Ontario NDP, Liberals, and Tories are proposing ODSP rates that are well under the poverty line, and less than those under Mike Harris. There is still time to fix this.

As always, here is the TL;DR:

TL; DR The Ontario NDP, Liberals, and Tories are proposing Ontario Disability Support Program payment levels that are well below the poverty line, as well as below those under Mike Harris, adjusted for inflation. The Ontario Green Party, on the other hand, is proposing rates that are above those benchmarks. There is still time for the other parties to fix their plans and improve the lives of disabled Ontarians.

Yesterday, the Canadian Human Rights Commission issued a statement about “recent reports of an individual accessing Medical Assistance in Dying, because they were unable to find housing that accommodated their disability”. They made it clear that given the inadequacy of current supports, “people with disabilities see ending their life as the only option”. In short, we’ve given people the ability to die with dignity, without giving them the ability to live with dignity.

Against this backdrop, it should not be surprising that a graph I made of the proposed ODSP rates of the four major Ontario political parties went viral on social media this week. It generated a lot of feedback, all of it helpful. A number of people found the graph overly confusing and suggested helpful clarifications. I decided to create a new version, based on their feedback, which answers the following question:

If each party, immediately after winning the election, enacted their proposed ODSP rates, what would a single person receive the month after the election, and how does this compare to the current poverty line and rates under Mike Harris?

The answer:

Proposed ODSP Rates by Party, Single Individual, for July 1, 2022. Greens: $2338 NDP: $1403 Liberals: $1286 PC: $1227 For comparison: Toronto Poverty Line: $2223 Inflation-Adjusted Rate Under Mike Harris, 1st day in Office: $1638 Inflation-Adjusted Rate Under Mike Harris, Last day in Office: $1433. Author’s Calculation

The wonky details behind these numbers:

First, let’s start with the existing ODSP rate. “ODSP rate” is a bit of a misnomer, since there are many different rates, depending on the family type and their needs. The headline ODSP rate that is typically referred to by the media and academics is the rate for single individuals, which includes both the basic needs and maximum shelter amount allowances. Combined, those are currently $1,169 a month, as shown by this chart I stole from my former co-workers Noah Zon and Thomas Granofsky:

Source: Resetting Social Assistance Reform. You should read the entire report. It’s good!

You are not misreading the chart — the maximum shelter amount for a single individual with a disability is $497. And for Ontario works, it’s $390. Yes, the provincial government really does think that someone can find a place to live, rent + utilities, for $390 a month or less. In Ontario. In the middle of a housing crisis.

All four of the major parties have vowed to change this. Here is what they are proposing, in their own words:

Green Party: “Ontario Greens will double ODSP rates”. (April 20, 2022)

NDP: “Begin with an immediate increase to OW and ODSP rates by 20% and legislate that raises must, at minimum, be indexed to inflation.”

Liberal Party: Will “increase Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) and Ontario Works (OW) rates by 10%, followed by another 10% for ODSP recipients in 2023.” The commitment would also see rates rise at 2% a year after this.

Progressive Conservatives: Will “increase financial supports provided through the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) by five per cent… If re-elected, the Ontario PCs will also introduce legislation to increase ODSP rates annually, tied to inflation.” (May 9, 2022 — just 2 days ago)

In short, the PCs are committing to a 5% increase, the NDP and Liberals are committing to a roughly 20% increase, with the NDP rates going into effect immediately, and the Liberal promise being phased in over two years. The Greens are promising a doubling. The Liberals, NDP, and PCs are also committing to forms of inflation indexing, though details are limited.

Immediate enactment of those commitments would set the ODSP benchmark rates as follows for July 2022 and July 2023:

Headline ODSP rates by party. Author’s calculation. “inf adj” is “inflation adjustment amount”. It is not currently known the method that the NDP and PCs will use to calculate inflation, or if the Greens will adjust their rates for inflation.

So how does this compare to the poverty line? As my colleague, Tammy Schirle noted Canada’s Official Poverty Line, is the Market Based Measure, and the value differs by location and family type. She provided the following MBM poverty line estimates by Ontario community:

MBM by Ontario community

Regardless of the community in question, the Green ODSP rates are higher than the poverty line, and those of the other three parties are well under that line.

So how does that compare with rates under Mike Harris? As noted by the good people at the ODSP Action Coalition, the headline ODSP rate under Mike Harris was $930 a month, and the purchasing power of those $930 eroded over time due to inflation:

Source: ODSP Action Coalition.

Using Ontario all-items inflation data from Statistics Canada, I wanted to know how much that $930 would be worth in July 2022; that is, what was the purchasing power of those funds relative to today. I specifically wanted to know the value of that $930 on Harris’ first day as Premier (June 26, 1995) and last day as Premier (April 14, 2002).

In June 1995, $930 was worth the equivalent of $1,638 in July 2022. By the time Harris left office, the purchasing power of that $930 had eroded to $1,433. Which, you will note, is still higher than what three of the four parties are proposing for ODSP.

The NDP, Liberals, and Tories are proposing that ODSP rates be set lower than at any point in the Premiership of Mike Harris, adjusted for inflation.

That is unacceptable. It’s unacceptable any time, but it is particularly unacceptable when the Canadian Human Rights Commission has to send out a press release warning that people with disabilities are being forced to choose Medical Assistance in Dying due to a lack of support.

True leadership is admitting when you’ve made a mistake, and fixing it. It’s time for Andrea Horwath, Stephen Del Duca, and Doug Ford to admit that their proposals are inadequate, and release new ones.

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Mike Moffatt

Mike Moffatt

1.7K Followers

Senior Director, Smart Prosperity. Assistant Prof, Ivey Business School. Exhausted but happy Dad of 2 wonderful kids with autism. I used to do other stuff.