A rally Saturday at Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market will kick off a new effort to combat cuts to social programs in Ontario.
The Raise the Rates campaign calls for the government to raise the minimum wage from $10.25 to $14, and the re-instatement of social assistance programs that have sustained considerable cuts in the past two decades.
Craig Saunders, spokesperson for CUPE Ontario, said existing social assistance programs and the current minimum wage are not enough to keep Ontarians out of poverty.
“We’re looking for a 55 per cent increase, which would get us to the place we were before the Harris government,” he said.
“We’re that far behind.”
Mike Harris, Ontario premier from 1995 to 2002, is well-known for his Progressive Conservative government’s massive cuts to government programs.
CUPE Ontario workers are uniquely exposed to the effects of poverty, Saunders told Humber News.
CUPE members see poverty on a daily basis, and witness the consequences of continuing drastic cuts to social assistance as front-line workers.
Though the Canadian government champions job growth, Saunders said the vast majority of new jobs are part-time, and part-time minimum wage work can’t sustain a family.
“There are 680,000 minimum wage workers in Ontario,” he said.
“Minimum wage doesn’t even allow you to live at the poverty line.”
The CUPE Ontario Chair of Social Services, Carrie Lynn Poole-Cotnam, told Humber News the Raise the Rates campaign is gaining international momentum.
Along with partners OCAP and the Public Service Alliance of Canada-Ontario, anti-poverty groups in the U.K. and New Zealand are staging solidarity events.
In the U.K. particularly, Poole-Cotnam said, where cuts have left disabled Brits without aid, the issue is pressing.
She said the same thing could happen in Canada.
If cuts to social programs continue, she said, “people who have disabilities in particular are going to be the most negatively effected.”
The biggest event in the Provincial Week of Action will be Sat. Oct. 19th in Sudbury.
A 2 p.m rally will bring together anti-poverty groups from across the province.
“We’ve been working with [OCAP] for three-and-a-half years now,” Cotnam-Poole said. “This is our second week of action.
“We’re hoping to create the same kind of pressure,” she said, noting the upcoming budget and election.
The cuts, said Saunders, are in direct contrast to corporate tax breaks.
“This is all happening at the same time that we have the lowest corporate tax rates since the Great Depression,” he said.
“We have a lot of rich corporate people crying poor, while the poor are just crying.”