Ontario government's new budget released April 27 has given the province's faith communities plenty to chew on. Photo by David Chen

Ontario budget offers encouraging signs for faith groups

By 
  • May 3, 2017

A balanced budget with investments sprinkled across education, health care and welfare — including the surprise pharmacare program for anyone 24 and younger — has given faith communities in Ontario plenty to chew on.

The basic income pilot project, first announced two weeks before the budget, allows the people running Ontario’s food banks, soup kitchens and shelters an opportunity to imagine a different kind of welfare system.

“If you want to look forward and not just react to the situation as it is now, we need to have some projects that are testing how to move forward,” said Barb Boraks, head of the Basic Income Initiative spearheaded by the Dominican Institute of Toronto and Christian-Jewish Dialogue of Toronto.

The pilot project will guarantee about $17,000 a year to individuals or $24,000 a year per couple to about 4,000 people in Lindsay, Thunder Bay and Hamilton. The experiment will “see if providing people with a basic income could be a simpler and more effective way to ensure security and opportunity in a changing job market,” said Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa in his April 27 budget speech.

“The current social (welfare) system that we are working with now was built over a 70-, 80-year time period,” said Boraks. “It’s rapidly changing.”

The pilot should do more than just see whether a basic income lifts people out of poverty, said Boraks. It also has to create a political and social consensus that such programs are more than a money-for-nothing handout. Previous pilots have shown guaranteeing a minimum income decreased health care costs, positively affected education and employment and supported families.

“They have shown that it enables people to live with greater dignity,” Boraks said.

Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition chair Rev. Susan Eagle has no objection to running the basic income experiment, but she’s bitterly disappointed that minimum wage, Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program received no new funding.

“I wouldn’t suggest they implement a basic income for everybody in the province until it’s been experimented with,” said Eagle. “But they’re using it as grounds to delay all the other changes that need to be done. It is unconscionable.”

Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association president Ann Hawkins believes the province is making progress on poverty reduction, which is good for the education system.

Daycares located in schools are shown to help children integrate into school life and improve educational outcomes, Hawkins said. She’s hopeful Catholic school boards will begin to take up the province’s offer to finance licensed

An extra $6.4 billion over three years for Ontario’s education system, plus $16 billion over 10 years to build schools and upgrade or repair existing buildings, has Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association president Pat Daly pretty happy with the government.

“We were pleased with the stability in funding and the system enhancements,” Daly said.

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