It seems that ever more subway-ad real estate is taken up by increasingly savvy appeals from the United Way. No surprise: 373,000 Ontario children live in poverty.
What is a provincial government loath to increase middle and upper class taxes to do? Fleece those at the bottom of the scale with a revenue-generating bait-and-switch, naturally.
Ontario is one of a number of provinces clawing back cash given to poor families on social assistance by the feds. Now, the Toronto-based Income Security Advocacy Centre (ISAC) is preparing to launch a Charter challenge to stop them.
The federal National Childcare Benefit Supplement is a top-up to the Child Tax Credit aimed at the families of 198,000 eligible poor children. Families earning less than $22,600 a year are entitled to this supplementary federal payment of roughly $125 per child per month.
But for those receiving support from Ontario Works or the Ontario Disability Assistance Plan, the province deducts an average of all but $4 of each federal NCBS payment a family receives. This denies the money to those who need it the most - families pulling in an average of $1,800 a month.
Sandra Pupatello, Minister of Community and Social Services (who receives a monthly income of just under $7,000) says the interception is an unfortunate necessity due to the staggering deficit. "The previous government left us in a hell of a mess," she says. "I have to ask, where was (ISAC) when the Tories instituted the clawback?"
ISAC may in turn ask where Pupatello was when McGuinty promised to end the clawback, a promise that has been trumped by his contradictory vow to not raise taxes.
The minister points out that her government has capped the clawback and plans to keep its hands off next year's anticipated $25 million federal increase in this cash gift program. Twenty five mil is an impressive figure. It is less impressive when viewed as $18 a child.
"One hand gives and the other takes away," comments ISAC lawyer Cynthia Wilkey, who's launching the challenge on the grounds that the clawback violates Sections 7 and 15 of the Charter Of Rights And Freedoms. The former section is the old joke about all of us having rights to life and liberty. The latter prohibits discrimination based on physical disability, race and gender. (Eighty per cent of recipients of social assistance are women, many of them single mothers.)
There's also the "analogous ground" of discrimination against those on social assistance, a precedent established by the Falkiner ruling, which struck down the Tory "spouse-in-the-house" rule.
The minister defends the clawback on the grounds that the withheld money is used to fund provincial and municipal programs designed to be useful to poor families, like the Ontario Child Care Supplement for Working Families. "These are excellent new programs," says Pupatello. "Many of the people talking to us about the clawback are also lobbying us to keep them."
But ISAC responds that the families losing the cash aren't necessarily the ones who need these specific services. And activists say money from the clawback has allowed the province and cities to not have to use funds from general revenue for existing social programs.
"This money was supposed to be used to create new programs," Wilkey informs me, "but often the programs [the governments are pointing to] already existed and had other funding. Some of them are very good programs, but the government is doing this by taking the money from the people who need the programs."
Like a tax, you might say.