Hamilton has an important opportunity to give some serious thought to the analysis that social assistance provides real benefits as well as costs.
By Bob Wood
Published July 03, 2011
Events scheduled for July 4th in Hamilton got me reflecting on Canada Tax Freedom Day. I think I missed it this year. How about you? Nationwide it occurred on June 6th. On that day we'd be living tax free for the rest of the year.
For those of us living in Ontario, we were able to celebrate two days earlier. If we were lucky enough to call Alberta home, we could set off the fireworks a full five hard-working-taxpayer days in advance of Victoria Day.
The Fraser Institute is responsible for this tool which tries, I suppose, to show us how badly we are doing in moving to the Fraser's vision of "a free and prosperous world." In this world, "individuals benefit from greater choice, competitive markets, and personal responsibility."
The boys of the Institute also note that the Balanced Budget Tax Freedom Day arrives on June 22, 16 days later than Tax Freedom Day.
Significant mainstream media attention treats this tax freedom drivel as serious analysis when it ought to be shuffled off to where it belongs to be served up as news by the Glen Becks and Ben Mulroneys of the world.
What we need really need is some sort of tool that measures how government policies impact our fellow citizens. Something that acknowledges that a significant portion of our populace, through no fault of their own, don't have the income to meet their living costs.
This brings me back to those early July Hamilton events.
City Council hears from Dr. Atif Kubursi and Craig Foye on July 4th. They're talking about helpful analytic tools. Kubursi has one; Foye wants one. Kubursi, of Econometric Research Limited, is presenting a report called The Economic Impact of Social Assistance in Hamilton.
A modelling tool called the Regional Impact Model (RIM) demonstrates that social assistance beneficiaries generate significant impacts in both the local and provincial economies debunking the common assumption that social assistance is a burden to the economy.
Specifically, significant impacts include:
Generating $439.3 million in value added in the provincial economy (in part as a result of the multiplier effect); generating $296.2 million locally. Maintaining 5,441 jobs in Ontario and 3,383 locally.
Generating $144.6 million in provincial and federal taxes and $6 million in local taxes. Increasing salaries and wages by $ 260 million provincially and $162.7 million locally.
Foye, a staff lawyer with the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic, wants an "evidence-based" system for determining social assistance rates. By using real research into what it actually costs to find and keep a place to live and buy basic necessities in Ontario communities an effective system could be developed.
We need such a system, as the rates established 30 years ago and pegged to the real cost of living were severely cut in 1995 by Mike Harris, then Premier and now Fraser Institute Senior Fellow, and have eroded relative to inflation since.
There is a real opportunity to give some serious thought to the ideas being put forward by Kubursi and Foye as the Commissioners appointed by the provincial government to review social assistance and recommend changes are in Hamilton on July 4th. They'll hear from the public on ways to reform Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program.
Francis Lankin and Munir A. Sheikh, co-chairs of the Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario, will be in Hamilton to participate in a community forum at the Convention Centre.
The Commissioners' discussion paper envisions an "income security system that enables all Ontarians to live with dignity, participate in their communities, and contribute to a prospering economy." Running to 48 pages, the paper provides useful background info and is designed to elicit public input.
For example, the Commissioners write that there are trade-offs in developing a benefit structure that provides adequate level of support without creating barriers to work. But how should the trade-offs be tackled?
They also want thoughts on fixing the "complex" (some would say stupid) rules-based social assistance system and addressing the "unique circumstances of First Nations people living on reserve, the increasing number of Aboriginal people living off-reserve and Metis people."
The Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction and community partners are coordinating the visit of the Commissioners and helping to facilitate the Kubursi/Foye presentation.
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