Summary Observations on the June 9th Poverty Reduction Strategy Consultation in Scarborough
By Liyu Guo, with input from John Stapleton
Super Monday proved to be quite a night for the Scarborough anti-poverty activists and low-income residents in Scarborough. While the consultation was announced just a few days prior to the event and was held in a sweltering public school gym bordering Pickering and Scarborough, more than 100 people showed at the door and participated in this important public dialogue. It was truly a cross-section of participants, including concerned local residents, social activists and social service reps, youth reps, seniors, labour, faith community… Reps from 25in5, Campaign 2000, Family Service Association of Toronto, Colour of Poverty and a number of Scarborough-based coalition members were on hand as well, handing out info to the attendees.
Co-sponsored by three Scarborough MPPs:
- Wayne Arthurs (a former mayor of Pickering),
- Bas Balkissoon (Member of the Cabinet Committee on Poverty Reduction), and
- Brad Duguid (Minister of Labour).
They were joined by Gerry Phillips (Minister of Energy) at the table.
Children and Youth Services Minister Deb Matthews made a surprising appearance when she addressed the audience briefly as well. The 2-hour discussion and dialogue was for the most part orderly and moderated by a local TV journalist, discussions and debates heated up from time to time, when members of the audience disagreed with the views of MPPs.
Toronto Star reporter Kerry Gillespie also attended with a photojournalist who took many pictures throughout.
Some from the audience also raised concerns about the six questions being used as the guide, saying they are inappropriate in terms of what people wanted to say.
Some of the highlights of the public voices included the following:
- Child poverty is about family poverty, about parents who are poor, unemployed or under-employed, or who are struggling with 2 or 3 part-time, temp jobs on minimum wage, trying to provide for their kids
- Poverty is very much an issue of lack of job opportunities, about the loss of good-paying jobs, about job security, decent wages with benefits, and about unionization and discrimination in the workplace
- This should only be the beginning of the public dialogue, and the government needs to have ongoing public consultation at the local level, riding by riding, involving all local residents and community agencies
- We are losing good jobs by the thousands, good unionized jobs, and our politicians don’t have solutions, so we need to work together to find solutions for them, such as creating more green jobs, involving local people, empower our youth to make them part of this process
- We’ve got too many government-initiated reports, with lots of them being shelved. It’s time for some real action on the issue
- Giving tax cuts to the wealthy is not the way to go. We need to invest in our kids, in youth, in social programs, green jobs, and over all, in people
- We should not only talk about poverty reduction, but we need to eradicate poverty, like some of the European countries.
Each of the MPPs spoke briefly, indicating where they stand on the issues:
- Brad Duguid talked about how minimum wage was going to rise gradually, as there was the fear of job loss if it went up too quickly. He also mentioned the upcoming consultation on vulnerable workers and temp agencies to start in early July and the fact that we have a long way to go on the affordable housing front.
- Gerry Phillips acknowledged the public interest in talking about good jobs as an important policy focus, about affordable housing and social assistance rates and stated that “we don’t’ have all the answers yet.”
- Bas Balkissoon insisted that the most difficult task was on how to define poverty and that “there is no quick fix, no overnight solution”.
- Wayne Arthurs stated that he was interested in how to continue the dialogue and how the government could receive input on an ongoing basis from the public.
- Deb Mathews reiterated that poverty is tough, but the government is determined to develop its plan with timetables and targets. She also noted the government is on the right track and it’s historic that the government decided to face the issue and start the public consultation.
The audience was then asked to comment on what programs and initiatives in the community have worked. A number of them were suggested and commented on from the audience, including breakfast programs in schools, Best Start early learning and child care programs that have lost funding from the federal government, ethno-racial specific youth programs, Tropicana community services in Malvern, etc. The audience also shared their frustration with these MPPs re trying to access government funding to continue some of these successful programs.