Ontario Liberal Budget Maps Out the Way to ‘Social Justice’ Austerity

During the recent Provincial Election, Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals distanced themselves from the crude right wing ideas of the Hudak Tories by pointing to their ‘progressive’ Provincial Budget over which the election was fought. In fact, this document is not quite the road map to ‘social justice’ it claims to be.

What the Liberals actually set out in their Budget plan is a multi-year blueprint to cut the spending for government programs in Ontario. If you take into account inflation and population increases, the Budget actually represents a commitment to shrink services and reduce deficits on the backs of those least able to afford the cost. Those on Ontario Works (OW) and ODSP will receive a 1% increase below the rate of inflation that will see them fall deeper into poverty. The vital Community Start Up and Maintenance Benefit, that people used to obtain or retain housing, will not be restored. Low wage workers will see the minimum wage indexed to inflation but kept at a level that condemns them to working poverty. While the poor fall further behind, landlords are allowed to increase their rents at or above the rate of inflation and billions of dollars that the ‘cash strapped’ Government could use to reduce its deficit are handed to wealthy corporations in the form of tax breaks.

The job of cutting programs and imposing austerity has been placed in the hands of former Health Minister, Deb Matthews. She has become President to the Treasury Board and this Cabinet position has been redesigned so as to make her, effectively, a Minister of Austerity, charged with implementing the measures that will undermine and reduce public services. She will, of course, also be targeting the workers who deliver those services.

A sharp indication of what poor and disabled people can expect Liberal ‘social justice’ to look like, is found in the fact that the Budget includes funds to speed up the process of imposing medical reviews on tens of thousands of people on ODSP. Those who were not given benefits on the basis that their disabilities were permanent can now expect to face an assessment system under which they will have to re-establish their entitlement. Many will not have access to the doctors and advocacy services that would enable them to defend their right to ODSP. It is a deliberate and cynical move to save millions by deeming people in poverty ineligible for the benefits they rely on to survive.

The Raise the Rates Campaign is fully aware that the agenda of the Wynne Government is to increase poverty and reduce the adequacy of social assistance in Ontario and this Budget only serves to confirm this. We’re going to have to organize in our communities and mobilize with our union allies if we’re going to push back the attack by the Liberals. This Fall, we will be carrying out a week of action in communities throughout Ontario to demand that the Government keeps its hands off ODSP, restores the Special Diet and Community Start Up and provides decent income for people on OW and ODSP. To find out how you can get involved with others in your community who want to fight back, call the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, (OCAP) at (416) 925-6939 or e mail ocap@tao.ca