Putting a face on its promise to reduce poverty in Ontario, the McGuinty government released “Breaking the Cycle” earlier this month. Given the gathering economic storm, this poverty reduction plan seems timely. But while the proposal has drawn praise for setting measurable goals, whether those goals are reached is another matter. That’s because the province is counting on someone else picking up the tab.
The plan promises to reduce the number of children living in poverty in Ontario by 25 per cent within five years. If successful, it will bring 90,000 kids and their families up to within half of the provincial median income. For a single mother with two children, that would mean an income of $27,000 a year. Ontario is the first province to set hard targets for reducing child poverty.
But how the province will reach its goal is a mystery. According to the plan, new spending by Ontario will amount to $300 million. This covers a small increase in the Ontario Child Benefit, plus some educational supports. If that doesn’t seem sufficient for such an ambitious target, it’s because Ontario doesn’t expect to do most of the spending.
While the federal government had no role in setting the policy, the province is demanding that it do most of the work. It wants Ottawa to double the Working Income Tax Benefit and boost the National Child Benefit Supplement. If implemented in Ontario alone, these changes would cost federal taxpayers about $1.5 billion. And yet it’s constitutionally impossible for Ottawa to increase funding for a national program in just one province. The real cost is thus closer to $3 billion, or 10 times what Ontario has committed.
“We will do our part,” Premier Dalton McGuinty boldly stated when he introduced the plan. If he fails to meet his target, he can always blame Ottawa.