It’s been said so many times it’s become cliché: the pandemic exposed the deep inequities running through our communities from the local to the global. But unlike other clichés, this well-worn phrase must be recognized as an important truth, deserving attention and urgent action.
Nineteen months into this crisis, and after multiple waves of this global pandemic, this International Day for Eradication of Poverty is a critical opportunity to shine a light on both the persistent and devastating inequities and on the growing and resilient signs of hope.
It’s an opportunity to remember that we started this month with an increase to the minimum wage to just $14.35/hr – and to recall that, had the Ford Conservatives not scrapped the scheduled minimum wage increase in 2019, the current minimum wage would have been $15.75.
Far too many of us know that, in the face of the skyrocketing cost of living, this minimum wage is trapping people into poverty. This includes many of the 280,000 CUPE Ontario members across this province.
During this pandemic, we came to learn that the rich only got richer. They found and capitalized on loopholes, played accounting tricks, and gave themselves bonuses while so many people lost their jobs, lost hours, or lost their homes. And yet, the Ford Conservatives, who consistently assure us that they’re “there for the little guy” and that they will do whatever it takes to support Ontarians, cut corporate taxes for huge profitable companies; extended electric subsidies for the Amazons, Shoppers Drug Marts, and the Loblaws of the world; and hoarded billions of dollars that could have bolstered our critical public services and ensured immediate income supports for those most impacted by this unprecedented crisis.
Instead of developing and implementing a real housing strategy, the Ford Conservatives watched as Ontarians would remain and become unhoused. At its most brutal extreme, we witnessed a number of avoidable and violent “clearings” of encampments.
Instead of concretely treating front-line workers like the heroes they are, the Ford Conservatives have refused to reverse Bill 124, which caps the wages and benefits of public sector workers, too many of whom are earning at or near the minimum wage.
And instead of recognizing that one of the best ways to get people back to work and to reduce child poverty is by ensuring affordable and accessible childcare spaces, the Ford Conservatives continue to hold out on a Federal childcare agreement that nearly every other province has rightly agreed to.
The list goes on. From refusing to increase social assistance rates to tabling legislation that allows the WSIB to pass on surplus funds to profitable businesses instead of injured workers, the Ford Conservatives have shown us what their priorities are.
But the resilient flame of resistance shines on. CUPE Ontario’s 280,000 members have consistently and loudly registered their opposition to these measures and to so many more. We have done so in unison with other unions, community organizations, local leaders, and everyday people – and we’ll keep doing so.
In the countdown to the provincial election, with a federal election that featured much discussion around the cost of living under our belt, there’s a growing recognition that we have an incredible opportunity ahead of us. We can highlight these issues. We can demand that our elected representatives do more than pay lip service. We can elect a government that is on our side as working people. And we can make poverty eradication – not just reduction – a reality.