While the business world is a-tizzy with the minimum wage and the city consults on the budget in this election year, you should cast a glance today at the kids walking home from school. Four in ten of them are desperately poor. They are your neighbours.
40% of Weston children live in poverty; 37% of Mount Dennis children do, a number that has not budged in the last 5 years, according to a report done in November by Social Planning Toronto and other social agencies.
And make no mistake: children in poverty are very poor indeed: their families make between $25,498 (one parent, one child) and $36,426 (two adults, two children). They are more likely to be Indigenous, visible minorities, recent immigrants or refugees, and members of single-parent families, according to the report.
Weston’s poverty rate is much higher than the rate in the city as a whole, which is, in turn, much higher than in the rest of the country. Toronto has the highest child-poverty rate of any city in Canada: roughly 25%—more than double the rate in Calgary or the Halton region.
Even in Toronto, though, child poverty is unequally distributed. North and north-central Toronto are rich because the poor are pushed to the margins, generally in the inner, older suburbs.
Unequal City has one simple recommendation: pay for all the things we’ve already promised:
In recent years the City has developed, and City Council has overwhelmingly approved, a range of strategies to improve access to training and good jobs, as well as key supports and services, by those who face the most barriers to success. However, many of these strategies have not been implemented because they have not been fully funded.
Doing so would be cheap: $66 million a year, if we don’t include housing, which “may be partly supported at the provincial level”. That, as the report points out, is less than 1% of the city’s budget.
This letter came in reaction to an opinion in the article that the poor are suffering thanks to the needless austerity imposed by our low Toronto property taxes; the lowest in the GTA.
The whole point of taxation, especially progressive taxation is to make a collective effort to look after the needs of all citizens. Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. said that, “Taxes are the price we pay for civilization.”
Here in Toronto, a voluntary tax payment scheme was set up in 2011 at the height of the Ford mayoralty. No doubt the idea was to deflect pressure for higher taxes by saying, ‘If you’re so keen on higher taxes, pay more yourself’.
Do we really wish to go back to the days of voluntary contributions to pay for services? The days of unpaved streets, private education, private health care and fire companies who only fight their subscribers’ fires?
We’re all better off when we work as a cohesive society. If I believe that employers should pay a higher minimum wage, as an individual I can’t top up every wage packet but I can cheerfully pay any increased costs.
So, the answer is no, I don’t make voluntary contributions because they would be a drop in the bucket. The whole idea of taxation is that millions have agreed through the democratic process to pay a progressive and reasonable amount to provide services and infrastructure. If we are at the stage of relying on donations from property owners, then the tax structure isn’t working and should be changed so that they pay more.
The measure of a good society is how it treats its poorest citizens. Samuel Johnson put it well when he said,
“Where a great proportion of the people are suffered to languish in helpless misery, that country must be ill policed, and wretchedly governed: a decent provision for the poor is the true test of civilization.”
Along the same lines, here’s a quote from Mayor Tory during a recent Inside Toronto interview with David Nickle. The Mayor in spite of regularly punishing the poor and homeless with austerity during his term, now astonishingly claims to be their saviour.
“What you come to realize is that really what you’re here to do … the people who are comfortable don’t need too much help from me,” he said. “It’s the people who are struggling who are most in need of better transit so they can get to a job situation that’s better for them, good housing so they’re not in substandard housing or living in a shelter. That’s when you realize that’s got to be your priority.” Mayor John Tory
Lord knows when this lightning bolt hit Mayor Tory but he seems blind to the fact that he helps the comfortable every day by ensuring that they pay the lowest property taxes in the GTA. He claims that the poor are his priority but his actions and voting record tell another story.
In fact, Canada has some way to go when it comes to public social spending.
Lastly and food for thought; one more quote from Johnson via his biographer:
What signifies, says some one, giving halfpence to beggars? they only lay it out in gin or tobacco. “And why should they be denied such sweeteners of their existence (says Johnson)? it is surely very savage to refuse them every possible avenue to pleasure, reckoned too coarse for our own acceptance. Life is a pill which none of us can bear to swallow without gilding; yet for the poor we delight in stripping it still barer, and are not ashamed to shew even visible displeasure, if ever the bitter taste is taken from their mouths.”