In a typical year, provincial budget season lasts from January to early Spring, and includes pre-budget and budget submission periods, meetings, and hearings. ISAC’s Senior Policy Analyst, Devorah Kobluk, was invited to present to MPP Rick Byers, Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Finance, on Thursday, January 26, in person at North York Central Library in Toronto during a morning of budget-focused presentations. Below is the text of the presentation that was given (PDF with endnotes available upon request). ISAC’s full set of recommendations for the 2023 Ontario Budget is forthcoming.
Presentation to the Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Finance in advance of the 2023 Ontario Budget
My name is Devorah Kobluk. I am a Senior Policy Analyst at the Income Security Advocacy Centre (ISAC), a specialty legal clinic funded by Legal Aid Ontario. We have a provincial mandate to advance the rights and interests of low-income Ontarians with respect to income security and employment through test case litigation, policy advocacy, community organizing and public education.
First, we recommend reinvesting provincial savings into social assistance. We are encouraged by the 5% increase to and indexation of Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) rates, and the increased earnings exemption to $1000 per month. However, this is inadequate with rampant inflation that has averaged 6.5% over the past 12 months with food, housing prices, and disability costs increasing even more. Ontario Works (OW) clients have not received these slight improvements. Caseloads remain more than 100,000 people below pre-pandemic levels. With $1 billion saved in social assistance costs during the pandemic, a $2.1 billion surplus last year, and $3.5 billion left in the contingency fund, the Province is in a good financial position and can afford to do more for Ontarians living in deep poverty. We urge this government to immediately reinvest savings. For OW, implement parallel rate indexation and increase earnings exemptions to match ODSP. Raise OW and ODSP by 10% across the board today against 2018 rates and en route to ISAC’s recommendation to double the rates.
Second, we recommend addressing problems at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO). The HRTO is an accessible forum where Ontarians seek redress for discrimination and harassment in the areas of housing accommodation, employment and goods and services provision. There is a backlog of 9,000 cases and wait times of 4 years for a hearing. Adjudicators are new and inexperienced because this government failed to reappoint or retain skilled adjudicators in 2018. The Tribunal’s strategy to address backlogs is to increase notices of dismissal, up 70% since 2017, and without an opportunity for an oral hearing. Last fiscal year there were only 16 decisions, down from around 100 in 2018. Protections in the Human Rights Code are meaningless if Ontarians cannot enforce them. The Province must provide additional resources to the HRTO, appoint qualified and competent adjudicators, cease dismissal without oral hearings and transparently communicate with the public about how to address the delays.
Third, we recommend the province legislate paid sick days. 15,000 Ontarians have died of COVID-19 and 2022 was the deadliest year. If Ontario is to end the pandemic, there must be universal, accessible and permanent employer-paid sick leave for all. Low-income workers should not have to choose between health and safety, putting food on the table, or paying rent. Racialized Ontarians are the hardest hit and are more likely to work in precarious work deemed “essential.” Though they make up 33% of the population, they constituted 80% of COVID cases. Ontarians cannot rely on the temporary and limited Worker Income Protection Benefit (WIPB). For the economy to recover and for front-line workers’ safety, the Province must legislate employer-paid sick days as 10 Personal Emergency Leave days in the Employment Standards Act and as an additional 14 days during declared public health outbreaks.