Part 4 in a 5-part series
(note the introduction to each of these blog entries is the same; skip down to the sub-heading to avoid the repetition)
Given last week’s announcements of:
- the cancellation of the Ontario Basic Income Pilot (a program strongly supported by high-profile members of all political stripes, including former Conservative senator Hugh Segal, who helped to design the pilot program); and
- the slowing of increases to Ontario Works (OW) and Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) from 3% to 1.5% on rates which are already at rates far too low to provide safe, affordable housing, nutritious food, and other basic necessities,
it’s imperative that we talk more about what Niagara Regional government can do to alleviate poverty.
The alleviation of poverty is a concern for everyone to whom I’ve spoken. This has been true not only since I filed my nomination papers in May, but since I was on St. Catharines City Council (where I asked for a report about what a living wage would be in St. Catharines and how we could advocate for it, then was invited to join the Niagara Poverty Reduction Network‘s Wages and Work workgroup) and then went on to work at YWCA Niagara Region as their fundraiser.
Throughout the business community, the community of non-profit agencies, and at people’s doors, people are thinking about what we can do to alleviate poverty. In 2013, the cost of the consequences of poverty in Niagara is $1.38 billion per year. With the use of homeless shelters and food banks increasing every year, we know that this cost has only increased.
Poverty is an obviously complex problem that requires the expertise and support of numerous people, agencies, and initiatives.
Through this series of blog posts, I will share some ideas for what Niagara Regional government can do to alleviate poverty.
Infrastructure is the network that makes modern life happen. Imagine how a city or region would work without roads, water, and power. In Niagara, that infrastructure is in need of repair and, in many cases, replacement.
In 2016, the City of St. Catharines introduced a percentage of tax specifically set aside for infrastructure projects. The city was facing a $140-million infrastructure gap on city roads, bridges and sewers. The addition of the 1% tax would not have filled this gap, it would only have slowed its growth, and not significantly.
“The need for modern infrastructure has never been greater. Communities across Ontario, large and small, urban and rural, rely on a network of roads, bridges, water systems, telecom networks and other critical infrastructure to help keep our communities moving, create jobs, and grow local businesses.”
~ BuildON 2017 Infrastructure Update
When we invest our infrastructure, it costs the Region money through taxpayer dollars (though there is also funding available from provincial and federal government programs from time to time), but it has the impact of creating jobs since the Region hires local businesses to do the work, as well as other positive economic spinoff, including that when people have meaningful employment they are able to spend more money elsewhere.
“The business community understands that tax hikes are not good for business; however, deteriorating infrastructure is also not good for business. Business depends upon effective public services. These systems and organizations cannot be allowed to fall into neglect without risking the health of the business community.”
~ GNCC, POSITION STATEMENT: PROPOSED ST. CATHARINES INFRASTRUCTURE LEVY 2016
When businesses are seeking out new locations, they want a community that has infrastructure that is in good repair and that provides them with accessibility to a variety of markets.
When we have infrastructure that is in good repair and provides what our community needs, we are more appealing to developers who are looking to intensify and diversify our housing stock. (Intensifying and diversifying our housing stock both result in there being more ratepayers which, in turn, reduces each individual ratepayer’s property tax bill.)
More than being a good idea just for the business community, investing in our infrastructure is good for all of us. It is the literal foundation on which everything else is built. It means we can get to work, get our children to school, have clean drinking water, and see the region grow by building more homes and attracting more businesses.
While we have to be careful to avoid gentrification, most reasons to invest in infrastructure renewal would result in positive outcomes for people experiencing poverty.