By: Gustavo Vieira, The Canadian Press
TORONTO – Ontario sits in last place in Canada when it comes to every major social indicator, according to a report from a provincial coalition of labour and community organizations.
The Ontario Common Front released a report Wednesday putting Ontario at the bottom of the pack when it comes to funding and access to most public programs and services — from health care to education and justice to disability benefits.
The report — called “Falling Behind: Ontario’s Backslide into Widening Inequality, Growing Poverty and Cuts to Social Programs” — draws on numerous select studies and government statistics from different time periods to come to its conclusions.
It blames tax cuts coupled with reductions in social programs for many of the problems it outlines.
“Ontario’s budgets for the last 15 years have repeatedly prioritized tax cuts while casting concomitant cuts to social programs as necessities rather than choices,” the report states.
“Social programs that benefit all Ontarians and redistribute income through free public services such as education and health care face relentless budget pressure,” it says.
The report says the McGuinty government’s current austerity budget will worsen the province’s record in spite of a Liberal promise to eliminate poverty.
Sid Ryan, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, which is a member of the OCF, said the conclusions of the report were not surprising, but prove the province made what he calls erroneous policy choices.
“Not just the Drummond report and the budget, but before that, the Liberal policies have been driving Ontario to the bottom of the heap when it comes to social programs,” Ryan said.
Economist Don Drummond’s report earlier this year made 362 recommendations aimed at preventing Ontario from suffering the same economic fate as debt plagued Greece.
Drummond called for bigger class sizes, higher utility bills, fewer hospitals, a public sector wage freeze, and an end to direct subsidies and tax credits for businesses.
More than 90 labour and community organizations in the province form the OCF, backing the report that compiles research into Ontario’s standing on poverty, income inequality, out-of-pocket costs for social programs, wait lists for community services and other data.
The report says there is a growing income gap among Ontarians, which Ryan calls one of the most disappointing conclusions of the report.
“It’s quite clear right now they are going after the children’s programs,” said Ryan. “They just abandoned (the poverty reduction) message.”
According to the report, between 1981 and 2009, Ontario had the country’s second highest increase in the poverty rate. The document cites Statistics Canada data showing the percentage of Ontarians living below the low income measure rising from 9.4 per cent in 1981, to 13.1 per cent in 2009.
The report said Ontario has the worst record on affordable housing. It cited data showing that in January 2011, there were 152,077 households on waiting lists across Ontario for affordable housing, which represented an increase of 7.4 per cent from the previous year.
The report was released a day after teachers’ unions rallied at the Ontario legislature to protest controversial legislation from the Liberal government that would freeze wages and cut educators’ benefits for at least two years.
The unions said the bill tramples on their collective bargaining rights because it also bans strikes and lockouts. But Premier Dalton McGuinty said the bill was needed to help reduce the province’s $15 billion deficit.