February 2016 Update

It may be unseasonably warm this February, but that doesn’t mean Winterfest is taking a vacation.

From Feb. 6 to 15, be sure to enjoy music, art, sports and activities for all ages. February also brings us Heritage Week and Black History Month. On the political side, the Ontario Legislature resumes on Feb. 16.

A strong focus of the upcoming session for myself and the Ontario NDP will be to advocate for a socially fair budget that promotes a greater prosperity more equally shared. Government decisions can have an incredible influence on people living on low incomes, and in the best cases, change their lives dramatically for the better.

We can all see that Hamilton is one of the hardest-hit cities in Ontario for poverty and precarious work. Less than half of Hamilton’s workers enjoy the benefits of a stable full-time job. We need help to alleviate poverty here, and we need the provincial government to pay attention to this and take it seriously.

Twenty thousand Hamiltonians – including six thousand children – rely on food banks every month. 73 per cent of them are actually in receipt of social assistance, but the rates are not sufficient to pay rent and food for most families. Six thousand children depending on food banks is a scandal. That’s the equivalent of over 260 full elementary school classes. No child should be at risk of hunger here.

We have an acute shortage of affordable housing units in Hamilton, and each year the shortfall grows by hundreds. Inadequate and unaffordable housing is one of the deepest roots of poverty and ill health. Unfortunately, we’ve seen very little progress on housing in Hamilton from the provincial government. I’ve written about this problem before, but the municipal and federal governments both invest more in Hamilton housing than does the province. This needs to change urgently. Affordable housing has to become a focal point for government action in the next two years.

There have been multiple demonstrations calling for an end to austerity, an end to healthcare and education cuts, renewed investment in affordable housing, and a livable wage. It is time for the government to heed these calls and implement a socially just economic policy.

In the U.S. Steel saga, the court of appeal has opened the possibility of releasing the secret agreement between U.S. Steel and the federal government. It is my strong hope that the workers, the pensioners, and the municipal and provincial governments are successful in finally gaining access to this deal, which could have material consequences for so many Hamiltonians. I was astounded to learn at the court hearings that even the judge presiding over the CCAA process had not been able to view the agreement. Our laws are in desperate need of a shake-up to rebalance the stakes between workers, pensioners and corporate creditors. I will continue to advocate for fair treatment of the workers and pensioners of U.S. Steel, and for government action to protect one of Hamilton’s major industries.