TORONTO – After failing to meet their own child poverty reduction strategy target — and blaming it on the Stephen Harper government and the economy — the Ontario Liberals are now pledging to eradicate homelessness.
Deputy Premier Deb Matthews acknowledged Wednesday that her government failed to meet a goal it set in 2008 to reduce child poverty in Ontario by 25% in five years.
“We knew that one level of government could not achieve that ambitious goal all by itself so we laid out a very clear plan on how to meet that target,” Matthews said. “We as a province did our part, we did everything we said we would do when we released that strategy in 2008.
“And had the other elements of the strategy — particularly the responsibilities we believe lie with the federal government — had the federal government done its part we would have come very close if not have achieved our goal of a 25% reduction in child poverty.”
In “Breaking the Cycle,” the government of Dalton McGuinty asked the federal government to double the Working Income Tax Benefit and increase the National Child Benefit Supplement to help the province meet the target.
Matthews said almost 50,000 children and their parents have been lifted out of poverty through measures undertaken by her government, such as full-day kindergarten, a minimum wage hike and increases in the Ontario Child Benefit.
The original goal had been to move 90,000 kids out of poverty.
Matthews said her government “recommits” to reducing child poverty put won’t set a date.
In addition, Matthews said the government plans to wipe out homelessness, although there was no deadline provided on that commitment either, and the minister said she would consult with experts before proceeding with a plan.
Doris Grinspun, executive director of the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO), said that even if the government was not prepared to set new target dates for reducing child poverty and eliminating homelessness, it could at least dedicate 1% of its budget to related initiatives.
Tory MPP Jim McDonell said the Liberals are making promises they can’t keep.
“Today’s announcement sets no targets and that means they have no serious commitment to tackle poverty in Ontario. Vulnerable Ontarians are looking for action and a realistic plan,” McDonell said.
NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo said the government has no one to blame but itself in failing to meet child poverty reduction targets.
In Ontario, 130,000 children used a food bank over the past month, and thousands languish on waiting lists for affordable housing, she said.
DiNovo said she was homeless as a child, and she scoffed at Matthews’ comment that more research is needed before implementing a plan.
“I can tell you what homelessness looks like — it looks like you don’t have a house,” DiNovo said.
Peter Clutterbuck, of Poverty Free Ontario, said the coalition has called for significant hikes to social assistance rates which, after inflation, have only risen about 4% since 2003, the year the Liberals gained government.
Matthews’ goal of eliminating homelessness is an admirable one but what’s needed now is action and funds, Clutterbuck said.
By Antonella Artuso, Queen’s Park Bureau Chief