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Oct 04

Halton Poverty Roundtable (HPRT) Forum Draws A Full House

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Oakville Beaver
A new game plan is needed to attack poverty, according to Colette Murphy, executive director of the Atkinson Foundation.
Instead of looking for ways to fight poverty, businesses, institutions and community leaders must find ways to make their community wealthier, Murphy told those attending the Halton Poverty Roundtable (HPRT) forum this week in Oakville.
The Atkinson Foundation was established in 1942 by Toronto Star Publisher Joseph E Atkinson.
More than $68 million has been invested in Ontario over seven decades to advance his vision of an equitable society.
“Pre-occupation with problems can make them worse and harder to solve… It can stop us from taking even the smallest steps forward, but ambition can alter the course of history.”
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Colette Murphy, Atkinson Foundation, executive director
“Companies and institutions need to use their economic power more deliberately,” Murphy told stakeholders, business and community leaders in a jam-packed room at the Queen Elizabeth Park and Cultural Centre (QEPCCC) Thursday.
The event and speaker, dubbed a Commitment to Decent Work: a Practical Poverty Reduction Strategy, was the first in a series of events planned by the organization.
Despite most of Ontario’s more than 13 million people enjoying an enviable standard of living, poverty still affects many people.
In Halton, currently one in 10 or more than 11,000 residents, are affected by poverty, according to the latest statistics provided by the Canadian Council on Social Development. Of this number, 21 per cent are single, 19.5 per cent are single parent families, 5.6 per cent are couples with families and 5.6 per cent are seniors.
“Halton is the fastest-growing economic area in the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area (GTHA). It is well-positioned for the kind of population growth that comes with great opportunities and challenges,” Murphy said.
“My hope is communities such as Milton, Halton Hills, Burlington and Oakville will become known as truly wealthy communities by future generations in a truly prosperous Ontario.”
Under the new strategy of “community wealth building,” community anchors, such as hospitals, institutions, manufacturers and developers, will find ways to provide skill and apprenticeship training for lower-income residents so they can earn a decent living with a prosperous future. Theses group will also use local trades and businesses in their on-going enterprises, Murphy explained.
Described as “anchors” – these large companies and institutions have significant roles to play as community wealth builders, Murphy said.
Because they are among the Region’s biggest employers, and purchasers of goods and services, with significant assets and holdings, Murphy said they are also the ones with the ability to drive the economy and revitalize low-and middle-income neighbourhoods.
“The economy and local economic development plays a key role in raising a community out of poverty, Murphy said.
“We need to reach out to the people, who have the economic power, who manage public funds, governments, colleges and universities, hospitals and for-profit enterprise and their assets,” Murphy said. “These people are ready to hire and buy locally and invest in the economy.”
For the past 75 years the Atkinson Foundation has tackled poverty and its challenges through its philanthropic resources, but Murphy said about two years ago the organization decided to take a new direction to find solutions to the rising issue of wealth and income inequality.
“The question of how to end poverty was leading us down a dead end road,” Murphy said. “Atkinson’s biggest concern was that our expectations as a society had sunk dangerously low.
“Our board stopped asking what made a community poor, to what made it wealthy,” Murphy said.
She said “ambition” and “ideas” would lead community stakeholders to find solutions to prosperity rather than being pre-occupied with figuring out how to remove obstacles to joblessness and training.
“Pre-occupation with problems can make them worse and harder to solve… It can stop us from taking even the smallest steps forward,” she said. “But ambition can alter the course of history.
“Ask questions about problems and we spend energy. Ask questions about solutions and we gain energy.”
Murphy indicated other countries, including the U.S., make it mandatory for developers to include this “community wealth building” as part of a developer’s bid process.
She said Ontario’s $130 billion commitment to public infrastructure over the next decade is also expected to include a similar clause.
By sharing the benefits of economic growth more equitably, communities will become more prosperous and residents living in them will also benefit, Murphy said.
“History tells us that no obstacle is insurmountable when a growing number of us want something bad enough,” she said. “We can burn up a lot of fuel spinning our wheels on remedial measures instead of generating enough wealth for all of us and produce a legacy the produces dividends well into the future.”
Murphy revealed that even though Toronto is considered a wealthy city, it’s projected that 60 per cent of its neighbourhoods will be low income by 2025.
As a result, community wealth building is already a major topic of conversation and will be included in the Eglinton Cross-Town LRT, a 19 km transit line that goes through five of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.
Murphy said a group known as the Toronto Community Benefits Network, which consists of local residents, labourers, community groups and foundations have been in discussions and Metrolinx has agreed to a framework to include a legally-binding community wealth building contract as part of the LRT’s construction.
“There are many newcomers in those communities who have skills learned in other jurisdictions but want access to professional, administration and technical jobs where they’re now living,” Murphy said