On Friday, June 27, more than 100 participants gathered at the International Union of Operating Engineers Banquet Hall in Oakville for a consultation sponsored by Oakville MPP Kevin Flynn, Community Development Halton, the Burlington/Halton chapter of Make Poverty History and 15 other local organizations and agencies.

The consultation was attended by the Honourable Margarett Best, Minister of Health Promotion and member of the Ontario Cabinet Committee on Poverty Reduction, Oakville MP Bonnie Brown and representatives of faith groups, multicultural and women’s groups, agencies, funding organizations, local government, labour and advocacy groups.

John Versluis of the Burlington/Halton Chapter of Make Poverty History, opened the conversation, commenting that, although Halton (comprising the communities of Oakville, Burlington, Milton and Halton Hills) is one of the wealthiest regions of Ontario, this event was one of the larger consultations to date on the Poverty Reduction Strategy. He noted that the current push toward a Poverty Reduction Strategy is the product of groundwork laid over decades by social planning councils, the Social Planning Network of Ontario, Make Poverty History, Campaign 2000 and others.

MPP Kevin Flynn delivered opening and closing comments, stating that the government’s goal is to address the root causes of poverty, and that benchmarks and targets provide better opportunities for the likelihood of success. He commented that, although he believes there is an appetite for poverty reduction, polls indicate that the public does not currently consider it a priority. However, he said, “how we treat our most vulnerable is a measure of our society” and poverty reduction is in the best interest of all Ontarians and of Ontario’s economy and competitiveness.

Several individuals and agencies described their experience with poverty in Halton: the invisibility of the poor and the lack of public awareness; barriers to work; the situation of those living with mental illness; the situation of women in violent situations who lack the financial resources to leave, and are often reluctant to report abuse, fearing loss of income or, for newcomer women, deportation; the relationship between poverty and crime; and the importance of assistance provided by grassroots organizations.

Dr. Joey Edwardh of Community Development Halton introduced the 25 in 5 Declaration and presented the SPNO Policy Framework, describing the process now taking place in Ontario as “seizing an historic moment.”

Minister of Health Promotion Margarett Best described poverty as “a moral issue, an economic issue, education issue, criminal issue, gender issue and social issue,” continuing that “poverty is an urgent issue and poverty is everyone’s issue,” acknowledging the community’s concern that development of a Poverty Reduction Strategy not become bogged down in the development of benchmarks and indicators.

Group discussion followed on three questions:

1. Whether an acceptable level of progress on poverty reduction can be made with resources already in place, or requires significant investments.

Most felt that additional investments were needed, as well as changes in how we do things: coordination and a team approach among all levels of government; strong collective bargaining; greater collaboration and efficiency in agencies and organizations; increased eligibility for Employment Insurance; decreases in red tape; increases in stable funding to agencies and community organizations working with those in poverty; increased investment in affordable housing, minimum wage, employment opportunities, access to education and transit; increased mentorship; increased awareness and support structures; increased funding to mental health and those with special needs.

2. Whether the 25 in 5 plan is a solid framework that the Government of Ontario should consider adopting as a starting point for its own poverty reduction plan

All but one of the nine groups supported the 25 in 5 framework as a starting point for the Poverty Reduction Strategy, with groups commenting variously that the 25 in 5 needs to be accompanied by heightened public awareness and the investments referred to in the first question. The ninth group felt that the 25 in 5 framework is not yet specific enough, and that Ontario should look at the model of Nordic countries in developing its Poverty Reduction Strategy.

3. To identify an indicator of poverty reduction by completing the following sentence: We will know that poverty has decreased when . . .

Groups completed this sentence with the phrases such as: when we see children go to school with a lunch; food banks close; decreased housing wait lists and social assistance caseloads; decreased domestic violence; those with disabilities can live with dignity and respect; people can have an adequate diet and the occasional luxury; rates of secondary school graduation increase; access to food, clothing, shelter and work opportunities; increased hopefulness; increased health; success stories from clients; organizations that deal with poverty disband, not because of a lack of support but because of a lack of need.

Summarizing the feeling of those in attendance was the widely applauded statement:
“… It’s time for action”