WEST CARLETON - Ontario is dead last among provinces when it comes to funding social programs, a new report revealed.
An Ontario-wide coalition of almost 100 groups and organizations, called Ontario Common Front, examines growing inequity. On Aug. 29 it released Falling Behind: Ontario’s backslide into widening inequity, growing poverty and cuts to social programs.
Despite having among the world’s most highly educated workers, an abundance of natural resources, and an industrial base, the report shows that Ontario is falling behind the rest of Canada in terms of growing poverty, increasing inequity and flagging financial support for public services.
It blames choices made by governments, not international economic trends, for the downward spiral.
“Today, 600,000 Ontario families find their incomes stalled or falling behind, while the richest 10 per cent gallop away with the bounty from the sustained period of economic growth stretching from the mid-1900s to 2008,” the report reads.
The report found that:
* 40 per cent of Ontarians, 600,000 families, are struggling with incomes that are stagnant or declining;
* Ontario funds all of its social programs, including health care to education, at the lowest rate in Canada;
* While poverty rates fell in five provinces, Ontario had the second highest increase in poverty rates and intensity, leaving 393,000 children in poverty (one in seven);
* Ontarians pay the highest school fees, out-of-pocket health care fees and tuition fees in the country while leading the nation in cuts to corporate and income taxes.
It blames both the Liberal and Progressive Conservative governments for prioritizing tax cuts for the wealthy over equality-creating public programs.
The report tracks the decline with examples such as: the average CEO takes home 250 times the income of the average Canadian, while a generation ago that ratio was 25 times the average.
Morgan Goddard is the NDP riding association president for Carleton-Mississippi Mills. He said there is little difference between the Liberals and PCs when it comes to spending priorities. Both believe in the myth of “austerity” meant to convince the middle and working classes to give up more just as the wealthiest take even more.
“Austerity measures are not working; it’s causing greater poverty, and that’s just not right,” Goddard said. “It’s always easy to blame the poor.”
He noted Kanata is one of the wealthiest areas of the country. But even there personal debt is piling up and two-income families are no further ahead than the one income families of the 1960s and 1970s.
Goddard said the reality of trickledown economics – introduced by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan during the early 1980s - is that kids get neglected because parents are working longer hours, communities suffer because fewer people can volunteer their time, and ecological and financial debt is loaded onto future generations.
In West Carleton, where Goddard lives, poverty can be masked somewhat. But the reality is many people are couch surfing and using the emergency food cupboard like never before.
He said the solution is to shift the burden away from the working and middle class to restoring a balance with the wealthiest. Increasing the income tax rate by one per cent of those making over $500,000 per year – about 30,000 people in Ontario – would “cover everything missing on social spending,” he added.
However, Goddard admits there are plenty of catchy slogans and false arguments that convince poor people they deserve to be poor. There is the “rich people have earned their wealth” argument which often isn’t true because of inheritance laws. There is the “rich people create jobs” argument which isn’t borne out by statistics showing most jobs are created by small and medium sized businesses. There is the “government can’t do anything right” argument which blames civil servants rather than politicians who serve power elites instead of the majority of voters.
“Mostly it’s that people are willing to believe what is convenient. If they don’t want to give money to the poor, it can be as simple as greed,” he said. “I think that’s a false self-interest.”
Ontario Health Coalition director Natalie Mehra, primary author of the report, said the province is on a five-year plan to cut public sector jobs and services that will worsen the situation for everyone. She said Ontario residents are paying for the current shortfall in “hundreds of ways,” from the highest tuition and school fees, the highest proportion of out-of-pocket health care costs, a burgeoning array of user fees, and thousands of families wait years for support for children with disabilities.
The full report can be found at weareontario.ca.