The City of Winnipeg's preliminary operating budget for 2013 cuts spending on poverty reduction, housing, and neighbourhood initiatives at a time when government leadership and resources are desperately needed to address economic and social inequality.
The document indicates the city will further reduce an already limited role when it comes to partnering with others to reduce poverty in Winnipeg. Other major cities such as Ottawa, Calgary and Edmonton are all increasing their engagement in poverty-reduction efforts.
Withdrawing from poverty-reduction efforts will hurt not only our most vulnerable citizens but will affect all citizens because of the strain poverty puts on our economic and social systems. For example, the city police budget has gone up 65.5 per cent since 2005 and will see an increase of 10.1 per cent in 2013.
Governments and poverty-reduction advocates across the country have emphasized the need for all levels of government to play a role in reducing poverty alongside the non-profit sector and the private sector. People living in Winnipeg's most impoverished neighbourhoods have been working together through community-based organizations to deliver innovative community-owned initiatives that effectively reduce poverty and improve social well-being. They need all levels of government to play their part and contribute to their efforts in making poverty reduction a reality in their community.
In 2009, the Province of Manitoba introduced All Aboard: Manitoba's Poverty Reduction Strategy. Although it has not met all the requirements of a comprehensive plan, it has led to some important initiatives.
The City of Winnipeg continues to invest in recreation and aboriginal youth employment development through the Aboriginal Youth Strategy. Investing $7 million, initially allocated to a water park, in parks and recreation is also a good move.
But poverty-reduction advocates in Winnipeg have long been urging the city to integrate these initiatives into a comprehensive poverty-reduction strategy, in consultation with the community. Ideally, this strategy would complement the provincial strategy, outlining actions that fall specifically within the city's mandate. Governments across Canada are taking such action because they know that narrowly focused solutions don't work.
Rather than leading in the development of a poverty-reduction strategy, Winnipeg has taken a minimal role, contributing to poverty reduction largely by funding and partnering with other organizations. Now it appears the city is backing off on even this.
The preliminary operating budget for 2013 includes 10 per cent cuts for a number of community-based organizations that provide cultural, historical and recreational resources that directly affect the quality of life in Winnipeg. These and other city-funded programs can all contribute to poverty-reduction efforts. Furthermore, the document eliminates all funding for a partnership with other sectors to develop a comprehensive plan to end homelessness.
Poverty and social exclusion remain a growing problem in Winnipeg, particularly in our inner-city neighbourhoods. The correlation between poverty and social exclusion on the one hand, and lower educational levels, poorer health outcomes and higher levels of crime on the other hand, has been well-documented.
The impact is also being felt outside the inner-city, and increasingly Winnipeggers are expressing concern about the levels of poverty and want to do something about it. This is because we know the associated costs of poverty affect us all and are much higher than the cost of the investments required to address poverty and social exclusion.
Other municipalities have begun to act. The City of Ottawa, and the Community Foundation of Ottawa partnered with the community to release a poverty reduction strategy in 2010 as well as a housing and homelessness investment plan. The City of Calgary is partnering with the United Way to develop a long-term strategy to significantly reduce poverty. The development of the strategy will be modelled on the city's existing 10-year plan to end homelessness.
The City of Winnipeg's official development plan, OurWinnipeg, commits the city to work within its service areas as a collaborator on poverty reduction, yet it appears to be walking away from that commitment. There is still time for city council to reverse the cuts that undermine our quality of life and exacerbate the inequities that affect everyone. Ignoring these inequities now will only lead to bigger problems in the future.
Kirsten Bernas sits on the executive committee of Make Poverty History Manitoba
-- Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-Manitoba