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Poverty in Ottawa and Beyond

Carleton University
Notes on speakers in three sessions by David Kilgour
22 January 2011

Dr.Jeff Turnbull (President of Canadian Medical Association; Chief of Staff, Ottawa Hospital; Medical Director of Inner City Project for the Homeless, Ottawa):

Key Points

  • Approximately 46% of the Ontario government yearly budget is currently going to health services, which on a national basis amounts to about $192 billion or $5200 per Canadian, yet an estimated three-quarters of health outcomes are influenced by non-health factors.
  • MDs deal with “swamp issues”, but the real need is to “drain the swamps” by investments in effective social services. For example, about 700,000 Canadians visit food banks, about 300,000 seek support in shelters, and perhaps another 6% are underemployed so that they cannot meet housing and other needs from their incomes.
  • The homeless in Ottawa are “fascinating wonderful people” although many say they are “invisible” to passers-by. For example, Harlan helped raise money on the streets for the Children’s’ Hospital and Normie, who died in the Ottawa Mission hospice, had two of his paintings in our National Gallery. Most men and women are homeless because they were dealt “a bad deck of cards” and often develop problems with abuse of substances and/or alcohol.
  • The chronically homeless in Ottawa have bad health outcomes, with an estimated $170,000-$225,000 being spent yearly on ambulances, emergency services, etc for each.
  • ’Homing the homeless’ is the most effective way to deliver health services to them. Mayor Jim Watson has committed $14 million to housing in the new city budget.
  • Youth homelessness creates risks of HIV and other illnesses quickly and it is important to try to get adolescents off the street quickly. One of the success stories is now a professor at a local university.
  • Most MDs believe in equity and are supportive of initiatives to the voiceless homeless. The business community is quite often concerned about the cost of programs.

Rob Rainer (Executive Director, Canada without Poverty, and initiator of Dignity for All: The Campaign for a Poverty-free Canada):

Key Points

  • The cost of poverty to Canada is now above $70 billion yearly. For example, there is a 21-year difference today in the life expectancies of residents of Hamilton’s wealthiest and poorest communities. Poverty is “like poison to the brains of a child raised in poverty”. The yearly cost of keeping a female offender in prison is about $330,000; about four fifths of them are there because of crimes of desperation, says the Elizabeth Fry Society.
  • Among the current barriers to progress on combating poverty:
    • ideological battles between individualism and community values,
    • racialization of poverty issues, with immigrants increasingly victimized by poverty and
    • some Canadians think taxes are too high, forgetting that they pay for schools, social services and many other features of advanced democracies.
  • Provincially, New Brunswick and Newfoundland have the most effective initiatives to reduce poverty, with B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan lacking any anti-poverty programs.
  • There has not been a lot of progress since the report of the Special Senate Committee on Poverty in 1971. In fact, the gap between rich and poor Canadians is much greater now –and growing.
  • Initiatives underway:
    • The Hamilton Roundtable, comprising 800 organizations, studied community poverty and managed to reduce it slightly,
    • The federal government is the lead player, providing about 80% of income security programs, but it should initiate a national anti-poverty vision,
    • Bill 545 of NDP MP Tony Martin is useful and should be enacted, and
    • The HUMA Committee of the House of Commons has made 60 recommendations.
  • The Guaranteed Annual Income proposal of Senator Hugh Segal would top up a person’s income if less than the minimum established. There is a pilot project underway now in Dauphin Manitoba. Brazil has brought in a number of poverty reduction measures in recent years.
  • The child tax benefit should be updated to reflect current economic realities, with a similar model being applied to the incomes of retired persons.

Ray Sullivan (Executive Director of Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation (CCOC), a 1500-unit private non-profit organization founded in 1974 (

Key Points

  • Rental accommodation today in Ottawa runs in the $715 range for a bachelor (or $951 for a unit in new buildings) and $877 for a one-bedroom, so at least $35,000 income is needed to rent. Median city income currently is $33,000 so at least half the residents are finding it difficult in varying degrees to get by.
  • There is a five-year wait for subsidized rentals and about 10,000 units are currently needed, although approx. 2000 persons do get such housing yearly. About 15,000 of 22,000 non-profit units in Ottawa are run by Ottawa Public Housing. For CCOC units in 51 properties, about 60% are subsidized and 40% are market rent.
  • Social housing was off-loaded by the Mulroney government to the provinces. The Harris govt. transferred it to the municipalities in the 90s. What is needed is political will at all levels of government to address affordable housing ownership and rentals.
Respectfully submitted, with profound apologies for any errors in my notetaking.
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