Saturday, March 29, 2008


Tonight, many people in countries around the world marked 'Earth Hour' by turning off all lights and unnecessary appliances for a period of one hour, between 8:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. Earth Hour was written about and debated in our local paper, as well as discussed on the news and on Face Book. Tonight, just before 8:00 p.m., I instructed my son to turn off this computer and all lights in the house. We all sat in the dark, mulling about trying to make next year 'car-free week'. We might as well, as most homes on our street continued to burn brightly, as though it were any other Saturday night.

In cities like Toronto and Ottawa, they had places for people to go and ways for people to get there. In Ottawa, there was a count-down clock at Parliament Hill and once it hit to "zero", all the unnecessary lights at Parliament Hill, city skyscrapers and other lights in the business district were shut off or dimmed down. In Toronto, a group of musicians entertained crowds in Nathan Phillips Square. In Niagara Region, it was business as usual. People driving their SUV's to the corner store, huffing and puffing away at their smokes and all lights a blazing. It is not that I cared much for this either, but if I can make a contribution I would. However, I live in a Region that does not understand the moral imperative, not only where it deals with environmental issues, but just about any other issue that hit it in its face over the past few decades. Change to Niagara is a tortuous avenue that often must involve lawsuits, public embarrassment of politicians and philanthropists speaking in favour of change.

I say this because when Ontario handed down its 2008 budget, the director of our food bank, who is also the Chairperson of Niagara Health Health System, on the executive of the Rotary Club and other places where people go to make change, says it was "wonderful" there is a 2% raise for social assistance. Obviously, she did not speak to those who are receiving social assistance before making this statement. Neither did another community leader, who thought it was somehow beneficial to low-income people for the province to take back some of the social assistance expenditures, such as drug benefits and ODSP payments. Okay, I would invite BOTH of the these people to live for a year on the amount that social assistance provides, while trying to maintain their current housing, automobile costs, entertainment expenses, annual vacation and everything else they probably take for granted. It is ONLY at this point will such people, innovative leaders or not, will understand why such statements may irk people like me, as well as thousands of other real advocates for the poor.

When I grew up, I learned about a philosopher by the name of John Rawls and how the term 'justice' was to be understood. If I was to be in a position to make the rules, it was my 'moral imperative' to make the rules in such a way that regardless of whether I was the ruler or the ruled, I would feel the impact equally. This would be the underlying assumption that when I made the rules, I would not have any say or control as to where I would be after these rules were made. I could be the biggest millionaire in the region or living on the streets. When I make the rules, I have to keep that in mind, especially if I continued to hold selfish or mindless ambition. I would not know whether at the end of the day I would be black, Muslim, Jewish or Christian, or if I would be rich or poor, or if I would be fully athletic and able-bodied or disabled in any way. I would make the rules regardless so I would ensure my best interests in whatever situation I end up in.

Unfortunately, the Moral Imperative does not impact on the way the leaders of today govern our affairs. The leaders of today generally do not have a clue about how much things actually cost and how certain policies they pass may make things even costlier. When Dalton McGuinty was campaigning for the first election that he won in 2003, he promised to maintain the cap in pricing of electricity if he should come into power. This cap was put on by Ernie Eves after his government under the leadership of Mike Harris moved to privatize the supply and generation of electricity in the province and as a result, hydro rates went through the roof ... middle class people complained. However, after the election, McGuinty decided to lift the cap on energy prices and tell people to pay what the market will bear. Oh, this last budget by the way will lift the PST off all Energy Star appliances and retrofitting in one's home. Again, the moral imperative here was to "encourage" Ontarians to conserve; however, the result was that low-income families could not afford Energy Star appliances, proper insulation and thermal windows in their homes and in many circumstances, low-income families heat their homes with electricity. A Moral Imperative of conservation can only be accompanied by financial assistance to low-income families, whether they be tenants or homeowners, to assist them in reducing their energy output. But this won't happen, apparently, because Dalton McGuinty and his government won't believe anybody will freeze in the dark.

Another Moral Imperative that I particularly note here in Niagara Region is that our leaders and employers assess the workforce only on the basis that one would assess an able-bodied, middle-class population; in many cases, their preferred employee would also be young, e.g. under forty and with no children. Almost all jobs in the Region that pay anything above minimum wage also ask candidates to have their own driver's license and vehicle. I actually took the time to speak to two employees of three randomly selected companies that did work as stated in the job advertisement. No, they did not regularly transport clients from one place to another. No, they did not frequently have to attend meetings at places located outside of a bus route. One of them remembered only one occasion where she had to drive from Welland to Niagara Falls for a conference. Yet, in all three of these places of employment, new candidates were told they had to have a vehicle and driver's license. Our Region is chock full of people and leaders that believe those that do not drive are less reliable employees or there is "something wrong with them". They will never say this, but this is the big yellow sign that pops up in my head whenever I see their job ads. They do not govern as they would like to be governed regardless of the circumstances they will find themselves in, because -- as all too many well-to-do people believe -- they will always be advantaged, so they do not have to consider those who may not have had all the advantages, such as good health, family and money, that they have.

The Moral Imperative as designed by Rawls tries to get people to consider the impact of their work on others ... it tries to get people to think about how they would feel if a similar policy were to affect THEM if they were in less fortunate circumstances. For example, if you were of the middle class and currently eat healthy and have access to a gym membership, for example, would you want to be someday placed in a situation where you had no money, poor health and no safe place to be physically active, to be told to get your needs filled at a food bank - particularly as we know, the food from food banks is often substantially out of date, high in processed carbohydrates and low in nutritional value. If this would not be good for you in any circumstances, why is it good enough for "those people" - particularly given the charitable model of never giving help to address the systemic circumstances that put them there in the first place ... just keep doling out low quality processed foods. It is not unheard of to find canned food that is 10 to 15 YEARS out of date. Would YOU eat it? If not, why do you expect somebody else to eat it?

To me, I am against the charitable model as it currently stands, as it does not address systemic circumstances and in many cases, even denies there are systemic circumstances. In many cases, because of high pay and prestige that some of these jobs offer, there is little or no incentive to put one's agency out of business. If the government, for example, provided enough income so that people no longer had to rely on the "generosity" of the public, those prestigious, good-paying jobs would disappear and in many cases, the people in these jobs would have to move on. Most are not experienced or capable of working in the private sector, so they will likely have to find some other cushy public sector position. One would never see a former politician or even a food bank director working for $10/hour at a call centre, ever ... this is part of the elite that keeps the real elite in force and keeps the government from HAVING to act on urgent social problems. The Moral Imperative does not apply to these people because there will always be "family and friends" around to ensure they have another position that is equally or more prestigious.

I don't give to food banks. Even when I had money, I never did either. It is because I don't believe in them. There are countries in this world that have an advanced social safety network that has resulted in little or no need for food banks. They also have among the strongest economies of the world. However, in our country that always wanted to pat itself on the back for its so-called respect for human rights (while people like Brenda Martin continue to while away in foreign prisons without any help or recognition of their human rights), social programs (while more and more individuals and families are living on the street or relying on stop-gap measures like food banks), and health care (while spending less on real health care and more on administrative positions -- we see more and more health care workers on the Sunshine List of people earning over $100,000 a year each year). Yet we are collecting billions of dollars from Ontarians by way of the "health tax" which no doubt goes to a lot of things aside from health care, while delisting numerous services, e.g. making less services available to those that cannot afford to pay out-of-pocket and have no supplementary insurance.

If you asked a seasoned politician how much an average one-bedroom apartment costs in this region (or any region), they wouldn't know, yet they believe that people can house, feed, clothe and transport themselves on less than $1,000 a month for disabled and less than $600 a month for so-called able-bodied. They recently made an outpour of money supposedly for children in low-income families, yet anybody who examined the Ontario Child Benefit carefully knows that the $2.1 billion assigned to this program last year is coming directly out of the pockets of parents on social assistance or O.D.S.P. They will be getting a cut in the amount of money they receive, supposedly to get it back through the Ontario Child Benefit program. Again, this is failure to follow the Moral Imperative. This was done under the false assumption that families on Ontario Works and O.D.S.P. had money to "give" for this program, when even under current rates, most cannot afford to house, feed, clothe and transport themselves, let alone pay work-related expenses. To add insult to injury, this recent budget added an initiative to assist low-income people in saving their money. Again, this shows the blindfolds these people have chosen to wear and not take off ... I am not aware of too many families on Ontario Works, O.D.S.P., or even among the working poor that have a penny to put into any kind of saving accounts. Most are using over-draft, borrowing money from Pete to pay Paul, and next month, borrowing money from Paul to pay Pete ... or simply going without. To the government of this day, they say it is shameful if a child goes to school with an empty stomach, yet they do not recognize that forcing parents to constantly sacrifice their own nutrition is not going to get them any healthier or any further prepared for the workforce. Since the special diet cuts, I have noted a large number of our clients developing new diseases or complications of old ones, and have trouble understanding where anybody is saving any money. How come right-wing groups like the Taxpayers Federation are not down the throats of this government for deliberately incurring policies that will force more people to be sick ... It's too bad, so sad, government, but the people you are trying to starve don't die off fast enough to save any money ... they become sick, often very sick ... and end up costing way more money than if the government did what was right in the first place and ensuring each family had enough to live on in the first place!

So, let's go back to this modern day latte version of the Moral Imperative of Earth Hour. I'll bet any dollar that less than 5% of Niagarans even participated. Even among those who participated, how many of them just shut their lights off, left their homes and drove around spewing more greenhouse gases as they went? When one mentions the issue of not being able to find work because of no car, most Niagarans have no trouble spouting that it is acceptable for "those people" to work at all the shit jobs that will never pay enough to get one out of the poverty cycle, the leftover jobs, the crumbs ... the jobs that NONE of these people will EVER take. Why? Because they don't have to. The Moral Imperative doesn't apply to them. They can pollute the Earth, over-consume, use excess energy (because they can afford it so there really is nobody stopping them) and they don't have to give two shits about anybody but themselves. But don't forget ... they feel they did their share. They delivered those old canned foods they had sitting around in their cupboard for five years to the food bank, so that "those people" can supposedly eat.

I am not a religious or even a spiritual person, but I am a moral and ethical individual. It is time that we all look at ourselves and see how much our actions or inactions affect others. Throwing those batteries in the garbage is going to result in toxic waste in someone's landfill. Driving your car for all but absolute necessity is going to spew out more greenhouse gases than say, taking transit or biking one's way to where they have to go. Denying well-paid jobs to qualified people on the basis of non-essential characteristics leaves these people unable to contribute to the economy. These same people will not be shopping at the store you work at, or donating to the charity where you are employed or paying taxes to keep you in a job with the city. These same people are also going to cost us money, as long as we choose to make them invisible and insignificant in our lives.

On the Internet, there are lots of young people who don't feel they have any obligation toward others. Let poor people starve, put disabled people in institutions, put the homeless in jails. That is how these people think and to them, this thinking is perfectly logical ... as long as they are not poor, as long as they are not disabled and as long as they have a home and family to back them. Not putting their thoughts into the shoes of the other will get them in trouble someday and I hope, maybe they don't have to learn the hard way. But it is said that many of us are one paycheque away from the streets, one spouse away from reliance on welfare, one job loss away from losing our homes and so forth. More and more families are going through this, as our governments and other leaders try to deny that their ill-thought out policies and failure of their "trickle down" tax cuts have somehow caused this serious interruption in people's lives ... if and when these ill-thinking young people ever become infirm themselves, or fail to find a job that will support them despite their "hard work", let us hope there is nobody around who like they are today - feel they should just starve, be locked up or put in jail, for offences committed by others who fail to abide by the Moral Imperative principles.

Your thoughts?

No comments: