| Mar 13, 2008

Legalese - March 13, 2008

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Legalese - March 13, 2008 What is a Poverty Reduction Strategy?William A. Florence,Barrister and Solicitor, Rural Legal ServicesOne of the campaign commitments of the Ontario Liberal Party in the election last fall was to address the problem of poverty by creating a Poverty Reduction Strategy for Ontario. A new committee has been established called the Cabinet Committee on Poverty Reduction. As stated on the Office of the Premier website, the members of the committee “will work to develop poverty indicators and targets, and a focused strategy for reducing child poverty and lifting more families out of poverty. The goal of this committee is to make progress in the fight against poverty over the course of the government's four-year mandate.” This “Legalese” presents an example of what a Poverty Reduction Strategy may look like, based on work, among others, by the Income Security Advocacy Centre, (“ISAC”).

ISAC was established by Legal Aid Ontario in 2001. ISAC assists low income Ontarians by litigation of test cases relating to the rules and administration of provincial and federal income security programs, and by advocating and participating in law reform and community development activities. ISAC advocated for a Poverty Reduction Strategy during the last provincial election, and also participated in the drafting of Ontario Campaign 2000’s July 2007 discussion paper called “A Poverty Reduction Strategy for Ontario”. This discussion paper puts forth some ideas regarding how the Ontario government could make systemic change to reduce poverty levels. There are four key elements identified in the discussion paper’s example of a Poverty Reduction Strategy.

Poverty Measurement: To establish whether or not a reduction strategy is having a positive effect on the poverty rate in Ontario, there has to be some sort of measuring stick. One of the current measurement tools is the Statistics Canada Low Income Cut-Off After Tax annual measure of poverty. It was suggested in the paper that more than one measure be used to create a more accurate assessment of a range of incomes that would qualify as being a part of the “poverty zone”.

Targets and Timetables: The discussion paper suggested that suitable goals need to be established. The recommendation is the goal of reducing the child poverty rate by 25% in five years. It further recommends that the child poverty rate should be reduced by 50% within 10 years.

Components of an Action Plan: It was recommended in the discussion paper that in consultation with the community, the following steps should be taken to achieve the goals and targets identified:

Provide good jobs at living wages – raise the minimum wage to $10 per hour in 2007, with an inflation indexation, [minimum wage is currently scheduled to reach $10.25 in 2010]; provide work tax credits; improve health and dental benefits for low-wage workers; update the Employment Standards Act and improve enforcement; and provide services improving access for new immigrants to find jobs.Provide a strong safety net of income support programs – increase child benefits; increase social assistance benefits and index the rates to inflation; and improve access to Employment Insurance benefits.Improve access to early learning and child care – utilize public investment to develop a regulated child care and early learning system for all children.Affordable Housing – construct affordable new homes; provide rent supplements; and rehabilitate existing social housing.Accessible Education & Training – freeze tuition and provide need based grants; provide training programs for those making the transition from Ontario Works to the workforce; and provide coordinated labor matching programs.

Monitoring and Evaluation: It was recommended that there should be annual evaluations monitoring the progress, and that the necessary levels of responsibility and accountability would require a high-level political commitment on the part of the Ontario government.

The Ontario Campaign 2000’s discussion paper provides an example of what a Poverty Reduction Strategy could look like. Notice how the recommendations are based on a holistic approach which includes diverse seemingly unrelated fields such as affordable housing, child care, and tuition reform. A Poverty Reduction Strategy is a broad based approach, as opposed to patchwork remedies. It will be interesting to see how the newly formed Cabinet Committee on Poverty Reduction proceeds with developing and implementing its strategy.

Legalese is a column of general information and opinion on legal topics by the lawyers of Rural Legal Services, Box 359, Sharbot Lake, ON, K0H2P0, 613-279-3252, or 1-888-777-8916. This column is not intended to provide legal advice. You should contact a lawyer to determine your legal rights and obligations.

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