It is hard to tell whether Premier Dalton McGuinty’s latest “progress report” is taxpayer-funded pre-election handout or a serious defence of his government’s social policy record.
Either way, Ontario Building Stronger Communities fails.
The 17-page document is far too long, too dense and too abstruse to hold the attention of voters; let alone convince them to re-elect a Liberal government
when they go to the polls in October.
Those who actually read it are more likely to guffaw than applaud some of the achievements it highlights. Take for example: “Ontario Parks have an annual fall colour report to help plan an autumn getaway” or this: “We created a new Ontario Water Innovation Award to recognize a company that is developing a commercial successful water technology.”
Let’s assume the compilation is meant as a detailed rundown of what the McGuinty government has accomplished in its eight years in office.
Unfortunately, some critical details are missing.
The report claims, for instance, that the Liberals increased Ontario’s minimum wage seven times increasing the remuneration of the province’s lowest-paid workers by almost 50 per cent.
That is true, as far as it goes. What it neglects to mention that the government froze the minimum wage at $10.25 per hour this year. That means a full-time worker earning the minimum in this province wage makes $21,320 a year before taxes — which is four per cent below Statistics Canada’s low-income cut-off — commonly known as the poverty line.
It calls attention to the Children in Need of Treatment program, which provides emergency dental care to 43,500 low-income children and Healthy Smiles program, which provides check-ups and preventive service for children.
Both are commendable. But the Liberals also promised assistance to impoverished adults with serious dental problems. Then they reneged, using the money to pay for their children’s programs.
The report boasts that the government has built and repaired more than 270,000 affordable housing spaces.”
This is meaningless without a breakdown. Here it is: repairs account for 93 per cent of the total. The government has built — or approved — just 19,000
new housing units.
To put this in perspective, 152,000 Ontario families are on the waiting list for social housing. To provide political context, McGuinty promised in 2003
to “create 20,000 new housing units for needy Ontario families” in his first term of office.
The government trumpets its commitment to make Ontario completely accessible by 2025 and point out that four the of five accessibility standards required to achieve that goal are in place.
On paper, that sounds on impressive. In fact, individuals with disabilities have seen almost no change.
Starting next January, large employers will be required to provide workers with disabilities “with emergency response information that is tailored the employee’s needs, if the disability requires it.” Subsequently, organizations providing consumer service will have to “establish polices, practices and procedures on providing goods or services to people with disabilities” and train its staff to implement them. At some point, passenger vehicles — buses, trains, subways, streetcars, taxis, trains and ferries — will have to have accessibility features, such as low-floor access for wheelchairs and mobility devices.
But most important piece of the masterplan — the removal of barriers from workplaces, commercial outlets, multi-unit residential buildings, parks and playgrounds — has yet to be developed.
It is unfortunate the Liberals tried to cram so much into their progress report. Their self-congratulatory eclipsed their genuine achievements.
They transformed Ontario’s child welfare system with their $1,100 a year provincial child benefit. They made Ontario a leader in the development of clean energy and water conservation technology. They introduced full-day kindergarten in Ontario’s schools. And they carved out 4.3 million acres of green space.
Someone should tell the premier to stick to the facts. He won’t win over jaded electors with half-truths.
Carol Goar is a columnist with Record news services.