Social Assistance Reform: Another Casualty of Prorogation

James Elson

On October 24, 2012 the Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario released its final report, entitled “Brighter Prospects:  Transforming Social Assistance in Ontario”.  Chaired by Frances Lankin—the former president and CEO of United Way Toronto—and Munir Sheikh—the former head of Statistics Canada (who publicly resigned after the mandatory census was scrapped)—the report includes recommendations that:

  • Ontario Works (OW) and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) merge into a single program to be delivered locally by municipalities;
  • municipalities and First Nations (who would help deliver the merged program) hire social assistance recipients as peer navigators to help guide other recipients through the process;
  • the existing social assistance rate structure, comprised of hundreds of rates and rate combinations, be simplified into a single standard rate for adults, adjusted for people with disabilities and/or children;
  • the overall accountability of the system be strengthened, with a shift in focus from compliance to a system grounded in the overall objective of helping to support people contribute to the labour force or community to their maximum individual potential; and
  • the system reform the treatment of earnings for people receiving assistance to exempt up to $200 per month, rather than clawing back those amounts.

A review of social assistance was a central component of the Ontario Government’s 2008 Poverty Reduction Strategy, and the Report is the culmination of 22 months of work. Weighing in at 184 pages and 108 recommendations, the Report has been heralded as “thoughtful”, a “landmark report”, and “hard headed and post partisan” by the media, “welcomed” (here and here) by third sector groups, and is fully supported by several prominent business leaders.

With such a wide coalition of supporters, one would hope that the Ontario Government would begin implementing many of the recommendations contained in the report.  However, as the Ontario Legislature was prorogued on October 15, 2012, and given that it appears unlikely to resume until at least January 2013 (when a new leader of the Ontario Liberal Party is selected), it is unclear when the report and its recommendations will be addressed. Ontario now has yet another set of vetted ideas for alleviating poverty, but with Queen’s Park quite for the next three months this plan will do little to help those in need.

Reform to social assistance in Ontario is not the only issue stalled as a result of the prorogation.  Measures such as Jayesh’s Law, (which makes it illegal to penalize an employee because of a fuel theft that occurs while the employee is working at the service station),the Anti-Bullying Act, 2012, and Toby’s Act (Right to be Free from Discrimination and Harassment Because of Gender Identity or Gender Expression), 2012 are all stalled, and risk dying on the floor of the legislature if they are not passed before an election is called.

Until the legislature resumes and gets back to the business of governing, “brighter prospects” for social assistance reform (and a slew of other initiatives) are all anyone will have. That means social assistance recipients too.

James Elson is a 2014 MPP candidate at the School of Public Policy and Governance.  He is also a practising lawyer in commercial litigation and holds a degree in mechanical engineering.  James’ policy interests include science, technology and innovation, health, and education.


5 Comments Add yours

  1. PPGR says:

    Apology and admission of error: An earlier version of this post misspelled Frances Lankin. This was not an error of the author, but an editorial error.

  2. David S says:

    I just thought I’d point out that Bill 33, Toby’s Law has already received Royal Assent and came into effect in June 2012.

    In addition, while Bill 14, Anti-Bullying Act is listed as still before committee, it was actually considered at the clause-by-clause stage of Bill 13, Accepting Schools Act. Both Bills 13 and 14 were sent to committee at the same time as part of a government time allocation motion that received the unanimous consent of the legislature. That’s not to say that certain elements of Bill 13 weren’t lost in the shuffle, but it hardly belongs in the same category of the many other bills that did die on the Order Paper in between sessions.

    Those minor factoids aside, it was a really thoughtful piece to read. Thanks!

  3. Angela Browne says:

    I don’t know what I have to do to pressure the government not to go ahead with merging the two programs and especially sending responsibility for people with disabilities to the municipalities. This will not increase employment opportunities or options. This will only lead to further and deeper cuts along the road as the province decides to reduce municipal transfers at the stroke of a pen, leading to major cuts that cannot be blamed on them. Also, people with disabilities will now be “put on welfare”, which means they will carry the same stigma as the “undeserving poor” like they do in the UK where similar experiments are actually being carried out. Henceforth, all the bad aspects of OW will now capture not only so called employable people but those less likely to be employed and who face barriers. The punitive approach to OW recipients is inherent and systemic and will be less easily routed out due to different municipalities having different levels of resources. I currently have two new cases coming to me in the last two days alone where a family has been put “on hold”, “suspended” or whatever, and neither can pay their rent or eat until this is straightened out. One is now facing eviction proceedings. The other had to miss two full days of work to try to straighten this out. Is OW going to pay her lost wages for this waste of time? I doubt it. All this is going to do is transfer this type of treatment to people with disabilities, many of whom are quite vulnerable and lead to more suicides, homelessness and other pressures elsewhere in the system, such as hospital stays and even early admissions to nursing homes. This is no lie. This is happening in the UK. I don’t care if I have to stand on my head and spit wooden nickels in front of the legislature until the politicians understand this is a *bad* move.

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