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.


Thomas said...

Matthews learned from events in Peterborough that shutting people who are experiencing poverty out of 'poverty consultations' might not be such a good strategy.
Several members of a local grassroots organization (Campaign for Adequate Welfare and Disability Benefits) showed up at Monday's consultation in Hamilton in protest, but were invited into the room by Matthews herself to participate.
The facilitated discussion seemed to go quite well. Each table (there were 6) had a moderator and a notetaker. I did note however that each of the moderators were the people 'with means' in the community and not those experiencing poverty. It was an interesting dynamic.
One rather humourous moment followed the late arrival of Hamilton's Mayor Fred. Without introducing himself to the 'Queen's Park types' in the room, he attempted to bring a few words of greeting. He was told to wait his turn - "everybody would been given a chance to participate"... Matthews was then informed that the late-comer was indeed Hamilton's chief magistrate. Matthews seemed embarrassed that she didn't recognize the famous 'Mayor Fred' and gave him the floor.

The facilitated discussion proceeded facilitatingly around the questions provided by the facilitator. Some recoccuring themes were: the province has no money to reduce poverty, the province has no money to alleviate poverty, and the province has no money to eliminate we were told to work within that framework. It was actually more constricted than it seemed.

Personally I view this whole poverty consultation as a process. There will be many other opportunities over the summer to voice our opinions.
In Hamilton, we're hoping to facilitate a larger 'town hall' to give people across the community a chance to talk to politicians about poverty.
Whether any of that will be listened to is another question.

bob wood said...

Thanks Thomas.

It seems like they are getting the message that people living in poverty must be heard.

As for poor Mayor Fred E. perhaps we can develop a reality show for underappreciated mayors.