Ontario for All: Building a Compassionate Society
A minimum wage that reflects local cost of living and stops being a political football every time it is readjusted.
More than 900,000 workers in the province are earning the general minimum wage. The minimum wage in Ontario is significantly out of step with what is actually required to afford to live in the province. In October, the province’s general minimum wage increased from $15.50 an hour to $16.55 an hour. The fact that it is the same across all of Ontario doesn’t make sense. We should set the minimum wage regionally at a rate that reflects the local cost of living. According to the Ontario Living Wage Network, in most regions of Ontario, the living wage is more than $19 an hour and more than $23 an hour in the Greater Toronto Area. We need to combat working poverty by making sure that employees can make ends meet where they live.
A $15 minimum wage was to take effect by 2019 in a plan developed by the last Liberal government but Doug Ford suspended that when he took office. In January 2022, he boosted it from $14.35 to $15 and then bumped it to $15.50 in October 2022 and $16.55 in October 2023. It is time that the minimum wage stops being a political football. Unanticipated changes are not helpful to businesses. Any readjustment of the minimum wage system will be done in consultation with employers. Businesses will be partners, not adversaries. The Ontario Chamber of Commerce said it is supportive of scheduled minimum wage increases tied to inflation rates as it “allows businesses time to prepare.”
Ensuring the minimum wage keeps pace with rising inflation will help, in part, address affordability challenges at a time when Ontario is experiencing a record pace of net migration losses to other provinces.
Boosting support for People with Disabilities
As people from across the province grapple with soaring food prices and rental costs, nobody is feeling the squeeze harder than Ontarians with disabilities. The Ford Government now recognizes that ODSP should be linked to inflation, but a single person with no dependents is still only eligible for a maximum of $1,308 per month. This is, quite simply, not adequate.
ODSP should be anchored to a certain percentage of minimum wage both over time and geographically. Assuming 160 hours of work per month,a person eligible for the maximum benefit of $1,308 per month amounts to only about half the current minimum wage. I will provide Ontarians with disabilities much higher support. Specific amounts will be determined in a costed platform.
Ontario Works (OW) payments should be adjusted in the same way to take into account inflation and the local cost of living.
Alongside an increase in income, many Ontarians with disabilities need supportive housing. About 10% of those waiting for affordable housing have developmental disabilities. Having 10% of the CA-ON Housing Strategy set aside for that would make it easier for developers, developmental services agencies, and municipalities to work together on mixed market-supportive housing.
Addiction, overdoses and accidental poisonings
There are empty chairs and empty tables across this province, with families mourning loved ones killed by the opioid epidemic. The addictions crisis has been raised in every community I’ve visited during this campaign. Nearly seven Ontarians died every day in 2022.
It is hard to see light through the heartbreak. British Columbia’s model of compassionate care and harm reduction, backed by evidence and launched with optimism, has been unable to turn the tide against the newest concoctions of cheap, deadly and dangerous drugs. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death for children aged 10-18. On the other side of the Rockies, Alberta launched a recovery-oriented strategy that marries a focus on enforcement with historic investment in treatment facilities. Yet every single year - 2020, 2021, 2022 and (very likely) 2023 breaks a new record for the number of toxic drug poisonings.
The situation may have been worse without these interventions.
This crisis cannot be managed with an elegant piece of legislation and Ontarians deserve more than another expert committee. We need safe consumption and drug testing kits to keep people alive, and treatment options to help them escape their addiction. I’ll work to implement any outstanding, relevant recommendations from the federal governments’ Canadian Drug and Substance Strategy. Then we’ll begin the work to compare the outcomes from the BC and Alberta approaches to find a path that provides access to treatment options when people seek them out - while maintaining safe supply so that Ontarians can stay alive long enough to get help. Supportive housing is a key tool. Treatment options as part of reforms to the provincial criminal justice system is another.
I’ve also been eagerly following innovative approaches such as the Social Medicine Initiative, a collaboration between United Way Greater Toronto, the City of Toronto, and University Health Network. The SMI is building homes with wrap-around supports, like harm reduction and access to community services, to support over fifty identified residents with complex mental health needs.
I’ve discussed my overall housing approach in detail here, which specifically calls on relying on rent controls until we have sufficient housing stock to stabilize rents. After that it calls for portable housing benefits instead of rent control.
Although homelessness may be more visible in Ontario’s bigger cities, small towns and rural communities are also home to people without shelter. The Eastern Ontario Warden’s Caucus has proposed building 7000 units of community housing in 7 years. I believe that the province should use its credit rating to take on financing for such projects and help fund below-market housing in rural as well as urban areas.
In my own riding of Kingston and the Islands, some of the city’s most vulnerable residents have been living in tents adjacent to the Integrated Care Hub, a front-line support centre which combines safe consumption, social and healthcare services, for those facing addiction. Concerned about the risk to safety, the City has secured more shelter space and is asking for an order from the Ontario Superior Court to remove the encampment, with hearings beginning at the end of October. Some of those living in the camp are worried about life in shelters: not being able to bring their pets, lack of privacy, theft, and a prohibition on drug consumption on site.
The homeless, mentally ill and those suffering from addictions are often shuttled between different communities. This is clearly not a problem that any single municipality should deal with on its own. The province should upload financial responsibility from municipalities for those who are unhoused or struggling with addictions, so that municipalities aren’t paralyzed, amid funding uncertainty, between ensuring safety and security on public lands and not pushing marginalized people further into the shadows. Financial support should be available to smaller municipalities so that people who need help can remain close to the support of family and friends and, if possible, less reliant on public support.
This means building deeply affordable housing, providing support to fight the root causes of poverty, such as mental health and addictions, and investing in innovative programs such as the one underway at United Way Greater Toronto. I’ll also echo the call, made by Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow and Doug Ford, about the federal government’s role in providing housing support for refugees and asylum seekers. I welcome what the federal government has already done to help provide housing.