The Ontario Liberal government needs to act immediately by raising social assistance rates to levels that let people pay their rent and still live in health and dignity.

Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government has started yet another cycle of consultation on poverty reduction. Since 2008, social justice advocates have participated in a series of policy consultations regarding social assistance reform, only to be disappointed every time by government inaction. Almost a decade of empty discussions about “poverty reduction” has shown that consultation is a diversionary tactic to avoid tackling poverty.

Premier Kathleen Wynne must live up to her promise to become the “social justice premier.” She needs to do what the Ontario Liberal government should have done on the day it took office: raise social assistance rates to levels that let people pay their rent and still live in health and dignity. There is no reason to delay.

People living in remote First Nation communities on the James Bay Coast have to spend over half of their income on food in order to meet basic nutritional requirements, according to a new study by Food Secure Canada.

The authors of the report do not believe that lowering the costs of healthy food in northern communities is enough to address food insecurity.

Rather, a broader comprehensive strategy is needed that includes guaranteed minimum incomes that are in line with the higher cost of living in the north and having a healthy diet.

“We call on the federal and provincial governments to make access to nutritionally adequate and culturally appropriate food a basic human right in Canada,” the authors write.

Who decides how much is written on the cheque to a recipient of social assistance each month?

A group of anti-poverty advocates want the question to be stripped of its inherent politics and given to a non-partisan, third-party commission to decide.

The campaign from Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction is called Fix the Gap. The group wants to see the rates for social assistance based on evidence of how much it costs to live in Ontario’s cities, like rents, food and utilities.

Hamilton East-Stoney Creek MPP Paul Miller introduced a bill to establish that commission in April. It passed its second reading – unanimously, the group notes – and was heading to be heard again for its final vote this fall.

The province’s basic income pilot project and income security review are promising, but the need to increase social assistance rates is urgent.

Six hundred and fifty-six dollars. $656.

That’s the amount — per month — that the Ontario government provided in 2015 to social assistance recipients who were single and considered “able-bodied.” Add in the GST credit and the Ontario Trillium Benefit for those living on low-incomes, and the total monthly income amounted to $740, whether you lived in Toronto, Thunder Bay, Ottawa or anywhere else in the province.

It is no wonder that two-thirds of households that rely on social assistance in Ontario are food insecure — in other words, they don’t have enough money to buy the food they need for a healthy life. And food insecurity has a price. Researchers at the University of Toronto have found that health care costs among Ontario households increase dramatically as the severity of food insecurity increases. For those who are most food insecure, health care costs are 121 percent higher than they are for those who are food secure.

A small Ottawa charity that’s been under tax audit for almost five years has launched a constitutional challenge of a section of the Income Tax Act that restricts the political activities of charities.

Canada Without Poverty filed notice in a Toronto court late last month, arguing the Act violates Section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees freedom of expression and freedom of association.

We don’t have to travel to British Columbia to witness the realities of food insecurity. Our Bridge St. congregation has three meal ministries to serve in the heart of Belleville, a community with high unemployment and one of the highest rates of child poverty in the province. Inn from the Cold serves hot meals on 42 consecutive days from mid-January to the end of February. Thank God Its Friday hands out frozen meals every Friday afternoon through the year. In 2015 these two ministries distributed more than 8,000 nutritious and gratefully received meals, in total.

One in five Vancouver Island families struggles to pay for healthy food, a new study says.

A University of Toronto study looking at food security in British Columbia found that families with children younger than 18 are particularly vulnerable.

About 20.6 per cent of Islanders with children are food insecure, compared with 11.1 per cent of all Islanders.

“It doesn’t look good,” said Valerie Tarasuk, a nutritional sciences professor.