March 16, 2016 Fast Facts
(This story originally appeared in the Sherman Hub News http://media.wix.com/ugd/6ddce8_7af335c0ec9245299d9e67c48fca48ea.pdf.)
“Sunny Days.” That is how new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau kicked off the start of his mandate as the 23rd Prime Minister of Canada.
Many are waiting to see how this new “sunny” orientation plays itself out on the policy front.
One hint may be found in the mandate letters Trudeau sent to all his Cabinet Ministers. These mandate letters set out goals and specific objectives for each Minister. We have looked at some of these letters and offer some unsolicited advice.
1. The Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities has been asked to lead an engagement process to develop a Canadians with Disabilities Act. We’d like to see that this act incorporate international human rights standards. There has been progress for people with disabilities in the area of accessibility and accommodation in employment and services. However, true equality can only be achieved by recognizing that economic barriers disproportionately impact those with disabilities.
2. The Minister of Infrastructure and Communities has been directed to work with the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development to create a housing strategy. This will “re-establish the federal government’s role in supporting affordable housing.”
Most developed countries have a housing strategy or plan. A plan should include measurable goals and timetables. Ongoing consultation and collaboration with affected communities, complaints procedures, and transparent accountability mechanisms should also be part of the plan.
3. The Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour has been asked to improve the Employment Insurance (EI) system. It needs to be “better aligned with the realities of today’s labour market and serves workers and employers.” As readers know, over the last 20 years the federal government has made access to benefits increasingly difficult. Of all cities, Hamilton has been hardest hit by these policy changes. There has been a huge decline in the number of unemployed accessing benefits. Forty percent did in 1997. By 2014 that percentage had dropped to 21.6%.
Eligibility requirements for benefits should be changed to accommodate the kind of work that exists today, specifically, part time and minimum wage positions. We believe that eligibility should be established at a standard rate of 360 hours worker across Canada. This change would make the program more accessible for part time workers.
4. The Minister of Families, Children and Social Development has been asked to lead the development of a Canadian Poverty Reduction Strategy. This strategy should line up and support existing provincial and municipal poverty reduction strategies.
Conditions should be added to the Canada Health and Social Transfer that social assistance will be provided by provinces at a level that allows individuals and families to have an adequate standard of living.
Provincial poverty reduction strategies are emphasizing getting people with disabilities back to work. However, the nature of many people’s disabilities means that they aren’t able to work. A poverty strategy needs to take this account and work to integrate all within our society.
You can find all thirty Mandate Letters at http://pm.gc.ca/eng/ministerial-mandate-letters