At the beginning of 2008, the Ontario government created a province-wide poverty reduction strategy (as promised by Dalton McGuinty during his re-election campaign), which included the creation of a new committee and the launch of a website.

The new poverty reduction committee consists of 15 different Ontario ministers, chaired by MPP Deb Matthews (London North Centre, Minister of Children and Youth Services and Minister Responsible for Women’s Issues).

Currently, the committee is engaged in an invitation-only consultation process with stakeholders from across the province of Ontario to find, “workable and effective poverty reduction strategies.”

In a CBC Metro Morning interview with Andy Barrie on June 10, Matthews referred to what she described as the few situations where there were pickets outside of the consultations, though she said anyone outside would be invited in if they were, “prepared to be part of a constructive conversation.”

After one such picket outside a private consultation in Toronto’s west end on June 18, writer and activist krystalline kraus interviewed Mac Scott, a member of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP).

krystalline kraus: In the last provincial election, Dalton McGuinty ran on a platform which included a commitment to poverty reduction, out of which came the announcement of this new poverty reduction committee. What were OCAP’s first thoughts about this new committee?

Mac Scott: I think we felt all the way along that the committee is just a distraction, that the consultations are just a red herring.

A year ago, with Together Against Poverty (TAP), we were out in the streets in the thousands fighting for a raise in welfare rates, a raise in the minimum wage, and look at where the anti-poverty movement is now.

Agencies are scurrying to either go to the closed door meetings, or scurrying to decide whether they should go to these closed door meetings or they are scurrying to figure out what they should do about those meetings.

So instead of organizing to be out on the street where OCAP thinks we should be, these consultations have become a huge distraction for agencies, for poor people, and I think that’s why McGuinty created that committee.

As part of its year-long mandate, the committee has decided to spend its time travelling across the province to conduct these private consultations with different stakeholders. Do you think that was a good strategy and money and time well spent?

I think they should have taken Deb Matthews’s funding and salary and put it into people’s welfare cheques. That would have been a better way to spend the money.

The thing is, the movement has been telling the government since (former Ontario Premier) Harris that what we need is a 40 per cent raise in welfare rates, a decent minimum wage, so there is no need to be doing these consultations.

It’s entirely a waste of resources. There is no need for the government to sit down and find out what it already knows unless the government just doesn’t want to admit what it knows and then it distracts people from what they already know is needed.

Looking at the actual government poverty reduction strategy, the report first lists all that the Ontario government has already accomplished âe” Ontario child benefit, child care subsidy, commitment to full day kindergarten âe” then goes on to state their next steps. Do you think the Liberal government has the social licence to champion the poverty cause?

No, I don’t think so. I mean, welfare cheques were cut 40 per cent during Harris. And the Liberals slapped poor people in the face when they raised cheques by three per cent two years ago, and they haven’t raised them since.

And they also admitted publicly that they know people cannot survive on what they are giving for welfare, that is doesn’t even cover the cost of a bachelor apartment in the Toronto area.

For a government that come out publicly to say they know people cannot survive on welfare and then to refuse to raise welfare cheques, and then claim they are championing the cause of anti-poverty is an exercise in hypocrisy.

Throughout the committee’s literature, it carefully states its commitment to “reduce poverty,” not “end it” or “eliminate it.” Is that a purposeful choice of words on the committee’s part to manage people’s expectations?

The Liberal strategy, and why they call it poverty reduction, is one of dividing out the worthy poor. We see this time and time again particularity with the Liberals, but just in our capitalist society in general, that there are some people who are poor and it’s not their fault because they are less fortunate and we should help them. And then there are other people who are poor because of a genetic malfunction or because they made bad choices or because they deserve to be poor as punishment for their sins.

And I think that’s part of the poverty reduction strategy. Because when you’re talking about the child tax benefit, the mentality is: children are the deserving poor so we’ll throw some crumbs at children but, you know, with someone who dares to be on the street because they lost their job and they werenâe(TM)t willing to take a McJob or, God forbid, they have some kind of substance abuse problem, they don’t deserve our attention and they deserve to rot.

We don’t see it that way at OCAP. We believe that every human being has a right to shelter, to dignity, to food and to what they need to have a dignified life.

But shouldn’t Ontarians be happy that the provincial government is at least doing something about poverty in light of the federal government’s failure to keep its Campaign 2000 promises?

I guess it’s always better if they’re doing something, but they’re not even doing something. People in Toronto are still having to triple bunk in single bedroom apartments in order to survive on welfare, or they have to commit fraud in order to get enough money to live and then they get prosecuted for that.

I don’t know if we should be cheering them on even when they make these minimal, minimal, little concessions around poverty. And like I said earlier, these small things that they do are designed to create a deserving poor and an undeserving poor and I think to play into that mentality is very problematic.

Krystalline Kraus

krystalline kraus is an intrepid explorer and reporter from Toronto, Canada. A veteran activist and journalist for, she needs no aviator goggles, gas mask or red cape but proceeds fearlessly...