OCAP statement on 2012 Ontario Budget

Ontario Budget Declares War on Poor and Working People:
Liberals cut Community Start-Up allowance, drive down welfare/ODSP rates, impose wage freeze...

The 2012 Ontario Budget, delivered by the Liberal Government, but designed by Bay Street, goes under the title 'Strong Action for Ontario'. In reality, however, it is a blueprint for action to impose the burden of the crisis on everyone but the rich. Public Services will be under attack as the Government works to reduce spending by some $17.7 billion over the next three years. The workers who deliver those services will face a wage freeze and an unprecedented attack on their pensions.

As already announced by Dalton McGuinty, this Budget includes measures that will deepen the crisis of poverty in Ontario. A planned $100 increase in the Ontario Child Benefit will be put off until July of 2013 and social assistance rates will be 'frozen', which in real terms means a cut in income once again. People on Ontario Works are living on incomes that are a devastating 60% lower than they were in 1995 and over 20% lower than when the Harris Tories left office. Now, that wretched sub poverty income will continue to be driven down further by the 'poverty reduction' Liberals as the cost of food and other necessities increases significantly.

A particularly disgusting move by this government is the elimination of a benefit known as 'Community Start-up and Maintenance Allowance'. At present, CSU is only available to people every two years, but is the only way that people can get the funds to move, to buy much needed furniture, or to pay for emergencies such as when the power has been cut off. It is also an essential benefit for women fleeing abuse as a means to get started in a new and safer location, and for people coming out of institutions trying to re-start their lives on the outside. As with all benefits on the books for OW and ODSP, it is irrefutably insufficient and has in the last few years under the Liberals become increasingly harder to access. But to cut even the meager scraps of a start-up allowance shows the true intentions of the Liberal budget.

On top of the elimination of the CSU, all other discretionary health benefits under Welfare (OW) and Disability (ODSP) will now be capped meaning that access will be severely limited. Funding for these benefits (dental emergencies, eye glasses, etc) will be cut over the next 3 years.

This newest round comes on top of the previous cuts to the Special Diet allowance which in and of itself has massively reduced the health and well-being of those on assistance.

The freeze on corporate tax breaks they reluctantly included in the budget in the hopes of preventing the defeat of their minority government and an election, will leave intact the tax changes that have handed billions over to the richest in society. We are somehow expected to be grateful or see it as a good thing for this freeze on corporate taxes as though this means 'we' (the poor AND rich) are all 'taking a hit.' But this isn't about fairness and it isn't even about money. If it was, they wouldn't be taking it from people on assistance and the poorest Ontarians, they would go to those who have the money. Withholding and freezing welfare "saves" the province $90 million. This is a drop in the bucket - only .072 of the total budget, and nothing in comparison to the benefits bestowed on the private sector and corporations. While we have faced round after round of attacks on our incomes and wages, the top 1% of income earners have in fact doubled their income since 1980, but today are paying half the taxes.

Even if corporate taxes had been raised back to the previous 14%, it would have generated a staggering $2billion in just one year. But no, that was not on the table in the 2012 Budget, because no matter how they spin it, this is really about class, and a war has been declared against poor and working people.

We see in the proposals of TD banker Drummond, and the follow through of Finance Minister Duncan, not just the continuation of Harris' work, but a transfer of wealth from poor to rich that puts Harris to shame. Thursday we will also face Harper's attacks on the Federal level. What we need to remember is that this isn't in isolation and isn’t happening in a vacuum.

What we are facing on all three levels of government is in fact a global austerity agenda that is being directed against poor communities and workers on an international scale. It is an attack that can only intensify. We can not afford to let them get away with these opening shots.

A slogan that was popularized in the unemployed movements of the 30's was 'United we eat, divided we starve.' This should ring true for us again today. A common front of unions and communities must be organized to resist this Budget, those who have drawn it up and those who stand to profit from austerity. Duncan himself has stated that he expects 'protest on the lawns of Queens park'. We need to not only make this a reality, but take a long and hard look at the power we have, and the power we need to create, for a serious and sustained movement capable of creating the economic disruption that can defeat their austerity and make the rich pay.

Fight to Win.
Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, March 2012