The provincial election is days away, and the economy continues to rank well ahead of any other priority in the minds of voters. But with nearly 12 per cent of Ontarians struggling to put food on the table, largely due to lack of income, it is clear that our economy isn’t working for everyone. We need policies that will close the gap between the richest and poorest among us.
Almost 595,000 Ontario households struggle with food insecurity, meaning that they can’t always afford sufficient, healthy food. Food insecurity disproportionately affects children, Indigenous people, and new immigrants. Nearly 60 per cent of food insecure households rely on wages or salaries as their main source of income. For people who are struggling to make ends meet and cover fixed costs like rent and transportation, food is often the first thing to go.
Over time, people’s health suffers. Studies show that people who are food insecure consume fewer vegetables, fruits and other healthy foods, and are more likely to suffer from diet-related chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension. Food insecurity also costs our health care system: health care costs for the severely food insecure are well over double those for food secure people.
And that’s not all. Food insecurity also puts a huge strain on mental health: food insecure people are more likely to experience depression, suicidal thoughts and mood and anxiety disorders, and children are more likely to experience hyperactivity and inattention. Food insecure people make up one-third of mental-health related hospitalizations.
A problem of this magnitude demands action. The party that forms the next Ontario government must significantly increase income for the poorest among us, both by increasing social assistance rates, which amount to a paltry $721 per month for a single person, and by going ahead with the scheduled minimum wage increase to $15 per hour. It will also need to make life more affordable in other ways: by building more affordable housing, subsidizing child care, and the cost of dental care and prescription drugs.
So, what are Ontario’s political parties prepared to do to help the nearly one and a half million Ontarians who can’t afford the food they need? See below for what the platforms say. And don’t forget to vote on election day!
While the Liberals, the NDP and the Green Party have vowed to go ahead with the scheduled increase to the minimum wage (which will go up to $15 per hour on January 1, 2019), the PCs will cancel it and introduce an income tax credit for low-wage workers. According to economist Sheila Block, this will effectively cut the incomes of minimum-wage earners by up to $712 per year.
Social assistance and basic income
Most parties have promised to increase social assistance rates.
The Liberals have scheduled an increase of Ontario Works (OW) and Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) benefits of three per cent per year for three years. This plan would raise the monthly income of a single person on OW from $721 to $788, or from $1,100 to $1,202 for a couple. For ODSP, the rates would rise from $1,151 to $1,208 for a single person, and from $1,723 to $1,883 for a couple.
The NDP would increase OW by ten per cent, seven per cent, and five percent over the next three years and increase ODSP by five per cent annually. The NDP plan would raise OW rates for a single person to $891 and for a couple to $1,359. It would raise ODSP rates for a single person to $1,332 and for a couple to $1,995.
The Green Party has pledged to increase benefits to both OW and ODSP to meet the
The PCs have yet to release a costed platform, so we don’t know their plan for social assistance.
All four parties have promised to continue the basic income pilot.
The Liberal government currently spends more than $1 billion per year on affordable housing, with the goal of ending chronic homelessness by 2025.
The Liberals have vowed to invest an additional $200 million over three years as part of the National Housing Strategy and to invest $547 million over five years to repair and retrofit social housing buildings.
The NDP will pay the province’s one-third share of housing costs and build 65,000 new affordable homes over the next decade, as well as 30,000 new supportive housing units for people with mental health and addictions issues.
The Green Party has pledged to create rental and deeply affordable units, renovate social housing stock and introduce new social housing units, though has not provided much in the way of details.
Again, there has been nothing announced by the PCs.
All parties have made child care commitments.
The Liberals have pledged free full-day daycare for preschoolers starting in 2020.
The PCs have announced a tax rebate program to cover up to $6,750 of child care costs per child per year.
The NDP will institute free child care for families with a household income below $40,000. Families making more than that will pay an average daily cost of $12.
The Greens will phase in a program to support free daycare for working parents with children under three.
While Canada has a public health care system, dental and pharmaceutical costs can weigh heavily, especially for those living on a fixed income.
The Liberals will introduce an Ontario Drug and Dental Program to cover 80 per cent of specific drugs and dental costs up to $400 for single people, $600 for couples, and $50 per day for each child. They will also expand OHIP+ to cover drug costs for seniors 65 and older.
The PCs have pledged to invest $98 million per year to provide dental care to low-income seniors.
The NDP will create a program called Ontario Benefits that will require all employers to offer dental benefits and Ontario Public Dental to provide dental coverage to seniors without benefits and people on social assistance. They will also create a pharmacare program for 125 essential medicines.
The Green Party will institute a universal dental care program. They will also push for a federally funded pharmacare program and, in its absence, create a provincial program.