Kitchener-Waterloo All Candidates June 5

Jun 9 2014

First United Church was a home of yet another all-candidates session on June 5, a welcoming place for people eager to share more about social issues and for Kitchener-Waterloo riding candidates eager to hear more about the reality of their constituents. We had a privilege to be with four strong women candidates, all with their personal and professional attachment to social policy, education and income security issues. Many of the people with lived experience of struggling with housing, health and inclusion joined round table discussions and tried to listen, understand and respect different points of view. Again we saw the four values at work: equality, legacy for the future, compassion and community of voices.

Read and hear more of what was said at tables and how the candidates responded in their presentations.

All candidates June 5

Table Discussion Summaries

Income security
Income security starts with dignity for all was key in this discussion. Those at this table agreed that the basis of income security is adequate social assistance rates and minimum wage level. Ontario Works (OW) and Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) rates must be raised and indexed to inflation. The suggestion in the discussion was a 55% increase to social assistance and a minimum wage of $14. Note - Poverty Free Ontario has set the target rates for social assistance and minimum wage to be at least, respectively, 80% below or 20% above, the Ontario Low Income Measure.

Old age security was also discussed and some suggested this can be assured if we increase in both employee and employers’ CPP contributions.

Other supports, other than basic income assistance or pay levels, were also recognized as important too. For example, discretionary benefits and housing benefits help the low income earner to deal with cover high or unexpected costs. Those who participated in this group urged that there be as much free public transit as needed for low income people and free tuition to assist youth wanting to pursue post-secondary education.
Some wanted less public investment in businesses and corporations (as some put it: ‘it is time to stop the corporate welfare’) and more investment in wider access to employment programs, particularly for youth.

In this discussion, there was agreement that youth have high unemployment and low income levels. Low pay and temporary contracts, makes it impossible for youth to plan for the future. We used to be able to plan for stages in life, like finishing school, getting a job, marrying, buying a house, raising a family and being sure of decent retirement. Today, there is no security that education leads to jobs or that work will provide for a stable house or family life.

Job security is decreasing for all ages. Well-paid employment is disappearing, particularly seen in local layoffs in the manufacturing and technology firms, and being replaced with precarious jobs.

Those in this discussion also recognized that getting employment is even more difficult for people with disabilities who would need more supports and flexibility in the workplace.

Those in this discussion questioned the promise of job creation through corporate tax cuts. So far there is no evidence that this has happened with the cuts already made – there has been no follow through.

Other points raised at this table included government responsibilities to protect domestic economy, look into new models to support local small business or micro-lending for people in this region. Governments can create policies that ensure inclusive workplaces and our elected officials should take living wage arguments seriously in order to address the impact of rising income inequality. Together with employers, our Government can invest in on the job training and aligning education with workforce needs.

Support to all low-income people
Stigma persists for those on social assistance and benefits to ensure health and wellbeing of people living through difficulties are continually being eliminated. Discretionary Benefits and Community Start Up and Maintenance Benefit were seen as important in this discussion and supports that should be restored to previous levels. Income security of people on Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program will be assured with a 55% increase to these programs that is indexed to inflation.

If we are to have inclusive communities and work places for all, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities (AODA) standards must be applied and supports made available for people with developmental disabilities (e.g. an estimated 25 000 currently in transition from children’s to adults services do not have support).

Current claw-backs on earnings keep people financially insecure and can be a disincentive to work. The idea of merging OW and ODSP was not seen as a positive step. Putting supports solely in the context of employment is problematic for those for whom work is not feasible or possible.

Working poor have to see decent wages (some campaigns are advocating for with at least $14 per hour) and cost of living in different regions in Ontario has to be taken into consideration when setting wage levels. Having a decent income and access to public services is a basic human right allowing people to have dental and health care, to have affordable transportation, to pay rent and utilities, to buy healthy food. The whole society has to become interested and involved and we need a broader consensus in terms of implementing the new poverty reduction strategy without wasting resources or cutting services.

Access to doctors hasn’t improved in decades. Opening more clinics in the region, accreditation of foreign trained doctors and longer hours would be some of the ways to increase access. Those at this table emphasized that we need to create conditions to have more services dealing with mental health such as trained staff, self-help services, assessment beds, street outreach workers, therapists and counselling and, more long-term supports.

All of these services require funds and efficient allocation of funds to services. We need to build healthier communities that address broader issues of transportation, housing, recreation, access, personal support to people living with disability, participation for young and elderly, and that enables people to live active life styles in our neighbourhoods. Municipalities need adequate funds to be flexible so they can tackle issues people are facing locally.

In this discussion it was pointed out that all regions across the province need local strategies that can be supported with ongoing funding to increase access to affordable and supportive housing. Local context is important when thinking of where to create affordable homes. Locally these would include issues such as where unused property is located or what impact Light Rail Transit will have on the downtown core.

All levels of government have to be a part of collaborative planning. Homelessness is not easy to assess and should be addressed in partnership.

Different groups have different needs for support. Examples are affordable housing built for seniors or youth, or addressing the needs of those with health and mental health risks. Conditions that put people at risk of
homelessness have to be eliminated.

Meaningful Participation
In this discussion, it was noted that participation in public life starts with everyday involvement in the communities and neighbourhoods where we live. Barriers that different groups face have to be acknowledged honestly and eliminated if we want to achieve meaningful participation.

People living with disability need support to be able to have their basic needs met, let alone take part in any meaningful decision-making. When we are able to provide wider circles of support to the most vulnerable and cut the wait times for services, we might be able to have them contribute to a wider advocacy network across the province to further improve the quality of life for everyone.

There are also many challenges for immigrants and refugees to be able to take part in daily activities. These include poverty, language or trauma. We must first be sure people feel they belong in our communities. Then they can start to support leaders and communities to take part in decision-making.

This group also discussed the larger issue of disillusionment in today’s society. Some observed that low income and middle income earners, alike, do not believe they can make a difference. People do not know about the resources or facilities that are available and may feel discouraged from doing things collectively.
Bringing neighbourhoods together, using community centres, getting people to socialize, then learn and act together is a process that can get people involved. Community spaces, hubs or schools could be places where collective decision-making happens, particularly about our children.

But this has to be nurtured. Different views need to be included and acknowledged and families of different backgrounds and cultures should be invited to have a say about the community life and about the curriculum in our schools.

Make it easier to get and understand information and make it meaningful for people. Have information sessions that are open, accessible and use simple language or people’s mother tongue. Simplify information on websites.

For some, being involved in an election process or campaign can help change the way we look at democratic process and voting.

Those at this table agreed that participation starts from ground up and that it is something we need to experience and take part in to start believing that it can be done. Building common ground does not necessarily mean we agree at all times. Common ground is about respect and inclusion that starts with being together and true listening to one another.

Other Issues Raised
• Construction on Highway 7 takes a lot of money, time, and loss of farm land and traffic concerns. The impact is not really looked into.
• Construction of the Light Rail Transit remains controversial as low income housing would be negatively affected and tax dollars to support this development is not going to help with basic needs for most vulnerable.
• Access to justice is difficult for many, having a lawyer of choice, long and complicated process to apply for legal aid.
• Public servants should not be participating in partisan politics as we need confidence that they are there to serve and protect all the people regardless.
• We need more efficient emergency responses.
• We need to spend money wisely.
• We need to regain trust in our leaders and the government.

Candidates' Responses

Tracey Weiler, Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario

Stacey Danckert, Green Party of Ontario

Jamie Burton, Ontario Liberal Party

Catherine Fife, Ontario NDP