Everyone agrees that Ontario’s welfare system is a mess. In a report released Monday, a panel of experts cites “deep and continuing dissatisfactionâ€ with the status quo in all quarters â€” government, business, labour, community groups, and welfare recipients. What is lacking is a consensus on how to fix it, which is why the provincial government is planning a major policy review of welfare.
The expert panel, chaired by Gail Nyberg of the Daily Bread Food Bank, has given the government some useful signposts for the review. It says the review should be arm’s-length from the government, rather than internal, and be completed in 12 to 18 months, not dragged out endlessly. As for the scope of the review, the panel says it should be comprehensive and not focused exclusively on welfare, per se, which accounts for just 23 per cent of all income support programs. Other relevant programs include child tax benefits, employment insurance, and CPP disability payments.
Of course, all these fall under federal jurisdiction, and the Harper government has no apparent interest in the file. But the panel says that the “lack of federal government co-operation . . . should not impede Ontario’s work to define the reforms needed in federal programs to meet Ontario’s interests.â€
“I cannot agree with them more,â€ said Madeleine Meilleur, minister of community and social services, in welcoming the report’s recommendations on Monday.
That’s encouraging. Now the provincial government should move quickly to start up the review, which is long overdue. Some argue for delay because the province faces a monstrous deficit. But the expert panel rightly says that the review should proceed “not despite Ontario’s fiscal situation but because of it.â€ That is, Ontario’s economic recovery depends, in part, on helping the province’s poorest residents to break out of the welfare trap and lead productive lives.