Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Middle class gets campaign attention as poverty looms in Toronto

A homeless man sits on a city grate to keep himself warm wearing only a jacket in the frigid temperatures.
A homeless man sits on a city grate to keep himself warm wearing only a jacket in the frigid temperatures.

A question as you head to the polls today: heard anything about Canada’s middle class lately?

If you’ve been following the federal election at all over the last few months then, yeah, you have. Talk of the “middle class” has dominated the messaging from all three leading parties right up until today’s vote.

We’ve had Liberal leader Justin Trudeau in a TV commercial shouting about tax cuts for the middle class in front of an adoring crowd. We’ve had a more subdued ad from office-bound NDP leader Tom Mulcair telling us that “change means electing a prime minister that is focused on families – the middle class.”

And we’ve had Conservative leader Stephen Harper holding campaign events where he brings supposedly average middle class people to the stage and has them remove cash from their wallets to demonstrate how his opponents will raise taxes. There are even cash register sound effects. It’s like something out of the Price is Right, except terrible.

For those of us in Toronto, this laser focus on the middle class should feel frustrating, because it comes at a time when city hall is attempting to tackle big issues related not to those in the middle class, but to those who are stuck well below that distinction — people living in poverty.

The numbers in the city’s latest report on poverty reduction are staggering. Toronto remains the child poverty capital of Canada, with one in four kids living in households with after-tax income below Statistics Canada’s Low Income Measure.

For adults, the number living in poverty is one in five. That includes 46% of recent immigrants, 37% of single mothers and 33% of people in racialized groups.

And while sure, some of the policies offered by the leading parties — affordable childcare, transit investment — can help those in poverty, these platform planks have seemingly been designed with the vaunted middle class in mind. Poor people are an afterthought.

This middle class mania isn’t anything new, of course, but as Toronto’s poverty problem worsens the federal inattention has serious consequences for Toronto. Because when other governments pass the buck, it’s inevitably city hall that gets left with it.

It’s already started. Last year, city hall had to invest an extra $25 million on poverty reduction initiatives. This year, some city councillors are talking about spending another $100 million, further transferring the responsibility for social services to the property tax base.

It’s a trend heading in the wrong direction, but no matter the outcome of today’s vote this campaign showed little indication of change.

Instead, Canada’s leading political parties focused on offering breaks to the middle class at a time when poverty is breaking people.

Matt Elliott lives and writes in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter @GraphicMatt

This post was originally published at on 2015-10-19T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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