October 17th was International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (IDEP). New Democrats have always stood with community members, activists, and like-minded allies who work to fight for meaningful change that will help to lift Ontarians out of poverty. We support affordable housing, access to education, training, a $15 minimum wage and good jobs with basic protections for workers.
Around the world, more than a billion people live in extreme poverty. Here at home, one in 10 Canadians live in poverty, while Toronto remains both one of the wealthiest cities in the world, and the child poverty capital of Canada. Even though Ontario’s overall unemployment levels are low, the number of low-income jobs continues to climb ever higher.
One of the reasons I look forward to Constituency Weeks is that it gives me a great opportunity to sit down face to face with so many individuals who wish to share their concerns and in some cases struggles. I take those faces and conversations back with me to Queen’s Park to remind me why I was elected. I can honestly say that I can personally relate to the struggles that I hear from some constituents who can’t make ends meet. There was a time when I personally had to rely on foodbanks for assistance. I recall at the time how hopeless things looked for me, but with perseverance and the generosity of friends, family and a caring community, I was able to find my way out. So the importance of IDEP really hits home with me.
As a province, I believe we can do more to combat poverty, but it seems that Doug Ford’s Conservatives are going about this all wrong and are dragging us backwards at an alarming rate.
Ford campaigned on a promise to halt the planned minimum wage, keeping it at the current $14. He recently vowed to roll back Bill 148 which includes changes to labour laws. Such a move will take us back to laws established in the 1970s. Employment in those days was more often permanent and full time. Wages were high enough to support a family and often included fringe benefits and a pension that guaranteed retirement security.
Earlier this month Doug Ford told the Legislature that Bill 148 is a job killer. Put simply, Bill 148, provided two paid, job-protected emergency leave days for all workers, increased holiday entitlement, mandated equal pay for casual and part-time workers doing the same job as full-time employees, enshrined improved scheduling protections and boosted protections for temp agency workers.
Ford claims that in his estimation, 60,000 people lost their jobs under Bill 148. Statistics Canada, however, states that from August 2017-August 2018, employment in Ontario actually increased by 1.1 percent which translates to about 79,000 jobs.
As things stand today, 1.6 million workers in Ontario don’t have sick day entitlement of any kind. Who doesn’t get sick once in a while? Repealing Bill 148 is just wrong headed. So much for Doug Ford’s commitment to stand up for the little guy.
Similarly, Ford has axed the Basic Income Project which provided low-income individuals in three Ontario communities unconditional financial support of up to $17,000 a year and $24,000 for couples. The data shows that about two-thirds of participants actually had jobs and yet they still live below the poverty level. The pilot project was to be studied after 3 years of operation but it will be phased out after barely 2 years.
It is interesting to note, however, that not only do social agencies and advocates support the concept of basic income, but so do many prominent Canadian businesses. In fact just days ago an open letter signed by 100 Canadian CEOs representing more than $1.5 billion in combined annual revenues, advised Premier Doug Ford and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod to reverse the decision.
The letter stated, “As Canadian business leaders … we see a guaranteed basic income as a business-friendly approach to address the increasing financial precarity of our citizens and revitalize the economy.” The letter goes on to explain that people cannot be productive citizens who contribute to the economy and society if they can’t even put food on the table. The CEO group believes that basic income policies make good economic sense. The letter further states, “As business leaders, we see basic income as … a pro-growth, pro-business, pro-free-market economic stimulus that will grow the economy and create jobs.”
Ford sees basic income as merely a sinkhole in Ontario’s economy and that just discourages people to find work. The truth is exactly the opposite. When people have money to spend and confidence in the security of their family, they go out and make purchases for goods and services which leads to more good paying jobs and taxes paid by business owners and workers.
Everyone who lives in Ontario knows what a wonderful place it can be to build a great life. It’s up to us as a province to make sure we all have that opportunity.
As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues, or any other provincial matters. You can reach my constituency office by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 705-461-9710 or Toll free 1-800-831-1899.
Michael Mantha MPP/député – Algoma-Manitoulin