The election is still a few weeks away. I'm already telling people not to vote Liberal.
Many people are planning to vote Liberal, because to say the least, the Liberal leader - Dalton McGuilty - is *warning* people that a vote for the NDP is a vote for the Conservatives. He is trying to get people to vote strategically to avoid what McGuilty is referring to as another era of "Mike Harris conservatism". All he can do is remind people about Mike Harris and the cuts they made to various programs, etc. This is to avoid reminding voters of the cuts and problems that Dalton McGuilty himself either created or did not fix while he had four years to do so.
Let's put the "Mike Harris theory" to bed right now.
Mike Harris has been out of politics for many years now. Most of his key Cabinet members are also either out of politics or involved at the federal level under Stephen Harper. Ernie Eves is also out of politics. Anybody who *warns* you that a return to a Progressive Conservative government in Ontario is a vote for Mike Harris is stupid, ignorant and playing mind games with you. The new leader of the Progressive Conservative party is John Tory, who was more involved when Bill Davis and other moderate conservatives were in power, not as much with Mike Harris or his government.
Further, if this is the Liberal party's key reason for you to vote for them, they are in BIG TROUBLE. Vote for me or you will get the other guy, the worse evil. Is the Liberal Party really the lesser evil they are claiming to be?
Since they've been in power, I noted they talked nicer than Mike Harris/Ernie Eves and company, but their actions were really no different. Disability payments under Dalton McGuilty were cut back, as well as benefits reduced. Inflation took care of the rest of it. If you asked the Liberals what they are doing for people with disabilities, they will go on about how they increased benefits by 3% in 2004, 2% in 2006 and plan to increase benefits again by 2% in November of this year. Note this 2% is after the election. One wonders if this is contingent upon voting for these people.
The reality is much more stark. Disability payments were last increased in 1993, and it is now 2007 ... which means people only received a 5% hike since 1993. Further, many people on disability benefits also received special diet and other benefits. These were cut back substantially in 2005, which forced many recipients into the hospital or into ill health as a result. One man in my practise went blind in one eye as a result of being forced to cut back on his eating if he wanted to keep a roof over his head. Another one is now on dialysis. It's time to let McGuilty know how happy you are that he's spending much more on health care, although the wait lists haven't gone down one iota.
Both the NDP and Progressive Conservatives have been pointing out problems with the economy in Ontario. McGuilty replaces one lie with another by saying that 340,000 jobs were created since he took office, 80% of which are full-time and 95% of them pay $19.50 per hour or more (Toronto Star, September 12, 2007). If there were so many jobs like this, perhaps McGuilty and his boys may want to tell us where to find them, because all I see around here are big box stores and telemarketing jobs that pay $8 - $10 per hour. This is far from what is needed to feed and shelter a family in this region.
McGuilty and his boys did a lot to destroy jobs and job opportunities. In my mind's eye and personal experience, I lost between $60,000 - $80,000 in funding to operate my employment supports practice when his government decided to end my contract for no good reason (or any reason given). His government further ruined my economic integrity by ramming through Bill 14, Access to Justice Act, which is described in further detail below ... making the legal side of my business more expensive to practice, as well as less accessible because many clients can no longer afford my services. I am advised to pay to Caesar to what is Caesar's until the time comes, I suppose. I still don't blame the Law Society, as they were legislated by law to do this and were originally in agreement, believing they would be receiving "seed money" to set up our regulatory processes. One year later, regulation is in effect, but still no seed money ... but the Law Society is still expected to fund our regulation. For this reason, I place all the blame for this at the feet of the Dalton McGuilty government. If you cannot access the justice system because even paralegal services are too expensive, or if the kind of services you want or need can now only be provided by a lawyer, blame the McGuilty government for this.
In addition to the contraption that McGuilty and the boys (and girls) have set up for people with disabilities, Ontario is becoming a society where there is workfare for those that cannot work - by stealth. The Liberals don't even have to pass legislation to impose workfare on people with disabilities. They have already done so, by leaving them thousands and thousands of dollars below any given poverty line - making many so desperate to both feed themselves AND keep a roof over their head in the same month - that they HAVE TO go to work and do ANY job ...
Yes, the Liberals have made it easier to work and keep more benefits. However, the Liberals did very little to ensure that the disabled poor do not simply become part of the new working poor. Their new employment supports program for persons with disabilities almost ensures that people will be forced into taking any job, if they want a job at all. The Ministry officials tell us they are not making people take specific jobs, which may well be true, but are the service providers adequately compensated to assist somebody with a disability to attain a job that is more suitable and better paying, particularly if they have post-secondary education and at least "mid-level" work experience? Further, what have the Liberals done to ensure the "new" jobs are ones that carry with them labour board protection and job security? It is said that at least one third or more of the jobs coming onstream are "self-employment", "dependent contractor" and "independent contractor" positions that lack any legal protection. One can find this out for themselves by contacting the Worker's Action Centre in Toronto. It is no different in Niagara than it is in Toronto. Being pushed out the door by stealth because otherwise there is not enough money in ODSP to pay the rent and feed the kids is one thing; having no real job protection in the job you do eventually go to is also another thing.
The Ministry of Community & Social Services is actively encouraging and directly or indirectly subsidizing low wage employers to take on persons with disabilities or who are otherwise in receipt of social assistance. For example, in Niagara, we have the Job Bus. This is a program that the Region received $200,000 for from MCSS in order to partner with low-wage employers throughout Niagara to provide transportation for workers to the jobs these employers offer. There is no requirement on the part of these employers to provide full-time work, or even sustainable wages. The employers can pay people $8.00 an hour if they wish, with no benefits ... I particularly noted that when Canada Border Services Agency was hiring several cross-border guards at at salary of at least $55,000, the Job Bus administrators did not even attempt to engage with this employer to connect them to potentially qualified workers. The Job Bus, unfortunately, is like anything else that is band-aid ... another excuse for Niagara Region not to set up inter-municipal transit for the rest of us that want to select our own jobs, thank you very much ...
How about other things that peeve me off about the Liberals? When they were campaigning in the 2003 election, they promised voters they would not increase taxes or lower them. Almost as soon as they were sworn in, McGuilty and the boys immediately passed a health tax on almost all working people. Anybody who makes over $20,000 a year in wages, which is not a whole lot, considering that housing costs almost that much in itself for many people, starts paying $300 in health tax. Those earning over $60,000 a year pay the maximum of $900 - so whether you are earning $60,000 a year or $300,000 a year - you still pay $900. Another promise of McGuilty's to make the poor pay once again for their misuse of taxpayer's dollars. If they wanted a health tax at all, only those making over $60,000 should pay and it should start off low and get progressively higher as one's income increases.
Another issue that burns me is before Christmas last year, the Liberals held the Legislative session on overtime to ram through a 25% wage increase for themselves, while they could not do the same for people on disability or minimum wages. The Liberals have repetitively claimed the cupboard was bare when people with little or nothing asked for their right to survive, but when people approached them for comparatively frivolous things like a cricket tournament, they are not only glad to provide, but to give them even more ... remember the cricket players only asked for $150,000, but instead received a cheque for $1 million. There was at least another $32 million from this pot that was given to Liberal-affiliated organizations, many of which did not even apply for this money. While the Auditor did not seem to think that partisan politics played a role in this, he did agree that adequate controls were not in place. I suppose some people don't have to tighten their belts, while others do? One wonders how many other pots of money like this existed, but I presume steps were taken to hide this information when the election was called ... so nobody will ever know.
I presume a new government coming in will only learn that the Liberals left an unclaimed deficit of a few billion dollars, so they can't hike disability rates either. Too many cricket tournaments, I presume ... while my clients go blind or are forced on dialysis or into nursing homes, etc. I should have thought about this. I follow the wrong sport.
I've read the Liberal election platform. There is really nothing there for people with disabilities. There is no mention of continuous increased payments to ODSP/ OW recipients or better programs to improve job opportunities and outcomes for those disadvantaged in today's labour market. There is not even anything said about the work that has been started with Bill 118, Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Many voters who will vote blindly for the Liberal Party will only assume these things will continue, but I do not. The reason being is that McGuilty is on the hot seat for being a "promise breaker", so he is certainly not going to do anything he doesn't promise in his platform.
If the Liberals are re-elected to a majority, I suspect the following will happen:
1. A 2% increase for ODSP/ OW in November 2007, but nothing after that;
2. Implementation of workfare lite for people with disabilities by 2008;
3. More uncontrolled spending of millions or even billions on special interest groups that don't need any help; and
4. No more assistance than is already given to create GOOD PAYING JOBS.
I cynically worry that people who are doing well will vote blindly for the Liberals, almost believing everything they say - particularly about how these so called 340,000 jobs paying at least $19.50 an hour were created. The unfortunate thing with politics is that people who are doing well are usually shielded from those who are not, and if they encounter anybody in the latter category - it is too easy to assume these people are few and far between.
All I can say is that I practised as a disability issues and administrative law paralegal, starting early under the term of the Mike Harris government and it is only the past few years (Dalton McGuilty years) that I've noticed large increases in the number of my clients awaiting appeals for various benefits falling into spells of homelessness, suicide, family breakup and other signs of commiseration. It is not that this did not happen under the Harris government, as it certainly did, but under the Harris government - if I had this type of concern, my local MPP was empowered to deal with it and they actually did something about these issues most of the time.
Nowadays, it is getting harder to do my job, as my clients appear to be more desperate and experiencing a lot greater degree of financial hardship imposed, because Ontario Works - under the present Liberal government is now the resource of first resort, as opposed to last resort. Injured workers, disabled persons, recently separated spouses, recently laid off persons, EI exhaustees, etc. are all now referred to Ontario Works, as opposed to getting what used to be "interim assistance" during any appeal process. Readers of my posts, as well as others who are familiar with Ontario's lack of social safety know, that when Ontario Works becomes the resource of first resort, that means more people lose their homes, end up at the doors of food banks and more families split up.
Is this the kind of Ontario you want to have? If you don't mind the widening gap between the rich and the poor, escalating costs of health care (which are not driven by the ageing population but by poverty) and increased taxes, then vote Liberal. If you sincerely want to choose change for the better, vote strategically on October 10th, 2007, to help bring about a minority government of any stripe that will need to work with other MPPs for once to pass any new legislation. Maybe and only then will we stop having majority governments ram any legislation that want down people's throats ... legislation that is having major and negative consequences on the people it affects, as well as increased costs.
I invite you to join my ABL (anybody but Liberal) campaign. Thoughts?