Community Development Halton is an active member of the Social Planning Network of Ontario (SPNO). SPNO was instrumental in making child poverty a major issue in the 2007 Ontario General Election and in mobilizing Poverty Free Ontario, with its network deep in communities, to keep poverty eradication alive as a critical social issue. I share with you a reflection piece prepared for SPNO by Peter Clutterbuck and Marvyn Novick. It explores where to go with the poverty eradication agenda under the new political reality. They outline SPNO's journey toward poverty eradication in Ontario and offer 'new thinking' on reframing decent work and basic income through the life cycle. They raise a series of questions that should be an essential part of any dialogue for inclusive and healthy communities.
Seven years ago, SPNO set an advocacy agenda for active promotion among its member organizations’ in their respective communities across Ontario in the provincial election scheduled for October 2007. The intent of this initiative stipulated timelines and targets to be established, first for the reduction of child and family poverty within five years and then a plan for its elimination in Canada’s sesquicentennial year 2017. Several major strategies in a poverty reduction and elimination plan were proposed:
In addition, the SPNO members reaffirmed the importance of strengthening the community support base (e.g. early learning, affordable housing and community support services) as an important component of a poverty reduction strategy.
SPNO recognized decent work and putting an end to working poverty as the cornerstone of its child and family poverty reduction agenda. SPNO rejected the false contentions of the “welfare wall”, where it was assured that people had to be kept in destitution as an incentive to leave social assistance and to accept low wage work.
While the $100/month Healthy Food Supplement (HFS) proposal and the Put Food in the Budget (PFIB) campaign would not be shaped for two years, the SPNO meeting in the spring of 2007 laid the groundwork for new benchmarks to end both working poverty and deep poverty, calling for a “just differential” between social assistance rates and the minimum wage. By 2017, the goal would be to get working people 20% above the poverty line and people on social assistance up to the poverty line, first by making sure no social assistance recipient lived in deep poverty (below 80% of the poverty line).
These commitments became the central messages for a cross-community awareness campaign over the summer and fall months running up to the election. Along with SPNO’s report naming Ontario the “child poverty centre of Canada”, the community meetings and media coverage contributed to Premier McGuinty’s promise to develop a child and family poverty reduction strategy within the first year of his new administration, if re-elected.
Since 2007, SPNO’s positions on sustaining employment supplemented with essential income supports to reduce and eliminate poverty have been incorporated into major campaigns focusing on raising the minimum wage and moving social assistance rates towards adequacy. The Liberal Government has shown movement towards the demands of the Minimum Wage Campaign. And, persistent cross-community advocacy since 2009 has resulted in resolutions expressing support for the $100/month Healthy Food Supplement (HFS) in 25 Ontario municipalities and recommendation by the Social Assistance Review Commissioners, leading to the first real income increase in social assistance rates in the 2013 provincial budget in twenty years.
In recent years, the debate about a Guaranteed Annual Income or Basic Income has re-emerged as it has periodically since the 1960s. The prospect of some kind of clear, simple universal income security program is alluring. Expressions of interest from all parts of the political spectrum suggest a potential political consensus on a guaranteed income, which is as unusual as it is attractive.
Where does SPNO’s position on poverty eradication and inequality fit in this current discourse?
Does the Basic Income approach require us to abandon or rethink our public policy stance since 2007?
How should SPNO position itself on this issue as the new provincial government takes office and the federal election approaches in 2015?
If “basic” income means establishing a floor of income adequacy that enables individuals and families to maintain their health and dignity by meeting the cost of daily living needs, then clearly SPNO supports such policy. Some part of the population disconnected from the labour market temporarily or permanently by their situation and personal circumstances (e.g. single parents, persons with disabilities) will require income support programs at basic, adequate levels to ensure that they do not live in poverty. Most will depend on some form of paid work to get by. Too many of these community members in part-time and precarious employment at minimum wage levels cannot meet their basic daily living needs with their earnings.
Social policy emphasizing the workforce as the route out of poverty subjects people to low wage and precarious work and promotes “workfare” for those dependent on income supports, while reliance on income support programs only inevitably sets rates well below adequacy in terms of basic living requirements.
How can labour market and income support policy work together to ensure that poverty is eradicated for all in Ontario?
We already have income support models that recognize the relationship between work and income for vulnerable parts of the population. Old Age Security (OAS) and the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) for retiring workers introduced in the 1970s to supplement private pension income and Canada Pension Plan (CPP) benefits had a major impact on reducing seniors’ poverty to below 4%, and were indexed to protect their purchasing power against inflation. Granted, the GIS and CPP need enhancement now to maintain these gains.
It is possible to extend this supplemental income support approach to other stages of life in which people have varying attachments to the workforce. We can think of strategies for decent work and basic income across all stages of the life cycle, which recognize an appropriate and mutually reinforcing relationship between labour market participation and income support requirements as the following suggests:
This approach does not substitute income for employment earnings, nor does it compel workforce participation in order to receive income support. It recognizes that earnings from employment are an important component of maintaining a livelihood, but that labour market detachment at any stage of the life cycle should not condemn one to poverty. Both wage protections and income guarantees are required.
Since 2007 (and for many of us a decade or more before), SPNO and its cross-community partners in the Poverty Free Ontario (PFO) network have focused a lot of attention on income adequacy – increasing social assistance rates to end deep poverty; raising the minimum wage to get full-time, full-year earners above the poverty line. This concentrated attention has led to some gains and movement of the policy debates in a good direction but we may be allowing ourselves to remain confined to “minimalist” positions when it comes to framing what we think decent work should be. Notably, more communities are not just advocating for raising the minimum wage but are also for work at a “living wage”.
The availability of good and decent jobs should be seen as much of a challenge today as it was at the height of the industrial revolution in the 19th century. Today, in a post-industrial society, good and decent jobs seem a faint hope. Our youth in particular struggle to establish any secure foothold in the labour market, and even with higher levels of education, youth remain subject to mostly short-term and precarious employment. In the face of increasing tuition and living costs for post-secondary education, many youth accumulate high levels of debt and graduate into an economy that offers mostly poor paying service jobs. We are at risk of condemning our younger generations in particular to dismal, unfulfilling futures and chronic spells of poverty and exclusion. Productive employment in these formative early years of their labour force participation is critical.
While good jobs in the traditional economy appear to be scarce, there is no lack of work needed to create a truly sustainable society. It is time to reframe the notion of good jobs in terms of work that needs to be done to build and strengthen our social and civic infrastructure. We need to rebalance our economy from one tilted heavily towards private wealth creation and concentration to one of collective stewardship of our human and financial resources offering shared opportunity for all.
Quality employment guarantees are critical for youth and younger adults as they enter the workforce supplemented with income programs as they make transitions through their working lives. Government incentives and partnerships with the private sector (retail, commercial, industrial) should be directed toward the creation and support of decent, well paying, career development jobs. There is hope that the private sector might recognize its role in contributing to a collective purpose that adequately compensates workers while securing a fair return on investment.
Realistically, however, we should look to city governments and the community sector to show leadership, as the City of Seattle is doing by making a commitment to the highest minimum wage ($15/hour) in North America in response to a strong community advocacy movement. Even recently here in Ontario, the Put Food in the Budget campaign mobilized across communities to secure resolutions in support of the $100/month Healthy Food Supplement (HFS) in 25 city councils, which was cited by the Social Assistance Review Commissioners in their own recommendation in support of the HFS.
After forty years of market-driven neo-liberal social and economic policy, it is time to disengage from the tyranny of global capital and restore social justice from the ground up with a Civic Declaration on decent work and basic incomes for all. As in Seattle, city governments and the community sector must join their voices to demand senior government support for good jobs in business and in public services. The continued importance of work by nurses, teachers, firefighters and librarians as well as in the social, environmental, recreational, arts and culture sectors must be respected. Governments should support community and civic employment strategies in the public and nonprofit sectors that enable youth and younger adults to start life with a solid foundation of productive employment that builds and strengthens our social, cultural and environmental infrastructure. Civic Declarations directed to this collective purpose would both stimulate economic development and grow the next generation of an active and engaged citizenry.
We have a common stake in creating communities of shared opportunity for all. Investing in work that protects and enhances our environment, supports civic and community wellbeing, and grows local economies will produce social and economic benefits for all. Pursuing this path will demand the activation of a collective stewardship that engages all parts of the community in a discussion of how to work together for the common good.
What work needs to be done to create and sustain the kinds of communities that we want to live in?
What can business, labour, and civic community leaders do to contribute to that shared purpose?
How can the role of the nonprofit sector be expanded as a source of decent work and sustainable development?
We need to reframe decent work and basic incomes in terms of solidarity, with a mission to create communities of shared opportunity for all across Ontario, while recognizing the complexity of actual human experience through different stages of the life-cycle. We have an obligation to offer other guarantees, most critically that our younger generations will have the opportunity to make their contribution to sustainable social and economic development through the application of their energies, skills and talents in the public, civic, nonprofit, and corporate sectors.
We call on cities and communities to lead the way in framing Civic Declarations for decent work and basic incomes to eradicate poverty within this decade, and to create communities of shared opportunity for all across Ontario.
To this end, it is proposed that the Social Planning Network of Ontario join with its network of community leaders and organizations in Poverty Free Ontario to engage our communities in a discussion of the central tenets of a Civic Declaration, to test its resonance as a herald for structural change, and to explore its implications for both local and cross-community ground-swelling action for social justice in Ontario.
Social Planning Network of Ontario (SPNO)
 A 4% increase to the OW Basic Needs Allowance in the 2013 provincial budget ($26/month) was the first real income increase for OW recipients since the 1995 cuts of 22%, all other 1%-2% adjustments since 2003 being for cost of living, and at that were below the annual rate of inflation in several of those years.
 Industrial manufacturing jobs in the 19th century were low paying and conducted in unsafe and unhealthy working conditions until unions organized for collective action among labourers and social reformers introduced public controls and regulations for improved employment
Produced by Community Development Halton
860 Harrington Court
Burlington, Ontario L7N 3N4
Community Development Halton recently celebrated 30 years of social planning and volunteerism in Halton. At this event, CDH paid homage to Walter Mulkewich with an award that is called, the Walter Mulkewich Community Development Award. This award will celebrate those extraordinary people who come together to take collective action and generate solutions to common problems in their community. It seems so fitting that a man who has brought people together to build a healthy, creative community should have an award named in his honour. Walter’s imprint on this community is profound and lasting. He has worked and is working for change in our small place in this world, the totality of his acts have rewritten the history of this community and are influencing its journey into the future.
In this Community Dispatch, I would like to share with you his remarks at our Annual General Meeting, celebrating 30 years of impact.
Walter Mulkewich: A Celebration
Good evening and thank you for the work of Community Development Halton on behalf of the citizens of Halton.
Anniversaries are an occasion to look back, reflect and learn from the past and also to reflect about the future. I would like to share some personal memories and reflections about the past along with some musings about the present and the future.
Your history is actually longer than 30 years because there were active Social Planning Councils in Oakville dating to the early sixties and in Burlington to the early seventies and before. For many years the Social Planning Council of Hamilton included Burlington in its work, until 1971 when a community meeting established the Burlington Social Planning Council, a meeting I recall attending. From the beginning, this new Council in Burlington was community driven, responding to local community social needs. It started out with a part time Secretary and a small room for an office at Port Nelson United Church.
It was around 1973 that I had lunch with Larry Ogden and Roly Bird, and Roly would later become Mayor. We decided to stand for election to the Board of the Social Planning Council and very quickly Roly became President and I became Vice President.
I recall two of the first issues tackled were the huge need for affordable housing and subsidized childcare – sound familiar? I think these issues are still current? Volunteer committees led both projects. I chaired the housing task force and Rob McKenzie chaired the childcare task force. I mention this because I think there is a lesson here in involving citizens in research projects and advocacy.
One of the early tasks of the Board was to tackle funding – sound familiar? I should note that historically, the Hamilton United Way included Burlington in its catchment area and at first did not understand why a separate Social Planning Council was needed for Burlington. We did our homework, consulted with Burlington agencies, and then met with the Hamilton United Way Board. We argued our case that it was underfunding the Burlington Social Planning Council and Burlington agencies and threatened to set up a Burlington only United Way – and we got increased funding. We also went to the City Council and got a larger grant. Our goal at the time was to establish sustainable funding with municipal contribution at 60% and United Way at 40% – currently CDH is at 44% and 30% leaving 26% to be raised elsewhere. The connection to the United Way is important not only because of the funding but because traditionally Social Planning Councils have been important research arms for United Ways and I hope continue to be so.
With increased funding we hired our first Executive Director, Ted McMeekin, now Minster of Municipal Affairs & Housing and we established a real office on lower Brant Street.
The drive towards a Regional Social Planning Council was partly initiated by the Burlington and Oakville Social Planning Councils having joint discussions regarding cooperation. But mostly, it was a forced marriage by municipal governments saying continued funding to both Burlington and Oakville Social Planning Councils depended on going Regional and also including the fledgling Social Planning Council established in north Halton.
Mayor Bird led the way by taking the position that the Region was responsible for social services and regional planning and that the appropriate place for funding was at the Region not the local municipalities, a position I supported. And, other social services were forced to do the same. The next Executive Director was Susan Goodman followed by Elaine Eastman and then Joey Edwardh.
I recall being appointed Regional Council representative on the first Halton Social Planning Council and Volunteer Bureau Board – and if you don't have a Regional Council representative on your Board now you might wish to consider that because that is an important link. It was not an easy process bringing together people from four municipalities, merging two Social Planning Councils with different cultures from south Halton, and bringing in the social planning group from north Halton.
Councillor Mulvale, later Mayor Mulvale of Oakville, who succeeded me as the Regional representative on the Board, we had a late breakfast last week and shared some memories of the challenges in those days:
At an early point, Volunteer Bureaus were established in both Oakville and Burlington in the seventies as part of their respective Social Planning Councils. I should note that combining Volunteer Bureaus and Social Planning is not a trend across Ontario, but it has worked in Halton. I should also note that the role and challenges of the Volunteer Bureau in the seventies was somewhat different than it is now. In the seventies, very few organizations had their own Volunteer recruitment staff and recruitment procedures and I think there was a more robust sense of community participation.
I think it is fair to note that the role of the Volunteer Bureau has adapted to changing society and needs by doing much more than linking volunteers to agencies but also to promoting volunteerism and providing information, and providing training and support to local service providers, as well as targeting population groups and corporations. Just looking at the Volunteer Halton website, which is a really good site, reveals the huge service this program of CDH provides the community – a treasure for Halton and its four municipalities which we could not do without.
Social Planning has always been a difficult concept for many people to understand and, yes, for some to accept. Indeed there are many definitions and viewpoints as to what social planning is. My simple layperson definition is that it is a process to assess social issues in a community through research and community participation with a view to improving the wellbeing of the community.
I defined Social Planning as a process. The problem is that people have a hard time understanding processes – but rather want to see results and how those processes benefit them - and this has always been a challenge for social planning, not only to focus on process, but also to demonstrate results from those processes in terms of improvement in the wellbeing of the community – and here is where good communication comes in.
I think that communication has always been an issue social planning has had to deal with. It is about communication to the community, the partners and the funders – but it's about communicating results. My experience in sales and marketing tells me that you do not sell a product - but the benefits of the product. And, I think you need to continually and clearly identify the benefits you are providing specifically to your community, your partners and your funders.
The Halton Social Planning Council rebranded itself as Community Development Halton 10 years ago. Your website lists community development as one element of social planning and is defined as facilitating and supporting "positive change in partnership with community groups and individuals." Indeed social planning and community development must be interconnected and I am not sure where one starts and the other ends.
Over these past thirty years, CDH, its Volunteer Centre, the various reports and the community involvement have been essential to the wellbeing of the Region.
I want to single out two initiatives in recent times:
On a personal note, I certainly appreciated the help of CDH in two projects I was involved with:
In 2014, I see three big challenges facing our communities, challenges we face with the rest of Canada:
Let me conclude by talking a bit about social capital and the future.
Social capital is all about the institutions, relationships and networks that bind us together as a society. Unfortunately, the neo-liberal political and social philosophy that has dominated a lot of discourse since the nineteen eighties has put the focus on individuals rather than social capital. I am not sure we can recreate the kind of social capital that was the hallmark of the great generation that experienced the Great Depression and the Great War and who gave us a progressive society. It is more likely that we can build increased social capital on another model for different times, times that are increasingly characterized by individualism but also new social capital through digital relationships and communication.
In this time of the decline of traditional media, including both print media and television, I think you will need to become more involved and savvier with the world of social media for both communication and research. I believe that you need to strategically expand your presence on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and more. This is about involving the community, particularly the younger generations, and it is about two-way communication – and increasingly this will be digital.
Yes, the political climate is still dominated by austerity and retrenchment, which affects funding sources and receptivity to your work. This too will likely change, because these things go in cycles, but in the meantime this organization need to find ways to work within that austerity climate, and I think to do so you have to emphasize the benefits of your work and bring in solid support from as many sectors of the community as possible.
It is easy for me to identify three major issues, to throw out some ideas, personal memories and reflections. I could have gone on to talk about other issues such as diversity, youth employment, aging and mobility. Your priorities will need to be identified by the community, in consultation with your funders and community partners, and verified by the rigour of research.
This means remembering the first principles in the history of community social planning and volunteerism – that it is about being community driven. And it is about the courage to take a stand on issues, which you identify.
These are only a few reflections about the past and random thoughts about moving into the future. Again, I want to congratulate and thank CDH for your continuing work and hope you can build on your history as you continue to adapt to the future.
Produced by Community Development Halton
860 Harrington Court
Burlington, Ontario L7N 3N4