Small steps are good, but services, jobs and equality are best for all

This afternoon an agreement was reached on the Ontario budget. Three major changes have been made: the introduction of a temporary increase in taxes for Ontarians earning more than $500,000 per year, an increase in rates for people who are surviving on social assistance, and increased funding for child care.

It’s important to pause for a minute and acknowledge the importance of what Premier McGuinty and Andrea Horwath have accomplished this afternoon. In a political culture that claims voters will not accept tax increases, Ms. Horwath proposed one that will increase progressivity of the tax system. Premier McGuinty had the good judgement to accept this proposal despite the political heat he will take for it. This is a small, but important, first step in addressing the record levels of income inequality in this province and this country.

The Wellesley Institute was profoundly disappointed with the freeze in what are already inadequate social assistance rates that Minister Duncan proposed. We were also disappointed when Ms. Horwath initially proposed an increase only for Ontarians who rely on Ontario Disability Support Payments. This would have left those who rely on Ontario Works, some of the most marginalized and low-income people in the province, even further behind.

While we acknowledge this progress, we must not lose sight of the overall impact of this budget. There will be a real, per capita decrease in program spending.
Ontarians will lose services.

These are services that care for us when we are sick, that keep us safe, and that are essential to our social and economic well-being. Public sector workers will lose their jobs. These are jobs that support families and communities.

Sharing the costs of austerity fairly doesn’t mean expecting the same contributions from everyone. It means that contributions are based on capacity. Today, a small step was made to move in that direction.