BOB'S BLOG: 3 issues the politicians have ignored this campaign
Last time out I mentioned that the important issues aren’t being discussed in the provincial election.
What are those issues?
Fifteen years ago, I began to write a Queen’s Park column for Forever Young. My first story was to be on the 1999 provincial election. The monthly had just changed its name from Today’s Seniors. I was a youthful 49 at the time and wondered what election issues would be of most interest to my “older” readers. Pensions, long term care, health – that’s what I imagined. The editor connected me with the president of a province-wide advocacy group. She set me straight. Seniors were interested in many issues. Why wouldn’t they be? The one I remember that was emphasized was child care. Child care, really? Of course, I was told, we have grandchildren and we are interested that they receive the highest-quality child care possible.
In this 2014 campaign it is good to see that child care has been addressed by the parties. There has been near silence on other important matters.
Here are my three picks of issues that matter that aren’t being talked about. As a bonus I’m providing some actions that the new Premier can get to work on starting June 13.
I’m always baffled by the fact that our environment never seems to get much airtime during elections. Most of us are concerned about climate change, waste management, clean water etc…. It is fair to say that political decisions got us into the mess we are in. Political decisions could get us out of it. Our environment should be front and centre in any political campaign.
But there was little mention of environmental matters in last week’s debate or in the party platforms.
Mark Winfield is an associate professor of environmental studies at York University. Last week he wrote:
“The four platforms are perhaps most notable for what they don't say. Despite a growing scientific consensus around the impacts of climate change, reinforced by the experiences of last winter's ice storm, and extreme rain events last summer, the Liberals are the only one of the four major parties to say anything at all about climate change, and even they don't say much.”
More of Winfield’s thoughts can be found in a recent column – SEE HERE.
I often read the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario’s annual reports. SEE HERE. These reports provide good background on how we are treating the environment. I’d like to see the new Premier make these reports required reading for all members of her/his government.
Like environmental matters, housing affects us all. Let’s put it on the agenda. For example we need to talk about the fact that we are losing, not gaining, affordable housing units in Ontario. There are simple ways to address this that don’t have a lot of ideological baggage. For example, private builders can contribute to the stock of affordable housing as part of new residential developments. That can be facilitated by legislation that would give municipalities explicit legal authority to adopt mandatory inclusionary policies requiring that a certain percentage of new units be affordable to low-and moderate-income households.
We need to talk about tenant issues too. About 30 per cent of Ontario householders rent. Many of these rental units are covered by Ontario’s annual rent-increase guideline. However, more than 50,000 Ontario tenant households are vulnerable to higher rent increases simply because they live in “newer” units built on or after Nov. 1, 1991. The number of tenant households not covered by the regulations will continue to rise with new rental housing starts and condominium units being rented out by owners. The legislation could be easily changed to extend the annual rent-increase guideline protection to these tenants.
We live in one of the most affluent jurisdictions in the world. Perhaps that is why poverty issues are low on the agenda in this and most campaigns.
Public pressure has forced government into developing a strategy for dealing with poverty. In 2009 all three main-line parties supported the first Poverty Reduction Strategy. The second strategy was due for release last December, was held back until May and is again on hold because of the election.
The first Poverty Reduction Strategy is credited with bringing about investments that lifted 40,000 Ontario children out of poverty and kept 60,000 additional kids from becoming poor. That was a good start. Now, the new strategy needs to deal with more than just children.
One thing the strategy needs to speak to is the adequacy of incomes. I’m not just talking about incremental increases to the minimum wage. We need to find ways to support the idea of livable wages. Other places have.
And those on social assistance deserve to receive decent support as well.
I’m not sure that many people are aware that the rates are politically determined. They have no correlation to the actual costs of rent, food and basic necessities. We need a mechanism to develop these rates.
There have been suggestions that a board could set appropriate rates.
These rates would be evidence-based and adjusted on an annual basis. Those rates should be based on an analysis of the actual costs of rent, a healthy food basket, and other basic necessities in communities across Ontario, and should provide a level of assistance that will allow individuals and families to live with dignity.
Those, then, are my three picks as areas that need more attention from our political parties. Readers will surely have others to add to the list.
Bob Wood is a housing and poverty advocate and former two-term Burlington City Councillor who has built a bed-and-breakfast with his wife on Lake Erie.