Sunday, February 28, 2010


The 2010 Winter Olympics held in Vancouver is over with, after seventeen days of competition, commentary, excitement and knowing the whole world was watching ... I frankly never felt such unity with my fellow Canadians until we got into the Games ... and it is a powerful feeling indeed. As one of the commentators stated, "When we watch the athletes compete, it almost feels like we are there competing too ...", and when they win the Gold, we share their glory, and when they miss out, we share their disappointments.

With this Olympics, we had the advantage of Twitter, Face Book, MySpace and the Internet in general to keep up with up-to-the-minute coverage, and even replays of events you might have missed if you were away from the Games that day. With many of my friends, I shared day to day comments on Face Book about the Olympics, what I seen and what I felt, as did they ... and despite many of these people being half way around the world from me, I felt they were in the same room. The sense of unity gave me a sense of calm I never had in a long time, as I was able to focus on something else and boy, was it ever satisfying!

Canada came third in total medal standing, with 26 Medals in all: 14 Gold, 7 Silver and 5 Bronze. Canada had the most Gold Medals of all the countries competing, and apparently had broken the World Record for any Winter Olympics for the number of Gold Medals earned by any country. The Olympics gave me something to go home to, something to talk about, and something to look up periodically throughout the day. Today, I posted the Olympic theme song, "I Believe". This is Nikki Yanofsky, apparently a sixteen year old girl from Quebec. The particular link I gave in this treatise shows the Torch Rallies all over the country, all starting from the East Coast and traveling from hand to hand until it reached the Opening Ceremonies in Vancouver on February 12, 2010. The Torch rally came to my community the day after I moved my commercial office, and I have a couple of friends of mine who were torch bearers.

What I am particularly proud of, and almost sarcastic about, is the fact our hockey teams both won Gold. Today, it was a tense game with the Men's Hockey Finals between Canada and the U.S. Just as the end of the third period came to a close, the U.S. offense did a goal, tying the game at 2-2. In the Olympics, they will have one period of overtime, and the first one who scores gets the Gold. If there is no score still, there is a shoot-out. They had a brief intermission when I took off to the store to grab some supplies, and returned ... At the store, everybody was talking about the Game and were, like me, getting supplies and returning to watch. Just as I was about to step up my front porch, I heard loud cheers coming from several houses on my street, and as I came in, my son told me Sidney Crosby ended the game by getting the winning goal with the assistance of Scott Neidemeyer, both Canadian NHL stars. I can only guess what might have happened if Crosby (or anybody else on the Canadian Team) did NOT score ...

Instant Face Book groups, You Tube replays and other links to various sites, were set up so people can relive this story over and over again. In many ways, the Olympic Games brought some of us out of our collective depression. Two nights ago, the Women's Hockey Team made Gold as well against the U.S., and celebrated afterward ... both goals were made by an 18-year old woman from Quebec.

Even eight short years ago, when the Olympic Games were in Salt Lake City, Utah, I remember the Canadian Team doing fairly well then; however, not a whole lot of us were as hooked on Face Book, Twitter, and all these other instant replay sites that we are now. Literally, the whole world was watching! I saw Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the gallery watching the Olympics ... even many Canadian celebrities, such as William Shatner (who plays "Denny Crane" on Boston Legal), Michael J. Fox (the young Republican from "Family Ties", and later starring in such movies as "Back to the Future"), as well as a couple of actors from Rick Mercer's crazy show. This was followed of course by the stereotypical stuff Canadians are made of, such as beavers, canoes, RCMP, moose, etc. They missed the Eskimos and igloos, but perhaps, they did not want to anger the Inuit population of our far North. It was all in jest, and brought so many people together.

The closing ceremonies also brought a sense of sadness in me too, as people are now going back to their home communities, hopefully for more celebration and adoration, and federal Parliament will be opening up after its long self-imposed sleep induced by Prime Minister Harper. Normal life will begin again. It is the same way I felt when we all stopped talking about the September 11th attack on the World Trade Centre in New York, and on the Pentagon. Sure, conspiracy theories about this incident do abound, but this post is not about that ... it is about how the whole world literally came together and lent their support to the families of those whose lives were lost in this atrocity. I first learned the seriousness of all of this over the Internet, as well when my husband called me downstairs to watch a replay of the two planes going through the two World Trade Tower buildings.

This is particularly difficult for me, as I live in a Region where there is not a lot of "togetherness" on anything. People are bitter, travel their own ways, oppose and chastise others who are different, and exclude people regularly from even the most basic activities each take for granted. Take sports, for example. As a young person, I enjoyed sports immensely. I loved to skate, roller blade, ride my bike, as well as swim and dive. I was on a baseball team, even as far as my first few jobs in the real world. I recalled happily an incident when I was in a grade seven, when I was on a girl's ball hockey team and I served as goalie. I remember one time, I blocked the ball from getting in, and not only that, I plowed it to the other side and managed to get it into the other team's net. These things give me fond memories, and I remember the stunned look on my team mates' faces when this happened ... I think there is a lot that society and communities miss when they stop being in things together. Sports cost so much now, that I could not afford to enroll my children in it anyways, and schools don't promote these activities as much either unless you have the money to pay to get into them.

Being a part of something is so human, it is almost occupying a step on Maslow's Hierarchy in itself. I feel I lack the sense of belonging at times, despite the fact I belong to a particularly strong profession, a couple of activist coalitions, as well as many online activity groups. Belonging has taken on a brand new meaning with the advent of technology. I have friends that love to use gadgets, and go around with their mobiles, take pictures and tell the world what they are doing ... I find that fascinating, even though the person doing this may be feeling as lonely and excluded as I am. Technology has put a distance between people that we never had before, nor can we actually fix this.

I resolved some of my feelings of isolation by moving into a new office in a secure building that has other members of my profession in it, as well as other professional offices of a different type. There is a popular cafe downstairs, where I can literally sit and listen, and enjoy the buzz of activity around me. This sometimes helps me too. I also go in twice a day, or more if it is particularly busy, to assist with a couple of online groups that deal with some of the issues that I work with both professionally and as a volunteer.

To me, the part about watching the Olympics I enjoyed the most is when individual athletes were interviewed and asked about why they joined the Olympics. For many, this was always a goal of theirs. They persevered, had families and communities rally for them, and they just kept improving their personal best.

In many ways, I am like this too, except in my own professional endeavours. I am not happy with anonymity and living a dull life, where people don't know or care who I am. I've never had an "ordinary life" either, but I am not here today to speak of how un-ordinary my life was, or how the great potential I've personally witnessed in others and who I personally know and interact with, has made me who I am ... I just want to say that if you have followed a lot of the other posts that I have put in here, particularly about social issues, it is all about one thing -- the right to fulfill one's total human potential.

I worry about a lot of these things. Is Stephen Harper going to go back to Parliament, after his high from the Olympic Games and proceed to cut funding to Canadian athletes? Is he going to set it up so that the Games only become further corporately controlled than they already are? I hope not. I just hope Mr. Harper and his Cabinet colleagues think about what they saw, understand what people like myself saw in these Olympics, and then try to apply them to his governance of all Canadians. As individuals, as well as collectively, we can be pretty powerful and strong people, but we need the support or the foundation in order to achieve.

I hope to meet Stephen Harper, only one of two Prime Ministers I have not met yet, and to speak with him about this - and how I apply the right to empowerment to persons with disabilities as well. The fact that Harper and his Cabinet made many cuts to programs for persons with disabilities has led to a reversal in many of our access to opportunities, as well as access to our rights to challenge systems and issues under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I live in a region where very few people understand the Human Rights Code, and the fact this quasi-constitutional legislation is set up to protect people who think, move, speak or work differently than others, and to help ensure they have equal opportunities to fulfill their human potential.

Unfortunately, even many people in my own community do not understand the politics of disability management. I do not fault them for it, as the mass media and other interests make it difficult for people to understand these things, the same way that food banks make it difficult for the public to understand the politics underlying the causes of poverty. Just keep giving to the food banks and everything will be alright, they say, or at least that message is given. To me, I look at things from a strictly rights-based approach, and with rights, comes dignity and how people are dealt with when trying to learn about or enforce their own rights.

Oh, how I desperately want to believe there are people like me in this region, instead of peppered all over Canada and half way around the world, as it can get pretty awful when I am not at the computer and then dealing with real life issues that I know exist, and that I know are coming from way too many elephants in the room that nobody in this region, and sometimes, even the province, does not want to acknowledge or listen to. This is a lonely fight, but in many ways, I truly want to believe. Your thoughts?

Sunday, February 21, 2010


The Toronto Star reports the province anticipates having to deal with a $24.5 billion dollar deficit. Politicians go to the press to tell people not to worry because all lines in health and education will be protected, but government will be seeking "efficiencies" elsewhere. In the meantime, prior to Christmas a mean-spirited Auditor General's Report came out slamming the provincial government for neglecting over $600 million in over-payments, interspersing this discussion with value statements about alleged fraud, and more directly pointing out how the special diet program was vulnerable to fraud. A later article by Catherine Porter of the Toronto Star interviewed the mysterious doctor identified in the audit as signing off hundreds of diet forms to get the maximum for his patients.

In light of both announcements, the clinic community, as well as anti-poverty activists have become concerned about just what this government is planning to do with social assistance rates, which have been miserly and punitive for a very long time, and have not yet quite caught up to the standard since former Premier Harris took a hacksaw to them in 1995. The unfortunate issue is when the story first broke out in the media, many of the newspaper sites allow comments from readers and as a progressive moderate, I resented many of their attitudes. Groups like the Income Security Advocacy Centre and the broader coalition, 25in5 have attempted to stand up against the backlash deliberately invoked by these articles.

In the original article, which most of the comments are based upon, Madeleine Meilleur, Minister of Community & Social Services, has stated to the media that she has indeed referred over 2,500 cases to the police. Whether or not this was done, or what the actual results of this referral will produce, the picture of social assistance that was just generated by the Minister's words has blackballed all of those that are on it, particularly those that have applied for and received extra benefits, including the special diet. At the same time, the Minister announces her appointment of a group of people to review social assistance. I know many of the people involved, as I am involved in the clinic groups (though I am not involved with legal clinics - I just have a private practice and a major concern about what this world is becoming), as well as have been involved in other movements where others on the committee have been also involved.

It is not the composition per se that brings me great concern. I have a great deal of respect for the clinic representatives, as well as the two career policy analysts that have a clue about how these policies work and what can happen if they are tweaked here and tweaked there. In fact, John Stapleton has written about the intersection of social assistance policy and housing policy, and how this literally traps people into poverty. Affordable housing advocates want to gloss over this, but if we want change, we need to review this element as well. The two foundation representatives are also connected to many of our coalition members, so I feel safe with a majority of them. I am sure like anybody else, they will all collectively work on proposals they feel that the government should be putting in. They appear committed to pushing for a broad-based review with a province-wide audience and input, as time goes on. I just have concerns when advisory groups like this are headed by a Food Bank representative. I am sure this person is a good person, active in the community and concerned, but in my experience, food banks have not pushed strongly enough for adequacy of benefits and appeared to accept the Ontario Child Benefit unconditionally, even when presented with the fact that social assistance families are cut back in order to get this benefit, often resulting in no net income increase, or just a few dollars per month.

But what is scary to me is that the Auditor's Report was published at or about the same time the announcement was made to set up the social assistance reform advisory council, as we learned they were referred to on a formal basis. While I can't see the new advisory group pushing to eliminate the special diet, the government may choose to do so anyways, as part of its "review" of all programs and to increase "efficiencies" in the programs it delivers. Further, I do see some flexibility in allowing ODSP and OW recipients to keep more of the monies they earn, but this will done in exchange for a compromise. I can see recipients losing the $100 work allowance. I am one to act as the conscience of a group, reminding others that governments are not there to give us anything, because low income people mean nothing to them. As somebody once stated on the odspfireside group I co-moderate with two other brilliant analysts/activists, low income people vote far less than those of middle and upper incomes. Why should politicians care what you think if they are not going to get a vote anyways?

Personally I would love to be part of the long-term group, as well as participate in inter-ministerial discussions. Poverty is not just the domain of the Ministry of Community and Social Services; it is the domain of many Ministries, including health, education, transportation, children and youth services, municipal affairs and housing, finance, etc. However, much of this is going on in isolation like these things usually do. Maybe the Ministry of Community and Social Services will come up with some great proposals, but subsidized housing rules don't change and continue to trap people there. Or municipalities aren't forced into considering the need for alternative forms of transportation to the car, and to set standards with employers to make sure they park their businesses on transit lines ... Niagara Region was coveted by a couple of large employers recently, including Canada Bread, which was seeking a location well served by transit as well as the highway, and when it discovered Niagara doesn't believe in transit (as its own religious discourse continues to worship the automobile), Canada Bread moved to Hamilton. This is a source of frustration for transit advocates in Niagara, whose voice is large, but largely ignored in Niagara due to the automobile dominance.

Niagara Region had its chance, after forty years of studying, debating and researching the idea of regional transit, to put it into place by September 2010, by putting an acceptable staged question to the municipalities on January 28, 2010, but have chosen not to. I suppose the 40% of the operating budget and capital budget spent on roads, parking and so forth alone, from the region's pot will pass without any debate, but those who don't drive will either continue to use taxis at exorbitant prices, or do without access to decent employment. What again particularly bothers me are the comments in these publications online, whereby persons, obviously drivers, that don't think we should be spending any money on transit, while it is perfectly okay for well-educated persons in Niagara to remain on welfare for months or years at a time because there are no jobs for non-drivers in Niagara. Penny-wise, but pound foolish.

After all, there is a huge $24.5 billion deficit and somebody has to get hit. No, we cannot touch the rich people's wallets, as then we are attacking investments and they will move their plants elsewhere. We can't hit the middle class because their earning power is affected. We have to side swipe the poor once again. Let's cut social services, cut welfare, eliminate the special diet, delay or cancel transit projects, etc. and let's see what will happen. The province has promised to protect health care and education after all, and let us see how much more money is going to be poured into these sectors, simply because a child cannot learn on an empty stomach, and because adults cannot stay healthy when they have no money to pay for healthy food. I spent all weekend with cold sores in my mouth because I don't always eat properly, and had to treat them.

These same governments, by appointing the province's largest food bank to head off the social assistance review is giving us a message: food banks will be part of our social infrastructure forever, and perhaps, at some point will get government funding. Why not take the food out of our kids' mouths and give it to the food banks that currently pay their directors a healthy salary? Didn't Graham Riches tell us that food banks, which started for the very first time in Edmonton in the early 1980's, that they are only there for a short time and want to terminate their own existence? However, the opposite has happened. We are now overwhelmed with charities, many of which were reporting that they failed to get enough to cover their increased needs over the holiday season. I always said we cannot rely upon the charity and goodwill of people, as this ebbs and flows, and is limited. Further, it creates a further divide between those that give, and those that receive, and with the somewhat long-term effects of the current recession, the chances that a receiver will return to being a giver are slim.

All of this is here because Ministers chose to hear the bleating of auto makers, banks, forestry industry representatives and some others, who were subsidized or simply bailed out entirely, while not paying attention to the social bottom line. After $16 billion to the automakers, $50 billion in tax cuts to the large corporations, $25 billion to the banks, etc., are we actually any better off? Newspaper reports say the number of people on employment insurance are falling, but is the number of unemployed going down with it? At the other end, there are double digit increases in the number of people applying for social assistance, many of whom are forced to give up their homes, their cars and anything else, whereby they will likely see poverty for a long time. Now, tell us, politicians and business leaders, how does this benefit our country?