I support a poverty free Waterloo Region. I encourage you to show your support by signing the petition established by a coalition of groups towards this objective.

Essentially, this initiative strives to get the regional, provincial and federal governments to actively work to eliminate poverty. The Region of Waterloo and the province of Ontario have been taking steps in the right direction. But with a provincial election in the fall, a possible federal election this year and the Region initiating a new strategic planning process, now is the time to ensure that poverty is high on the agenda.

The issues involved are complex and solutions require a concerted, collaborative effort by all levels of government–though each level of government can make its own contribution regardless of what the others do. That’s where we come in, we must make sure that the decision-makers know that addressing poverty is a priority. We must all make our voices heard by supporting this effort.

I was a bit hesitant at first to support this petition because I disagreed with its second clause that calls upon the Region to reinvest its “savings” from the province uploading the costs of social assistance benefits. I don’t see the result as a “savings” for the Region. The Tory government under Mike Harris was wrong to download these costs. They never should have been paid from property taxes in the first place. The downloading placed an unfair financial burden on municipalities and made it difficult for them to address what has traditionally been funded by municipalities.

Thankfully, the Liberal government under Dalton McGuinty has returned these costs to the provincial level. As a result, municipal governments (locally the Region of Waterloo) have an opportunity to use these funds to meet local priorities. I believe the Region is correct to look at a broad range of options for how to best reinvest these tax dollars. Or as the Record argued in a recent editorial, use the cushion gained by freeing up these funds to avoid any tax increase in the Region’s budget this year. So I don’t think that reinvesting funds that had been going to social assistance should all automatically get allocated to eliminating poverty. As is often the case, a balanced approach that meets the overall interests of Waterloo Region residents is best and this year–with the economy still recovering–that includes a budget without any tax increase.

At the same time, I strongly believe that one of the best uses for these funds are programs that assist people escaping the grips of poverty or that help prevent people from becoming dependent on social assistance. We have a golden opportunity to make spending on our social infrastructure a priority and it is important that we seize it. In order to do so, supporting a Poverty Free Waterloo Region is critical to show that the elimination of poverty is a priority. There are plenty of other demands on regional tax dollars that will be ahead of helping people trying to build better lives if we quietly sit on the sidelines. Ensuring nobody is left behind as we strive for a more making our area a better place to live means remembering the people who often lack connections to decision-makers and helping to give them the strong voice required to ensure something significant is done to help them. Doing so also helps reduce future demands on the Region’s budget since for example it is smart to address the root causes of crime now (including poverty) so that we can spend less on enforcement and related social services later.

The investment being suggested by Poverty Free Waterloo Region is far from radical. In fact, it is very much in line with the Building Resilient Communities Project the Region of Waterloo has already initiated and is supported in the petition’s first clause. (Click here and scroll to section #4 to learn more about the Region’s poverty reduction strategy and read three reports produced as part of the process.) This year, when the Ontario Disability Support Program is uploaded, is a great opportunity but it is not our last since Ontario Works is being gradually uploaded by 2018. So while I would love to see funding in place to support the strategy this year, we will have more chances to do so over the coming years. But we can’t sit back, waiting and hoping.

Let’s start now to take some concrete steps towards the goal of a resilient community that is free of poverty. Make your voice heard now.

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