Ontario Provincial Politics Ontario Canada's Term Paper

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Local government plays a decisive role in applying the social reform in Ontario. However, national government continues to be crucial in shaping the parameters for reform.

One of the most important steps for the reform of Ontario's welfare was made in 1995, when the Progressive Conservative (PC) party was elected after promising to transform welfare through a "Common Sense Revolution." The hart of the reform was represented by the welfare replacement program, Ontario Works. The program focuses on finding a job for every participant in the program, thus driving participants away from welfare and into workfare. The focus of OW is on supporting as few people as possible through welfare and providing participants with training and jobs that would allow them to support themselves.

Despite the success that was presented to be OW, data confirms that Ontario's government does not have sufficient proof to state that the program actually improved dramatically the lives of the poor in the region of Ontario. In fact, welfare contraction began before OW was adopted because despite the focus on supply-side activation, reform outcomes remain dependent upon local demand for jobs. Ontario's government presented OW as a great success, stating that more than 500,000 people found work and left welfare. The truth is that the figures are exaggerated, as they show only those that have left welfare, failing to present the right number of people that got a job, instead of moving and so on.

Even more important than the number of people leaving welfare for workfare is the actual experience of those that obtain a job. These people often find themselves in the situation of earning very few money and having increasingly insecure jobs. A new social category was created formed of the "working poor," namely the people that have a low income job and that are increasingly poor as their period of low earnings gets longer. These people are underpaid and often have to settle for whatever job. Many of the jobs they take are not fulltime, year-round, meaning fewer earnings. The government is no longer obliged to cover welfare, but these people can not support themselves only through their jobs and fall deeper into poverty.

Those that still remain on welfare are facing similar difficulties as their income can only offer them little support considering the huge differences between the prices of house rents and every day spending and the money received on welfare. "Disturbingly, the removal of support services is putting increasing numbers of women at risk, with over two thirds of Ontario's emergency shelters and transitional houses reporting battered women returning to abusive relationships because they could not survive independently on welfare."

Social reconfiguration in Ontario has focused on two areas: reducing welfare services and tightening eligibility. There is indeed a caseload reduction, but it is not clear how much of it is because of the OW program. Welfare services were greatly reduced, the recipients having to live on benefits that buy less than they did prior to the OW program. There were other parts as well of the reconfiguration program that were placing an even greater burden on the poor: ending a great deal of community support programs, decreasing the funding for community services, canceling the construction of housing units. "Eligibility for welfare has been tightened. The provincial government has simply disqualified people, changing the rules relating to 16 and 17-year-olds, post-secondary students and common-law spousal relationships. Under this socalled 'spouse-in-the-house' legislation, women in common-law relationships are prohibited from receiving welfare in their own right. Other measures have increased the complexity and reduced the scope of the appeals procedure, drastically cut asset limits, and greatly increased the type of information needed to sustain a claim."

Considering the new criteria for eligibility, more and more people find themselves with no support from the state and are bound to increase their poverty level because they have low paid jobs. The eligibility issue represents a real problem because many people find themselves in the impossibility of applying for welfare although their income is low. The social reconfiguration in Ontario is affecting mostly those that have low incomes because they are the ones that are facing tighter eligibility norms, that are bounded to live on a low welfare, that are forced to accept temporary low paid jobs. For these people, poverty is becoming more and more a reality that they can not escape from.

The Ontario government created a joint "Business Transformation Porject" (BTP) with Andersen Consulting, setting a redesign of social assistance programs, which has led to the introduction of new technologies to support welfare reform. The project is focused on reducing caseloads, introducing two stages to welfare eligibility. First, there is a telephone prescreening mechanism and all welfare applications in the province will be directed through just seven call centers. This alternative generates even greater bureaucracy, not to mention that it is discriminatory towards illiterate or mentally disabled citizens that will find it difficult to comply with the new request. Second, recipients undergo a rigorous and ongoing review of every aspect of a recipient's case history. "The database created automatically detects and highlights overpayments from anywhere in Ontario, collects information on former spouses, and checks other records such as insurance and compensation. Case reviews are no longer prioritized on the basis of need, but on the 'risk' of committing fraud."

There are great doubts about the equity of the reconfiguration programs supported by the government of Ontario. While eligibility for welfare is becoming more difficult and the welfare benefits smaller, recipients find it more difficult to survive on an every day basis just from the help provided through welfare. Poor people and immigrants find themselves in a position of inequality comparing to other citizens. The control over the eligibility of individuals to welfare is granted to provincial government, thus toughening even more the power of individuals to oppose or influence their situation. Eligibility is set at a regional level using an informational program that is both impersonal and indiscrete.

Social assistance in Ontario has become more of a labyrinth designed to reduce as much as possible caseloads. The social reconfiguration in Ontario was clearly designed in such a manner to reduce caseloads and transfer more people from welfare to workfare. However, this reform seems to be made at any cost, the greatest impact being on the poor, which find themselves in the position of answering to even more questions of eligibility. Further more, the OW program focuses on offering assistance towards finding a job to those on welfare at any cost, disregarding the fact that most of the people that find a job through he program are forced to accepted low wages and work instability.

The lack of legislation to rule over the inequalities that welfare recipients face once leaving welfare transforms these citizens into second hand citizens. They face inequality, double standards, poverty, and they are the ones that must fight with the complicated system of social assistance.

It is clear that the social assistance projects developed in Ontario are targeted at reducing caseloads, integrating welfare citizens into workfare and creating a more efficient social system. There are elements of the reform program OW that represent steps forward for Ontario social assistance system, such as for example the focus on integrating participants into workfare. There are also elements that are not completely taking into account all the details that influence the existence of participants, such as the fact that their income remains low even if they have a job. There are clearly many aspects that need improvement, as the Ontario welfare system is far from being a satisfactory program.


Allahwala a., Rescaling the Canadian welfare state: the experience of Ontario and Qeubec, June 2005, available at http://userpage.fu-berlin.de/~jfkpolhk/mm/Teaching/PastCourses/SS05/C_Probleme/Allahwala.RescalingCanadianWS.doc;

Herd D., Rhetoric and Retrenchment: 'Common Sense' Welfare Reform in Ontario, 2002, available at http://www.socialwork.utoronto.ca/fsw/fswsupport/sane/doc/herd_rhetoric.pdf;

Moskovitch a., "The Canada Health and Social Transfer" in: Raymond Blake, Penny Bryden and J. Frank Strain (eds) the Welfare State in Canada. Concord: Irwin Publishing, 1997;

National Council on Welfare, Another Look at Welfare Reform: A Report, 1997;

Ontario Works. Background briefing, available at http://www.isarc.ca/Assets/PDF's/Ontario_Works.pdf;

Ontario Social Safety Network, Five Years Later: Welfare Rate Cuts Anniversary Report. 2000, Ontario Social Safety Network, Toronto.

Peck J., Workfare States, 2001, Guilford Press, New York.

Courchene T.J., Responding to the NAFTA challenge: Ontario as a North American region state and Toronto as a global city-region, October 1999, available at http://www.irpp.org/newsroom/archive/1999/1025pape.pdf;

What is Ontario Works?, February 2008, available at http://www.settlement.org/sys/faqs_detail.asp?faq_id=4000365;

Courchene T.J., Responding to the NAFTA challenge: Ontario as a North American region state and Toronto as a global city-region, October 1999, available at http://www.irpp.org/newsroom/archive/1999/1025pape.pdf, page 2;

Allahwala a., Rescaling the Canadian welfare state: the experience of Ontario and Qeubec, June 2005, available at http://userpage.fu-berlin.de/~jfkpolhk/mm/Teaching/PastCourses/SS05/C_Probleme/Allahwala.RescalingCanadianWS.doc;

National Council on Welfare, Another Look at Welfare Reform: A Report, 1997;

Moskovitch a., "The Canada Health and Social Transfer" in: Raymond Blake, Penny Bryden and J. Frank Strain (eds) the Welfare State in…[continue]

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