Terri Carter (centre holding the sign) speaks to protesters outside Bill Mauro’s Syndicate Avenue office on March 15, 2013.
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Anti-poverty activists are calling on the province to bring social assistance back in time to what it was before the days of former premier Mike Harris.
About a dozen people rallied outside of MPP Bill Mauro’s (Lib, Thunder Bay – Atikokan) office Friday. Many carried signs while others huddled in a blankets to stay warm. The protest was organized in an effort to apply pressure on the provincial government as it prepares to table the budget.
Protesters armed themselves with a list of recommendations that mostly involved more investments into children welfare, housing and social assistance. One of the main 10 recommendations asked Ontario to raise social assistance rates by 55 per cent.
Harris had reduced social assistance by that amount in 1995.
Cindee Richardson, executive director for Alpha Court Community Mental Health and Addictions, and her staff were among the group of protesters.
The non-profit group works with about 400 clients in the city looking for a home and assistance with mental health issues or addictions.
Richardson said the work gives them a firsthand look at poverty’s impact.
“It makes us look terrible as a society when we don’t take care of our vulnerable population,” she said.
“If you’re living Ontario Disability Support Program I think you’re getting $9,000 a year. Even with subsidized rent, you’re not eating well … and you’re becoming increasingly unhealthy all the time.
The problem is worse for people struggling with illness or a disability, she added.
“It’s extremely difficult. It’s like a sentence for being ill.”
She argues that the province needs to increase social assistance to where it was before it was reduced.
“We all hate on [Harris] for doing it and we should but no one else has increased it,” she said.
“I hope we can apply some pressure to the politicians to see some changes.”
Terri Carter, chair of Poverty Free Thunder Bay, organized the event to urge both Mauro and fellow Liberal MPP Michael Gravelle (Thunder Bay – Superior North) to include their list of demands into the upcoming budget.
“The last few budgets, these have been cut out or frozen,” Carter said. “People are finding it difficult and we want (the province) to reinvest in people. People are struggling and things cost more.”
Carter said they also want the province to make due on their 2008 promise to reduce child poverty by 25 per cent in five years.
To accomplish that goal, Carter believes Ontario will need to increase the rate of minimum wage and the Ontario Child Benefit program.
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