Sunday, May 18, 2008

This Town Needs Some Decent Newspaper Coverage

The Burlington Post* wants to know what their readers have to say regarding a story that they pretty much lifted from the Hamilton Spectator. *

On Monday of this week Spectator columnist Andrew Dreschel wrote a piece suggesting that Burlington’s Mayor Cam Jackson had improperly used his MPP’s office expenses in his bid to become mayor in 2006.

Dreschel’s source for this is a lawyer representing “a group of business people with substantial profile in Burlington.” While these individuals may posses substantial profile, they don’t want their names used.

The Post pretty much repeats the Spectator story in their Wednesday edition and then feigns outrage in a Friday editorial where they lash out at those “who would seem hell bent on soiling” Jackson’s reputation.

Our question: "Who is actually doing the “reputation soiling here?”

If there is evidence of Jackson misusing dollars it should be produced. The fact that both newspapers and our substantially profiled anonymous citizens can’t produce any facts would lead one to believe that there is no such evidence. After all this is an old story going back nearly two years.

Policy Issues not Innuendo Please

I’d rather see both papers concern themselves with policy matters. The Harris government, of which Mayor Jackson was a cabinet minister, caused a lot of grief for those running local governments. How are Jackson and his Council colleagues doing on cleaning up that mess?

Or what about the fact that one in eleven Burlington children live in a home affected by poverty? What are they doing to address the absurdity that in one of the most affluent communities in Canada 11,500 Burlington residents are living in poverty?

*The Burlington Post and the Hamilton Spectator are two papers that provide limited coverage of local government in Burlington. To its credit the Spectator has, over the last couple of years, put much energy into covering the impact of poverty on the lives of Hamilton citizens and the community in general. Also, columnist Joan Little provides insightful and thoughtful analysis on Burlington/Halton poltics but only on alternate weeks.

The Burlington Post publishes three times per week. The Friday May 16 edition referred to here had 36 flyers stuffed inside the otherwise thin edition.

The Metroland Media Group manages both papers.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Social Assistance Rates Must Reflect Real Cost of Living

An advocate for the creation of a Social Assistance Rates Board caught up with me following my last post.

Hamilton poverty lawyer Craig Foye of McQuesten Legal notes that the new strategy is “is to try to convince the Government to introduce the proposed legislation as a government bill.”

A Private Member’s Bill that Foye and others had worked on had received first reading in June 2007 but died on the order paper when the government adjourned.

What is a Social Assistance Review Board?

This Board would produce an annual report that would propose social assistance rates that take into account the real cost of living in Ontario.

A recommended monthly basic needs rate would enable recipients to obtain nutritious food baskets, cover basic telephone and transportation costs, purchase personal need items and carry out modifications to rental units to accommodate disabilities and more.

The committee would be made up of six to nine members who’d have “expertise in poverty research.” At least two members would have experience with receiving social assistance and two members would possess expertise regarding the cost of living for persons with disabilities.

Next Steps

Foye hopes that groups and individuals will support the legislation by contacting their MPP and participating in the provincial poverty reduction consultations.

“It is important to tell the government that evidence-based social assistance rates must be part of any poverty reduction strategy,” Foye asserts.

Craig is working with researchers to project the economic/financial impacts on the Hamilton economy that would result from an increase in social assistance rates to subsistence levels.

This will be a useful number. In 1995 Halton Region staff estimated that social assistance costs took $12 – 14 million dollars out of the Burlington economy.

I’m not aware of any accounting done by government on the impact these cuts had on real people.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Consultation - McGuinty Syle

The provincial government created Metrolinx to come up with a plan to address the transportation crisis across the GTAH.

Some think it is moving too slowly. However, they have put out five green and two white papers and encouraged public comment. Opportunities for consultation with regular folks are ongoing. I participated in one of these last weekend. And that is a story for another day.

Today’s story though is about non-consultation. OK, the limited consultation process that is being orchestrated by that same Liberal government as they ”tackle the issue of poverty.”

The lead tackler Minister Deb Matthews is doing a series of invitation only events across the province. The first one was in Peterborough. The road show hits Hamilton on May 12th.

Community Concerns

In Peterborough local politicians expressed concern over the lack of openness. They offered Matthews the opportunity to attend an open public meeting. She declined.

The invitation only event was staked out by protestors. According to the Peterborough Examiner there was some scuffling with police.

While there was unhappiness outside it seems that there were good vibes in this closed-door meeting. The Minister appears to be genuinely interested in issues facing people living in poverty.

Government Seeks to Avoid Embarrassment

But it is quite clear, from the government’s perspective, why the consultation must be so heavily orchestrated.

We could mention the fact that the Liberals promised a different kind of government from the Harris/Eves Conservatives they replaced. That would involve open consultation. We could also mention the 2003 promises to build 20,000 new affordable housing units or to give low-income tenants real protection by creating rent controls. Didn’t happen.

You could be sure that open consultation would be embarrassing to a government that hasn’t lived up to its promises. We’d hear about these unfilled promises. We’d hear more too, like how the government cut many of Ontario’s poorest people off the special needs diet allowance.

How about Something Concrete Now

I must admit that, although I can be critical of the lack of open consultation, another part of me just wants the government to get on and do something about poverty.

It is not that hard. You see people live in poverty cause they don’t have enough money.

Up until 1995 we had a social assistance system that was close to providing basic necessities to people who had fallen on hard times. Harris and his cronies changed all when they slashed assistance rates by nearly 22%. Since then there have been only two small increases to these rates - both from the McGuinty government.

A private members bill that would create a Social Assistance Rates Board died when the government adjourned prior to last year’s election. This Board would ensure an appropriate adjustment to these rates would occur each year.

This would seem only fair. It should be easy to put in place and it would make a difference.