About a week ago, the Ontario Government announced the creation of a panel to make recommendations for what is being described as the largest overhaul to Ontario’s welfare system in 20 years.

It will be headed by the former head of Statistics Canada, Dr. Munir Sheikh and former Ontario NDP cabinet minister Frances Lankin. Over the next year it ill consult and make recommendations to the Ontario Government on ways to improve social assistance.

Pardon me for a moment while I yawn. It all sounds good, but, it amounts to nothing.

This effort might have been taken seriously, if it happened even a year ago. Now, it is a meaningless waste of time and effort.

Next year is an election year in Ontario. If present polling trends continue to hold, that election will produce a Tory majority government. As some of you may recall, the Tories have their own version of welfare reform. The election will most likely happen even before Mr. Sheikh and Ms. Lankin have finished their work. It will certainly happen before any recommendations are transformed into public policy. In the event of a Tory majority, this welfare reform exercise will stop cold, with its work being shelved and forgotten.

We could go through the motions of recommending reforms like doubling the allowance so people don’t have to make the choice between paying the rent or feeding the kids, or, passing legislation which makes it illegal to evict a welfare recipient. But it’s all for nothing.

Reform is going to happen. But it’s not the reform the current Ontario Government had in mind.

After the next election, you can bet, the Tories will restart their war on the poor, which began in 1995, when they slashed the welfare allowance and created Ontario Works. That must be one of the most punitive public policies since the days of workhouses and debtors prisons.

The truly frightening thing about that prediction is that a majority of Ontario residents would approve. Ontarians will cheer as the rates are slashed even more. They will applaud as the special diet allowance is eliminated, even though it is all that stands between many recipients and malnutrition. A state of bliss will be attained as legislation is passed to absolutely ban panhandling.

That the rates will not be enough to sustain a person for more than a few weeks is an incidental and overlooked detail.

For all those who believe in the ‘taxi cab to the beer store’ mythology about people on welfare, it’s worth keeping in mind that, even now, a typical single person on welfare has, if they are lucky, maybe $10 per week to spend on food. Anybody who thinks that is enough has not been inside a grocery store for a long time.

As an added bonus, don’t be shocked if the Tories also decide to take a swipe at the minimum wage.

The final tragedy in all of this will be that most poor people will do nothing to try and stop any of this from happening. Poor people tend not to vote. There are enough of them to actually make a difference in an election, if they were mobilized. However, that is unlikely to happen.

It should be pointed out to the cheerleaders for the war against the poor that a good social assistance system is in their own best interest. These people don’t seem to realize that all it takes is a few twists of fate to put them into this little version of hell. Yes, it can happen to you. So, how would you want to be treated?

Read this article on the Guelph Mercury’s website.