ISAC participated in the Ontario Needs a Raise campaign, which was led by the Ontario Coalition for Social Justice and the Centre for Social Justice, between 2003 and 2007.
“Ontario Needs A Raise!” was the demand of a broad coalition of groups working to raise the minimum wage to $10 an hour, to raise social assistance rates to reflect the actual cost of living, and to have both indexed to the cost of living. The campaign started to make poverty an election issue during the 2003 campaign.
On June 5 of that year, community activists in twenty-five communities across Ontario distributed over 50,000 flyers calling for the raises. The province-wide event got a lot of media attention as well as significant community support. Another major day of action took place on September 10. As part of their campaign commitments, the Ontario Liberals pledged to raise the minimum wage to $8 per hour over three years. The Ontario NDP pledged a $10-per-hour minimum wage.
After being elected, the Liberals put in place their three year plan for minimum wage increases, and raised social assistance rates by three per cent. Given that neither move met the demands of the campaign, further action was necessary.
In early 2004, the campaign also adopted the demand of ending the clawback of the National Child Benefit Supplement from families with children on OW and ODSP. This was also the demand of the Hands Off! campaign that ISAC launched in 2005. In October 2004, the campaign recognized the one-year anniversary of the new Liberal government with a letter writing campaign, visits to MPPs, workshops at schools, and a series of locally-organized activities, including marches and events and petitions and postcard signing.
In 2005, activity centred around the “Walk, Wheel, and Ride for Dignity” action. Hundreds of people from communities across Ontario trekked over several days to take part in a major rally at Queen’s Park on September 29. People living on low incomes, people with disabilities, and anti-poverty activists came from Chatham-Kent, Cobourg, Guelph, Hamilton Huron-Perth, Kingston, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Ottawa, Owen Sound / Grey Bruce, and Peterborough. Along the way, participants received support and assistance from concerned community members, and collected postcards which were presented to the Premier, Minister of Community and Social Services, and members of Cabinet. The action garnered significant media attention across the province and more than $20,000 was raised to support the campaign’s work.
The main demands of the Ontario Needs a Raise campaign were:
- Raise minimum wage to $10 in 2007
- Raise social assistance and disability rates so no one needs to live in poverty
- A plan to reduce poverty
- Increase and improve childcare, housing, training, and jobs