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

I. Introduction

The 25in5 Network for Poverty Reduction is a multi-sectoral organization comprised of more than 450 provincial and Toronto-based organizations and over 1,000 individuals working on eliminating poverty.

The 25in5 Network for Poverty Reduction is pleased that Bill 152 has been introduced as it represents the historic achievement of enshrining poverty reduction strategies in legislation. However, 25in5 is eager for the Bill to be strengthened so it can better fulfill the promise of ensuring all successive governments continue to work toward the critical goal of poverty reduction in a manner that is equitable, inclusive, evidence-based, consultative, transparent and accountable. 25in5 is seeking a number of amendments which we believe would improve the Bill so that the work of poverty reduction becomes entrenched and ample opportunity is provided for debate and consultation. II. Towards a poverty-free Ontario It is significant that the Government of Ontario has issued a Poverty Reduction Strategy, and that future governments will be required to issue poverty reduction strategies, if Bill 152 is passed. Indeed, the pursuit of poverty reduction will lead to more equitable, stronger communities, a more robust economy and healthier, more secure residents. However, it is not adequate to only reduce poverty. A poverty-free Ontario must be pursued so that every person in Ontario is able to flourish, our social fabric is strong and our economy is resilient. Ontario should be a leading jurisdiction in the drive to reduce poverty. 25in5 recommends that Bill 152 recognize that the purpose of poverty reduction strategies is to ultimately create a poverty-free Ontario and commit the province to becoming a leading jurisdiction in the area of poverty reduction.

Recommendation #1:

25in5 recommends that the second sentence of the Preamble to Bill 152 be amended to read: “The Government’s poverty reduction strategy is guided by the vision of a poverty-free province where every person has the opportunity to achieve his or her full potential. Ontario commits to being a leading jurisdiction in the drive to reduce poverty.”

Recommendation #2:

25in5 recommends that Section 2(1) be amended to read: “The Government of Ontario shall maintain the long-term poverty reduction strategy set out in Breaking the Cycle – Ontario’s Poverty Reduction Strategy published on December 4, 2008, or another long-term poverty reduction strategy that is guided by the vision of a poverty-free 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.

III. A specific poverty reduction target

The purpose of poverty reduction strategies is to make substantial progress toward eradicating poverty as well as related forms of social exclusion. Poverty reduction targets need to be ambitious and achievable within the specified timeframe of a poverty reduction strategy.

Recommendation #3:

25in5 recommends that Section 3 of Bill 152 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.

IV.  Adult poverty Breaking the Cycle: Ontario’s Poverty Reduction Strategy commits only to the reduction of child poverty. Adults, however, are also entitled to live lives free of poverty.

Recommendation #4:

25in5 recommends that Section 2(2)(7) 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. V. Incorporating poverty reduction principles into public policy Poverty reduction cannot be achieved by a single ministry. Indeed, it is only when the work of Ministries is integrated and the poverty reduction lens is widely applied, that Ontario will have the public policy we need to reduce and ultimately eradicate poverty. Therefore, the goal of poverty reduction, and the principles which direct it, should be considered at all levels of planning, implementation and evaluation.

Recommendation #5:

25in5 recommends that Section 2(2) be amended to read: “Every new or modified long-term poverty reduction strategy is to be based on the following principles, and Ontario’s laws, policies and practices will be consistent with these same principles:…”

VI. Equitable life chances and equality rights Inequality contributes to poverty, and poverty creates inequality. Legislation requiring successive governments to continue the critical work of poverty reduction must concurrently express their commitment to the protection and enhancement of human rights. The current government’s recent reform of the Human Rights Code provides a structure in which this can be achieved with proper access for representation, advocacy and enforcement of Ontarians’ equality rights.

Recommendation #6:

25in5 recommends that Section 2(2) be amended to include an additional principle that reads, “Strengthening Ontario’s human rights laws and the enforcement system is essential to the reduction of poverty.” VII. Annual reporting The public, as well as the opposition must have ample opportunity to consider and contribute to poverty reduction efforts. Recommendation #7: 25in5 recommends that Section 4 be amended to include a provision that requires the annual report to be tabled in the Legislature. We recommend an amendment to Section 4 so that it reads: “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 the indicators set out in the strategy. a) The Minister shall table the report in the Legislature within sixty days of its completion.

VIII. Regular review of long-term poverty reduction strategy
The goal of poverty reduction, and ultimately poverty eradication, must be taken seriously for the well-being of all individual Ontarians, as well as our society and economy more broadly. The strategies Ontario employs to meet these goals are, therefore, of utmost importance. The strategies must be carefully crafted and carefully evaluated so that chances for success are maximized. Bill 152 needs to be strengthened to ensure regular reviews are robust in their evaluation and recommendations, and are done in a timely manner. Recommendation #8: 25in5 recommends that Section 3(3) of Bill 152 be amended to read: “Indicators that are linked to the determinants of poverty, including but not limited to income, education, health, housing and standard of living, to measure the success of the strategy.

Recommendation #9:

25in5 recommends that, three years after the issue of Breaking the Cycle – Ontario’s Poverty Reduction Strategy, the Minister appoint an independent body who shall undertake the reviews of the implementation and effectiveness of the changes resulting from the execution of the poverty reduction strategies.

Recommendation #10:

25in5 recommends that section 6(1) be amended to read: “At least every five years, the Government of Ontario the appointed independent body shall review the long-term poverty reduction strategy then in effect.

Recommendation #11:

Related to the recommendations above, 25in5 recommends that section 6(2) be amended to read: “As part of a review under this section, the Minister independent body…”

Recommendation #12:

25in5 recommends Bill 152 be amended to include timelines for the Review. 25in5 recommends that section 6(1) be amended to include:
a) The review shall begin within four years of the issuing of the poverty reduction strategy in the Legislature.
b) The review shall take no longer than six months.
c) The report of the review shall be tabled in the Legislature within two months of the completion of the review.

Recommendation #13:

25in5 recommends Section 6(2)(b) be amended to read: “shall arrange for consultation to be carried out by such means as the Minister believes will facilitate participation by interested persons stakeholders, others levels of government, members of the private, public and non-profit sectors and individuals, including those living in poverty.”

Recommendation #14:

25in5 recommends that Section 6(3) on Bill 152 be amended to read: “Based on it’s the report of the independent review and after consideration of the written and oral representations it receives, the Government shall issue a new long-term poverty reduction strategy for Ontario within four months of the tabling of the report in the Legislature.”

IX. Conclusion

The 25in5 Network for Poverty Reduction believes these amendments will make Bill 152 a more effective instrument in our shared effort to ensure poverty reduction remains the core business of government and the people of Ontario.

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