At an ISARC prayer vigil in front of the Ontario Legislature before the 2017 budget was passed, Robin Wardlaw holds a sign asking for a budget that favours the poor. Photo by Michael Swan

ISARC making billion-plus budget push for affordable housing

By 
  • January 25, 2018
Religious organizations that run Ontario’s food banks, shelters, soup kitchens and more are asking for an immediate $1.3 billion investment in affordable, subsidized social housing.

It’s one of several suggestions being made by the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition (ISARC) as Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government begins a budget process that will set the stage for the provincial election in less than six months.

Other suggested budget tweaks include $359 million to get more personal support workers and nurses on the road and visiting the sick. And 45,000 Catholic teachers have some suggestions for how the government might save money.

Catholic interest in Queen’s Park’s budget-making process spans a broad range of issues from labour law to child care to who runs teacher professional development days.

This year’s budget consultations aren’t the first time ISARC has ventured into the billions. The coalition, which includes Ontario’s Assembly of Catholic Bishops, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Toronto, asked for $1 billion in the 2017 budget to increase welfare rates and ensure dental care for people on social assistance.

They didn’t get it, but it was important to raise the issue, said ISARC chair Rev. Susan Eagle. The emphasis on housing in this year’s submission reflects the crisis in affordable housing across the province, she added. 

“We absolutely need new construction of affordable housing,” she said. “That takes both money and time. There have been whole periods where there has been no new construction. That’s when we start to move towards a crisis.”

ISARC congratulates the government on its initiative to raise the minimum wage and shore up worker rights for people in temporary, part-time and contract jobs.

The Ontario Community Support Association (OCSA), which represents non-profit home care providers, including  St. Elizabeth Health Care, warns they’ve got major problems paying for the minimum wage hike that took base pay from $11.60 to $14 per hour Jan. 1 and goes to $15 per hour next January.

“The sector needs an additional $51.4 million to cover increased costs in 2018-19, on account of the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act,” said the OCSA pre-budget submission. 

The Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association is supportive of the minimum wage increase and associated measures to extend more job security to contract employees. They also applaud the provincial government’s commitment to provide 100,000 more child care spaces over the next five years, but warn that those regulated daycare spaces are too expensive and early childhood education workers’ pay is too low.

The teachers’ union dedicates a large part of its submission to suggestions about how the government can save money. Queen’s Park can save $31 million a year by scrapping its annual round of standardized tests and the bureaucracy that administers them, according to OECTA.

The union would also like the government to stop the middle management bloat at school boards, cut down on the contracts handed out to private consulting firms delivering various human resources and education programs and let the teachers run their own professional development days.

Helping students succeed also means fighting child poverty, according to the union.

“Every day, teachers see this firsthand, as students across the province arrive to school hungry, tired and unable to participate in class. This does not have to be the reality,” OECTA advises.

The union wants the government to increase the Ontario Child Benefit, Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program.

Whether the government takes on their recommendations or not, Eagle doesn’t expect much of the 2018 budget will ever be implemented. The June election could result in a new governing party or even a change in direction for the governing Liberals.

“We are people of faith and hope,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean we let up the pressure.”

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