Premier Dalton McGuinty of Ontario is trying today to defend his government's invite-only consultations on a new poverty strategy after members of the public were thrown out of the first meeting held yesterday in Cobourg. The people thrown out were people living in poverty.
The Peterborough Examiner reports the lack of public access resulted in shouts of anger by former Peterborough New Democratic Party (NDP) MPP Jenny Carter and members of the public, some of whom were pushed from the building by security.
The protesters greeted Children and Youth Services Minister Deb Matthews with shouts of "shame" and "we want 40 per cent" upon her arrival.
The group of anti-poverty activists, many from the Peterborough Coalition Against Poverty (PCAP), demanded Matthews allow them into the session.
"Are you afraid to hear from the rest of us, because then you might have to do something about the demands we're making?" said Mary-Jo Nadeau.
Can't have poor people commenting on poverty, for God's sake.
Part of the government's re-election platform was to reduce poverty by 25 per cent in the next five years, and "getting firsthand feedback" across the province. Firsthand, but from whom, Mr. Premier?
McGuinty says the government wants to meet with selected groups behind closed doors to hear their ideas for dealing with poverty.
That sound a little odd to me. Secret meetings to discuss poverty, uh, maybe we're not supposed to know there is poverty or something. Maybe the idea is to keep it from the some 1.3 million Ontarians living in poverty.
"They don't want low-income people publicly confronting the minister (saying): `No one can live on Ontario Works,'" NDP Leader Howard Hampton told reporters yesterday.
"They don't want to hear low-income people say: `You need to raise the minimum wage higher.'"
NDP Poverty critic Michael Prue said, “The McGuinty government pays lip service to poverty and doesn’t want to hear from those who are struggling. This government’s so-called poverty consultations are not only about shortchanging the most vulnerable, they’re about muzzling them too."
“Dalton McGuinty refuses to immediately end the clawback of the national child benefit, won’t commit to an immediate minimum wage increase that will lift hard working Ontarians out of poverty, and leaves those waiting for affordable housing languishing on a wait-list.”
“I can’t believe that on the first day of these so-called public consultations, not only have the McGuinty Liberals refused members of the public access into the meetings, they were throwing them out. The government’s behaviour is appalling and shameful!” stated Prue.
Deborah O'Connor, Northumberland Coalition Against Poverty commenting succinctly recently about these poverty strategy sessions said, "My message to the province is to quit playing around and get to work, now. Any poor person in Ontario can tell the government what poverty is in about two minutes. It's not rocket science; it's basic common sense."
The following is from Northumberland Today (Ontario).
People living in poverty protest exclusion from anti-poverty meeting in Cobourg
Women with their mouths taped shut and the word “silence” written across them protested outside a provincial anti-poverty roundtable meeting held in Cobourg today.
They were expressing opposition to being shut out of a meeting focusing on a problem they are actually living. Several protesters explained this after removing their tape to express their dissatisfaction to Children and Youth Services Minister Deb Matthews who is holding the regional meeting. Her mandate is to gain information about poverty and create a new poverty reduction strategy by year’s end.
The very people who should be there are being shut out, said Christine Watts who described herself as receiving some financial assistance, working part time and still living in poverty.
People struggling with limited resources and the existing system can be resources to those trying to fix it, she suggested.
“But I don’t think peacefully (expressed) ideas are given any respect.” Ms. Watts said.
At first Minister Matthews explained to protesters that this is just one of a series of meetings and ways people can tell the stories she says she needs to hear. Riding MPPs will be holding other meetings, she said. Then the Minister invited a few of the small group to attend the meeting set to begin inside the Best Western Cobourg Inn and Convention Centre. After harsh words from NDP critic and Beaches East MPP Michael Prue about keeping the poor out of the meeting, as well as himself, Ms. Matthews invited any of those gathered outside the Best Western Convention Centre to join in the fact-gathering meeting.
Several people did, including Deb O’Connor who works for the Northumberland Legal Clinic and one or two of the protesters. Before that, however, she urged the Minister to quit studying the problem and increase financial assistance to those living in poverty.
“The poor can’t wait anymore. They need the rates increased now,” Ms. O’Connor said.