A ‘Robin Hood’ Budget for 2016 in Ontario

“Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen
Robin Hood, Robin Hood, with his band of men
Feared by the bad, loved by the good
Robin Hood, Robin Hood, Robin Hood.”

In the Budget lockup yesterday, I started to silently sing the Robin Hood song that I learned back in the 1950’s as a kid. Robin Hood was the mediaeval archer who took from the rich and gave to the poor. Robin Hood was brave and Kathleen Wynne may be even braver.

There are lots of new sin taxes and levies on the better off that became the fodder for 680 News over the evening and morning hours. There were some great interviews with ‘objective’ listeners who were “unhappy” or who thought the Budget was “ridiculous”.

Cigarettes up by three bucks a carton, wine weighed down by a rollout of additional levies. New higher drug dispensing fees and a new higher deductible for seniors who can afford it. This is not going to be a popular Budget for most people. But on balance, it is going a good Budget for low income people. And that’s a good thing when you think of an Ontario society besieged by an ever growing and yawning gap between the Saks 5th Avenue shopping sunshine listers and the downtrodden in food bank lineups.

One of the standing jokes I share with housing advocate Michael Shapcott is that the best way to read a Budget in a lockup is to read it from back to front. This is because governments tend to put the goodies up front and pepper the back pages with the clinkers. No different this time out.

So here goes: my idiosyncratic top ten observations on Ontario’s Robin Hood Budget of 2016 read from back to front but delivered in no particular order:

  1. A Basic Income experiment

Wow! You have to go back to Dauphin Manitoba in the 1970’s   – over 40 years ago – to find a basic income experiment in Canada. I support it and especially the wording of “… more consistent and predictable support in the context of today’s dynamic labour market”. But here’s the rub. There is a large ‘ethics’ machine in Canada that is not going to like the idea of giving one set of  low income people more money than others in the context of an experiment. That’s why a 40+ year old experiment has not been replicated. My advice is to bring the ethicists in early and find out what type of experiment they are prepared to accept.

  1. The ORPP

Well, it seems to be a ‘go’ and it will be so visible and ‘out there’ that the government will likely stand or fall on it in the next election. Of course if the CPP cannot be moved, it’s a great idea and particularly gratifying that lower income workers will be able to fully participate.

But for gosh sakes, when is the government going to do something about the GAINS-A program? Here is a program that remains completely untouched for 31 years since Treasurer Larry Grossman tinkered with some of the rules. It is offside totally with the ORPP; it is offside with ODSP and OW and is designed to inflict some of the highest marginal effective rates in Canada (if not the highest) on the most destitute of a growing cadre of poor seniors. I will do another blog on this later this year but ‘enough already’.

  1. Child Activity Tax Credit demolition

Here’s one of the items that came on page 330 of a 346 page Budget meaning that the lock-up reader starting from the back would happen upon it in less than a minute of backward speed reading.

It’s one of the real Robin Hood items. Here’s a tax credit that they describe as helping the better off. So they are canning it next year and replacing it with more focused programming to promote physical activity and healthy eating that they say will ‘include’ low income children. Well let’s hope so since they are taking it away from 30,000+ low income families according to their own calculation.

  1. A Portable Housing Benefit

Like the Basic income experiment, here is an initiative that we have awaited for a long time. It’s a first and it appears that it will be subject to experimentation for those fleeing domestic violence. I do have a concern here: I don’t know how much you learn about the efficacy of a portable housing benefit through an experiment such as this. I think the experiment will tell us a lot about how a portable benefit might work in an emergency where someone is forced to move but it won’t tell us much about the vast majority of situations where a portable housing benefit would apply. Let’s watch this one closely.

  1. Re-announcing the municipal upload

There is lots of self-congratulation here about the upload that takes municipalities out of their 225 year participation in the funding of basic social assistance to the poor. But one would have thought that the province would have been much more active in telling municipalities to direct their windfall to the same areas in which they are saving. In a recent blog, I pointed out that the City of Toronto undertook a $6 million anti-poverty strategy while saving $25M in upload dollars and using the remaining $18 million to keep taxes low.

Here’s what they could do. They could start by pointing out that municipalities have at least some responsibility to redirect the upload windfall to the areas from where the savings are coming. They could also start thinking about the unintended consequences of the upload. By 2018, there will be no financial incentive for municipalities to be active in referring OW clients to ODSP. Left alone, I think most municipalities will give up this important role precisely because sharp-eyed municipal CFO’s will see that there is no remaining financial incentive to keep this crucial function.

  1. The ominous sounding ‘Digital by Default’ policy

The whole idea is to make on-line services so easy that Ontarians will prefer them. For low income Ontarians, access to online services is still a challenge and I don’t put it past the Ontario government’s tech community to implement online structures where their impact on low income people has not been thought through. ‘Digital by default’ means that if you don’t hear contrary voices, you just go full speed ahead. Low income people do not always have contrary voices that are heard.

Digital by default will need to be watched closely by the advocacy community.

  1. OSAP changes to help low income students

What can I say? This is the Robin Hood surprise of Budget 2016. It’s a huge change for the better. It’s fairer and increases access for low income students. You have to feel sorry for their predecessors but this is a move in the right direction.

  1. Social Assistance Reform

This is a reform effort – not unlike housing reform – that is a long time coming and always seems to be emerging but never born. It’s interesting that there are no more references to Brighter Prospects so we will also have to see what that means.

In the meantime social assistance rates continue to go in the same direction as the last three years with special increases for singles and increases centred on basic needs rather than shelter benefits. Gone are the days when a percentage increase of any amount applied to everyone. Now certain benefits are being eroded to inflation while others are rising higher than inflation. In some ways this is reform of the benefit structure by stealth and let’s hopes not too much more of it goes on without consultation.

  1. A child support exemption on social assistance

This is one of the time tested hot button issues in social assistance over the last 40 years. The knock against it is that those with better-off estranged partners do better than widows and those whose ‘ex’ is paying nothing or less than he should. The biggest problem on the other side is that women have no incentive to apply for child support. My vote is to provide a flat dollar exemption so that you don’t foster two classes of lone parents – those with high child support and those with little or none. A percentage exemption would result in higher overall incomes for lone parents with high awards; a flat dollar exemption would tend to provide a similar benefit to all.

  1. Employment programs for adults with disabilities

Great idea in that service would be provided to adults with disabilities. The only caution is to make sure that there are no losses in service for people receiving ODSP. When programs ‘go generic’ that is always the worry. Let’s be vigilant and make sure that the ODSP employment supports that work well are not lost in the shuffle.

So that’s it – my own top ten observations on Budget 2016. There’s a lot to like in what has been said but let’s hope that what has been announced will actually come to pass. And let’s hope that the Robin Hood Budget succeeds.

Oh – and you won’t hear me being interviewed on 680 news.

Js/February 26, 2016




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A young person’s guide to a guaranteed annual or basic income –Part 4

Differences in contributions, services and need

Now it’s time to talk about rights and human dignity – but I want to set the table first. I’m also not going to repeat too much from the first three entries. I am going to assume you have read them if you are now reading entry #4.

In the previous three parts of this series, I talked about unicorns, contribution vs. needs based programs and the role of emotion and values in the design of our income security system.

In this entry, I want to start by talking about the essential character of our existing income security programs. They basically divide into three categories:

  1. Monetary contribution based programs: CPP, Worker’s Compensation, EI and workplace programs
  2. Service based programs: OAS and Veterans’ benefits; and
  3. Income or need based programs: GIS, Refundable credits, social or income assistance, child benefits, and the WITB

Monetary contribution based programs are not payable to Canadian residents unless they contribute money into them on their own or payments are made into them on their behalf. As these programs are not income tested, millionaires with fabulous paychecks get the same amounts as paupers when they apply and are eligible for benefits.

Service-based programs are based on notional or real service to Canada. You can’t get full OAS without living in Canada for 40 years between ages 18 and 65. Partial OAS has residency requirements that range from one to 39 years residence. OAS payments are based on notional service to Canada and are only subject to clawbacks at high income levels. In other words, you lived here, paid taxes, worked and contributed to Canada. You get OAS when you turn 65 (or 67).

Veterans’’ programs are based on real military service to Canada and can be reduced based on need but most programs are not income tested. Some are based on need.

Income or needs based program all have one characteristic in common and that is that they fade out with increased income. Every income and needs based income security program can be reduced to zero if income is sufficiently high. The exception is the UCCB and it is about to go the way of the dodo.

So there you have it: a three part system based on three organizing principles: monetary contribution, service and income/need.

Target Groups: Disability, Age, Children and Unemployed

This is where it gets interesting for different target groups. For example, persons with disabilities can get income security benefits from all three sets of programs based on their personal history. Some will get benefits through contribution (CPP, EI sickness, Worker’s compensation), others will get benefits through service (Veterans’ benefits) while others will obtain benefits based on need (social assistance). Only one program, the Disability Tax credit, does not fit easily into these categories.

Like the programs for person with disabilities, programs for the aged are available in all three categories. Some will get benefits through contribution (CPP); others will get benefits through service (OAS) while others will obtain benefits based on need (GIS and provincial supplements).

Unemployed people receive benefits from two categories: Contribution based programs (EI) and income or need (social assistance and the WITB). It’s only when you get to target groups like children that all the available benefits are based on income or need (social assistance, CCTB, NCBS, UCCB and provincial programs).

The whole point of talking about target group and program category is to show first that there is no uniformity according to program category among target populations. I also want to dramatize that various self-organizing groups within society now benefit from very different sets of programs across conceptual categories. No one is going to be able to appeal to a particular target group to arrange a guaranteed annual or basic income that only takes income and need into account. There are just too many allegiances to monetary contribution and service to Canada.

Canada’s income security history

Canada’s history of income security also doesn’t help us much. We started out with a contribution based program over 100 years ago with workers compensation and then moved into a variety of programs in the 1920’s based on need (Old Age pensions, mothers’ allowances, Relief etc.). Then we went on a quarter century tear with contribution based programs that included payroll taxes for Unemployment Insurance (1940), pensions (1951 and 1964), and CPP in 1966.

Not until 1966 with the establishment of the Canada Assistance Plan (CAP) did Canada start seriously down the road of providing benefits by income and need. This was followed by the sweeping reforms in OAS in 1977 to develop a service to Canada model with full benefits based on 40 year residency in Canada. Veterans’ benefits were usually supplied in non-monetary form through the provision of jobs, education, training and land grants. But cash payments to veterans based on service now comprise an important aspect of these payment especially as it relates to various iterations of the Veterans’ Charter and Canada’s increased reverence for its men and women in uniform.

This is all to say that there is no Lamarckian inheritance or manifest destiny in our income security programs. We don’t seem to be headed in any particular direction in our program category types. In fact, the Harper government implemented a big savings program (TFSA) along with the UCCB and the WITB. There may be a certain tendency to move towards income and need with refundable credits in the tax system but there has been equally lots of talk recently about CPP reform and Ontario going it alone with its ORPP.

Endless Tinkering but no conversation about rights

When I think of what Canada has been doing for years in the arena of income security, all I can think of is that we endlessly tinker with our programs; and now we are going to have more of it. A sprinkle of pension reform here and refundable child credits there – welfare reform here and a bit of EI reform there – but there is no real appetite to take on the whole system either by category or by target population. It is very Canadian of us. (Apologies to Dennis Guest).

But let’s go back and think about my father and Linda Chamberlain for a minute. My father will continue to get 74% more from our income security system even though he doesn’t need it. Linda will live in poverty and continues to be unable to make ends meet.

This means that we are really not thinking about need and it also means that we are not thinking straight about rights, contributions and service.

I don’t have to explain my father’s service to his country and his contributions. These are well known and the type of service and contributions he represents are equally celebrated.

Yet a simple search of Linda Chamberlain’s name online demonstrates that she is a human rights hero. She saves pets; she speaks up for people with mental health issues and she has personally and selflessly won numerous battles that don’t result in contributions that get paid into unemployment or pension benefits. Decades of volunteering doesn’t translate into a defined benefit pension. In fact, it doesn’t get you any kind of pension at all.

It does tell you a lot about what we value as a society. Most of all we value monetary contribution and economic activity. Make money on a stock and we tax you less and allow you to put the proceeds into a tax free instrument. Contribute money into a company pension plan and we will provide you with a subsidized pension and give you a tax credit on your income tax return.

But if you are poor and haven’t made monetary contributions to a pension plan and you have been kept from saving money because welfare based income support asset rules make you choose between eating and saving, any money you are able to make is neither supported nor sheltered. As I pointed out earlier, if Linda makes any money through speaking engagements, it is 100% confiscated from her income support programs. If she works, any money she makes after St. Patrick’s Day is reduced by 50 cents on the dollar while her rent goes up.

So perhaps the endless tinkering that we do could be better informed by a conversation of Linda’s rights as a senior citizen. It could centre on the denial of rights that comes about through 100% confiscation of benefits while the rest of our system goes through contortions to ensure that people who already have loads of money are provided incentives to save and then keep their gains tax free.

Perhaps we could also think about the living standard poverty that is ever present on Canada’s reserves.

There are different kinds of contributions. There are different types of service and there are different types of need. Perhaps that’s a better starting point for our conversations about guaranteed or basic incomes.

Js Feb 21/2016

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A young person’s guide to a guaranteed annual or basic income – Part 3

What to do with our emotionally charged income security system

To many, a GAI or basic income looks like a bauble or a confection. It’s up there with solving gridlock,  reducing global warming and curing cancer. Easy to want and easy to say – wicked hard to do!

The problem with a GAI is not unlike the problem of unicorns – they are beautiful but don’t exist. Bringing a GAI or BI into existence would be extremely difficult as a horrendous load of problems face designers within the first minute of study.

Growing a horn on a horse might well be easier.

More than anything, the GAI suffers the same problem as ‘world peace’ in that it is an absolutely pure idea that would, in one fell swoop, make us all better off. A GAI sounds like it should be very easy to do in lay terms just as ‘world peace’ seems eminently implementable to many ( lay down your arms).

To me, this is why the GAI gains momentum in the same way as ideas to establish world peace, end gridlock or to cure cancer.

That said, the concept of a GAI is very useful because it gives us all a goal to strive for – an outcome and an ‘end state’ for income security in a poverty free world. Without goals and without aspirations, reform falls flat because we don’t know where we are going.

But for heaven’s sake, we have been positing the idea of a GAI on and off for the last 50 years and we haven’t even started to take the baby steps to get us there.

The huge importance of emotion, morality and biography in benefit design

One of those important first steps will be to deal with the issue of emotion, our moral palette[1] and the personal biographies of Canadians.

In A young person’s guide to a guaranteed annual or basic income – Part 2[2], I drew a sharp distinction between the public benefits paid to my father and those paid to a low income senior named Linda Chamberlain. My father  is not poor by virtue of his defined benefit pension and would not be poor even if he received nothing from Canada’s income security system. Linda receives five income security payments and still lives below the poverty line.

My father can easily meet his expenses out of his pension because his pension is adequate and he lives in a mortgage free home. Linda lives in a subsidized apartment but because she has sky-high utility bills and has unsubsidized medical bills, she lives in constant poverty.

The dilemma remains that my Father receives 83% more in income security payments (on top of his pension) than Linda receives from hers. No one is looking to take any of my father’s benefits away from him and although there are reasons to believe that the single Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) may be raised[3] by $1,000 a year, this would result in my father still receiving 74% more than Linda.

So let’s look at what’s going on; and what’s going on is all about emotion, morality, and personal biography.

First of all, my father gets his $33,000 from our retirement income security system: OAS, CPP and Veterans’ Affairs benefits. He gets full OAS because he lived in Canada for 40 years beyond his 18th birthday. He gets CPP because he worked full time for 36 years between 1946 and 1982 and contributed part of his salary into the CPP. His pension benefits were reduced at age 65 because he became eligible for OAS and CPP.

He served in World War II and as a result, he receives benefits from the Veterans Independence Program (VIP) as he still lives in his own home.

Few Canadians would agree that his $33,000 in total benefits should be cut. They would agree that he should get his OAS because he met the OAS residency requirements.  They would concur that he should be able to get CPP benefits because he contributed to the plan during his working years. I also believe that Canadians would agree that he should remain eligible for Veterans’ benefits because of his sacrifices as a teenager and as a young man.

Linda Chamberlain gets OAS on the same basis as my father and in this area, they are equals. But Linda has a very low CPP entitlement that is not worth applying for because it would be confiscated through the rules in place in the GIS and GAINS-A programs. Besides, she did not work for most of her life as she had severe mental health issues that kept her from holding down a paid job. For a considerable portion of her working years, she was homeless.

Linda also receives refundable tax credits (money that you get from governments even when you don’t pay taxes) that my father is ineligible to receive. In this case, as with GIS, the principle of need as it relates to low income prevails.

Few Canadians would see Linda’s income as adequate to meet her necessary medical expenses and utility costs along with basic needs just as most Canadians – I believe – would see my father’s pension income as adequate to meet his needs.

What is staring us in the face is that our income security system is not about adequacy or providing a floor income – it’s about emotions, morality, and personal biography.

My father is paid veterans’ affairs benefits because he served his country. This is about duty and sacrifice and placing oneself in harm’s way for God and country. He gets CPP because he paid into it. He gets full OAS because he lived his long life in Canada. None of this is about need or adequacy at all. If it was, he would get nothing from any of these sources.

Linda receives OAS because she lives in Canada. She gets the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) and GAINS because she has no other outside income. And she also gets refundable tax credits because her income is low.

Linda receives most of the benefits she gets because she is poor and my father receives most of his because of his contributions. These are entirely different bedrocks.

A  GAI could change all that. If a GAI observes the first principles of keeping people out of poverty and maintaining a floor income, the values of fairness, duty, sacrifice, liberty, loyalty and service to country may not figure at all into Canada’s income security equation.  Similarly, it may not lift Linda out of poverty because her utilities and non-covered medical bills are so high.

Even the human values of fairness and caring would be founded on different bedrocks. Is it not fair that my Father receives money from a pensions plan (CPP) to which he contributed? Is it not a caring society that provides benefits to its aging veterans?

In contrast, is it not a caring society that provides Linda with a near poverty line income even though she had very little paid employment, contributed nothing to a workplace pension plan and little into the CPP?

A lot of emotion will be tied up in the design of a Guaranteed Annual or Basic Income: sanctity, loyalty, duty, sacrifice, personal contribution, liberty, caring, fairness, and service to country. They cannot be overlooked as they relentlessly permeate the design of our present system.

That’s why I favour a basic income that adds to the present system as opposed to any form of GAI that will dismantle it. It’s just too hard to say loyalty, duty, sacrifice, service etc. do not matter. They do matter.

But a Basic Income is not out of the woods just because it avoids dismantling an emotionally charged income security system. Its main problem is evident in what happens with my father’s benefits vs Linda’s benefits other than OAS.

If Linda’s income rises in the present system, that income is deducted at 100% from her income security benefits, her rent starts to go up and her refundable credits, depending on how much money comes in, start to be reduced.

If my father’s income rises, he keeps his CPP, he keeps his veterans’ benefits, he keeps his pension and he keeps most if not all of his OAS[4].

Under most versions of a basic income (BI), outside income would reduce after a beneficiary moves out of poverty. This means that Linda’s benefits would be somewhat like they are today.  (Let’s hope they are less harsh.) If she realizes income from an outside source, a BI would reduce her income if she realized other resources.

But since many versions of a BI leave the rest of the income security system alone, my father’s income security benefits  won’t be reduced and they are likely still to be 74% higher than Linda’s as she is close to the poverty line.

The bottom line is that the  contribution-based income security benefits in Canada remain unreduced based on a variety of emotional values contained in our moral palettes  (loyalty, duty, sacrifice service etc.). Yet the same system is quick to reduce benefits when caring and fairness are the only elements of the moral palette under consideration.

The emotions put in play like loyalty, duty, sacrifice, service and contribution lead to unreduced benefits when income rises. They become a matter of rights regardless of income. But the logic of need leads to swift reductions in benefits as income rises. When my father speaks to young people, his honorarium is untouched. When Linda speaks to young people, her honorarium is taxed back in its entirety.

In conclusion, most people think that income benefit design is about arithmetic, money, and adequacy. But that’s just a part of it. Benefit design is also all about fairness, liberty, caring, loyalty, duty and sacrifice, sanctity, service to country, contribution, and biography.

The arithmetic is not hard.

The money is just what we choose to afford.

And adequacy is already defined.

It’s the emotions, morality and personal biography parts that are the hardest of all to include in benefit design.


[1] http://moralfoundations.org/

[2] http://openpolicyontario.com/a-young-persons-guide-to-a-guaranteed-annual-or-basic-income-part-2/

[3] http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/rob-commentary/what-the-liberal-victory-could-mean-for-your-pension-plan/article26954584/

[4] http://www.taxplanningguide.ca/tax-planning-guide/section-2-individuals/old-age-security-oas-clawback/

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A young person’s guide to a guaranteed annual or basic income –part 2

A Valentine’s Day gift for benefit designers – a tale of two GAI’s

Last week, I self-published: A young person’s guide to a guaranteed annual or basic income[1].

In the Toronto Star on Saturday February 12, there was a lead editorial[2] on Guaranteed and basic incomes that set out the usual cautions about beautiful unicorns that don’t exist. I won’t go into the details here.

Instead, I want to build on my essay of one week ago and talk about two real people – two seniors – that already have guaranteed annual incomes. One is comfortable and the other is poor. The first is my father and the second is a woman for whom I have advocated. Her name is Linda Chamberlain.

Let’s start with my father. He is 96 and in comparatively good health. He lives in his roomy family home which is bought and paid for. He has a defined benefit pension which on its own, keeps him out of poverty. No form of guaranteed annual income (GAI) would ever give him more money than he already receives in his pension. He also has savings.

But here’s the thing: he also gets Old Age Security (OAS), Canada Pension (CPP) and a nice stipend from Veterans’ Affairs Canada. All in all – three public sources of income – all part of the $160 billion or so Canada spends in income security – pays him additional funds.

My father is a veteran of World War II. He enlisted in September 1939 and came back home in August 1945. He was in harm’s way on many occasions. He worked on the encryption machines code-named ENIGMA popularized in the movie The Imitation Game.

All of this is important because my father receives considerably more money from public sources than does Linda Chamberlain. They both receive Old Age Security in the same amount. She also gets the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) and payments from the Guaranteed Annual Income System for Aged (GAINS-A) in Ontario. She also receives GST credits and money from Ontario’s Trillium program along with electricity rebates. Linda rents in subsidized housing and pays about $400 a month. She has no savings and a small amount of debt.

The amount of money Linda gets from her five public sources is less than what my father receives from OAS, CPP and Veterans’ Affairs. My father gets about $33,000 a year from OAS, CPP and Veterans’ Affairs. Linda receives about $18,000 from 5 sources of income. My father is not living in poverty. Linda is poor.

But that’s not where the comparison ends.  It’s where it begins.

My father has medical bills that are largely paid for through his former employer and Veterans’ Affairs. Linda has medical expenses that are not covered at all. Most have been delisted from health insurance in Ontario. Living in an older public building with expensive heating, Linda’s utility bills are in the stratosphere.

If Linda goes to the bank to get a loan to pay off her debts, the quoted interest rate is approximately 10% (and that’s after I offered to guarantee payment just to get a quote). My father can secure a line of credit loan with an interest rate of just over 3%.

Linda did not apply for CPP because the recovery rate on her GIS and GAINS-A would be exactly 100%[3]. Linda can’t make money by making speeches because her honorariums are recovered[4] at 100% off of her ‘guaranteed annual income’. If Linda were to get a job at age 66, her rent would go up by 30 cents on the dollar and her GIS (after $3,500 in earnings) would go down by 50 cents on the dollar. As a result, Linda has no savings and realistically cannot save anything.

In contrast, if my father gets more money, his housing costs do not go up and his income from the federal government does not go down[5]. My father can put his savings into a Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA) and pay no tax on it at all. When he invests, his tax rate on capital gains is half of what he pays on his income. If he has dividends, he gets a dividend tax credit.

This is a tale of two guaranteed annual incomes. One comes in just below the poverty line and would be higher than the poverty line if Linda’s $2,000 in yearly honorariums were not confiscated at 100%.

My father’s guaranteed annual income is considerably above the poverty line but he can save tens of thousands of dollars with no tax implications and the highest rate of taxation he theoretically could pay on his capital gains is about 24%.

The political realities are that Linda may get some more GIS money from the new government in Ottawa and her income may go above the poverty line. That’s a tick mark for a basic income – maybe even a GAI. But what Linda faces in recovery rates on her benefits added to the new expenses she has to pay for along with her higher seniors’ rent, there is no comparison to what she confronts compared to what my father faces.

Yet the more important reality for supporters of a GAI or a basic income is that no one is going to take benefits away from a World War II veteran who served overseas in harm’s way for the entire duration of the war. No one is going to reduce his CPP or OAS payments. No one is going to touch his pension. No one is going to get rid of the TFSA or tax capital gains at the normal rate of personal taxation. So GAI proponents who think they are going to reduce existing benefits to modest earners: guess again.

Similarly, even if GIS goes up for a single senior with no other income, there is no discussion of reform of GAINS-A, no one is talking about higher GST credits or increased Trillium payments. No one is talking about lower rents in rent geared to income (RGI) housing and no one is talking about paying higher OAS to poor seniors.

This means is that there is a massive chasm between the dream of a GAI and its ultimate design.

Design is important.

It is the fine print.

And it is the difference between two very different guaranteed or basic incomes: the GAI or basic income for a low income person versus the guaranteed income for the comfortable.

We have a lot of work to do on design. Shall we begin?

Js/February 14 -2016


[1] http://openpolicyontario.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/A-young-person.pdf

[2] http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/2016/02/12/basic-income-is-tempting-but-it-could-backfire-editorial.html

[3] http://openpolicyontario.com/a-story-of-two-poor-seniors-linda-and-doris-are-the-highest-taxed-people-in-ontario/

[4] http://www.thestar.com/news/world/2015/03/29/should-poor-seniors-have-to-pay-to-volunteer-porter.html

[5] His income would only go down if his OAS is clawed back.

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The Open Policy Aptitude Test

The following policy aptitude test is administered on occasion to policy classes I attend at various levels. Many classes have scored 0 out of 20 and then missed all the tiebreakers. I don’t get asked to address many classes.


  1. Spell Westminster (question issued orally)


Common reply puts in an extra ‘i’


  1. What is the symbol on a government member’s business card?


A coat of arms (if they can get that, I award a point) – ‘some type of crown’ gets no points


  1. What is the symbol on a public servant’s business card?


– Ontario – Trillium (or)

– Canada – stylized flag of Canada in red


  1. Do cities have a distinction between political folk and public servants in terms of the symbols on their business cards?


– No (e.g. Toronto – stylized city hall symbol for all)


  1. Is Cabinet secrecy/confidentiality the law or just a convention?


– Convention – expected to resign if breeched


  1. Is Cabinet solidarity legislated or just a practice?


– Convention – expected to resign if breeched


  1. Open book question (Yes! Open book) – list (in hand writing) the prime ministers of Canada in order


(Students routinely miss Kim Campbell and John Turner and get Abbott Bowell, Tupper and Thomson out of order as I just did. All they have to do is copy from the page but they routinely fail to do so (or don’t realize some lists ARE out of sequence).


  1. To whom does a Deputy Minister report?


Secretary of Cabinet/Clerk/PM’s Deputy Minister – I will accept any of the three (One student who adamantly thought a Deputy reported to the Minister stayed after class to warn me that I could get into trouble for misleading  students)


  1.  Does the Premier or PM have a Deputy Minister? Can a deputy minister and a deputy prime minister hold both jobs at the same time? 


Yes and no


  1. Name any two Clerks at any level over the last few years in Ontario or federally


I accept Mel Cappe, Shelley Jamieson, Tony Dean, Peter Wallace, Wayne Wouters, Steve Orsini, Kevin Lynch, Janice Charrette, Alec Himmelfarb and any others correctly named (one student who read Alec’s recent bio with the CCPA thought he had done well to have risen from a clerk’s position later in life.)


  1. Nortel falls by 50% from $100 to $50. By what percent must it climb to get back to 100$




  1. I go to the US and just before coming back, I need gas. The US gas price is $2.00 a gallon and the Canadian price is 92 cents a liter. On which side of the border do I fill up if I wish to save $$ – again – open book with 15 minute time limit with internet access. 


– Answer must discuss exchange rate, # of liters to the American gallon and also be correct

– Liter = .264172 US gallon so 3.7854 liters to American gallon … 92 cent a liter = $3.48 Canadian divided by US dollar of 1.41 exchange = $2.46 US an American gallon in Canada priced in US —– so you’d buy gas on the US side.


  1. Name the Prime Ministers of Canada who are still living:

(No one gets this one)


Trudeau, Harper, Martin, Chretien, Mulroney, Turner, Campbell, and Joe Clark


  1. In the US, what is the GOP?


– Grand Ol’ or Old Party – I will also accept “Republican” – no one ever gets either…..


  1. What were Premiers called before they were called Premiers?


– Prime Ministers


  1. Within 10 cents, and since Confederation, what is the highest and lowest the Canadian Dollar has been vis. the US dollar? 


Low 61 cents – High $1.08. I will accept for one point any range between 71 cents and $1.04 – every so often someone gets this so I need to toughen up! In 1864, a Canadian dollar was worth more than $2.50 American but that was when the Confederate army was marching on Washington with many thinking they would topple the union.


  1. In the US, is an undersecretary usually a member of a political party?




  1. Obama was directly elected in the US. Are Prime Ministers, premiers and mayors directly elected?


PM – No; Premier – No; Mayor – Yes (all 3 correct for one point)


  1.  If an MP crosses the floor, what does this mean?

– joins and sits with another party – I will accept sit as an independent just because I am tolerant


  1. What does a whip do?

– I’ll accept anything remotely related to getting party members to votes in the House.




Was a Constitutional amendment required to allow the fixed link to the mainland (bridge from PEI to New Brunswick) to be built? 


Yes! (Some guess right, thinking the answer would have to be yes to such an outlandish question)

S.43 in 1993


What is an OIC and is a deputy minister an OIC appointment?


Order in Council and yes


Does the United States have a parliament? 




Name the punchline to the 1993 joke: What does the Conservative party say when it goes into a restaurant and is greeted by a hostess?


Answer: Party of Two please!


Who were the two MP’s? 


Jean Charest and Elsie Wayne


Has a clerk ever had a twitter account from which he or she tweeted while in the job of the clerk? 


Yes – Wayne Wouters.


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City of Toronto Budget Deputation: John Stapleton; Scarborough, January 13, 2016: 6:00 p.m.

I am a newly minted senior citizen. I have lived in Scarborough for the past 37 years.

I am a proud resident of Scarborough but I see a problem. I see the problem of poverty in Toronto.

I think that we can and should do more to eradicate poverty in our city

Toronto is the largest and richest city in Canada

  • Our economy comprises almost 11 per cent of Canada’s GDP,

 And in recent years Toronto has been ranked:

  • The world’s most tax-competitive major city (KPMG Competitive Alternatives 2014: Focus on Tax)
  • The 2014 Intelligent Community of the Year (Intelligent Community Forum)
  • Fourth on Price Waterhouse Coopers’ Cities of Opportunity (PwC, 2014); and
  • The world’s most resilient city (Grosvenor Group, 2014)[1]

But there is another side to Toronto.

  • Toronto houses Canada’s highest concentration of working poverty.
  • Toronto also remains the child poverty capital of Canada, with 28.6 per cent of children living in low-income households.[2]
  • Toronto’s child poverty rate remains virtually unchanged with more than one in four, or 144,000 children, living in households with incomes below Statistics Canada’s After-Tax Low-Income Measure.

Informed taxpayers demand that money spent by government should go to effective use and achieve clear results supported by concrete evidence. Poverty reduction is not often seen as meeting that standard.

But there are hard benefits to alleviating poverty.

The problem is that the methodologies that show these benefits tend not to be used in traditional budgeting.

1. We tend not to look at Direct and Indirect Savings

Government balance sheets typically do not explicitly highlight the basic offsets that will result from poverty reduction initiatives.

These offsets can be both direct, where an initiative eliminates another public expense; or indirect, where an initiative creates the conditions where another public expense is lessened.

TTC tickets for under 12’s are a good example of a direct saving to other programs while social procurement can succeed in getting people off of public assistance. This also produces savings.

2.We seldom count the costs of Inaction (Cost of Poverty)  

There have been a number of recent analyses that have estimated the cost of poverty (or   the economic cost of inaction) in the fight against poverty.

These analyses, one of which was completed by the Ontario Association of Food Banks in 2008[3], quantify the consumption of public services by different ‘income quintile groups’ in order to notionally estimate how costs would be reduced if  individuals  moves up from the fifth (lowest) quintile to the fourth quintile.

A group of us will soon report on the cost of poverty in Toronto and the amount we will show will be in the billions of dollars.

3.We almost never do Cost Benefit Analysis

Cost-benefit analysis (CBA) has been used by some to realistically estimate the economic long-term benefits of social interventions.

We don’t have the time right now (for this Budget process) but using a cost benefit approach to poverty reduction could apply to the following poverty reduction initiatives:

  • increasing minimum wages
  • the creation of a living wage in Toronto
  • community benefit agreements
  • social procurement

Each of these different types of analyses offers a different way of looking at poverty reduction. By ignoring the offsets, savings and benefits that could be estimated using these methods, decision-makers otherwise miss out on the chance to understand the economic returns related to investment in poverty reduction efforts.

The creation of a broader balance sheet can refute the incorrect conclusion that poverty reduction only relates to those low-income residents who are directly impacted. Reducing poverty has positive impacts for all Torontonians.

In closing, when we moved to Scarborough in 1978, our property taxes were about $100 a month or $1,200 a year.

With inflation (CPI) increases of 235% since then, those taxes would now be about $4,000 a year.

But here we are in 2016 and our property taxes are about $2,900 a year – I got my assessment in the mail today. I estimate that my spouse and I have paid $15,000 less than what we should have paid since the turn of the millennium.

Our property taxes are now 28% below where they should be but we just can’t seem to get the message that things are not free.

We have to pay for things and we continue to choke ourselves while saying it is impossible to pay for them.

I expect my property taxes to go up with inflation along with everything else.

If they don’t, I just keep paying less, pocketing more but throughout it all,  expecting more and more.

I believe we should get more and it makes sense that we pay for it.

Let’s stop being delusional. Let’s pay for stuff!

And let’s eradicate poverty.

John Stapleton

Revised January 14, 2016

[1] City of Toronto

[2] Toronto Star

[3] The Cost of Poverty, http://www.oafb.ca/assets/pdfs/CostofPoverty.pdf, 2008.

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Life and Fun in 2016

There are a lot of fun things to do in 2016: Here are my top four, highly idiosyncratic entries,  all from watching evening television on Netflix or CBC

  1. Praise Keith Richards – Rock Historian: Tune into Netflix and go to the music documentaries. It takes a while until you realize that Keith Richards is in almost all of them. He has raised the halting carefulness of the intoxicant trying to keep it together to high art. But don’t let the highly practiced ‘stoned’ style (and a 70+ year old wearing a headband) distract you or make you think that this isn’t serious. Keith Richards is THE historian of rock and roll. He traces it – he spins it. He plays it. He takes you from Muscle Shoals to clubs in Chicago. He details the first time guitar riffs of the Everly’s in minute detail – including detailed descriptions of their chord progressions. He worships and finally gets annoyed with Chuck Berry as only an historian could. If the present world ends and you are a rock and roll archaeologist 300 years from now, you only need to happen upon Keith Richards’ opus. This is the real deal. Roll over Toynbee and tell Niall Ferguson the news.
  2. Think about ‘No medical’ life insurance – The ads are pervasive but almost no one remembers them. They hire actors that look like parishioners at a church losing membership. They have bad teeth. They seem uncertain but one thing they know for sure is that your medical history is ‘embarrassing’. But older people – and I am one of them – blather on forever to anyone who will listen to stories about their myriad maladies. They’re not embarrassing – they’re a badge of honour – a rite of passing – the main if not the only example of meaningful conversation. If I get asked how I am doing, it’s ShowTime. You can’t shut me up. My skin; my neck; the arthritis in my barre chord guitar finger; my nerves; my back. But when it comes to getting life insurance, why would I want them to see my medical? Maybe because I don’t want to put myself in the risk pool of those who are about to die? Nah – I would rather not disclose and pay twice the premiums. Who wouldn’t?
  3. Laugh it up watching the CHIP ‘Reverse’ mortgage ad– OK this one I really love. I can go on vacation – help with family, renovate or just live better off my home equity in the home I bought for $9,000 in 1949 and don’t want to sell for 975 grand in 2015. And guess what? I don’t have to pay a cent until I choose to move out. Well I got a secret!I have a picture frame on my wall waiting for the first senior couple who CHOOSE to move out of their honking huge million dollar family home where they have lived since before the Allies went into Korea. Reality check, people! NO one chooses to move out! One or both are carted off  to the seniors’ residence because they forgot to haul out their trusty peacemaker to keep the swat team at bay. Maybe you should live off your equity and die broke. Maybe you should look at the level of residential care that you will get once you have relieved yourself of all your assets and can no longer afford the swank digs that you would have been able to afford had you just decided to live like you did from 1949 to 2015!
  4. Take a long look at the nightly ‘shooting news’– I love it and they call it news. May be they should rename it ‘news with no content’. They sound all earnest and interrupt so-called regular programming to say that “there has been a shooting”. They don’t know where it happened except somewhere in the east end of Toronto. No perpetrator can be named because the story is ‘breaking’. The person shot is not known but the person may or may not be known to be a person who is a person of interest to the police. (Well I am just so beside myself to be so well informed.) I am thrilled to learn that police do not know the motive behind the shooting but they will be on the job to find out what that motive might have been. It is also good to find out that it is not known at this time that the person who we don’t know may or may not be suffering from life threatening injuries and that the person cannot be named as police are notifying next of kin. And the perpetrator cannot be named as he or she may or may not be a juvenile who cannot be named. Now let’s reverse this to good news. A person or person unknown performed a good deed today that cannot be named as the news is breaking. We don’t know who did it and we don’t know who was helped but it did occur, according to authorities, in an undisclosed part of the City. It is not known at this time whether the perpetrators were or were not known to authorities.  No motive has been discovered but authorities are questioning local residents to discover why the act was carried out. Next of kin are being notified. It is not known whether anyone has life threatening injuries or whether weapons were involved. At this time no one knows whether the perpetrators were known to the authorities and were or were not persons of interest. Police are asking residents to be on the lookout for a lime green Chevy wagon that may or may not have scrapes on its front bumper.

With apologies to Ron James: I thought of all these examples after watching his New Year’s show on CBC

John Stapleton, Jan. 5, 2016





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On self exemption, framing and location: a meditation on race and other elements of personal biography that cannot be changed

What can we not change?

I want to use the word ‘racism’ in its broadest sense – much broader than it is currently used. The reason is that race is only one aspect of our humanity that no one can change.

We can’t change our place of origin. All of us were born in one of about 200 nations on earth. We can however, change our nationality through immigration. We can renounce our place of origin.

We can’t change our ethnicity. Ethnicity is a part of our personal biography that none of us can change. We can change our proclivities, however. Each of us can orient ourselves towards other ethnicities through dress, the food we eat, and social behaviour.

We can’t change our race. Race is also an element of our personal biography. But we can change our proclivities as noted above but we cannot reassign our race.

We can’t change our sexual orientation. Sexual orientation, despite historical attempts to reassign it, is yet another element of our biography. We can hide it however just as many LGBTQ persons have had to do in the past and in the present day.

We also can’t change many aspects of our physical and mental health. Some of us are born or develop various types of disabilities. Although we can ameliorate conditions, disabilities and morbidities, the rate at which we age, the onset of some diseases etc. are all part of our personal biography.

We cannot change our age except by growing older.

And until recently, we could not re-assign our gender. Now we can through complex surgeries and therapies. For the purposes of this meditation, I will leave gender reassignment out of the equation.

Why confusion starts the problem

The main problem is that all the things that we cannot change: place of origin, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation and basic mental and physical characteristics routinely get mixed up with things that can change. These include fitness, health, determination and drive, diet, personal sacrifice, loyalty, literacy, faith, morality, honesty, goodness and other personal characteristics that are determined by the things that we can change.

There are other things that we can only solve together as a society. For example, justice, poverty, human rights, basic services, transportation, and infrastructure are only achievable as a collectivity – as a society. Sure, any one of us may obey the law, buy a car, service our own needs,   lift ourselves out of poverty, and treat others with dignity. But to achieve any of these goals on a societal level – where we all achieve them – we must do it together.

Just as the individual things we cannot change get confused with the things we can change, we often equate and confuse individually achievable goals with goals for society as a whole. Many people may lift themselves out of poverty but that does not mean poverty is eradicated. Just because hundreds of thousands of people buy cars and meet the transportation needs of their families, this does not mean that our transportation problems are solved.  Just because most of us treat one another with dignity does not mean that our society respects human rights. And just because thousands of families service their own needs with adequate childcare does not mean that every child receives adequate care.

Some utopians think that if every individual behaved well, then we would have better societies. This is undoubtedly true. If every hundredth family housed a homeless person in Canada, then homelessness would be solved quickly. If jobs were made freely available with adequate training and support – and all pay levels were brought up to a living wage and a basic income implemented for all, then we would largely eliminate poverty.

But the idea of everybody behaving better can only solve some individual problems. It does not solve any problems at the social level and in many cases makes things worse. Meeting your own transportation needs by buying a car may solve an individual problem but if everyone did it, gridlock would be far worse. In other words, the individual solution can often lead to a bad societal outcome as opposed to a better one. Environmentalism struggles with this dilemma.

So the basic problem is that both on an individual and societal level, we have the capacity as humans to confuse things that we cannot change with those we can change while confusing individual achievement with the  achievement of  collective societal goals.

Defining a wider concept of racism

I invite you to see racism in two wider senses.

The first is that individual racism is any negative thought or action towards someone based on the immutable aspects of their biography that will remain unchanged over their lifetime.

The second is that societal racism is any negative thought or action towards an individual or community based on goals that can only be achieved at a societal level.

An example of the first type of racism would be to believe that an individual will not do well in school because of their race or ethnicity. An example of the second type would be to think that we will have enduring poverty in our society because of the perceived characteristics of people who come from a certain place of origin.

What happens when racism persists?

As a society, we tend to act on the basis of things we believe. Good change can come about by acting on the things that we can change for the better. But once we begin to assign problems according to aspects of personal biography that can’t be changed, we start down the road to racism and intolerance.

Similarly, when we believe that societal solutions only come about as the result of many acts of individual change – and societal change does not occur – we start back down the road to racism and intolerance. We see things that don’t change and begin to blame it on the easiest of all targets – the aspects of individual personal biography that cannot change.

 Self-exemption, framing and location

One of the most pervasive aspects of racism is self-exemption. It’s always the other country that’s no good, always the other ethnicity that is suspect and the other race that is inferior. It’s never ourselves.

Part of that comes from our relentless pursuit of self-esteem. We all want to think well of ourselves and it can be easier for some to believe in bloodlines than the content of character.

But another part comes from collective concepts of evidence and problem location. This is where we mistake what comes first: racism or behaviour.

One good example is schools that are created with equal access to education but soon become schools for privileged children of well-to-do white people. What do we think about that?

Another is the country that stays in third world conditions while another becomes an economic powerhouse. What are our thoughts?

Yet another example is found in who gets carded in a city like Toronto. What is the frame and problem location?

What came first: the behaviour that we associate with certain races or the frame that defined behaviour as attributable to people who cannot change an aspect of their biography?

The answer is in the order and location.

The frame always precedes the evidence. The frame defines the evidence and the way it will be seen. The frame also persists in locating the problem.

What I would say to the racist is that the way you have come to see the world – the frame – the lens through which you view it allows the organization of the evidence along racist lines. It then locates the problem with the particular community such that the solutions must come from the community and the people where it is located.

If you think of lack of good drinking water on a Reserve as a First Nations problem, you have already framed the evidence in a way that locates the problem in the place in which the problem persists. The same is true for so called ‘at risk’ youth. We locate the problem with them and prescribe ‘riskectomies’ for the youth as opposed to wider societal solutions.

This is also true for carding because we frame the problem originally as black crime because that’s how we looked at it. Then we locate the solutions with crime alleviation in certain communities that have particular geographies. And then we say it is up to them – that community as a particular collectivity – to solve the problem. This is absurd. If the problem is ‘driving while black’, how is the black community to solve this?


I often wonder how the racist conceives of God. Did one God create all the differences in personal biography that are unchangeable and immutable? Or are different people – other than ‘us’ – children of lesser Gods.

If it’s the same God, then we have a problem because we would have to answer the question of why the Almighty would create a world in which some people were unchangeably better than others.

If others are children of lesser Gods, then we have a much easier way to explain unchangeable aspects of our biography since our own world would mirror the Heavens and the gods who inhabit them.

But in a few words, it’s all about self-exemption, the frame that precedes and defines the evidence and the location of a problem in the place – the geography and the community –in which it takes place.

So let me ask and answer the self-exemption, framing and location problem in a different way in just one example:

Question: Does the Bridle Path and Rosedale have an affordable housing problem?

Answer: Yes – they really do.


John Stapleton
January 5, 2016


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Social Assistance in Ontario: Periods of Tumult and Calm

For the first time in over a year and without much fanfare, the Ontario Government has begun to publish monthly social assistance caseload numbers. One guesses that the reason for the hiatus was the much-reported troubles with their new social assistance computer system called SAMS.

The newest figures are for November 2015 and the new charts on the MCSS website include caseload figures going back two years including  the 13 months from November 2014 to November 2015 that were missing.

They are here for Ontario Works: http://www.mcss.gov.on.ca/documents/en/mcss/social/reports/OW_EN_2015-11.pdf

and here for ODSP: http://www.mcss.gov.on.ca/documents/en/mcss/social/reports/ODSP_EN_2015-11.pdf

This has allowed me to update an excel file which many readers have seen in the past that includes reliable data for the last 35 years (since 1981) for caseloads (payments) , beneficiaries (men women and children receiving assistance), unemployment, and population.

Some may ask “Why 1981?”

The simple answer is that 1981 marks the first year in which a computer program called ONTAP that covered the old Family Benefits (FBA) and GAINS (Disability) programs could be coupled with the municipal MAIN computer system along with a variety of standalone systems in Peel, Hamilton – with honourable mention to local proprietary systems such as Schooley-Mitchell and O’Donnell-Morrison – to provide reliable numbers. In other words, MCSS staff finally found a way to get all the systems to report cases and beneficiaries in the same way under MCSS Deputy Ministers Bob Carman and Bob McDonald.

Of course, it is in theory possible to collect case and beneficiary counts for periods before 1981 but these would be entirely reliant on manual calculations collected from municipal reporting data (something called Form 5) and the provincial payment systems. I wouldn’t touch pre 1981 beneficiary counts with an 11 foot pole although the caseload data is likely reasonably reliable.

Now that we have 35 years of reliable data, what does it tell us?

  1. Two Clear epochs: Tumult and Calm

The time period from 1981 to 2000 was a period of social assistance tumult. The percentage of population on assistance varied from 4.5 % in 1981 to 12.4 % in 1993, only to fall to 7.1 % in 1999.

At the turn of the millennium in 2000, the percentage of population on social assistance in Ontario was 6.0% and in the intervening 15 years to the end of 2015, the lowest point was 5.3% of population in 2004 and the high point was 6.7% in 2012. We now stand at 6.5 of population in November 2015.

In other words, the amplitude in the 1981 -1999 period was 7.9 percentage points and in the post millennium era: 1.4 percentage points. Now that’s tumult and calm!

The period of tumult had two major recessions (early 1980’s and early 1990’s) but caseloads only rose to their post-Depression peaks in the 1990’s recession.

The period of calm had one major recession (the crash of 2008-09) but it must be said that this recession had negligible effects on overall caseloads in Ontario.

Two other points of interest: Ontario in the new Millennium has never experienced a single month when overall beneficiary counts as a percent of population went above 1999 levels.  The other is that there is a statistical oddity with years ending in the number ‘9’. In each of the years 1989, 1999, and 2009, the percentage of social assistance recipients compared to Ontario’s population averaged exactly 6.0%.

  1. Misconceiving Tumult and Calm

It is easy to misconceive the period of tumult and calm in Ontario’s long term social assistance numbers. The conditions that led to the huge caseload run-ups in the 1990’s recession were almost entirely absent in the Great Recession and crash of 2008-09. The most important is unemployment as it relates to beneficiary counts. Starting in 1987-88, a significant pattern emerged between the count of social assistance beneficiaries and Ontario unemployment rates. This pattern is continuous and is alive and well in 2015. The ‘R-squared’ between the two is very tight and increasingly so as we enter 2016. Three years in the early 1990’s of 10%+ unemployment was much different that the great recession of 2008-09 where unemployment exceeded 9% for less than a year and never reached 10% at any point.

I won’t go into all the reasons for the 1990’s run-up in social assistance here as I have done this elsewhere in a slideshow called “A Difficult Puzzle” (2012) where I explain all the reasons for what happened in the 1990’s in comparison to the 1930’s.

A reasonably good understanding of the 1990’s run-up also made it very easy to predict that caseloads would not run up with the Great Recession of 2008-09. As markets were crashing and unemployment rapidly ascending, I received numerous calls from the press looking for juicy predictions about soaring welfare caseloads. I refused them all but tried to explain why it would not happen. No one was interested and the fourth estate pursued their predictions elsewhere. The CCPA, to their credit, was brave enough to publish in February 2009 – before the stock market had bottomed out – my piece called “The Silence of the Lines” where I predicted that caseloads would not rise – and why.

In the ensuing post-crash years, Ontario social assistance beneficiary counts rose – at their post-recession peak in 2012 – by one percentage point. No reporter has come back to ask why.

If they had, I would have pointed them to the four biggest additional reasons for the post-millennial calm in caseloads that have little directly to do with unemployment:

In the early 1990’s, the single social assistance rate had reached 70% of the minimum wage while it stood at 35% at the beginning of the great recession. The former ratio is almost an invitation to higher caseloads while the latter is a massive deterrent.

In the mid 1990’s, the number of lone parents receiving social assistance was 225,000 when Ontario’s population was less than 11 million. In November 2015 with MCSS’s newly published figures, the count is 73,002, down by 4,000 over the past two years alone. Each lone parent has 1.78 children meaning that for each lone parent who leaves social assistance, almost 3 people (2.78) leave assistance. This means that the continuous slow rise in ODSP single recipients and the doubling of single OW recipients from 2005 to 2012 (now leveled off) was almost completely offset by the massive exits among lone parents.

In 1995, there were 436,000 children in Ontario Works (equivalent) families. In November 2015, there were about 160,000 children. It was the post millennial period that was entirely responsible for the advent of children’s benefits outside of social assistance. Nominal clawbacks were ended in August 2008 just one month before the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers. And the OCB stacked on top of the UCCB and other federal credits to allow a mother with two children to receive 60% of her income from benefits outside of social assistance.

We are also seeing an acceleration in the welfarization of disability benefits causing huge setbacks in attempts to create a basic income for low income people with disabilities that continue to be offset by the exodus of single parents and children from assistance in Ontario Works.


 The period of relative calm in social assistance in Ontario as measured by comparisons to unemployment and percentage of population on assistance in the post millennial period is very misleading. The relative calm is disguising the fact that things are roiling under the hood and that the need for reform is even more acute (while making the long term regression to the mean between percentage of population on assistance and unemployment look somewhat baffling).

MCSS has already announced in effect that they will find different reform solutions for Ontario Works and ODSP which is entirely appropriate given the massive shifts in both programs caused by very dissimilar and disparate forces.

With the stars aligned (so to speak) at all three levels of government across most of Ontario, poverty reduction strategies can now be harmonized to implement real reform. We can bring in income security for all children outside of social assistance and implement a basic income for all low income adults with a special supplement for people with disabilities as recommended in Brighter Prospects. We can build new work incentives into income security for adults while making benefits adequate (a complete impossibility under the present benefit structure).

As we move further away from the pre-millennial epoch of tumult, we can use the present period of relative calm to breathe life into ‘real reform’.

John Stapleton
January 3, 2016


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Time to look at income security for low income older adults with disabilities

One of the long term goals I have for Open Policy is to cover all aspects of income security for all age groups for low income people with and without disabilities. This year, Open Policy managed to add a critical piece with the publication of Every Ninth Child in Ontario: A Cost-Benefit Analysis for Investing in the Care of Special Needs Children and Youth in Ontario with my colleagues Alexa Briggs, Celia Lee, Brendon Pooran and Rene Doucet.

Children and youth with disabilities and their income security needs are extremely important and I hope there will be more contributions from my colleagues and I on this front in the future.

The following is a chart that I have had in my head for years but I never sat down and created it ‘on paper’ until now. It shows that for each part of the life course, Open Policy (my colleagues and I) have produced a paper or report on each age group subdivided into special reports on those with disabilities and those without disabilities. The missing piece is older adults (65+) who have disabilities.

Open Policy Income Security Papers and Reports (examples)
Age Group People without Disabilities People with Disabilities
Children Transitions Revisited (Caledon, 2004) Every Ninth Child in Ontario (with permission of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth, 2015)
Youth Why is it so tough to get ahead? (Metcalf, 2007) Every Ninth Child in Ontario
Children in Care Not So Easy to Navigate (Laidlaw, 2010)
Youth in Care 25 is the new 21 (Provincial Advocate, 2012) Every ninth child in Ontario
Working Age Adults Working poor reports (Metcalf, 2011 and 2015)
The Income Security System Under Our Nose (Metcalf, 2008)
Trading Places (Mowat Centre, 2011)
Navigating the Maze (CWGHR- 2008)
Zero Dollar Linda (Metcalf, 2010)
The Welfareization of Disability (Metcalf, 2013)
Older Adults Retiring on a Low Income (Donner at al., 2012) To come!


Income security for older adults with disabilities is an interesting area of concern as our income programs for aged persons do not distinguish between persons with disabilities and those without. For every other age group, there are special income programs for people with disabilities. For children, we have Assistance for Children with Severe Disabilities (ACSD).  And for working age adults, we have at least eight income related programs in Ontario (ODSP, WSIB, CPP-D, WITB-D, RDSP, EI sickness, Veterans programs, and workplace programs).

Curiously, when it comes to seniors, we make the collective assumption that retirement income programs such as OAS, GIS, GAINS-A, CPP, along with savings and work are sufficient to fully meet the needs of low income aged people with disabilities.

But the reality is that our income security system in Canada is not meeting the needs of older adults with disabilities.

To be sure, there are other service and income programs that serve older adults with disabilities. In Ontario, we have the Trillium drug program for seniors and the Assistive Devices Program (ADP) that helps defray the cost of hearing aids, wheelchairs and other disability related goods. There are hundreds of local outreach programs for seniors and a wide network of residential care homes, nursing homes, chronic care and active treatment hospitals many of which serve seniors and near seniors exclusively.

But isn’t it odd that we would have at least 8 income security systems for non-aged adults but none for those who have turned 65? It raises many important questions but the two that are top of mind for me relate to special needs and pensions.

When it comes to special needs, I have spent the last 12 years and over 140 (almost) monthly meeting adjudicating special funds to needy Ontario veterans and their dependants through the Soldiers Aid Commission. Along with my fellow commissioners, we see an endless parade of requests to fund dentures, hearing aids, glasses, leaky roofs, wheelchairs and various types of disability related supplies. Very few of these seniors would be able to afford these things if they could not get them funded.

But no one pays for them except these special funds and ADP. The alternative is often high cost health and institutional care so no one should ask ‘where the money will come from?’ since the cost of not attending to these needs is far higher.

Turning to pensions, I was intrigued by the discussions surrounding the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan (ORPP). For those opposed to it, the arguments made often centre on the fact that low income seniors often receive more money in retirement than they do as working age adults. Therefore they do not need to save as their income is already replaced and the last thing low income non-aged adults need is another call (in the form of pension contributions) upon their meagre resources in their working years.

All well and good that low income people don’t need to save or contribute ‘from a pension perspective’. But if you look through the lens of ‘need or expense’, seniors with disabilities have much higher needs in their senior years than in their working years. And just when their needs (and costs) are intensifying, our income security system decides that seniors with special needs (and that’s a lot of them) do not need any additional income security.

So perhaps the idea of an ORPP from the perspective of need is a pretty good idea even if it does not pass muster through a ‘pension lens’.

I am just getting warmed up now. I have already blogged[1] about marginal effective tax rates for low income seniors who work[2] (and a lot more are working – more about that in future posts) and I have discussed the unfair treatment of honoraria[3] for low income seniors under the GIS.

All of the unfair and outdated policies that affect low income seniors are only magnified for those who have disabilities.

On a personal note, I turned 65 in August so I am now a member of the group I will be writing about. And although all my aches and pains do not amount to a set of disabilities, the day when they do is no longer inconceivable to me. I can see it in Technicolor.

So stay tuned and let’s colour in the final box that has been left unattended: income security benefits for seniors with disabilities and see if we can make some progress.

John Stapleton, December 27, 2015

[1] http://openpolicyontario.com/no-piece-of-cake-linda-chamberlain-applies-for-the-guaranteed-income-supplement-gis/

[2] http://openpolicyontario.com/the-plight-of-low-income-hardworking-seniors/

[3] http://www.thestar.com/news/world/2015/03/29/should-poor-seniors-have-to-pay-to-volunteer-porter.html

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