Toronto politicians upset over provincial cuts to social assistance grant


Jeremy Appel
City Hall/Queen’s Park Reporter

Tensions are brewing between municipal and provincial levels of government with Premier Kathleen Wynne’s decision to cut Toronto’s annual social assistance grant.

Toronto Mayor John Tory rejected the province’s offer to replace the $86-million grant with a $200-million loan, a statement from Finance Minister Charles Sousa said.

The province’s offer to replace the social assistance grant – which covers subsidized housing and welfare —  with a loan is a result of the Ontario government’s effort to slash the deficit by 2018, Sousa said in the release.

“The majority of people who have to use food banks in our city are on social assistance,” Humber social work instructor Linda Hill wrote in an email. “What they receive on a monthly basis is not enough to live in Toronto.”

Toronto’s lower income neighborhoods like Rexdale, where the Humber College North campus is situated, must bear the brunt of this bickering between provincial and municipal governments.

Almost half of Rexdale’s 88,000 employable residents have an annual income of less than $30,000, according to the most recent National Household Survey.

The survey says more than one-quarter of this low income bracket in that community makes less than $5,000 per year, indicating extreme poverty.

Hill said that the Daily Bread Food Bank’s Who is Hungry report shows that the average food bank recipient has to live on $6.13 a day after paying housing costs.

“My students are always shocked when they see how little people receive on social assistance,” Hill said.

Toronto city councillor Joe Mihevc said he does not think balancing Ontario’s budget should come at the expense of Toronto’s most vulnerable.

He suggested the premier use corporate taxation to redress the province’s fiscal imbalance.

“(Ontario has) one of the lowest rates of corporate taxation in North America, and certainly in Canada,” Mihevc said. “We have to raise that.”

Mihevc said that the principle of social justice means that the wealthy need to pay a little more so that those less privileged can have a better quality of life.

NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo is more harshly critical of the Ontario government’s approach to urban poverty in the GTA.

“The poor are worse off now under the Liberals than they were under the Mike Harris Tories,” DiNovo said, referring to the provincial government of 1995-2002.

The Liberals did nothing to restore the services axed by Harris, she said. Meanwhile, the cost of living increased, resulting in the poor becoming poorer.

“The Liberals seem to get away with conservative policies in a way that even Conservatives can’t get away with,” DiNovo said.