Ontario’s Legislative Assembly dropped its usual partisan divisions for a few moments earlier today (Wednesday) to give unanimous consent to third and final reading of Bill 152, the province’s anti-poverty law. The bill – which will pass into law once it receives Royal Assent (expected shortly) – is a critical step towards a more equitable, healthier and fairer province. The Wellesley Institute was pleased to play a strong role in gaining significant amendments to the legislation, including a strong commitment to strengthening Ontario’s third sector. We were invited by Ontario’s anti-poverty minister, Deb Matthews, to join with our partners in the 25 in 5 Network for Poverty Reduction in the public gallery of the Legislature to observe the final vote. This note explains why the bill matters and what’s in the legislation, underlines the critical amendments to the draft law, and sets out next steps.
WHY THE BILL MATTERS: The bill, once it becomes law, will bind the current and future governments to take specific steps to end poverty in Ontario. Any law can be changed by a future government, but changing legislation is more difficult (and more public) than quietly dropping a political promise or campaign commitment. Declarations, promises and commitments are often made by politicians (and they are important, in their own right), but there’s nothing binding or enduring about these kinds of statements. Legislation carves the commitments into law – and that’s why it is so important that Ontario will soon have an anti-poverty law.
WHAT’S IN THE LEGISLATION: Bill 152 is available here. It’s pretty simple. It makes an overall commitment to “establish mechanisms to support a sustained, long-term reduction of poverty in Ontario”. The bill sets out:
• key principles for poverty elimination,
• commits the government to make a “specific poverty reduction target”,
• establishes indicators to measure progress in meeting the stated target, and
• sets out a timeline and ongoing consultation process.
CRITICAL AMENDMENTS: The Ontario government adopted a number of important amendments to the draft legislation during the committee review process, including amendments proposed by the Wellesley Institute and our partners in the 25 in 5 Network for Poverty Reduction. Among the many improvements to the draft law, the Ontario government:
• explicitly recognizes that the third sector (non-profit, charitable and voluntary groups) are integral to poverty reduction plans, and
• recognizes the need to address inequities and inequalities among Ontarians.
Minister Matthews, in speaking to the Legislature during Question Period immediately before the law was passed, thanked the many groups that helped to improve the legislation. She also singled out Michael Prue, the MPP for Beaches-East York, for his stellar work. The bill, as amended, isn’t perfect. But it sets the framework for a detailed poverty elimination strategy, including strengthening the province’s third sector.
NEXT STEPS: The government is launching a detailed review of income assistance rules and regulations, and will start a consultation to develop a comprehensive affordable housing plan later in the spring. The Ministry of Finance has promised a consultation on government procurement rules (an important lever to support social enterprises across the province).
The Wellesley Institute is committed to working with our partners to ensure that the Ontario government takes the pragmatic and practical steps, and commits the necessary funding, to realize the commitments set out in Bill 152.