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July 19, 2012

McGuinty is worse than Harris

Reuel S. Amdur

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Can you believe it? Dalton McGuinty is actually worse than Mike Harris. Harris cut Ontario Works (OW) social assistance rates by 21.6%, while leaving disability rates (ODSP) alone. Since then, there have been percentage increases in OW and ODSP for, but less than, increases in cost of living. The percentage has been the same for both. That means that the gap between the rates for the two is constantly increasing. It is no longer correct to refer to the 21.6% cut in Ontario Works as a misdeed to put on Mike Harris' shoulders. It has by now become McGuinty's baby.

Well, on that score we might say that for social assistance McGuinty is as bad as Harris.  How is he worse?  The Ontario Liberal government has announced changes to the social assistance regulations that are to occur next January.  These will eliminate funding for community start-up and urgent home repairs.  Funding for these programs has been in place for decades.

Community start-up covers such things as moving expenses, curtains, and minimal furniture.  Home repairs have been covered to deal with serious problems.  Let’s take some examples.

A family is living in private housing.  The rental costs are significantly higher than the OW budget permits, meaning that the family has to take money out of the food budget to keep a roof over their heads.  Their name comes up for social housing, meaning that rental costs will be manageable.  How will they pay moving costs?  When they get there, they may need curtains at least, perhaps also some furniture items.  That is what community start-up is for. 

Then there is the case of a woman and small children fleeing family abuse.  They leave Toronto and come to Ottawa, to be far away from the husband.  In Ottawa they land in a women’s shelter, a municipal family shelter, or a motel paid for by the city.  This is a temporary expedient.  They need to move on, but with no furniture how can they? 

One could provide other scenarios, such as people displaced by fire or forced to move from a condemned facility.  Your imagination will possibly come up with other examples.  McGuinty’s imagination seems to be blank. 

When it comes to home repairs, think of a house in urgent need of a roof repair or a furnace repair.  Failure to fix a hole in the roof may lead to major destruction and make the family move and lose their home.  Leaving a defective furnace without repair could leave the family with no heat, and it gets rather cold in Ontario in the winter.  As well, a defective furnace could be dangerous, in emitting methane gas or in exploding.

I said that McGuinty is worse than Mike Harris.  No doubt you will now agree, even if McGuinty’s language about poor people is more polite than Harris’. 

While we are talking about welfare, let me take the occasion to correct something I have said previously regarding the policy about dependent and independent adults.  I said that one criterion used was whether the person had ever worked at any time in his life cumulatively for at least a year.  That awkward criterion has since been eliminated and replaced.  However, the need is not for the rule to be made more functional.  The need is for the whole distinction to be eliminated.  Its purpose is simply to establish one more way to make life more difficult for poor people.  It is also just one of many regulations that have made the system so utterly complex and confusing.

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