Here in the bustling Greater Toronto/Hamilton Area, where one of our biggest problems is traffic congestion, it’s easy to forget how truly vast this province is and how sparsely populated it remains.
I got a sharp reminder of this last month when I visited Webequie First Nation, a community of about 800 people with no access by road. You can reach Webequie only by air. Even Google was stumped: “We could not calculate directions between Hamilton and Webequie,” it said when I tried to check the distance. I’ll give you a clue: when you get to Thunder Bay, a distance of some 1,400 kilometres, you’re only about two-thirds of the way. No wonder a quart of milk costs over $5 and eggs are more than $15 a dozen.
In Webequie, and in Marten Falls, another northern community, I met with the chief and council and members of the broader community to learn more about how they work together to serve a remote population.
Back in Thunder Bay (which I’m now tempted to think of as “southern”), I met with a number of agencies engaged in helping people find jobs and live more independently. I was impressed by the skill and dedication I saw at all of them, but I have to make special mention of the PARO Centre for Women’s Enterprise, which has helped thousands of women across Northern Ontario to start, grow or build new business opportunities.
Visits to places like PARO and conversations with the people I meet there are helping me to better understand how our province’s system of social assistance works and how it can be improved.
Over the next several weeks, I will begin consulting with agencies, advocates and individuals about our government’s renewed commitment to poverty reduction. This work has a broader focus than just social assistance, because it’s unfortunately the case that too many working Ontarians live in poverty.
Thomas Merton, the great American religious writer, had some interesting thoughts about how we approach poverty.
“It is easy enough to tell the poor to accept their poverty as God’s will when you yourself have warm clothes and plenty of food and medical care and a roof over your head and no worry about the rent,” he wrote. “But if you want them to believe you — try to share some of their poverty and see if you can accept it as God’s will yourself!”
I don’t believe in accepting poverty; I believe in working to reduce it and moderate its effects.
Over the next couple of weeks I will be meeting with people here in Hamilton, in Kitchener, Niagara, Campbellville and Ottawa to hear their best ideas about how to achieve progress in this area. Would you like to provide input to this process, or organize a consultation in your community? There are resources for you at www.Ontario.ca/breakingthecycle. I welcome your insights.
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On a closer-to-home note, I was pleased last month to announce our government’s commitment to a 50/50 share of EMS and land ambulance costs. Under our renewed agreement with the city, they determine the budget and we split costs. This brings predictability and stability to this most important service.