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Politics Ontario Tories would reward welfare recipients who work, cut benefits for those who don’t

Tim Hudak, Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario.

DEBORAH BAIC/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

A Progressive Conservative government would increasingly claw back the benefits of Ontario's welfare recipients the longer they stay on the dole, but allow them to keep a larger portion of their government cheques if they find a job.

This approach to cutting back the number of people drawing social assistance was outlined by Tory Leader Tim Hudak at Queen's Park on Thursday in one of several policy papers likely to form the basis of his party's next election platform.

"Let's tear down the welfare wall and actually reward work instead of punishing it," Mr. Hudak said.

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The party has not yet decided how much more of their cheques employed social-assistance recipients would be allowed to keep – at the moment, they retain only 50 cents' worth of their benefits for every dollar they earn at work – or how long unemployed people would have to be on welfare before their payments were cut back. On both points, Mr. Hudak said, the Tories are open to discussion.

Several of Mr. Hudak's other proposals, such as merging the province's disability benefit into the regular social-assistance program and cutting back on rules to make navigating the system simpler, flowed directly from a government-commissioned report by Frances Lankin and Munir Sheikh released last year.

However, he rejected some of the report's key recommendations, such as raising welfare rates.

In an interview, Ms. Lankin said she was happy the Tories raised the need for reform. However, she cautioned that reducing the amount of help long-term welfare recipients receive could be counterproductive: Many of those in the program for extended periods of time have mental or physical disabilities, some of which are undiagnosed, and need more help finding work.

Any reforms, she said, ought to be comprehensive.

"This is a complex system and there needs to be movement on a number of fronts. You won't get optimal results if you move forward on [only] one or two," she said.

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