On April 16 some of us will be lining up to complain about not getting our share from the provincial budget. Who will not be at the legislature are the people who already expect to get very little from the province -- those Manitobans living in poverty.
Since the All Aboard Poverty Reduction and Social Inclusion Strategy was announced in 2009, and the enabling legislation passed in 2011, the Selinger government has claimed to be reducing poverty. It is difficult, however, to find priorities, a clear statement of what the strategy is and where the improvement in people's lives can be found. To me, the government has more or less cobbled together a framework of random programs, promises and projections under the guise of a strategy.
There has been some important effort to coordinate programs across government departments. But the government has not yet delivered on important commitments: meaningful consultation on the action plans, evaluation tools, nor targets and timelines.
Most important, is that the government approach to poverty reduction and social inclusion remains exclusively government oriented and therefore programmatically fragmented and practically weak.
There appears to be little interest in working with local business and community agencies to mount a major campaign to reduce poverty.
If the government consultation on the All Aboard Strategy held last month is an indicator of what Manitobans can expect to see of the strategy, then we are not going to get much from the government.
The consultation meetings included very little discussion on what should be done on the proposed action plans. The events were so poorly organized that no one attended one event.
In all meetings the questions were so general that very little productive input could be achieved. The schedule was rushed, with only one week advance notice.
A coalition of community groups under the Make Poverty History banner has given the government ample opportunity to show its willingness to help people living in poverty. They are pressing for employment and income assistance increases, which would help thousands of people deal with poverty. The groups' explanation of why rent supplements should be increased is sensible and the increase would benefit everyone involved. Also, the government has implemented many of the ombudsman's recommendations for EIA reform but is slow to address the need for increased EIA rates.
Even the Progressive Conservatives and the Liberals have seen the logic of putting more money into the hands of low-income renters and, therefore, landlords and are backing the rent supplement increase (embarrassing the government is an obvious added benefit for them in backing the supplement increase).
In our assessment, to effectively implement the All Aboard Strategy, Manitobans need meaningful public engagement. Consultation with Manitobans experiencing poverty and community agencies is important for planning and implementation of the strategy.
To utilize the capacity of Manitobans to reduce poverty, however, a genuine engagement and partnership is needed where stakeholders are resourced and share responsibilities for action (monitoring, coordination and programming).
We need a commitment for funding increases. In the April 16 budget, the Selinger government can isolate new money that will be available and define where it will go to address poverty (in addition to ongoing social service funding). In particular, the government should demonstrate its commitment to reducing poverty by increasing EIA rates, in particular, the rent supplement.
We also need practical means to implement the strategy. All Aboard needs an operational capacity so the planned activities are effectively and efficiently implemented. This includes having professional people, the resources and the authority to communicate, co-ordinate (within government and with community partners) facilitate, and monitor the implementation of the Strategy.
Without a serious commitment to addressing poverty in Manitoba, the best we can expect is a lukewarm approach with only the possibility of minor change. For people living in poverty and excluded from the social and economic benefits of society, they can expect some continued government assistance to keep the wolf from the door, but the wolf will still be out there waiting for them.
Dennis Lewycky is a member of the Social Planning Council.