Ontario’s Poverty Reduction Strategy
Designing interventions in support of Poverty Reduction Strategies in Canada falls within areas of provincial and territorial jurisdiction, notably Education and Health Care. Creating and implementing Poverty Reduction Strategies is therefore delegated to the provincial and territorial level. Currently all provinces and territories, with the exception of British Columbia, have poverty reduction strategies in place, or are in the process of developing them.
Breaking the Cycle: Ontario’s Poverty Reduction Strategy (2008-2013)
Ontario’s Poverty Reduction Strategy is guided by the vision of a province where every person has the opportunity to achieve his or her full potential, and contribute to and participate in a prosperous and healthy Ontario.
The main goal of the strategy is to reduce the number of children living in poverty by 25 per cent over a 5-year period beginning in 2008, representing a total of 90,000 children.
The Strategy identifies four priority areas and related goals:
- Lowering Child Poverty.
- Lowering Poverty for all Ontarians.
- Promoting Stronger, Healthier Communities in Ontario.
- Smarter government.
There are eight indicators used to monitor progress on the strategy’s goals and together they form the Child and Youth Opportunity Wheel. These indicators cover key aspects of the dimensions of opportunity such as income levels, education, health, housing and standard of living.
The eight indicators are:
- School Readiness
- High School Graduation Rates
- Educational Progress
- Birth Weights
- Low Income Measure (LIM)
- Depth of Poverty
- Standard of Living
- Ontario Housing Measure
***Note: When the strategy was released the Ontario Housing Measure and the Standard of Living indicators were still under development and therefore did not yet have a baseline
In 2007, the Government of Ontario set up a Cabinet committee on poverty reduction and in 2008 put out a public call for input on options to reduce poverty in the Province. The public responded through a number of channels including online, phone calls, letters and meetings held by community non-profit organizations and Members of the Provincial Parliament (MPPs). The government held 14 roundtable sessions with stakeholders, including people in low income brackets, and committed to follow-up with civil society at the halfway point of the plan in 2011. In 2009, with the support of all political parties, the Poverty Reduction Act was enacted into legislation. The Act requires the government to report annually on key poverty indicators and develop a new strategy, through consultation, every five years.
Annual progress reports follow a two-pronged approach: they report on the initiatives taken since 2008 and in particular those taken in the recent year (such as increase in the Child Tax Credit and the pilot program Life After High School) and they report on trends in the target metrics (such as the poverty rate and high school graduation rates). This exercise serves to lend credibility to the claim that progress on target metrics has, at least in part, been achieved as a consequence of the taken initiatives.
During the 2008-2013 poverty reduction cycle, the Cabinet committee on Poverty Reduction was co-chaired by the Minister of Children and Youth Services and the Minister of Community and Social Services. It consisted of 16 members, ten Ministers, three Parliamentary Assistants and three members who are external to the government. In conjunction with the work of the Cabinet committee, the Children and Youth Services of the Policy Development and Program Design Division of the Government of Ontario is responsible for the overall implementation of the strategy through ongoing consultation with key stakeholder.
In accordance with provisions of the Poverty Reduction Act the Government of Ontario announced a renewal of their commitment to combat poverty in July 2013. It subsequently launched province-wide consultations to help develop the new strategy, and, in September 2014, released Realizing Our Potential: Ontario’s Poverty Reduction Strategy (2014-2019).
Realizing Our Potential: Ontario’s Poverty Reduction Strategy (2014-2019)
Realizing Our Potential differs from Breaking the Cycle in that is does not set out a clear five year target for reducing poverty. Rather, Realizing Our Potential insists that the government of Ontario has made progress on all eight of the indicators laid out in Breaking the Cycle, and suggests that the lack of investment on behalf of the federal government as well as “a global recession and the worst economic downturn in 20 years” impacted their ability to meet their targets. Nevertheless, Realizing Our Potential remains committed to reducing child poverty by 25 per cent, using 2008 as a base year. According to the government of Ontario, since 2008, Breaking the Cycle helped reduce child poverty from 15.2 per cent to 13.6 percent in 2011, and, as a result, 47,000 children and their families were lifted out of poverty while 61,000 were prevented from falling into poverty in 2011 alone.
Seven of the eight indicators laid out in Breaking the Cycle have remained priorities in Realizing Our Priorities. Standard of Living as an indicator was dropped as a result of Statistics Canada eliminating the survey that carried the Ontario Deprivation Index, making data on this indicator inconsistent and likely unavailable in the future. On the other hand, Realizing Our Potential, has included three new indicators that will look more closely at youth education, employment and training, long-term unemployment, and the poverty rates of vulnerable populations. The three new indicators are:
- Not in education, employment or training (NEET): The percentage of youth and young adults who are not in education, employment or training. They are at higher risk of persistent poverty and social exclusion;
- Long-term unemployment:The percentage of working-age Ontarians (aged 25 to 64) experiencing long-term unemployment; and
- Poverty rates of vulnerable populations: Including Aboriginal people living off-reserve, newcomers, persons with disabilities, unattached individuals aged 45 to 64, and female lone parents.
Moreover, Realizing Our Potential includes a new long-term goal to end homelessness in Ontario. The government of Ontario acknowledges that ending homelessness, as is the case with reducing poverty, is a complex issue and that first it will seek expert advice to develop new measures to effectively track homelessness. Nonetheless, the Realizing Our Potential aims to end homelessness by making investments in homelessness prevention, expanding access to supportive housing, and investing in more affordable housing. In addition, the government of Ontario will update its Long-Term Affordable Housing Strategy by 2015-2016 to ensure that housing policies remains relevant to current realities and reflect new research and best practices.
The political and administrative structures around Ontario’s PRS have changed since the 2014 spring election. Currently, the Deputy Premier presides over the Treasury board and takes political responsibility for the Poverty Reduction Strategy. The PRS is thus administered through Cabinet Office, which supports the work of the Cabinet and Premier.