Mayday Banner Drop, Kitchener City Hall, 2012

I’d like to take a moment to reflect on what the recent provincial budget represents to us. This is the budget whose focus was on cutting spending only, ignoring any attempt to balance the income and wealth disparity in this province by refusing to discuss revenue raising options, such as higher taxes for the wealthy and corporate taxes.

In March 2005 The (OCAP) informed social assistance recipients on Ontario Works (OW) and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) that they may be eligible for the little known Special Diet Allowance – an additional payment of up to $250 per month. Over 100 healthcare professionals and experts signed a letter saying that all OW and ODSP recipients should be entitled to the full $250 per month supplement on a permanent and ongoing basis due to the inadequate welfare rates.

Poverty Makes us Sick began holding really free markets and food servings in resistance to the proposed cuts to the special diet allowance in May of 2010. Since then PMUS has advocated in the waterloo region for access to healthy food for all. Healthy food is not a privilege of those who can afford it, it is a right. There are studies upon studies showing that allowing poor people access to healthy food is one of the best investments a government can make. A healthy diet helps people escape malnutrition, and everyone knows early child development is dependent on proper, nutritious food as well.

PMUS also understands the need to raise the rates – for Welfare and ODSP – and this is basic economics. Poor people spend their money. They don’t hide their money in offshore bank accounts – they don’t invest it in the arms industry. They invest in their local communities. A 60% increase to OW and ODSP is not only dignified, and costs so little within the provincial budget, it will also benefit the “all important economy!”

So why do they do this, our governments who claim to care so much about helping the economy? It’s because their definition of a healthy economy is different from ours. Their ‘healthy’ economy is one in which we are forced to work for as little as possible, thus increasing profits for the very wealthy.

This year in the budget, the Ontario Liberals (froze? And NDP pushed for ) increased OW(not OW—I think just ODSP) and ODSP by 1%). Inflation is 3%, so in reality, this is a cut. This is not only an insult, but should be called for what it is: structural violence. That is, it is physical and psychological harm that results from exploitative and unjust social, political and economic systems. This is what we are calling out today.

Same goes for a living wage. A study done last year stated that a living wage in Waterloo Region would be around $17/hour. We all know that providing a decent living wage to workers is not only important in building vibrant communities, but also helps us fight despair, and poverty. There is an important distinction between minimum wage and living wage. A living wage is the minimum hourly income necessary for a worker to meet basic needs. A Minimum wage is the lowest hourly, daily or monthly remuneration that employers may legally pay to workers. Equivalently, it is the lowest wage at which workers may sell their labour. We want a society with a living wage, not a minimum wage!

This past Provincial Budget also brought about cuts and changes to the Ontario Child Tax Benefit and the Community Startup Allowance(CSU). A planned $100 increase in the Ontario Child Benefit will be put off until July of 2013.

A particularly disgusting move by this government is the elimination of a benefit known as ‘Community Start-up and Maintenance Allowance’. At present, CSU is only available to people every two years, but is the only way that people can get the funds to move, to buy much needed furniture, or to pay for emergencies such as when the power has been cut off. It is also an essential benefit for women fleeing abuse as a means to get started in a new and safer location, and for people coming out of institutions trying to re-start their lives on the outside. As with all benefits on the books for OW and ODSP, it is irrefutably insufficient and has in the last few years under the Liberals become increasingly harder to access. But to cut even the meager scraps of a start-up allowance shows the true intentions of the Liberal budget.

On top of the elimination of the CSU, all other discretionary health benefits under Welfare (OW) and Disability (ODSP) will now be capped meaning that access will be severely limited. Funding for these benefits (dental emergencies, eye glasses, etc) will be cut over the next 3 years.

Withholding and freezing welfare “saves” the province $90 million. This is a drop in the bucket – only .072 of the total budget, and nothing in comparison to the benefits bestowed on the private sector and corporations.

I’d also like to highlight a couple more items before I stop. The austerity measures have brought upon us an attack on pensions and collective bargaining. Only in the past few months, we have seen caterpillar offer their workers in London a 50% cut, and then eventually leave the community entirely. Pensions, something people have worked their lives paying into, have been raided by the same tycoons that brought us the financial crisis in the first place. The raiding of pensions, capping out unemployment insurance, cutting welfare and ODSP, legislating workers back to work, as they did the postal workers last year, offering paltry minimum wage, let alone the fact that most jobs now don’t provide any benefits. Just yesterday, I saw that Canada did in fact, bail out our banks, to the tune of $114 Billion. Military spending and policing budgets have increased. In large public institutions, such as University administration, positions are increasing – these are folks that make over $100,000, while we are being squeezed, unionized workers, non-unionized, undocumented workers, unpaid workers, folks with disabilities, underworked, first nations people, etc. are pitted against each other by a corporate media that provides a platform for the elite class. We don’t need anymore costly commission’s to study poverty reduction. We don’t need anymore reports offering “spending efficiencies” while completely ignoring the benefits of increasing corporate taxes.

If the government is unwilling to listen, we will create our own forms of resistance. We, in our own communities, and families of friends and relatives, will survive through our creativity, love and resist the hateful and oppressive policies and structures of our current government and corporate structures. Please come say hello to anyone you see here, give people hugs, and let’s connect all our dots together. Tonight, we’ll be heading over to rumrunner pub for a social. Bring your friends and family, and let’s get together to organize a better world for all.

Peace out!



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