Fwd: ACT-CUTS-ONT-L: **Toronto Star: Signs of strain in

Graeme Bacque (gbacque@idirect.com)
Thu, 14 Oct 1999 14:18:25 -0400

Toronto Star   -   October 14, 1999


Signs of strain in booming Ontario

Donations to food banks are down. Hunger is up.

Neither of these things is supposed to happen when the economy is booming.

But good times in Ontario no longer mean a better life for all.

The province's strong economy is not spreading around the new wealth as it once
did. And many Ontarians have grown weary of stepping in to do what they believe
government should be doing.

Where dividends of buoyant growth once flowed through government coffers into
social services for those in need, the Harris government has changed the
formula. It has cut the taxes for the economy's winners and hacked away at the
supports for those on the margins.

Ottawa, too, has made it tougher to get help.

As The Star reported Sunday, a survey of people who rely on emergency shelters
in Toronto found that 60 per cent would have qualified for employment
insurance, workers' compensation or disability benefits before governments
tightened the eligibility requirements for these programs.

The link between these cutbacks and the growth in homelessness couldn't be more
straightforward. As Sarah Shartel, spokesperson for the group of city
volunteers which conducted the survey put it, ``If you don't get covered by one
of the programs which is supposed to cover us in a crisis, then you have no
money. If you have no money, you can't pay the rent. If you can't pay the rent,
you lose your housing and become homeless.''

The signs of strain go well beyond the overcrowded shelters and lineups at food
banks. They're showing up as well in Ontario's hospital corridors and in
university classrooms.

Almost half of Ontario's 170 hospitals expect to run deficits totalling $265
million this year. The Harris government has told them to rewrite their
operating plans. But they point out that banning deficits will only lead to
more overcrowding of emergency wards, longer waits for surgery and a sicker

At the same time, the Council of Ontario Universities is appealing to the
province for $1 billion in additional funding to help the universities cope
with the surge in student enrolment.

``We are simply full to the brim and we simply cannot go further without a
commitment through public investment to support our students and our ability to
educate them,`` said University of Toronto President Robert Pritchard.

The ``lean government'' model that Ottawa and Queen's Park promote with such
vigour has not just eliminated waste and duplication. It has produced a crop of
serious trouble signals.

In their fixation with saving tax dollars, our politicians seem to have lost
their sense of purpose.

The role of government, surely, is to meet the legitimate public needs of the
people, including health care, education and reasonable income security.