Media Release: Help available to file tax returns

February 22, 2018

The Bruce Grey Poverty Task Force and Grey Bruce Health Unit encourage everyone to file a tax return, especially those with low or modest income. Filing a tax return helps identify benefits they can collect and may result in more money back. Getting help with filing tax returns is available throughout Grey Bruce. The Task Force has created a list of Free Income Tax Preparation Assistance services to help people find the service closest to them.

“Many people have no idea they can get money back. They fear being told to pay the government for large back taxes. But this is not the case for most people on low income.” Says Jill Umbach, Coordinator of Bruce Grey Poverty Task Force. “It is important to file this year to take advantage of tax credits to increase your annual income. You don’t have to file your previous taxes first to catch up. Many community tax clinics will help you to file for previous years as well.”

There are good reasons to file:
1. To qualify for programs including the Canada Child Tax Benefit, the GST/HST credit, and the Ontario Trillium Benefit, which all pay cash when you qualify.
2. To take advantage of certain tax credits like the Working Income Tax Benefit.
3. To recover any tax you may have overpaid from your pay cheque.

People on low income may not have access to affordable or relevant tax filing services and may not know about benefits and assistance available to them including targeted approaches suited to their specific needs.

Tax time is a good time to apply for the Ontario Electricity Support Program (OESP). Those who have not applied to OESP may be missing out on a monthly benefit towards their hydro bill, starting at $35.00 and upwards, based on income. The United Way of Bruce Grey and Grey Bruce Community Income Tax Clinic can assist with an application.

Free tax services are available to people on low income all across Grey Bruce. Call 211 or check online at 211 Information Bruce Grey.

For More Information:

Jill Umbach, Planning Network Coordinator,  Bruce Grey Poverty Task Force, 519-377-9406,

Allison Murray, Health Promoter, Grey Bruce Health Unit
519-376-9420 or 1-800-263-3456 ext. 1343


Income Security: A Roadmap for Change

Income Security: A Roadmap for Change Report was released on 2 November 2017.  The government held a public  consultation and they intend to release an “Income Security Strategy for Ontario” early in 2018, using the Roadmap as a guide.  All levels of government including the Federal government are involved in the development of this 10 year plan along with 3 working groups: Income Security Reform Working Group, First Nations Income Security Reform Working Group and Urban Indigenous Table on Income Security Reform.

Why this matters – the problem

The income security system was designed for the workforce of the past, where many people had long-term, well-paying jobs. Today, low-paying, part-time jobs of short duration are much more common. Many people have long-standing barriers to work and social inclusion due to:  intergenerational poverty, history of colonialism, mental health and addition issues.  More people turn to social assistance as a “first resort” despite the limitations of these programs.

Why this matters – the human toll 

Essential needs are increasingly out of reach for many people. It’s harder for people to climb out of poverty. More people have disabilities, are facing barriers to employment, social inclusion and higher costs of living. Poverty and low-income are negatively impacting people’s health and well-being.  Systemic racism and discrimination are contributing to entrenched inequity.

In 2008, it was estimated that poverty costs $32 to $38 billlion-a-year in Ontario. Around $2,300-a-year for every household in Ontario.

Why is this report important? 

This is the first report in 30 years that recommends major investments in and improvements to programs that affect the lives of people on low-income in Ontario. It reflects a fundamentally different approach to supports and services that puts people – and their needs and rights – at the centre of the system, with a recognition that social and economic inclusion, and not just getting a job, should be the goal.

It not only recommends increasing the amount, quality and kind of benefits and services that low-income people receive, but also is transforming the vision for the income security system, the principles behind the provision of programs and services, and changes the goals to a rights-based, equity approach and recognizes the realities of different groups who live in poverty and/or experience poverty.

The Roadmap recommends a new vision:

All individuals are treated with respect and dignity and are inspired and equipped to reach their full potential. People have equitable access to a comprehensive and accountable system of income and in-kind support that provides an adequate level of financial assistance and promotes economic and social inclusion, with particular attention to the needs and experience of Indigenous peoples (pg 69).

To achieve the new vision, the Report recommends changes in 5 key areas:

  • Making a commitment to income adequacy
  • Improving the broader income security system
  • Transforming the social assistance system, including a First Nations-based approach
  • Providing immediate help to those in deepest poverty
  • Respecting First Nations jurisdiction and ensuring adequate funding

The Roadmap reflect years of advocacy for change to Ontario’s income security system.  It is a tool that we can  use to ensure greater investments are made in the Provincial budget. We need to ensure that all candidates in upcoming elections are made aware of the Roadmap and support the transformation of Ontario’s income security system.

At our recent Bruce Grey Poverty Task Force meeting we shared a background summary of the recommendations prepared by the Income Security Advocacy Centre along with the link to a Webinar by Income Security Advocacy Centre .  An Income Security Roadmap Presentation – Nov 17  prepared by Anna Cain, Director of Ontario Works Branch, MCSS highlighted the recommended changes and was the basis along with the full Report of our discussion.

Ontario’s Labour Reform: a Bruce Grey Poverty Task Force Update

The Bruce Grey Poverty Task Force supports employment situations that are fair, secure, safe and provide employees with a Living Wage. These are minimum standards necessary in the elimination of poverty.  We have published a Labour Reform Infographic 2018 that summarizes the recent changes and what it means for us locally.  As changes made to Ontario’s Employment Standards and Labour Relations Act come into place, it is important to reflect how these changes will impact those affected by poverty locally.

30% of employed Ontarians in non-Metro Census Divisions are paid a low wage.  That is a large percentage of people locally who may be paid a low wage and then we have to consider that some of the changes also change precarious work practices.

  • Minimum wage increase to $14/hr effective 1 Jan 2018
  • Minimum wage increase to $15/hr effective 1 Jan 2019
  • Equal pay for equal work
  • Updated regulations around shift scheduling
  • 3 hours pay for shifts cut to less than 3 hours or cancelled less than 48 hours in advance
  • 10 emergency leave days, including 2 paid sick days per year
  • Card-based voting for unionization
  • Hiring aditional employment standards officers (for greater enforcement and accountability)

What does this mean? 

  • More than 1 million of Ontario’s lowest wage employees received a big raise, the most signficant in almost 50 years.
  • Flexibility and stability through advance notice of scheduling and paid sick time will be afforded to all workers.
  • Quality of life, in the form of health and family outcomes, improves with higher income and decreased employment precarity.
  • Keeping money local. When the lowest wage workers earn extra income, they are able to spend money on necessities within their own communities. They are able to buy more and better groceries, warm clothes for their children and keep up with bills.

What’s the downside? 

We have heard from people with low-incomes, as well as from service providers that work closely with marginalized populations that they are concerned about possible negative impacts. They are anticipating lay-offs, increases in ‘under the table’ hiring, and fewer jobs overall.  Some employers have already reduced hours, raised prices or eliminated other non-mandated perks previously offered to employees.

While those for, against, and ambivalent to these changes can all cite evidence that supports their perspective, the Poverty Task Force is of the view that these changes will be beneficial overall. We also believe it will be important to measure actual outcomes closely.  We shall continue to monitor the impacts locally and will always advocate with and for lower income, precarious workers.




Increasing Income through Filing Your Taxes

The Income Security Action Group of the Bruce Grey Poverty Task Force encourages everyone to file a tax return. For modest and low income Canadians, filing a tax return helps increase the number of benefits they can collect and may result in an increase in their income. Many Canadians have no idea they would get money back, and they fear being told they have to pay the government for back taxes they cannot afford.  But this is not the case for most people on low income.

Here are three good reasons to file for 2017:

  1. To qualify for programs including the Canada Child Tax Benefit, the GST/HST credit, and the Ontario Trillium Benefit, which all pay cash when you qualify.
  2. To take advantage of certain tax credits like the Working Income Tax Benefit.
  3. To recover any tax you may have overpaid from your pay cheque.
  4. If you have not applied to the Ontario Electricity Support Program  you may be missing out on a monthly benefit towards your hydro bill starting at $35.00 and upwards based on your income. A new partnership exists with the United Way of Bruce Grey and Grey Bruce Community Income Tax Clinic to apply.

A recent Community Income Tax Clinics Network meeting with Community Income Tax volunteers,  the Income Security Action Group and Community Voices examined barriers to tax filing (Prosper Canada, 2016):

  • 17% of people have insufficient access to clinics and services
  • 14% of people don’t know where to get help
  • 14% can’t afford commercial tax services
  • 12% not aware of the need to file even if they have no taxable income

The big roadblocks:

  • Poor ACCESS to affordable and relevant services.
  • Insufficient COMMUNICATIONS about the benefits of tax filing and available assistance.
  • Lack of TARGETED APPROACHES to the distinct barriers and needs of different groups.

There are some incredible volunteers that provide free tax services to people on low income all across Grey-Bruce.   But we do have challenges with transportation to clinics; people knowing where and when free clinics are being held; and people who need support to prepare paperwork for filing.

The Canadian Revenue Agency supports programs that prepare taxes for low-income Canadians through its Community Volunteer Income Tax Program.  A list of clinic dates, times and locations can be found by calling 211 or check on line at 211 Information Bruce Grey or The HealthLine.

Our list for 2018 is now up! 2018 Free Income Tax Preparation Assistance List

Do you offer a free clinic? Is your community without any services? Please contact us!

Housing is a Human Right

Canada has adopted a Rights-Based approach to its first-ever National Housing Strategy on November 22nd, 2017.  They have announced their new strategy with a $41 billion budget over the next 10 years.

In addition to existing programs,  what is new?

$15.9 billion for a National Housing Co-investment Fund 

  • $4.7 billion in financial contributions and
  • $11.2 billion in low interest loans to developers that meet certain criteria including ensuring that:
    • 30 per cent of units in a development will rent for less than 80 per cent of median market rents for at least 20 years.
    • At least a 25 per cent reduction in energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions over national building and energy codes.
    • 20 per cent of units meet accessibility standards.

$200 million Transfer of Federal Lands to housing providers on condition that they meet environmental, socioeconomic and affordability standards.

A separate Indigenous People Housing Strategy will be developed with their input.

What is the need locally? 

  • 60% of people on low-income are working
  • 20% of employees in Grey County have multiple jobs
  •  95% of all new jobs created in Ontario were part-time
  • 1 in 3 jobs in Ontario is temporary, contract, or part-time.
  • 1 in 5 children live in poverty in Ontario
  •  17% of Grey County and Bruce County children under age 17 live in poverty.
  • 21 food banks exist in Grey County and Bruce County. 16% of the population of Bruce and Grey Counties have accessed a food bank.
  • In Ontario, the average food bank client spends 70% of income on rent.
  • Waitlist for Affordable Housing in Grey County has increased by 15% in the last year. 730 families are on the wait list.

How far the budget reaches down to support our Municipal budgets for affordable housing is still to be determined.  But the Federal leadership sets the direction for budge allocations going forward!

Measuring Homelessness in Grey County and Bruce County  

Our Housing Action Group will be monitoring and reporting on developments.   Currently, our Housing Action Group are developing the program design and implementation for Ontario’s Homelessness Enumeration on April 23rd to 27th, 2018.  This will be a Point-in-Time  Rural Survey carried out in partnership with community agencies and volunteers.

The report of Ontario’s Expert Advisory Panel on Homelessness (the Panel), A Place to Call Home, stated: “Over the past several decades, homelessness in Canada has been on the rise” (2015, p.7). The experience of homelessness is understood to be a severe form of deprivation for people affected by a wide range of factors over which they have no control, such as unemployment or precarious employment, challenges with finding affordable housing, and economic hardship. Further, homelessness has
unequal impacts that are linked with racialization, gender, sexual
orientation, age, ability, language, immigration status, socioeconomic
status, mental health and addictions issues, regional location, and
Indigenous identity. Learning more about the prevalence and realities of
homelessness can galvanize community stakeholders who want to
develop more effective ways of addressing it.

Read more about Grey County’s Trends and Analysis as part of its County of Grey Housing  and Homelessness Plan (2014-2024) and Bruce County’s Long-Term Housing Housing Strategy (2013-2023).

Dobbyn happy with long-term energy plan

The head of the local United Way says there’s good news for low-income families in the provincial Liberal government’s Long-Term Energy Plan. The Bruce Grey Poverty Task Force also submitted suggestions for the energy blueprint in October 2016.

Denis Langlois of the Sun Times Owen Sound wrote the following article on Friday, October 27th regarding the release of the Long-Term Energy Plan.

The document reconfirms measures in Ontario’s Fair Hydro Plan – which reduced residential electricity bills by 25 per cent on average this summer – including the promise to hold any increases to the rate of inflation for four years.

“That’s really good. It means that families can budget, they’re not going to see big jumps,” Francesca Dobbyn, executive director of the United Way of Bruce Grey, said in an interview.

“It also holds the utility companies accountable in that they have to work within their own budgets rather than going, ‘Hey we’d like to go do this or we’d like to try that.’ It puts the onus back on the utility companies for them to also manage their costs because they’re not going to get the raises in rates.”

Dobbyn said she was invited by the Ministry of Energy to the launch of the Long-Term Energy Plan in Toronto because of the work the local United Way has done in the past to assist the province with its efforts to make electricity more affordable.

Dobbyn said one of the plan’s most significant new initiatives – which the United Way advocated for – is the one that will enable the Ontario Energy Board to both increase its oversight of sub-metering companies, which meter and send bills to residents in multi-residential buildings for the energy they consume, and bring in new consumer protection measures.

About 326,000 apartment and condominium units in Ontario use sub-meters, also known as suite meters, and Dobbyn said the new oversight will be especially beneficial to low-income residents that reside in those units.

“This is really important for us because we have suite meters in Owen Sound for sure, the 28th Street apartments for example, where tenants pay their own hydro bills. And the OEB right now only has control to the meter to the building, they don’t have any regulations about what happens inside the building. So we have companies that charge $25 a month if you haven’t paid off the previous bill in terms of a fee for carrying a balance, which is really hard on low-income people,” she said.

“They’re also not wrapped up in any moratorium on disconnections so they were disconnecting people in March of last year.”

As a result of the Fair Hydro Plan, the updated Long-Term Energy Plan says electricity prices are forecast to remain below the level projected in the previous energy blueprint from 2013.

For example, the province says, the previous plan forecast that typical residential monthly electricity bills would reach $200 in 2027, but the new plan projects the cost to be about $19 less.

The plan also says electricity rates will rise gradually, by an average of about five per cent annually from 2021 to 2027.

“The significance of that, again, is the predictability of it,” Dobbyn said.

The Long-Term Energy Plan includes several initiatives that the province says will assist with its commitment to avoid sharp increases in electricity costs.

They include a promise to maximize the use of Ontario’s existing energy assets and only securing new power when it’s needed.

Bruce Power says the plan reiterates the importance of its life-extension program, which will see the site near Tiverton provide “low-cost, carbon-free and reliable electricity” through 2064.

In a statement, Mike Rencheck, Bruce Power’s president and CEO, said it is important to have stable government policy in place so Bruce Power can make long-term investments to secure low-cost electricity for families and businesses.

“We are encouraged by the trust the government continues to have in Bruce Power to provide over 30 per cent of Ontario’s electricity at 30 per cent less than the average cost to generate residential power, while producing zero carbon emissions,” Rencheck said. “Our life-extension program, which began on Jan. 1, 2016, is on time and on budget, and continues to boost Ontario’s economy in every corner of the province.”

Bruce Power says the plan also recognizes the electricity company’s other attributes, including its production of medical isotopes.

Bruce Power says its investment programs and operations create and sustain 22,000 jobs directly and indirectly each year, while injecting $4 billion into the economy annually.

Ontario PC Leader Patrick Brown, in a statement about the Long-Term Energy Plan, said “despite Liberal spin,” electricity rates will continue to skyrocket to the highest they’ve ever been after next year’s provincial election.

He also mentioned a special report by Ontario’s auditor general, which said the provincial government created “an unnecessary, complex financing structure to keep the true financial impact of most of its 25 per cent electricity-rate reduction off the province’s books.” The report said the Fair Hydro Plan could cost Ontarians up to $4 billion more than necessary in interest costs over the next 30 years.

Brown said: “The Wynne Liberals are untrustworthy, especially when it comes to Ontarians’ electricity bills. Every single time they’ve played games with the electricity sector it has left families working harder, paying more, and getting less.

“The 2017 LTEP (Long-Term Energy Plan) does not show the real costs of their ‘unfair’ hydro scheme. It is nothing but a Wynne Liberal re-election campaign document that does nothing to calm the nerves of families worried about their future.”

Equity and Inclusion: Community Voices engage with City of Owen Sound Council

Renee Schlonies and Tanya Butt presenting to City of Owen Sound Council on behalf of Community Voices

Two Graduates of the Getting Ahead program and Communty Voices members, Renee Schlonies and Tanya Butt asked the City of Owen Sound Council to consider the views of people on low income when making their decisions.

The Community Voices co-chairs provided a snapshot of poverty in Owen Sound. Recent political and economic conditions have contributed to the decline of full-time jobs and an increase in poverty.

  • 60% of people on low-income are working
  • 20% of employees in Grey County have multiple jobs
  • 95% of all new jobs created in Ontario were part-time
  • 1 in 3 jobs in Ontario is temporary, contract, or part-time.
  • Full-time at Minimum Wage of $11.25/hr ($23,400) falls well below
  • Ontario’s Low Income Measure:
  • $23,861 (1 person)
  • $29,706 (2 persons)
  • $36,520 (3 persons)
  • Living Wage for Owen Sound $21.01

Community Voices submitted an Equity and Inclusion for People Living in Poverty position paper to the City showing how people on low income contribute to our community, identifying barriers and inequities; and suggesting recommendations to the Council.

People who live on low income do contribute to the economy and quality of life in the city! The low income community often provides care for each other’s children and exchange food, sharing what each household has. There are networks of support, information exchanges, and some people become community advocates.  Many of those on social assistance or ODSP invest in the community by actively volunteering for community organizations.  Volunteers sustain non-profit agencies such as day-away programs, shelters and food banks. 

When we are on social assistance, we often work part-time and therefore receive reduced amount of assistance.  While social assistance is not taxed, we contribute to taxes through purchase of goods and services; and property taxes are collected from our rents. 

We participate in civil society,  advocate for equity and inclusion, and raise future leaders by educating our children.   Low income communities encourage the creation of programs that can benefit people across all income levels, by sitting on boards and committees, and by sharing stories with decisions makers. 

Our vision includes:

  • a poverty-free city is where people living in poverty are actively involved in decision-making processes at the City and in the community.
  • More affordable and well-maintained housing is available.
  • Healthy food is accessible close to where people live.
  • The City is free of financial predators that perpetuate the cycle of poverty.
  • People in Owen Sound earn wages adequate to support a healthy, active standard of living.
  • Living Wage is instituted throughout Owen Sound.
  • High quality bridging programs are accessible to people transitioning from income assistance to the paid labour force.

It is important that people living in poverty participate in solving community problems, not just their own.  Getting Ahead graduate 2013



In response to a call from the Government of Canada’s A Food Policy for Canada, the Food Security Action Group of the Poverty Task Force has provided an official submission to inform the national Food Policy.

The PTF’s submission on  A Food Policy for Canada_2017  is available here: Canadian Food Policy PTF Response_30 Aug 2017
Individuals, Organizations & Agencies are encouraged to provide feedback by responding to an online survey at


Losing Ground – Income Inequality in Ontario

A new analysis by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) – Losing Ground Income Inequality in Ontario, 2000-15  describes an increasingly “polarized” Ontario labour market that is shifting away from stable manufacturing jobs to more precarious service sector work and rewarding higher-earning families while punishing poorer ones.

The report  examines 15 years of income inequality for families raising
children in Ontario (2000 to 2015), comparing it with national data for context,
and finds several disturbing trends.

The data reveal that the top half of Ontario families take home 81 per
cent of earnings; the bottom half of families take home only 19 per cent.
What’s more, the richest families in Ontario earned almost 200 per cent of
the average family’s earnings in 2013–15.

It is a story of sustained labour market income inequality that is being
driven by slow economic growth and increases in precarious work. Simply
put, lower–middle class and working poor families are losing ground.
The Ontario data show a drop in the share of earnings for families in the
bottom half, falling from 22 per cent in 2000–02 to 19 per cent in 2013–15.
That income shifted from the bottom half to the top half of the income distribution:
the top half’s share of earnings rose from 78 per cent in 2000–02
to 81 per cent in 2013–15.

On a national level, the story of income inequality among Canadian families
hasn’t changed much since 2000. The lion’s share of earnings goes to
the richest families, at the expense of the rest. Nationally, families in the
bottom half of the earnings distribution saw their share of earnings flatline
at 21 per cent between 2000–02 and 2013–15.

Dynamics within the labour market are at issue. The experience since the turn of the century clearly indicates that Ontario needs a raise. And that proposed changes to labour market rules in the province’s Bill 148 (Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017)—which among other crucial reforms would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by January 2019—are long overdue.

It’s about fairness. It’s about changing labour laws to reflect a seismic
shift in Ontario’s labour market. It’s about requiring employers to do their
part to reduce labour market inequality.



Fighting poverty with food security


Public Health Dietician Laura Needham (left) and Jill Umbach, Planning Network Coordinator with Bruce Grey Poverty Task Force, discussed food security issues with Saugeen Shores councillors at their July 24 meeting. Councillors were asked to consider endorsing a Bruce Grey Food Charter to create a just, sustainable and secure food system.  

For the past four years the Grey Bruce Poverty Task Force – politicians, 51 social agencies and community-based partners – have examined the root causes of poverty and identified barriers to change.

One of the main issues is food security – having reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, appropriate and nutritious food – supported by a Food Charter that values health, social justice, culture, education, sustainable economic development and the environment.

Jill Umbach, Planning Network Coordinator with Bruce Grey Poverty Task Force, and Public Health Dietician Laura Needham asked councillors to consider endorsing the Food Charter, which acknowledges the basic right to food, and is a commitment to work to towards a “vibrant, sustainable, food secure community,” Councillors were also asked to reconsider the way they “treat people who don’t have food.”

She said the 21 food banks in Grey Bruce do not address the main cause of food insecurity, so they need to change the “cultural way that we treat people who don’t have food,” so food banks aren’t the “go-to place for people with low income.”

“Rather than looking at a charitable situation all the time… we want those people to actually access other systems – whether it is connecting with fresh produce from a farmer that’s got excess, or whether its connecting to community gardens that are good for mental health but [where they] also can access fresh food….” Umbach said.

Food banks are still needed for crisis back-up, but Umbach said low-income people need better access to food that involves them more in the food system, including community gardens and school snack programs.

Coun. Mike Myatt said the 17 per cent poverty rate for those under-19 in Grey Bruce “struck a chord” and asked the source of the statistic and if the number was broken down further to give a Saugeen shores number.

Umbach said it was Census Canada data estimating that in Saugeen Shores, the average rate would be 14 to 17 per cent because the economy is stronger in Bruce than in Grey County. After the meeting Umbach said the 17 per cent figure represents the number of people under 19 in a family of four with annual income less than $42,000.

Coun. Neil Menage asked if people could legally give away surplus food – he’d had to compost an over-abundant crop of grapes. Umbach said it is “totally acceptable” noting there are Second Harvest programs and they are all noted on a food asset map. Menage also suggested they could develop community gardens in local passive parks.

Saugeen Shores Coun. Dave Myette thanked Umbach and Needham for “planting the seeds” to develop food security, and said he’d bring a motion to endorse the Food Charter at the future town council meeting.

In related news…

Umbach said the first Grey Bruce Poverty Task Force, Bridges Out of Poverty program – Getting Ahead –  holds its first sessions in Port Elgin,  starting on August 14 at the Community Housing Centre.

The program offers people receiving Ontario Works or Ontario Disability Support Program benefits, an eight-week program that looks at generational and situational poverty and looks at the resources available for low-income people in the community to deal with housing, transportation and social issues. Anyone interested should contact their worker for a referral. She said some of the graduates of the Port Elgin Bridges Out of Poverty program would be invited to speak to Saugeen Shores Council at a future date about their experiences.