Child poverty plan to help 'community hubs'
TORONTO - A long-awaited plan to tackle child poverty in Ontario will include new money to help student success in the classrooms and after school hours, government sources said Wednesday.
The plan to be released Thursday will provide money for so-called community hubs, which would respond to local needs that would address poverty reduction and help children with their academic success, the sources told The Canadian Press.
"We'll be investing in an after school program to support kids in high needs neighbourhoods with new after-school programming and new initiatives focused on physical activity and wellness," said one source.
Premier Dalton McGuinty acknowledged that his plan will be a "step forward," but not as big a step as the province would have liked to take.
It will set specific targets, and legislation will be introduced to support his government's efforts to reduce poverty, McGuinty said, but tough economic times have hamstrung his ability to do more to help the poor.
"It's one thing to begin to address poverty at the best of times, it's another to do that in the context of a global economic crisis," he said.
"If we had more money, we could have had a strategy that would attack poverty for everyone, but we'll start with children," he added later in French.
But bad times haven't stopped the premier from allowing 1.5 per cent pay raises for provincial politicians and senior bureaucrats, opposition critics jeered.
McGuinty didn't do anything about poverty when the province was flush with cash, so there's little reason to hope he'll do much now, said NDP Leader Howard Hampton.
"This will be more pretending to care about poverty, more pretending to care about children being forced into poverty, but it will amount to next to nothing," he said.
The best way to attack poverty is by saving Ontario's ailing economy, and that can't be done when McGuinty is giving himself a $3,000 pay raise, said Progressive Conservative Joyce Savoline.
"A lot of poverty in Ontario is invisible," she said.
"It's those folks who are one paycheque away from having to seek shelter and that kind of thing."
McGuinty promised Wednesday that "additional resources" would be provided to reduce child poverty, but he was tight-lipped on the details.
"We will be, if nothing else, methodical in our approach," he said.
"There will be targets that will be public. There will be annual measurements taken that will be public. And there will be a focused strategy in place to help us achieve our target."
In Britain, the Labour government under former prime minister Tony Blair missed its own targets to reduce child poverty and ended up abandoning its 1999 promise to eradicate it by 2020.
The federal Liberals adopted a similar plan a year ago, pledging to reduce poverty by 30 per cent and cut child poverty in half over the next five years.
Poverty groups say they want the province and Ottawa to make a commitment to cut poverty by 25 per cent over five years.
If Ontario sets a specific numeric target Thursday to reduce poverty, it will be the first jurisdiction in North America to do so, said Jacquie Maund, Ontario co-ordinator of anti-poverty group Campaign 2000.
Her group isn't expecting much cash in Thursday's announcement, she said.
"We're expecting this to be a policy framework -- a big picture plan," she said.
"And so our expectation is that the dollars that would support the plan are more likely to be in the budget (next year)."
The provincial government is facing a deficit of at least $500 million this year and has warned that many new projects will have to be delayed as it grapples with the economic downturn.
McGuinty, who has taken a page from Blair's playbook before, said he's learned that setting targets -- such as class sizes and wait times -- can be "very powerful magnets" for collaboration.
"As soon as you put those in the window and speak to the stakeholders about them, suddenly they turn their energies towards achieving that," he said Wednesday.
"So they become at minimum an inspiration for renewed effort, and ideally of course, you want to achieve them as well."
Ontario will need help from the federal government as well as municipalities, community groups and parents, he added.
Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador are the only other provinces with poverty-reduction plans, but Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have begun to consult on their own strategies, Maund said.
Quebec has managed to reduce its child poverty rate by 50 per cent over the last decade, she said.
According to the most recent statistics, about 324,000 children in Ontario were living in poverty in 2006, Maund said.
In Canada, about one in nine children -- or 760,000 kids -- are living below the poverty line.