Hundreds of people rallied in Riverfront Festival Plaza today, calling on all parties to end Ontario’s growing poverty crisis.
Organized by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) and partners in the Raise the Rates Campaign, the rally called on all parties to commit to raising social assistance rates to the level they were at before cuts made by the Mike Harris government in the 1990s.
“People on social assistance today are forced to get by on 55 percent less than they did two decades ago,” said Liisa Schofield from OCAP. “It’s time to stop attacking the poor and start building an Ontario for everyone. Start by restoring social assistance rates, bringing back essential programs like the Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit that the Liberals cut in 2012, and stopping the merger of Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program.”
Local labour and anti-poverty activists were joined at the rally by hundreds of CUPE members who came from every corner of the province for their annual convention, which concludes Saturday.
“The same party that slashed social assistance rates to criminally low levels under Mike Harris is now led by one of his old cabinet ministers, Tim Hudak, who is escalating the attack on the most vulnerable in our communities,” said CUPE Ontario President Fred Hahn. “He is blaming the very people the government should be elected to help, not hurt.”
Hahn added that Tim Hudak’s plans to eliminate 100,000 public-sector jobs will put nearly 4000 people out of work in the Windsor area and drive the unemployment rate to nearly 11 percent. Program cuts and funding freezes are already starving public services, leaving tens of thousands of vulnerable Ontarians without the support they need. Ontario has huge wait lists for long-term care beds, child care and services for people with developmental disabilities. For people struggling to make ends meet, these public service cuts are making a bad situation worse.
“It’s time that we, as individuals, say enough!” said Patrick Hannon, Co-Founder of Making Waves. “The community needs us to listen to them, and many people here work with the communities affected by these cuts. But that is no longer enough. It is not enough to provide services. We must help people to raise their voices and take action to make change that benefits everyone. It’s time to reclaim the respect and dignity Canadians have enjoyed and that future generations need to survive.”
CUPE is Ontario’s community union, with members providing quality public services we all rely on in every part of the province every day. CUPE Ontario members are proud to work in social services, health care, municipalities, school boards, universities and airlines.