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Analyzing the 2021 Ontario Budget

By Kate Fane, Communications Officer

On Wednesday, the Ontario Government released its 2021 budget. 

As an organization that works alongside people experiencing poverty, food insecurity, and marginalization, The Stop was hoping to see a document that acknowledged how these communities have been hardest hit by the pandemic—and then provided significant new investments to address their lived realities.  

Sadly, this isn’t what we got. 

As we’ve previously written, our governments’ budgets reveal their priorities, far more than a talking point or party platform ever could. So now that we’ve got (another) sense of their  priorities, here’s what we like, and what we don’t, in the 2021 budget. 

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What’s Good

Families with children will receive a third round of payments through the Ontario COVID-19 Child Benefit, with the amount doubling to $400 per child—$500 for children with special needs. 

These direct benefits can have a significant impact on the health and well-being of low-income families. Since the federal Canada Child Benefit was introduced in 2016, it’s been credited with contributing to a decline in child poverty from 11% to 9%. However, we’d like to flag that while direct payments are effective in alleviating poverty, they cannot become a substitute for well-resourced public services. 

What’s Not

We’re deeply concerned by everyone who’s been left out of the budget. Namely, people on OW/ODSP, people with disabilities, people experiencing homelessness, frontline workers, and Black and racialized people who experience violence from the police.

Once again, there is no increase for people struggling to live on the meagre rates provided by Ontario Works (OW) and Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). In 2020, the maximum single rate for ODSP  is $1,169 a month and $733 a month for OW. Compare this with the average cost to rent a one-bedroom apartment in Toronto: $2,013. People living with disabilities often have special housing requirements—elevators for example—that makes acquiring housing at this cost even harder.

The City of Toronto asked the province for $15.4 million to integrate support services into 1,248 new affordable housing units that are meant to move people who have been homeless for over a year out of shelters. However, the Ontario budget didn’t specifically commit to the $15.4 million, nor to the annual $26.3 million that’s required to operate the services. Without those dollars, the city says its plan will grind to a halt this spring, with enough money to turn just 150 of the units into full supportive housing.

Public health experts state that more of 60% of Toronto’s COVID outbreaks are in frontline workplace settings, particularly in manufacturing and industrial factories. However, the government has once again chosen not to mandate paid sick leave for employees—something The Stop and others have been advocating for years.

Without access to paid sick days, poorer working people in the neighbourhoods that have been hardest-hit by COVID will continue to be exposed unnecessarily. Every day, people in our community are making the impossible “choice” of paying rent and sheltering themselves through a global pandemic, or purchasing food; this is only worsened by not mandating paid sick leave for employees. Read our blog post on the topic.

Finally, we find it deeply concerning that the government is positioning the hiring of more parole officers as both “Building Safer Communities” and “combating systemic racism,” when racialized communities in our city have been calling to defund the police for decades. Between 2013-2017, 60% of deadly encounters with police, and 70% of fatal police shootings involved Black people—making them nearly 20 times more likely than a white person to be involved in a fatal shooting in Toronto.

Ontario’s budget could find just $1.6 million (over two years) to support the Anti‐Racism and Anti‐Hate Grant program, yet our collective $1.1 billion investment in the Ontario Provincial Police has held steady.

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COVID may have forced us to stay in place, but Toronto’s cost of living continues to skyrocket. As a result, food insecurity remains an inevitability for the hundreds of thousands of residents struggling to live on low incomes. 

If our governments continue to avoid making meaningful investments in our public services—and in acknowledging that this pandemic affects people dramatically differently—we know that conditions will only worsen for those with the fewest resources.