In response to provincial changes in employment services, Toronto should put the needs of its residents first
In 2019, the Ontario provincial government embarked on a reform of its employment services delivery model. Employment Ontario will be integrated with Ontario Works Employment Assistance and Ontario Disability Support Program Employment Support. The province is introducing Employment Service System Managers (ESSM) in local labour markets to lead this Employment Services Transformation (EST).
The April 25 meeting of the Toronto City Council’s Economic and Community Development Committee considered item EC3.5 – Employment Services Transformation: Recommendations on the City’s Role, wherein staff recommended the City not pursue the role of ESSM. The committee adopted the item.
Maytree’s Director of Research and Policy, Garima Talwar Kapoor, deputed at the meeting to present Maytree’s position.
My name is Garima Talwar Kapoor and I am the Director of Policy and Research with Maytree, a charitable organization dedicated to advancing systemic solutions to poverty through a human rights based approach. We have closely followed the provincial government’s Employment Services Transformation (EST), and the City’s work on deciding whether to put forward a bid to be Toronto’s Employment Service System Manager (ESSM).
It’s not often you get to see glimpses of the internal debates that City staff must have had on their recommendations, and the report from Toronto Employment and Social Services (TESS) to the Economic and Community Development Committee (ECDC) reflects the internal conflicts and deliberations that must have taken place prior to their recommendation. Of import, TESS emphasizes that the EST process will have deep equity implications—regardless of who the ESSM is—and ultimately suggests the fiscal and operational risks to the City are not worthwhile given the lose-lose situation.
Put plainly, the needs of the City are prioritized over the needs of residents in deepest poverty. And instead of shouldering the risks and identifying mitigation opportunities, the recommendation from TESS pushes the risk onto residents across Toronto who are looking to their local government for support.
TESS argues that the ESSM model does not reflect the realities of Ontario Works recipients, or other people living in deep poverty, who need access to employment and services training in Toronto. And while there may be consensus on this point, simply resigning to the model and to the province without suggesting ways in which the City could address the needs of its residents is concerning. It raises questions about the City’s commitment as a “duty bearer,” doing what it takes to protect and promote the human right of all residents to an adequate standard of living.
Given these concerns, the critical questions for this committee to answer are:
- Is there something more broadly that the City could do to fulfil the important ESSM role, while also ensuring that services delivered reflect the unique needs of people who have multiple barriers to work?
- Are there investments in administrative capacity, benefits, and supports that the City could step up to?
- Can the City lead in this area as opposed to concede its role?
The recommendation from TESS ultimately indicates that its answers to these questions are a resounding “no,” although the input received through stakeholder consultations and from City staff indicate support for the City to put forward a bid.
The decision is partly based on a risk-assessment that paradoxically contends that if the City were the ESSM, it could jeopardize success in other areas of the City’s priorities (e.g., the Poverty Reduction Strategy, the Reconciliation Action Plan, and the Plan to Confront Anti-Black Racism). We all know, however, that these strategies are interdependent. The success of one is dependent on the others. And these strategies are only as strong as the weakest link. If the ESSM does not have accountability to deliver on these strategies, let alone for other wrap-around public services (e.g., housing), the ability of the City to deliver on its other social and human services goals are compromised.
While in the grand scheme of things, the decision on whether to put forward a bid for the ESSM may seem insignificant—after all, just 0.2 per cent of the City’s operating budget is at risk here—it will have very significant impacts on people living in deep poverty across the City.
And this is why the decision matters: Every day, governments are making decisions that evade public scrutiny and attention because they seem immaterial. But for the people that need access to social services—whether it’s for Ontario Works financial assistance or whether it’s for employment and training services—the quality of the services provided are material for their everyday well-being.
Given these considerations, we recommend that ECDC consider alternative options before making a decision about putting forward a bid for the ESSM. ECDC should direct TESS to develop options for the Committee’s consideration, so that it can consider whether the additional investments needed to be the type of ESSM that reflects the City’s priorities are worthwhile. The committee should ask what it would take (e.g., fiscal costs and administrative capacities) to develop an ESSM model that addresses the unique needs of Toronto residents. Only when all of the counterfactual options are tabled clearly for consideration, should ECDC make a decision on whether the City should put forward a bid to be the ESSM.
Thank you for your time, I am happy to answer any questions that the committee should have.