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26 NOVEMBER, 2015

Open letter to Premier Kathleen Wynne
Dear Premier Wynne,
When you attended the CBCs Sounds of the Season program in December 2014, members of the Put Food in the Budget campaign were in the audience. We came in hopes that you would make good on a promise you made during the Liberal leadership campaign: to become Ontario's social justice premier. But instead of acting as a premier who cares about social justice, you brought a few cans of food to donate to food banks.

Download a copy of our survey. Then print copies and hand them out in your community

Download a copy of our postcard, print it, cut it out and mail it to Premier Wynne.

Please donate! Your donations support our demand that Premier Wynne put food in the budget.

Queen's Park is failing hungry Ontarians
Despite her promise to be the "social justice premier,"
Kathleen Wynne has failed to ensure that low-income
Ontarians can afford to eat.
A single adult on welfare receives $656 a month. Only $376 of that amount can be spent on rent, leaving a welfare recipient $280 every month — less than ten bucks a day — for all food, transportation, clothing, and any other basic needs. Everyone needs to eat, but on such a limited budget, people understandably choose to go hungry so they can get around or pay rent. The province's health professionals keep telling us that people who don't eat well are more likely to get sick. In purely pragmatic terms, it's foolish for the province to let people go without healthy food when we know doing so drives up health care costs.

2 NOVEMBER, 2015
Understanding the unique challenges of poverty in Ontario's north
A look back at our "outreach and listening" tour to communities across northeastern Ontario this past summer

Following last summer's tour of northwestern Ontario, Put Food in the Budget spent two weeks this year visiting northeastern communities. Organization for the tour began with an invitation to Sault Ste. Marie from Nancy Bailey, and was followed by invites from Irene Breckon and the Elliot Lake Anti-Poverty Committee. Chief Shining Turtle from Whitefish Bay asked us to start our trip in his community, and community legal clinics and health centres throughout northeastern Ontario offered to organize additional meetings.


The leadership of the Put Food in the Budget campaign set the following priority questions to ask during community visits:

  • What is poverty like in northern communities? How does it differ from poverty in southern Ontario?
  • What issues are people organizing around?
  • What will it take to make Premier Kathleen Wynne raise social assistance to a level that ensures people can live in health and dignity?
  • How could the proposed privatization of Hydro One affect people who are poor?

We also asked people how the campaign can support local organizing against poverty. People urged us to share our findings, even encouraging us to come back to present to city and town councils to reinforce their demands and help push for greater action.

People also shared how vital it is for them to know that they are part of something bigger. They want to know they are not alone; they want to talk with and hear from people in other communities, and know they belong to something at a provincial level that is working to make change.

We are pleased that we can contribute to this connecting and mobilizing work — and to be part of the broader movement of groups and campaigns working for social justice in Ontario.

Download our report and share it widely. We'd love to hear your comments on our report at infopfib@gmail.com

Download our report and share it widely. We'd love to hear your comments on our report at infopfib@gmail.com

How do social movements create the "political will" to end poverty?
10 AUGUST, 2015

I wrote a dispatch every day from the communities I visited in northeastern Ontario to try and provide some insight into the reality of living in poverty in those communities. I heard much more than could be reported in one daily dispatch. There are complex connections and intersections that reveal the many Catch-22's faced by people living in poverty and the systemic roots of poverty. In every community people believed that if Premier Wynne "really knew what it was like to live on social assistance" then she would raise social assistance rates. This dispatch explores that question.

People call clinic with chest pains to ask "is it really a heart attack" because can't afford $50 ambulance ride to hospital

Many people organize their life around the one day in the month they go to town for groceries. Many people who have a car will save the one tank of gas they can afford for grocery shopping. People will schedule their medical appointments in Kirkland Lake for grocery shopping day. People who don't have cars do their grocery shopping when they can arrange a ride. If medical appointments conflict with the sudden offer of a ride to the store, they re-schedule their appointments. Getting a ride to buy groceries is the first priority.

"Nobody here gets a break" — dispatch from Moosonee

There is only one store in Moosonee — Northern. In the winter when the ice roads open and people in the coastal communities can drive to Moosonee for groceries — Northern raises its prices. Prices at the LCBO are the same in Moosonee as they are in Toronto. Do we need a Food Control Board of Ontario (FCBO) to guarantee uniform and affordable prices for food in northern communities?

Thinking about how absentee "Toronto landlords" cause suffering for people who are poor in northern communities.

At a meeting in Kirkland Lake yesterday, people told me about Toronto landlords who stopped paying for hydro in the middle of winter when the temperature ranged between minus 30 and minus 40 — and the tenants didn't know there was a problem until the hydro was shut off!

In Kapuskasing the Crown Attorney diverts fines that are payable to the court to the food bank

In every community I have visited in the last week it is the cost of housing (and hydro) that consumes the majority of the income of people who receive social assistance. I have heard how the influx of mine workers pushes up housing costs in northern communities. As housing costs increase in a community, so does use of food banks.

A tale of two food banks
29 JULY, 2015

I listened patiently as she became quite animated about "abuse." Eventually I took a deep breath and said, "Why do you call the behaviour of a person who is hungry and is asking for food "abuse"? Why not say it is a problem of low welfare rates, or even a problem of demand for more food than a voluntary food system can supply?

Privatizing Hydro is a big mistake — it's a step backwards
28 JULY, 2015 — HEARST, ON

"It's hard to regulate something when you sell 60% of it" says Andre. "Why would the Ontario government make this backwards step? And while we are on the subject of energy — the province should also ban energy 're-sellers' who take advantage of people in our community".

It is only 9 km from the Wawa food bank to the gold mine — but the rich get richer and the poor... well you know how this ends
27 JULY, 2015 — WAWA, ON

These two mines are in "unorganized townships" outside the boundaries of the municipality of Wawa. This means they pay a royalty to the province — but no taxes to the municipality. Wawa would receive at least hundreds of thousands of dollars (perhaps millions) in property taxes if the mine was located within the municipal boundary.

"Give people on assistance back their dignity"

Yesterday I was at the Soup Kitchen Community Centre in Sault Ste. Marie that Tony Martin founded 31 years ago — long before he ran for election. It was a slow day and the staff said only (!) 150 people were there for lunch. The good news is that it's still a thriving centre of support and community connection. The bad news is that 31 years later — this place that is both a food bank and community meal provider — is still necessary.

"Resistance is fertile"

At the end of each meeting today I asked this question: How can the Put Food in the Budget campaign contribute to the anti-poverty work people are doing in Sault Ste. Marie? People said "it is really important for us to know that we are part of something bigger. We want to know we are not alone. We want to talk with and hear from people in other communities. We want to know we belong to something at a provincial level that is working to make change."

"Duct tape is not going to hold us together — we need a real safety net."

I talk to people at the Sally Ann lunch program and at the Anti-Poverty Coalition dinner and I hear stories that are all too familiar. "Only $100 a month to buy food after I pay all my bills" says Scott. "I don't have enough to eat — so I go to all the meal programs during the week and on weekends I skip meals" says Marlene.

"How do you live on a food budget of $ 3.67 per day in Whitefish River, Manitoulin Island?"

I said that in non-Native communities there is often a lot of stigma towards people who are poor and receive social assistance. I asked if that was an issue in this community. The Chief smiled — "All Aboriginal people are poor — we are the poorest of the poor in Canada. There is no freedom to have hope — in this community of four hundred people there have been six suicides in the last five years. The worst thing for us will be if we lose the concept of love."

What we do
Put Food in the Budget is a grassroots activist group working to hold the Ontario Government's feet to the fire on promises made—but not kept—to reduce poverty. Our broad goal is achieving social and economic justice for the growing numbers of poor people in this province.
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