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Submission to the Standing Committee on Social Policy regarding Bill 152, an Act respecting a long-term strategy to reduce poverty in Ontario

Date: 
Wednesday, April 1, 2009

 

1. Introduction

The Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians / L'Alliance pour l'égalité des personnes aveugles du Canada (AEBC) is a national organization of rights holders who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted. The bulk of our work focuses on public awareness to improve public attitudes and offer input on public policy issues of direct concern to our community.

The AEBC is active in Ontario. Three of our seven member Board of Directors live in Ontario, and 4 of our 15 chapters are located in Ontario. For background and further information on our organization and work, please visit our fully accessible website, http://www.blindcanadians.ca.

The AEBC commends the Government of Ontario for introducing Bill 152. However, the AEBC believes the bill requires strengthening through a number of amendments if it is to bring about its intended outcome, and ensure all parties in the Legislature work towards the critical goal of poverty reduction in a manner that is consultative, easy to monitor, transparent and accountable.

2. The Critical Need

The bulk of Ontarians who live with a disability are unemployed -- though many could and wish to work -- and live in chronic poverty. This is partly due to pervasive negative public attitudes that lead to assumptions of our incapacity, and the fact that policies and programs that directly affect our lives are designed without our direct involvement.

Persons with disabilities are under represented in all organizations. For example, how many persons with disabilities sit in the Ontario Legislature? How many persons with disabilities work as Deputy Ministers or in top legislative committee and administrative positions within the bureaucracy of the Province of Ontario? This is where decisions about new policies and legislation are formed and made. Given our chronic under representation at these levels, our lived experiences are not adequately taken in to account when these decisions are being made. We believe this is a major reason why our plight does not receive the attention it requires.

By contrast, when the Government of Canada was developing both the Obstacles Report and the Scott Task Force Report, well known, experienced persons with disabilities were hired, accompanied the task force members throughout, and contributed directly to these ground-breaking and significant reports.

We believe that as the Government of Ontario develops its plans, including the promised review of ODSP, it is crucial this precedent is followed.

The Preamble to Bill 152 states in part:

"The Government's poverty reduction strategy is guided by the vision of a province where every person has the opportunity to achieve his or her full potential, and contribute to and participate in a prosperous and healthy Ontario and builds on the foundations of Ontario's education system and the Ontario Child Benefit Program."

To achieve this most desirable goal, organizations representing rights holders with disabilities, organizations that understand the underlying causes of poverty and have an ability to help craft policy alternatives, must not only be consulted but must be directly involved in developing and implementing policies and programs to deal with the chronic effects of poverty and marginalization that remain the lived experiences of too many members of the disabled community.

3. Eradicate Poverty

It is significant the Government of Ontario has released a Poverty Reduction Strategy. If successful, it will contribute to a more powerful economy, stronger communities and a healthier, happier and more secure citizenry.

However, its very title already implies defeat. In so prosperous a country as Canada, the goal should reach beyond “reducing” poverty. The goal should be dedicated work to "eradicate" poverty, and the development of a society where all members of the human family, including persons with a disability, are able to make for themselves lives that are fulfilling, and free from having to subsist in chronic poverty.

The AEBC recommends the Preamble be amended to read:

"The Government's poverty reduction strategy is guided by the vision of a barrier-free province where every person has the opportunity to achieve his or her full potential.”

The AEBC recommends that Section 2(1) be amended to read:

"The Government of Ontario is committed to the long-term eradication of poverty, where every person has the opportunity to achieve his or her full potential and contribute to and participate in a prosperous, healthy and barrier-free Ontario.”

4. Adult Poverty

The Government's Poverty Reduction strategy focuses mainly on children. While no one can quarrel with the need to reduce child poverty and give young Ontarians a good start in life, this focus seems to forget that children live in families - and the needs of families, with or without children, must also be considered. Many persons with disabilities who receive ODSP do not have children. Without broadening the poverty reduction work to include all adults, the Ontario government will be consigning this whole generation of people with disabilities to a continued life of poverty. As members of the ODSP ACTION Coalition often say, "Disability Should Not be a Life Sentence to Poverty."”

Section 2(2) 7 should be amended to read:

“That a sustained commitment to work together to develop strong and healthy children, adults, families and communities is required to effectively reduce poverty.”

5. Incorporating Anti-Poverty Work

To be successful, poverty reduction must be incorporated and integrated into all work of government, across and between Ministries. The goal of poverty reduction, and the principles which direct it, should be considered at all levels of planning, implementation and evaluation. Given the presence of the Accessibility For Ontarians With Disabilities Act, all new policies, programs and legislation should undergo vetting through a Disability Lens, to ensure the needs of persons with disabilities are fully considered. This review must consider the needs of both children and adults.

6. Promoting True Equality Throughout Ontario

Inequities contribute to poverty. Persons with disabilities and other equality-seeking groups know this reality far too well!

Fighting poverty strives to increase equality; hence, it promotes a better climate of human rights throughout Ontario.

The Ontario Human Rights Code already has "primacy" over all other pieces of legislation, and must be taken into account when reviewing, planning and developing new policies, programs and legislation, to more equitably provide opportunities for all Ontarians. The AEBC recommends that Section 2(2) be amended to include an additional principle that reads,

"The enforcement of the Ontario Human Rights Code and the promotion of a better climate of human rights throughout Ontario is required to effectively reduce poverty."

7. Annual Report

The public must be able to regularly review the progress of the measures put into place to eradicate poverty in Ontario. Requiring the Minister to table an annual report on progress made before the Legislature, would give the public and all parties in the Legislature the opportunity to regularly focus on what progress is actually being made in dealing with poverty in Ontario.

The AEBC recommends Section 4 be amended to read:

“The Minister shall, commencing at the end of 2009, prepare an annual report on the Government’s long-term poverty reduction strategy, including the Government’s activities to support the strategy and available information relating to meeting the indicators set out in the strategy, and that within 60 days, this Report shall be tabled in the Legislature.”

8. Regular Review of the Anti-Poverty Strategy

The goal of poverty reduction, and ultimately poverty eradication, must be taken seriously by all Ontarians, including all parties in the Legislature. The strategies that Ontario employs to meet these goals are critical to all Ontarians, and must be carefully crafted and carefully evaluated to give them every chance for success.

Bill 152 needs to be strengthened to ensure regular reviews are carried out, and are done in a timely manner.

A meaningful Poverty Reduction Strategy must present targets that are ambitious, measurable and achievable within a specified timeframe.

Section 3 should be amended to read:

"At least every five years, either as a result of the review under section 6 or otherwise, the Government of Ontario shall establish a specific target for poverty reduction. The target shall represent a substantive reduction in poverty within the next five years.”

9. Conclusion

The Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians believes this Bill is a most worthwhile piece of legislation, and with the amendments being proposed by the AEBC and other groups, we believe it will assist Ontario in its efforts to eradicate poverty across this Province.

However, the most critical aspect is political will on the part of all parties, and a willingness to directly involve in a meaningful way those Ontarians who are most affected by having to live in ongoing chronic poverty.

We therefore urge in the strongest possible terms, that rights holders with disabilities be included in all forums, committees and working groups that are charged with developing policies, programs and legislation to reduce and ultimately eradicate poverty in Ontario.

The AEBC is anxious to assist with this critical work on behalf of all Ontarians.

1. Introduction

The Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians / L'Alliance pour l'égalité des personnes aveugles du Canada (AEBC) is a national organization of rights holders who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted. The bulk of our work focuses on public awareness to improve public attitudes and offer input on public policy issues of direct concern to our community.

The AEBC is active in Ontario. Three of our seven member Board of Directors live in Ontario, and 4 of our 15 chapters are located in Ontario. For background and further information on our organization and work, please visit our fully accessible website, http://www.blindcanadians.ca.

The AEBC commends the Government of Ontario for introducing Bill 152. However, the AEBC believes the bill requires strengthening through a number of amendments if it is to bring about its intended outcome, and ensure all parties in the Legislature work towards the critical goal of poverty reduction in a manner that is consultative, easy to monitor, transparent and accountable.

2. The Critical Need

The bulk of Ontarians who live with a disability are unemployed -- though many could and wish to work -- and live in chronic poverty. This is partly due to pervasive negative public attitudes that lead to assumptions of our incapacity, and the fact that policies and programs that directly affect our lives are designed without our direct involvement.

Persons with disabilities are under represented in all organizations. For example, how many persons with disabilities sit in the Ontario Legislature? How many persons with disabilities work as Deputy Ministers or in top legislative committee and administrative positions within the bureaucracy of the Province of Ontario? This is where decisions about new policies and legislation are formed and made. Given our chronic under representation at these levels, our lived experiences are not adequately taken in to account when these decisions are being made. We believe this is a major reason why our plight does not receive the attention it requires.

By contrast, when the Government of Canada was developing both the Obstacles Report and the Scott Task Force Report, well known, experienced persons with disabilities were hired, accompanied the task force members throughout, and contributed directly to these ground-breaking and significant reports.

We believe that as the Government of Ontario develops its plans, including the promised review of ODSP, it is crucial this precedent is followed.

The Preamble to Bill 152 states in part:

"The Government's poverty reduction strategy is guided by the vision of a province where every person has the opportunity to achieve his or her full potential, and contribute to and participate in a prosperous and healthy Ontario and builds on the foundations of Ontario's education system and the Ontario Child Benefit Program."

To achieve this most desirable goal, organizations representing rights holders with disabilities, organizations that understand the underlying causes of poverty and have an ability to help craft policy alternatives, must not only be consulted but must be directly involved in developing and implementing policies and programs to deal with the chronic effects of poverty and marginalization that remain the lived experiences of too many members of the disabled community.

3. Eradicate Poverty

It is significant the Government of Ontario has released a Poverty Reduction Strategy. If successful, it will contribute to a more powerful economy, stronger communities and a healthier, happier and more secure citizenry.

However, its very title already implies defeat. In so prosperous a country as Canada, the goal should reach beyond “reducing” poverty. The goal should be dedicated work to "eradicate" poverty, and the development of a society where all members of the human family, including persons with a disability, are able to make for themselves lives that are fulfilling, and free from having to subsist in chronic poverty.

The AEBC recommends the Preamble be amended to read:

"The Government's poverty reduction strategy is guided by the vision of a barrier-free province where every person has the opportunity to achieve his or her full potential.”

The AEBC recommends that Section 2(1) be amended to read:

"The Government of Ontario is committed to the long-term eradication of poverty, where every person has the opportunity to achieve his or her full potential and contribute to and participate in a prosperous, healthy and barrier-free Ontario.”

4. Adult Poverty

The Government's Poverty Reduction strategy focuses mainly on children. While no one can quarrel with the need to reduce child poverty and give young Ontarians a good start in life, this focus seems to forget that children live in families - and the needs of families, with or without children, must also be considered. Many persons with disabilities who receive ODSP do not have children. Without broadening the poverty reduction work to include all adults, the Ontario government will be consigning this whole generation of people with disabilities to a continued life of poverty. As members of the ODSP ACTION Coalition often say, "Disability Should Not be a Life Sentence to Poverty."”

Section 2(2) 7 should be amended to read:

“That a sustained commitment to work together to develop strong and healthy children, adults, families and communities is required to effectively reduce poverty.”

5. Incorporating Anti-Poverty Work

To be successful, poverty reduction must be incorporated and integrated into all work of government, across and between Ministries. The goal of poverty reduction, and the principles which direct it, should be considered at all levels of planning, implementation and evaluation. Given the presence of the Accessibility For Ontarians With Disabilities Act, all new policies, programs and legislation should undergo vetting through a Disability Lens, to ensure the needs of persons with disabilities are fully considered. This review must consider the needs of both children and adults.

6. Promoting True Equality Throughout Ontario

Inequities contribute to poverty. Persons with disabilities and other equality-seeking groups know this reality far too well!

Fighting poverty strives to increase equality; hence, it promotes a better climate of human rights throughout Ontario.

The Ontario Human Rights Code already has "primacy" over all other pieces of legislation, and must be taken into account when reviewing, planning and developing new policies, programs and legislation, to more equitably provide opportunities for all Ontarians. The AEBC recommends that Section 2(2) be amended to include an additional principle that reads,

"The enforcement of the Ontario Human Rights Code and the promotion of a better climate of human rights throughout Ontario is required to effectively reduce poverty."

7. Annual Report

The public must be able to regularly review the progress of the measures put into place to eradicate poverty in Ontario. Requiring the Minister to table an annual report on progress made before the Legislature, would give the public and all parties in the Legislature the opportunity to regularly focus on what progress is actually being made in dealing with poverty in Ontario.

The AEBC recommends Section 4 be amended to read:

“The Minister shall, commencing at the end of 2009, prepare an annual report on the Government’s long-term poverty reduction strategy, including the Government’s activities to support the strategy and available information relating to meeting the indicators set out in the strategy, and that within 60 days, this Report shall be tabled in the Legislature.”

8. Regular Review of the Anti-Poverty Strategy

The goal of poverty reduction, and ultimately poverty eradication, must be taken seriously by all Ontarians, including all parties in the Legislature. The strategies that Ontario employs to meet these goals are critical to all Ontarians, and must be carefully crafted and carefully evaluated to give them every chance for success.

Bill 152 needs to be strengthened to ensure regular reviews are carried out, and are done in a timely manner.

A meaningful Poverty Reduction Strategy must present targets that are ambitious, measurable and achievable within a specified timeframe.

Section 3 should be amended to read:

"At least every five years, either as a result of the review under section 6 or otherwise, the Government of Ontario shall establish a specific target for poverty reduction. The target shall represent a substantive reduction in poverty within the next five years.”

9. Conclusion

The Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians believes this Bill is a most worthwhile piece of legislation, and with the amendments being proposed by the AEBC and other groups, we believe it will assist Ontario in its efforts to eradicate poverty across this Province.

However, the most critical aspect is political will on the part of all parties, and a willingness to directly involve in a meaningful way those Ontarians who are most affected by having to live in ongoing chronic poverty.

We therefore urge in the strongest possible terms, that rights holders with disabilities be included in all forums, committees and working groups that are charged with developing policies, programs and legislation to reduce and ultimately eradicate poverty in Ontario.

The AEBC is anxious to assist with this critical work on behalf of all Ontarians.

Respectfully submitted by
John Rae, 1st Vice-President, AEBC
Office of the 1st Vice President

Respectfully submitted by
John Rae, 1st Vice-President, AEBC
Office of the 1st Vice President

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