Shane Richard barricades feds' Toronto office with canned food February 12 to protest government's austerity agenda. Photo by Vanessa Lorraine Phillips.
By JOE MIHEVC
If you believe most commentators, Toronto is a divided city - suburbanites versus downtown elites; cars versus bikes; subways versus LRTs.
But the real divide in our city is the great and growing prosperity gap.
We're not unique in that regard. Income inequality is an issue facing cities in North America and around the world. What we need is a made-in-Toronto poverty reduction strategy.
Numerous reports have identified poverty and social exclusion as key issues that require community and governmental attention.
The Toronto Community Foundation's 2013 Vital Signs report notes that more than one million Torontonians live in low-income neighbourhoods. And that there's a growing polarization between the wealthy and poor.
United Way Toronto's It's More than Poverty: Employment Precarity and Household Well-being has highlighted the negative effects of precarious work, particularly on family life. The report reveals that only 60 per cent of people in southern Ontario have stable and secure employment. United Way's work has also noted the growing concentration of poverty in Toronto's inner suburban neighbourhoods.
The City is already doing important work to address poverty, including in the areas of social housing and student nutrition. The Recreation Department has been focusing on providing free programs at community centres in priority neighbourhoods to encourage recreation for all.
So why another strategy?
We need to reach beyond the traditional players in anti-poverty work. We need to look at the roles of city planning, emergency services and public transit. We need to look at procurement and hiring policies in creating an inclusive economy.
Putting it all together under a single framework will encourage coordination, innovation along with measurable results. When Toronto walks the walk, others will be more apt to come to the table.
There are many things we can do at a municipal level to move this agenda forward.
But many of the key levers - and funds - rest at the provincial and federal levels. Unfortunately, the last four years at City Hall have been a lost opportunity in terms of intergovernmental advocacy.
We need to return to a productive engagement with other orders of government to make real change.
Joe Mihevc is councillor for Ward 21 St. Paul's, chair of the Toronto Board of Health as well as vice-chair of the city's affordable housing and community development and recreation committees.