many already are, but want recognition so their esteem and mental health can experience growth or life, not embarrassment or loss of dignity through being "categorized" and branded.

  The budget continues down the alley of shifting government responsibility for taking care of our citizens through partnerships with corporations and corporate charities/religions to be used as distributors and hosts for funding / programs - not grassroots solutions based on reality. They've created a $2 billion dollar " Jobs and Prosperity Fund" for them to play with, so they can make even more free branding as well as more money for their executives, advertising, staffing and corporations received a freeze in corporate taxes as well. The budget also kept an education program that pays 30% of University or College tuition for kids living at home in households making up to $160,000 yearly. Hello!! Like they need it! Yet they froze welfare recipients at $599 month! I guess the charitable meal programs will have to feed them...ALL...Oh Wait..that's all part of their strategy! And I wonder how many low income earners will be asked to join the new "Jobs and Prosperity Council"?

  About the only good news for low income recipients is they're reducing or elimination some pension contributions and like them MPP's incomes are being frozen at their current (allbeit 6 figure) rates. Poor them.

  Other planned cuts aside from pensions are done through amalgamations or merges of entities like schools which they plan to merge - which will affect low income kids without transportation - as well as Children's Aid Societies which at the best of times are stretched to the limit already with 6 of 10 in their care coming out of their "care" to live in poverty or be involved in crime. Great idea Duh-alton. Apprenticeship programs boast having gone up from 60,000 in 2003 to 120,000 now but has a 50% in-completion rate...so...doesn't that mean it has failed? Do the math - 50% of 120,000 is 60,000! Right back where they started from! even after we've gone through a recession? The program has too high an expectation on employers to work and make it worth their while as often times the programs requires an overkill of assorted tradesman on site to make it financially feasible for them. Fixing this would enable thousands of apprentices to get into meaningful job situations resulting in completions.

  As usual the politicians aren't listening. Although they invite me / us to all these gathering and input sessions and claim they want our input yet they seem to pick and choose what they (want to) hear from a preordained vantage point, and when you do speak with them as I have with the MPPs involved with Poverty Reduction Strategy as well as the Commissioners of the Social Assistance Review and others, you seem to get preconditioned and canned responses that don't allow for new ideas or flexibility.

Click Here for fun video on Ontario budget and low income cooking!
 We're all on the same team here and the sooner everyone understands that the better off we'll become. Yes it'll take "strong action" for Ontario to move forward but that doesn't mean categorizing and shifting responsibilities it means building bridges that work because they've had the proper input of materials to make them work. Not a patchwork of ideas that may work, but ideas with a history of working, which we've brought to their tables many a times.

Tom Pearson