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Opinion

Visions of 2011

Published on 16/12/2010

As 2010 winds down, our thoughts at Maytree are turning to what we might hope to see in 2011. The holiday season offers us all some time to reflect on the past, and to begin to think of the things that will make our country and communities better. And thus we each begin to shape our agenda for a new year.

Here are some things we see arising from 2010 that we hope to see blossom and flower.

1. The Caledon Institute has developed A Basic Income Plan for Canadians with Severe Disabilities.

Despite billions of dollars spent on a complex assortment of social benefits, many working age Canadians with disabilities end up desperately poor and trapped on welfare, the dead-end default program of last resort. While there has been some progress for persons with disabilities since the landmark Obstacles report was released 30 years ago, one area in which there has been almost no improvement at all has been that of income security. This tragic state of affairs is neither tolerable nor necessary.

The foundation of this plan is a proposed new federal Basic Income program that would replace provincial/territorial social assistance for most working age persons with severe disabilities. The Basic Income program would be a close model of the long-established and well-regarded Guaranteed Income Supplement for low-income seniors. The second reform is to convert the existing non-refundable Disability Tax Credit into a refundable Disability Tax Credit that would extend compensation for the extra costs of disability to the lowest-income people with disabilities. The refundable credit would pay $2,000 through the income tax system to every person eligible for the Disability Tax Credit. These federal income security initiatives would free up funding for urgently needed disability supports and services, permitting the provinces and territories to set up a coherent, comprehensive system of supports and services for those with disabilities.

This federal and provincial/territorial policy partnership could bring Canada into a new age of enlightened programs for those with severe disabilities, with a modest but liveable assured minimum income and a system of supports for daily living that could be among the best in the world. All this is achievable within the boundaries of our current political and administrative institutions and at a cost which is realistic in light of other fiscal choices.

2. The flowering across Canada of proven mentoring and human resource management programs for successfully integrating immigrants into the labour market.

 

The Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC) created a model which works, fuelled by The Mentoring Partnership which links immigrants with Canadians in the same line of work to counsel on job culture and open up domestic networks; and hireimmigrants.ca, which works with corporate human resource professionals to become better at hiring immigrants, a definite advantage in attracting top talent.

Now, Assisting Local Leaders with Immigrant Employment Strategies (ALLIES) is helping cities across Canada find which programs will work best for them as they strive to attract and integrate newcomers to their communities. In recent years we have turned a corner in Canada with more and more cities realizing that immigration is key to their future prosperity and well-being. The flowers are beginning to bloom offshore too, as the OMEGA (Opportunities for Migrant Employment in Greater Auckland) program in New Zealand is being heralded as a success for the whole nation.

3. Ontario’s Social Assistance Review.

Premier Dalton McGuinty, a serious thinker and actor on matters of policy, announced the Review near the end of the year, to be co-chaired by Frances Lankin, previously head of United Way Toronto, and Munir Sheikh, the former Chief Statistician of Canada. The Commission has been given 18 months to do its work and will have the support of a well-staffed secretariat.

The last comprehensive review of social assistance in Ontario was undertaken more than 20 years ago by George Thompson, resulting in the Transitions report. When Transitions was written it was limited by the knowledge and technology available at the time.

Today we have over a decade of experience using the tax system to deliver non-stigmatizing tax credits as an alternative to the rule-ridden welfare system. Information technology has exploded exponentially opening new opportunities for innovation. Most importantly, we have come to a better understanding of the limitations and possibilities of social assistance, and have learned to look at the income security system as a whole instead of focussing narrowly on raising or lowering welfare rates. Restructuring the whole system was one of the key visions promoted by the report of the Social Assistance Review Advisory Council, which set the ground for the Social Assistance Review Commission.

Ontario’s Social Assistance Review could represent a watershed in the development of social policy in all of Canada for the next decades by presenting economically and politically feasible strategies for a transformation of our hide-bound and inadequate welfare program into a modern income security system.

4. Food has become a prominent and important issue.

Access to healthy food for people at all income levels, the environmental impact of growing and transporting it, the chemical and industrial infrastructure underpinning the industry, food quality, food security, the viability of farming, and related issues of obesity, diabetes, cancers, and even food as an instrument of social control have become matters of important research and commentary. The Metcalf and McConnell foundations, The Stop and other food security agencies, and many other universities, governments, corporations and NGO’s have identified moving to a healthier and more sustainable food regime as critical to community well being and the national interest. Much of the work being done is informative and inspiring, giving hope of a better future.

5. Public parks as essential “rooms in our house”.

Across the country, people are recognizing that public parks matter, as in Toronto where the new organization (TPP) is dedicated to improving Toronto’s parks. Toronto’s parks are languishing and the biggest obstacle to improvement is a culture of “no” in the parks department that limits community engagement and crushes creativity. TPP advocates for better parks for all citizens and communities by facilitating citizen engagement in their parks and building a network of local community park groups. A key focus for the group in 2011 will be a citywide Parks Summit in April that will bring together park advocates from across the city for the first time ever. TPP will also partner with the Ontario Association of Landscape Architects to sponsor a forum in March entitled “Whose Park Is It?” The group will also unveil a new website that will provide resources for local community park groups and provide opportunities for groups to connect and learn from each other.

With thanks for contributions to Michael Mendelson of The Caledon Institute and Dave Harvey of Toronto Park People.

Summary

These ideas, trends and initiatives give us hope for 2011.

Topic(s)

Disability, Employment and labour, Income security, Poverty