More than 50 community members attended a panel presentation and discussion on poverty reduction in Ontario at the Prince Arthur Hotel in Thunder Bay on the afternoon of Wednesday, May 28. Sponsored by the Lakehead Social Planning Council and the Thunder Bay Economic Justice Committee, the event highlighted brief presentations by:

  • Peter Clutterbuck of the Social Planning Network of Ontario, who talked about the province-wide cross-community strategy to organize community consultations with MPPs by the end of June and the three main priorities and lead policy initiatives for serious and comprehensive poverty reduction that the SPNO is promoting in conjunction with other provincial partners.
  • Dana Milne of the Income Security Advocacy Centre, who focused on the critical importance that the province’s poverty reduction strategy extend beyond measures for reducing child and family poverty and include major reforms in Ontario Works (OW) and the Ontario Disability Supports Program (ODSP) and significant increases in social assistance rates.
  • Tracy Hurlbert of the Thunder Bay Economic Justice Committee, who spoke of her own struggles to get and retain ODSP benefits (seven years to get coverage although she is paraplegic and has a hearing impairment), the clear links between poverty and poor health, and that “band-aid solutions will not end poverty, only significant change will.”
  • Sally Calhoun of the Kinna-aweya Legal Clinic, who recounted that in 20 years of working with people on OW and ODSP, she has never witnessed worse conditions and that all the energy and effort to get people who are celarly eligible on OW or ODSP is really fruitless, since the fact is that they receive so little money that program coverage does not get them out of poverty.

Aaron Park of the Lakehead Social Planning Council, who reviewed the results of research he had conducted with focus groups of low income people in Thunder Bay to help formulate a local poverty reduction strategy for Thunder Bay showing that affordable housing, income levels (social assistance and minimum wage), the stigma of OW and ODSP, and punitive policies were among the major issues raised.

Participants in the meeting offered their own observations and comments, including the following:

  • The importance of recognizing that there are simple solutions to the complex poverty problem, people need more money to live, but that the Government must also recognize that there are some unique factors involved in northern Ontario that require particular attention and approaches.
  • Strategies to support and welcome Aboriginal in-migration to urban centres in the north must be part of a poverty reduction strategy.
  • People with mental health problems who received the 21% rate cuts in 1995 must not be forgotten in any poverty reduction plan.
  • Human service systems are being overwhelmed by demands that are the result of people not having adequate incomes, so how long must we wait before demanding significant rate increases?
  • The importance of collaborative action by all levels of government for poverty reduction.
  • The need for low income working families to get access to health coverage, since they are not on OW or ODSP.

Near the end of the meeting, Larry Joy with MPP Michael Gravelle’s constituency office pointed out that the poverty reduction strategy was an initiative of the Premier, even though poverty is not a popular issue. He announced that Minister Deb Matthews’ community consultation would be held on June 16 in Thunder Bay and that he would assist any interested parties to participate with the qualification that there be one representative from any organization.

Later in the evening, the Lakehead Social Planning Council held its Annual General Meeting, which featured the premier performance of a play about racism called Closing the Distance at Magnus Theatre. The play was a product of the Lakehead SPC’s Social and Economic Inclusion Project in 2006 and was performed by a troupe of high school students.