13 July 2013
By Daniel Nolan
Social Services Minister Ted McMeekin says a landmark report on reforming Ontario’s $8.3 billion welfare system is getting a rough ride from groups across the province.
The minister is in the midst of a 20-city tour gathering input to the 183-page report that came out last fall and was put together by commissioners Frances Lankin and Munir Sheikh. He says he’s also met with 118 groups since becoming minister in Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government in January.
The report contained 108 recommendations and chief among them was a proposal to merge Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program into a program delivered by municipalities.
“Many of these groups say, ‘Look, we are really pleased the report has been prepared,” the Hamilton-area MPP said. “It’s a watershed report, but we just don’t like what’s in it.”
The minister said that doesn’t mean the government will park it on a shelf. It is aiming to respond to it this fall with legislation, or other changes, but he admitted “there will be parts of the report I suspect will not be moved forward.” Some initiatives were passed in the budget.
“The jury is out on most of the Sheikh/Lankin report,” McMeekin said. “They came up with ideas that 80 per cent of the groups we talked don’t like. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out you better go back and start talking to people.”
The minister said merging OW and ODSP has drawn “a fair bit” of comment because stakeholders believe it will create “winners and losers” over the issue of benefits. He said he has “mixed feelings” about the recommendation.
He has not been surprised by the reaction. “Anytime there’s significant change you expect push back. That doesn’t mean you move ahead or that you stop. You take time to listen carefully to what people are saying so that you can make the best decision.”