"Stop the War on the Poor" Rally Welcomes Ontario Liberals at AGM

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

  • Courtesy CUPE Ontario - Protestors in Toronto rally to raise rates.

    Courtesy CUPE Ontario - Protestors in Toronto rally to raise rates.

Written by Peter Miller

Last weekend the Liberal Party of Ontario gathered in Toronto for its Annual General Meeting.


The meeting was welcomed by a rally of a few hundred people. On Saturday, March 22, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP), the Canadian Union of Public Employees - Ontario (CUPE) and other community groups rallied to raise welfare rates 55 percent and the minimum to 14 dollars an hour.


In 1995 the Harris Conservatives in power in Ontario cut welfare rates by 21.6 percent and froze the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). Since the Liberal Government has been in power, ODSP and Ontario Works have not kept up with inflation. The Ontario Government increased Ontario Works by only 1 percent last year.

Protestors brought pots and pans to the rally to be heard outside of the Liberal Party convention.

"Empty pots make a great noise, but not a great dinner for a family," said Liisa Schofield, spokesperson for the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, in a press release from CUPE Ontario. "The Liberals have never restored cuts to Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program that the Conservatives made in 1995. Today, social assistance is worth 55 percent less than it was then. That leaves more and more people unable to feed themselves and their kids."

The rally did not only call for the restoration of welfare rates. It also demanded that the Ontario government not amalgamate ODSP and OW, which would be an excuse to further cut ODSP, according to community groups. Last year a government report proposed a merger of ODSP and OW into one program.

The rally also called for the restoration of the Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit (CSUMB). The Ontario Liberals cut CSUMB in January 2013. The benefit was use to help people on OW and ODSP gather additional funds to get housed, buy necessities when setting up housing, or gather extra funds in the case of an emergency when moving to a new location is needed for personal safety.

As well, the rally demanded the Provincial Government restore the Special Diet Allowance. According to OCAP, the province has been chipping away at this benefit and a recent proposal has called for the elimination of the program. The special diet allowance allows people on OW and ODSP to have some extra money to buy healthier foods, for medical reasons.  

Ontario Works is now at 626 dollars a month. The average rent in Ontario is well above OW rates, with the average rent of a bachelor apartment in Toronto costing well over 800 dollars.

"After 11 years in power, the Liberals have not addressed the serious and growing problem of poverty in Ontario," said Fred Hahn, president of CUPE Ontario. "They have maintained huge tax cuts for corporations by continuously lowering the standard of living for the poorest people in the province. Instead of part-time and casual jobs that pay minimum wages – which seems to be the PC plan – we need a government that will invest in public services and in social infrastructure to create good jobs, give people a path out of poverty and build a better Ontario for everyone."

The rally comes at an important moment for politics in Ontario with there being a high potential for a provincial election later this spring. Only a mass movement on the streets will force discussion of poverty welfare rates during the election, and create enough pressure to increase welfare rates. 

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