This session was hosted by Joe Dickson, MPP (Ajax-Pickering)

The meeting was attended by about 25 people, mostly representing social service agencies in the Ajax area. The meeting opened with introductions from Joe Dickson, MPP where he discussed the process that the government was undertaking to develop the poverty reduction strategy.

Although several groups, including the Community Development Council Durham and Colour of Poverty brought information with us to hand out, we were initially told that it had to be handed out at the end of the meeting. After some discussion we were given space to put out our documents, however it was at the back of the room and was not alluded to until the end.

Tatum Wilson, Policy Advisor on the Poverty Reduction Strategy to Minister Matthews, was present, as was other staff from the Minister’s office. Tatum spoke briefly about the process and consultations that have been occurring across the province. He outlined five principles that have come out of the discussions to date:

  1. That a poverty reduction strategy needs to be about providing opportunity, and access to opportunity, not charity (later on in the discussion he also mentioned John Stapleton’s paper, Why is it so tough to get ahead? in relation to this principle)
  2. That there needs to be a focus on empowering communities to act at the local level to address poverty
  3. A Wraparound approach to services, that focus on individuals not programs, needs to be adopted
  4. That programming and service decisions need to be based on sound evidence
  5. That a strategy for Ontario needs to involve innovation and new approaches to help address gaps in existing programs, policies, and services

Tatum also indicated that the online submission process will be ending on July 31st, but also suggested that local events may continue and that the process needs to be ongoing. He iterated the plan to complete the consultation process by the end of 2008.

The discussion was conducted in small groups with reporting back at regular intervals. We were limited to the six questions being used in the process. All responses were recorded by the staff from Joe Dickson’s office.

Some of the key issues that came out of the discussions:

  • The rules and conditions for many social service programs are limiting and oppressive. They are not conducive to helping individuals and families live healthy active lives. There needs to be more realistic criteria in place for these programs and the transition process needs to be more reflective of the reality of living in poverty.
  • Community needs to be engaged in policy and programming discussions so that decisions are reflective of local needs.
  • There needs to be a distinct process for assisting youth living in poverty that may not have the support of a parent or legal guardian. Often these individuals fall through the cracks as it is assumed that someone else in helping to ensure their well-being.
  • The links between ethno-racial status and poverty needs to be made plain. We need to disaggregated data to help us truly understand the demographics of who is living in poverty and develop targeted programs to help assist these marginalized groups.
  • We need to establish a guaranteed income that would assure that the entire community has an acceptable standard of living. This needs to be part of a shift in thinking away from the idea of charity and towards one of justice and community investment.
  • We need to approach poverty reduction from a new perspective, and not simply invest in existing programs that may not be effective or reflective of true community needs. The process needs to become ongoing, ensuring that dialogue does not end with the publication of a strategy.

Also attending this event was April Cullen, a Regional Councillor in Durham who is also Chair of the Health and Social Services Committee. She indicated interest in hosting other consultations in Durham, and the Community Development Council Durham will be helping to achieve this.