Tuesday, November 29, 2011

OCCUPYING THE OCCUPY MOVEMENT ... and a growing fight over inequality between the rich and poor!

As we hear more about cross-continental evictions of occupy sites in the hundreds of cities and towns across North America, the Occupy Movement is shifting into Occupy 2.0. There are reasons they evicted the occupiers from their sites, and it had little to do with neighbours and others being uncomfortable with tent cities and people wandering in the parks after midnight. If this was the case, this by-law would be enforced year round, even when homeless people obviously sleep in these parks, particularly the summer time. Think about the synchronicity in which the various sites were being evicted; nobody denied being in conference at the same time to plan to stop the camp sites. But in many ways, by doing the evictions, the powers that be did the Occupy Movement a favour.

Like Niagara, we moved into Occupy 2.0 ... The occupiers haven't gone away; they just went underground. They are reaching more and more people. Tonight, I attended the monthly Philosophy Cafe that gets held in a downtown coffee shop. About ten to twelve of us at any given time talked about the significance of Occupy Movements across the continent, and whether we felt this was in for the long term or short term. Only two of us present have actually participated in an Occupy Movement; the fellow next to me was involved in the camp at St. James Park in Toronto, and I am sort of involved here. Of course I invited all the people there if they can come, to come to our next general assembly to see what Occupy Niagara is about. Occupy Niagara is on Facebook and anybody can keep track of it to learn when our meetings are, and who is involved with what ....

The people involved in the Occupy Movement are not ragtag hippies, drug addicts and homeless persons, although a few in some sites have been homeless. However, the key here is that even the homeless persons contributed to the sites in a meaningful way. They taught the rest of the folks how to live outside. Others like myself were not in a position to do so, but many people were eager to do so, but as other Occupy Movements have shifted to the next phase, we did too. Most people involved in these communities are working people, a lot of them young, but many are very old or middle aged as well. Many are students, and others are seeking jobs despite a hefty student loan and a poor job market. At the last general assembly, I spoke to a man who had two university degrees, and a college diploma, but was stuck on ODSP. He was recently terminated from a job that he enjoyed and excelled in.

Others I spoke to are business people or working people, many of whom had financial resources of their own to contribute to the cause. Others are like me, who can stand on the hilltops and tell people where the Emperor is walking, and what he is not wearing. In the meantime, the mainstream media is trying to track what the Occupy Movement is doing. We have had mixed coverage in our own region, but the Toronto Sun, both the print and broadcast version, painted those involved as being over-entitled and looking for handouts. Well, I had once written here that about many wealthy persons before, because many of them are over-entitled and seek handouts, but we don't hear about too many of them in the Sun Media, do we?

The Sun Media, as well as some other networks, try to make unionized workers into the demons that caused this recession, when in fact, they fail to recognize that there is a top 1% of the population, which likely includes the ownership of the same media they work for, that earn millions of dollars per year and likely work less hours than most of you do. In my view, nobody is worth millions of dollars per year. I don't care what they do. The government, who acts as their puppet, continues to dish out corporate welfare and tax cuts to this bunch under the delusion that somehow this wealth will trickle down to the rest of us. As someone once said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results. If it worked in the U.S., their economy would be booming, and there would be such a shortage of workers, that they'd be taking way more immigrants than they are and among its own citizens, anybody that wants a job would have one.

Our politicians say that the Occupy Movement makes sense in the U.S. because of their over-entitled bankers that crashed the economy, and then rewarded themselves with multi-million dollar bonuses after they were bailed out. While Canada might not have the SAME problems, it is as somebody else once said, "Same shit, different country". This video tells the truth about Canada's banking systems, and how the producer claims that part of our deficit is also attributed to high interest rates from the PRIVATE banks that the government borrows from to pay its bills ... What? Did you actually think the Bank of Canada did this? Of course not! Take a look!

While all of this is happening, people living in Ontario who care about poverty and disenfranchisement should note that a commission headed by Don Drummond, an economist, formerly of the federal Minister of Finance, and the TD Canada Trust, has been set up to help the provincial government implement its own range of austerity measures. These cuts and costs will most certainly hit the poor the hardest, as once again, the Premier has promised that only the Health and Education ministries will be spared cuts, but not social services, housing or transportation, etc. that help protect the poor. Given this alone, it is easier to know that the death by a thousand cuts McGuinty government has set deliberate policy decisions to hurt the poor, hoping that maybe they will all die off sooner to save their corporate friends a few bucks. They cannibalized the special diet program, and have kept both OW and ODSP rates well below the real rate of inflation. People receiving these benefits are moving into less and less safe housing, if they can find any at all, and many eat so poorly as to suffer the strangling effects of long term malnutrition. All this, whilst, Don Drummond gets his $1,500 a day consulting fees, and advises his comfortable friends in the government, most of whom just quietly received raises of tens of thousands of dollars each (by appointing almost every non-minister a parliamentary assistant or committee chair). Sneaky, sneaky.

At the same time, we watch sign posts from other countries, such as Great Britain, where they are radically culling their rolls of the Incapacity Benefit (similar to the disability benefit here), which would cut their monthly living allowances and expect them to find non-existent jobs. They did the same thing in British Columbia a few years back only to see at least one suicide a day of persons being reviewed for disability benefits eligibility. It makes me wonder where people get their intelligence from, or more particularly their math skills, when it comes to dousing people like this with a substantially lower income (as costs continue to skyrocket) and then to push them out the door to look for jobs that no employer has any obligation to hire any of them for.

Unfortunately, this ideology may become closer to Ontario than we would like to believe. Last year, Frances Lankin, former head of Toronto's United Way, and Munir Sheikh, former Head Statistician who resigned when Harper made his bone-headed decision to cut the mandatory long form census in 2010, were appointed to head Ontario's Social Assistance Reform Commission. Ontario's largest civil service union, Ontario Public Service Employees' Union, recently published their concerns that Lankin had hinted that one of their recommendations would be to allow municipalities to administer BOTH OW and ODSP, which would spell disaster. This would be a way to help cull the rolls of ODSP, and force many more on the lower paid and more punitive system of Ontario Works, which is certainly not going to serve the majority of people who have major barriers to employment. One wonders when our lovely government who thinks there are so many jobs out there will begin to force employers at gun point to start hiring qualified persons with disabilities, particularly when so many able bodied people are out of work.

Henceforth, it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out now that by doing this, the two programs will now be closer integrated, and persons with disabilities won't have a hope in hell of escaping many of the punitive rules that now impact Ontario Works recipients, such as asset stripping, family as a benefit unit (when this should have been set to individual a long time ago), unreliable delivery of cheques to guarantee one's homelessness, etc. Somebody out there ought to occupy the offices of Frances Lankin and Munir Sheikh if indeed they are planning to recommend this bone-headed idea, which will only set us back by decades.

Your thoughts?

Monday, November 21, 2011


One day on the bus heading downtown, I met a man who appeared to be in his forties, and clean shaven. He was carrying a small briefcase and a local newspaper. We started to talk, and he was able to intelligently discuss the news, the politics of the day, and issues of tomorrow. When I asked the man what he did for a living, he told me he was on the Ontario Disability Support Program. One would not know this, unless he told you. I can only assume his disability is invisible and probably creates barriers that nobody can see, and are usually unaddressed by legislation like the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. He may or may not be able to work, but one would guess that he would not dare venture to explain his disability to an employer, fearing instant judgment even if he could benefit from some type of accommodation.

I also know people in the region who have disabilities that people can see. They use wheelchairs to get around, work with seeing eye dogs or wear hearing aids. They can acquire 'disability' aids from the Assistive Devices Program (ADP), and if they are on ODSP, they can get the 25% balance paid by them. That is a good thing, and there is no argument or reasoning to put a stop to this, as people need what they need to function and to participate in society, regardless of their disability. This is the same with respect to the Disability Tax Credit. At one point, of no value to people that earned little or no taxable income, the Disability Tax Credit is now the gateway to the Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP). This Plan is set up primarily for children and young adults that have family able and willing to contribute, and whose disability qualifies them for the Disability Tax Credit. Unfortunately, those with invisible disabilities cannot qualify for the Disability Tax Credit without almost pleading themselves incapable of living independently and making their own decisions. This applies to some people with invisible disabilities, but people with visible disabilities who could live independently, are mentally competent and even hold high level jobs, can qualify for the Disability Tax Credit.

More than 80% of the people on the Ontario Disability Support Program, or ODSP, have disabilities that are invisible, whether that be mental health issues, learning disabilities, epilepsy, intellectual disabilities, brain injuries, among many more. Most of these people, particularly if their disability is episodic, do not qualify for the Disability Tax Credit. Therefore, even if they had supportive family and a good environment around them, they cannot save for their own retirement, which is doomed unless the person wins a lottery after they turn sixty five. These people will be forced to rely solely on public pensions, or "seniors' welfare", which does not equal the poverty line anymore than ODSP makes it to the poverty line. Henceforth, after sixty-five, an ODSP recipient loses many benefits, such as dental benefits, eyeglasses, full ADP coverage, among other assorted health needs that one can argue people might need even more AFTER they turn sixty five.

At the present time, the only ODSP recipients that will be able to enjoy any kind of retirement at all are those that qualify for the Disability Tax Credit due to a largely visible disability, have family or others that are able and willing to contribute to the RDSP pot, and were young enough to receive the benefit for enough years to make it worthwhile when it started. Others applying for ODSP, including spouses, have to drain all of their retirement savings, as well as any other "rainy day" funds down to a bare minimum, and forget about ever retiring out of poverty. I can't say what percentage this would be, but I would estimate about twenty percent at the outset would benefit from the Disability Tax Credit. It is no small wonder many financial writers say that this tax credit is "under-subscribed" - it is not under-subscribed, but its eligibility criteria is so restrictive that only a minority of people with disabilities are eligible.

Even for people who are not on ODSP, but would like tax relief of this type. After all, you don't have to have only the stated restrictions to have added costs due to your disabilities. If you were a teacher, for example, with bipolar disorder, or a registered nurse with a mild form of schizophrenia, you might not even WANT to try to make yourself eligible, as your professional body might begin to investigate your competence to practice in your area, because in order to declare the tax relief for a mental disability, you have to be incapable or only able to do with help or very slowly, a number of mental functions, even if you can competently handle other functions. For example, if you are unable to balance your cheque book, you can forget about your career as an accountant, or if you have difficulties making decisions, you can forget about your career as a nurse. Yet, if your disability left you in a wheelchair or visually impaired, while these limits are definitely difficult to live with, you can still be a lawyer, a company CEO, a nurse, an accountant, or whatever, given specific software and other accommodations available to you, and get your tax credit and an RDSP. This makes many persons with disabilities reluctant to apply, which means that this benefit becomes under-subscribed, as visible disabilities are probably only about 10% of all disabilities that are possible.

In various groups I worked with, it is difficult to work with a lot of the individuals involved. When one of the groups I met with discussed the social assistance review, those with highly visible disabilities felt that only they should receive the higher amount of income support, because after all, they have "higher disability costs" than say, somebody who has a mental health issue. I dispute that, but this is an impression that many people have. I also met people who have various invisible disabilities, such as multiple chemical sensitivity, chronic fatigue syndrome, narcolepsy, migraine syndrome, post-stroke recovery, certain types of brain injury, and related disabilities, that may leave one not markedly restricted from any of the activities on the disability tax credit list, but they certainly do have major disability related costs. Persons with multiple chemical sensitivities often cannot do their own shopping or yard work because of the smells, the released fragrances of various products in the store, that even if they are not buying the products, they are nevertheless exposed. Chronic fatigue sufferers vary in their needs, but living alone, they may not be able to prepare their own meals, keep their homes clean, or even drive. If one lives where there is poor transit, they can spend hundreds even thousands of dollars on taxis or paying others to drive them, or do work for them. They cannot recover most of these costs, and therefore, many do not expend it if they cannot afford the upfront costs.

Living with an invisible disability has many effects on a person. Because the disability cannot be seen by others, unless the other person is either also disabled in a similar way, or a loved one is, they feel misunderstood and their problems and issues minimized by their community. In the past, when I employed staff for projects I was involved in, I tried to understand invisible disabilities, as well as the more obvious ones. This is something that is difficult to do, even for somebody like myself, as the person needs to disclose to me first. In one case, the person was frequently late for work, appeared sluggish sometimes during the day, and at times, rushed to complete projects at the last minute. He did good work, but these limits concerned me. Instead of applying disciplinary measures, which I had every right to, as the lateness was almost everyday, I asked him to tell me what he needs to help him do his job better. I told him I didn't want to see him rushing everything at the last minute; was there something I can do for him? He disclosed a number of issues, including narcolepsy, migraine syndrome, and other similar health issues. I asked him to tell me what makes him feel better. I learned that a half hour rest during the day, and flexible hours to meet deadlines would work. Once I applied that, his work was excellent and high quality.

Unfortunately, most other employers during that time frame in my life would only take the hard line about the lateness and the sluggish performance, and wonder if there were other problems, usually of a social nature and not disability-related. Over time, as I became more experienced in managing people, I accommodated persons who had care giving responsibilities, daycare needs, as well as those with other kinds of problems, such as English not being their first language. All of these people turned out to be excellent employees, and performed well when accommodated and understood. The accommodations were provided privately, and in a flexible manner, so that the person's privacy was respected, while at the same time, results were still expected. In one program I ran, there was a large outreach component to it, when it was funded. One of my staff was visually impaired, while I had others that were able to drive. Prior to the outreach role, the visually impaired person spoke to people on the phone, used the computer to type reports and simple correspondence, as well as counseled people in the office. She wanted to do outreach work. Given that Niagara has poor public transit, especially between communities, I had the two other staff persons do outreach outside of the head office's city, and I allowed the visually impaired person to conduct outreach within my city, using public transit to set up meetings, and organize sessions with stakeholders. She did well, and I was able to increase her work hours as well, which she wanted.

When a person with an invisible disability is not accommodated, it impacts on them psychologically. They begin to notice their disability more, and how it makes them different and less than, as opposed to just needing another work around. They can become very discouraged and become less motivated to try new things. Many will not even apply for jobs that appear to be not open to them. Employers need to learn about what is actually required in a job, not just what is nice or how a job is typically carried out. An outreach worker for my earlier project would typically drive to the various locations of the meetings we set up, and meet with people in their homes, or in public places, such as a Tim Horton's. In my mind, all I needed was an outreach worker that knew how to use public transit, and was fairly mobile in terms of using it, and can handle the "people aspects" of this job. For the person with narcolepsy and migraines, he would not have been able to carry out a full work day, if I had not found a quiet place he could lay down for about a half hour a day. Given that rest period, he was as productive as everybody else.

Most jobs can be restructured or accommodated if an employer knew how to think outside of the box. These accommodations did not cost my company very much, nor did others actually notice any impact on their own workloads as a result of my ability and willingness to accommodate the needs of these very capable people. If employers continue to not think outside the box, more and more people will be unable to work for them, or won't even bother applying for the job. I live in a region where almost every job, even office jobs, require candidates to have their own driver's license and vehicle. Why? If I was the employer, there would actually be very few jobs that would require these qualifications, even in a region like my own. If a person needed to travel sometimes outside of the office, I would instead put, "job involves some travel throughout the region for meetings and presentations". Whether the person conducted themselves to these meetings by personal vehicle, by bike, by bus or even by chauffeur, that is not my concern ... my concern is can they function at these meetings and carry out these presentations? The only jobs I would require a driver's license and personal vehicle are for jobs in which they are required to drive, such as bus drivers, taxi drivers, couriers, delivery people, limo drivers, etc.

The same would apply to many other "qualifications", such as ability to type. What if the person was unable to type, but were quadriplegic? There are computer programs that would allow that person to do exactly what I am doing now. My question would not be, "Can you type?", but "Can you use any kind of computer or other device to produce documents, reports or letters, etc.?" (if that was part of their job). If these things are so common sense to me, how come other people in charge of human resources and employment haven't caught up yet?

We have to move forward and away from "old school thinking". We have to see jobs in terms of what you need as a result or required outcome, not a process or typical means of completing the job. I hear all the time from people with disabilities, both visible and invisible, about how they wish they can work, or wish they can even volunteer for somebody, but employers and agencies don't even think beyond first base; that is, they don't consider that people need different ways of coming into their building, as well as accessing all the necessary amenities within it. Just as I would never dream of leasing an office in a multi-story building without an elevator and doors wide enough to admit even powerchairs, employers should be thinking the same way. If a visually impaired person applied for a job at my office, and they seemed to be the best candidate, I would certainly endeavour to learn how my computers can work with that person, such as what software, what website design styles, etc. would work the best for them. I would even think of how a phone can be designed for that person's use as well. These things are not that expensive, and if all employers, all facility managers, all service providers and others, considered the importance of these things, there would be less of a need for ODSP and more of a meaningful and rich life for millions of people with disabilities of all kinds.

And back onto the topic of the Disability Tax Credit, wouldn't it be wonderful if the tax credit actually related to YOUR true costs of your disability, and not just some imagined or conjured set of restrictions that appear to leave many people out, and as a result, substantially disadvantaged when other programs become tied to it?

Your thoughts?

Sunday, October 30, 2011


We are hearing more and more about this Occupy movement. It started quietly with a group gathering in New York City under the rubric of OCCUPY WALL STREET. At first, the main street media did not pick up on this, until many people began to publish this movement in the alternative press and online. When this happens, the mainstream media begins to catch on. This group of several hundred or several thousand have gathered in a park near the financial district of New York City, referring to themselves as the 99%. As this protest continued, some of the so called 1% people, particularly the young of Wall Street tycoons, came to support the rally.

Once the mainstream media hit this, the social media went like wildfire, organizing OCCUPY protests in several hundred other cities across the United States, and there are even budding protests forming on October 15, 2011, up here in Canada. Our own federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty made a statement that he understands the concerns of the American protesters, but not the Canadian ones, because after all, our banks are more regulated, and our banks did not get bailed out in the same way they did in the U.S. But this is not it. There is a growing movement against the growing inequality of both wealth and income. According the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, it appears that our income/wealth gap is growing now at a more rapid rate than that of the U.S.

At the same time, we just had two elections: one, a federal one, and another, a provincial one, where the two main parties were unable to reach the community of voters they believed they had, by believing Canadians are a lot more better off than we really are. For example, Tim Hudak certainly misread many families when he went around to promise that the higher earner can transfer the first $50,000 in their gross incomes to the lower earning or non-earning spouse. Sadly, the vast majority of those that Hudak was communicating this to don't even have an entire household with $50,000 a year. People are still losing their homes, their vehicles, and going bankrupt. High earning manufacturing jobs are a cliche of the past. The vast majority of new jobs are low paying, with few if any benefits.

Instead of addressing the obvious, our politicians, particularly of the Liberal and Conservative persuasion, just talked about taxes. I wrote in this column before why I don't give a damn about taxes, because it doesn't help my family whatsoever by even a major tax cut. All I know I will be feeling are more out of pocket costs, for things that used to be delivered "free" through our governments without a commensurate increase in my income to pay for these added costs. At the same time, costs of staples, such as groceries and transportation are going up, well above the rate of inflation. If there were an OCCUPY Niagara movement here, I would certainly join them, as I know at present I am working for literally nothing, because of ODSP rules related to my spouse's disability, and inability to find a work around to enable me to actually keep my earnings, and use them to support my family instead of subsidizing the government's ODSP program.

Many other people have stories to tell as well. They are working two or three minimum wage jobs, and still cannot make ends meet. What the government fails to recognize is that it costs money to go to work, but none of these costs are reimbursed, particularly to employees. They have to have a means of transportation, and for those of us in Niagara, this means a car, because even though a job is minimum wage, the shifts are at all hours and do not commensurate with the local bus schedule. If one does not drive, they have to pay at least half their day's pay to taxi fares, which again, makes it not worthwhile keeping that job. Further, I am reminded by my trade union friends that the labour movement created the 40 hour work week and the weekend, but this is so foreign to me, this argument has fallen on deaf ears, as I work a MINIMUM of seventy hours a week, for what adds up to far less than minimum wage, when all costs and claw backs are in. My weekends are usually spent catching up on sleep, often lost if I have to work a lot of early days.

There are also people who are allegedly among the poor that enjoy bashing other poor people, by trying to tell others to stop whining about their situation, or they "should just learn how to save or how to cook from scratch or how to can fruits and vegetables for the summer", etc. I certainly don't have the time to do any of this stuff, and even if I did, I have neither the equipment or space to do so. If someone does, more power to them, but they need to recognize the advantage they have. Even if they can do this today, they have to be mindful that it is primarily the poor that is going to be paying for the deficit that the wealthy created by receipt of overdone tax cuts. What they can do today, they will not be able to do tomorrow. The question of adequacy is going to come up for them as well, and very soon.

Also, some poor folks get a lot of outside support, whether this be from family, or from local organizations that actually do support people in their goals (which would be a treat to find around here). They naturally assume that EVERYBODY has access to this type of support. As I said before, there are likely only the number of people I can count on my left hand among my clients that can count on additional financial supports from their families or close friends. For most of those among the low income group I serve, they are utterly alone. This is why I believe we not only need to address adequacy, but possibly the rules FIRST, so that those that work can acquire the same amount of money and keep it without any clawbacks the same way their counterparts can with family support can (albeit through little or no effort, except having a loving and more importantly, wealthy family to draw from - the ovarian lottery again).

The people I meet at Tim Horton's, at the bus terminal, at drop in centres like Start Me Up Niagara, or downtown or in the park, do not have families. Even among those that do, many have been disowned by them, or if they still communicate with them, the families themselves are in no position to help. Poverty begets poverty. The sons and daughters that turn eighteen in families where one or both parents are on OW or ODSP are now supposed to become the main breadwinners, and somehow obtain a job that pays enough to support the whole family, never mind save up to get the education they need and deserve in order to get themselves out of poverty. I meet many of the young people at a drop in centre called The Raft, who have been dispelled from the family home as young as fourteen or fifteen, expected to make their own way. A few others have been turfed out at eighteen because their parents cannot afford the financial hit that their now adult children's earnings will have on their ability to keep house and home together.

This is a prejudice and it is based on social class, a class that more and more people are falling into, simply because Employment Insurance, Worker's Compensation, Long-Term Disability and other traditional social safety nets are disappearing, and in order to get onto OW/ ODSP, the family has to spend itself down to the point they have nearly nothing to rely upon in the event of emergencies. Ontario Works determines eligibility month over month, often holding or suspending an individual or family's cheque for spurious reasons, of course, quite often leading to economic evictions and other forms of legislated and bureaucratic imposed desperation.

Parents are competing with their children for the same part-time after school minimum wage jobs they are trying to get to help them pay for post-secondary education. The quiet tsunami that is coming that the federal and provincial governments have failed to plan for is the fact that less and less people have anything saved for their retirement, if they will ever be able to retire at all. The government provides a limited public pension for seniors, but even at its maximum, still falls far below the poverty line. The only reason today that not as many seniors are in this boat than will be in ten to fifteen years from now is because those over the age of fifty five today are more likely to work in places that offer defined benefit pension plans. However, even these employers are cutting the pensions back and/or reverting them to defined contribution plans. Even a defined contribution plan is much better than most young people will be receiving from their employers today.

As I said, this will spell economic disaster and it is not even being considered. Those that earn below poverty incomes do not go to the movies, do not eat out, do not buy new clothing, do not travel much, do not buy books, do not buy online, etc. and for those businesses that rely on a plurality of the population to be able to do this, will no longer be in business once the big economic wave hits. Tax cuts to corporations do not create the jobs these right wing tax slayers promise. It only leads to higher deficits, whereby future cuts to reduce these deficits will fall primarily on the lower income groups. Yes, Jim Flaherty, a lot of Canadians DO have a reason to occupy whatever streets and to reclaim their very communities from the 1% that is killing us all.

What is needed is a G20 Summit where all the world's leaders of the richest countries decide to withdraw all financial support from profitable corporations and to stop contributing to wealthy persons' stock portfolios. If these governments truly have faith in the market economy, they would demand that their corporate stakeholders are willing to live by their own sword, as well as die by that same sword. I don't buy the "too big to fail" argument. If a car manufacturer is failing, it is because there are not enough people with the money to purchase new cars from them. Until that changes, they should have to live with the same belt tightening exercises the rest of us do. If their CEOs cannot get the company out of the red, then they should be fired without any severance or pension entitlements. This is never heard of, because the market place philosophy is not shared by the corporate elite. It is a socialist government for them, while we live with Ayn Rand's ideas below them. Even when the bailouts were given to failing companies in the US, executives ended up getting golden parachutes of multi-million dollar packages, while more and more people line up at the breadlines.

In Ontario, they have been making noises for some time about how there are too many people on ODSP. What does this mean? Even as part of the discussion document handed down by Commissioners Frances Lankin and Munir Sheikh, there is reference to the growing caseloads for ODSP. So, does this mean we start to throw people off ODSP, or tell them all to get a job? At the same time, I do not see the Ontario government putting any employers at gunpoint to hire people with disabilities. Again, it is free market for people with disabilities, while the companies they apply to get more and more tax cuts, and they continue to hire who they want anyways. Many of these same companies would hire chimpanzees if it were possible to do that and get their work done; it is the cost of labour that attracts these companies to go to far flung developing countries so the CEOs of these same companies could save even more dollars for their usually wealthy shareholders.

Before ANY government tells YOU to get a job, ask them first for THEIR job. It is likely you can probably DO their job anyways. If they don't want to give up their job to hire you, then tell them to create a job for you. The reality here is there are no employers that are willing to hire people with disabilities, particularly in any of the "good jobs", and even people on social assistance are looked down upon by prospective employers simply because they are on social assistance. I know them. I talk to them all the time. They tell me people on welfare should just "get a job", but as an employer, they would not be willing to hire any of them. They leave it up to some "unknown" employer to do this, while I know for a fact, there are none.

I was once asked by a dear friend of mine who just got re-elected by a squeaker how I would respond to a very public road show put on by the Taxpayers Federation of Ontario, who visited all the campaign offices of every candidate during the recent provincial election to warn them against raising taxes. I would simply ask them to fess up about what is on line 150 of their most recent income tax return. First, I bet it is at least six figures, or they wouldn't be bitching so much about taxes. Next, I would ask if they had two choices: one, to keep the income they currently receive and pay the taxes they currently pay, or two, to earn $20,000 a year and pay NO taxes with the same expenses they have now. We all know that nobody is stupid enough to pick number two, but the fact is, if they want less taxes, they better tell the politicians how to help those that are in number two at no fault of their own, or you simply don't give a damn what they think. I know I would probably say this, and this would certainly lead to the first female politician assassinated if I ever ran myself for politics and got elected. But, our politicians have to be more bold and learn to say NO to their corporate benefactors. They do not need our help.

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


In 2008, we encountered a massive global recession. This recession was tipped off by the financial industry, as well as a few people that allowed certain scams like the subprime mortgages, financial collapse of major banks and related public companies. The recession moved worldwide, as thousands upon thousands of jobs were shifted to low cost countries (e.g. where labour can be bought for a dollar a day), or simply lost altogether. Manufacturing used to rule Ontario and upheld the so-called middle class. Supposedly in the "best interests" of the country, American and Canadian governments threw trillions of dollars at the failing banks, failing manufacturing firms and the subprime mortgage sector in some sort of twisted rescue mission. Most of us never received a penny from this spending episode and probably never will.

While governments and big companies pat each other on the back for helping one another "miss that bullet", little did anybody know that people were still losing their jobs, losing their homes and losing their position in society. Average incomes dropped dramatically, despite rising costs in food, housing and transportation. Our respective governments declared some kind of victory against the recession beast in late 2009 or early 2010, pretending that everybody was all doing well again. We hear news reports that as of June 2011, we now have more jobs than we did before this recession hit, so now that we are doing so "well", governments are telling US we better start tightening OUR belts because there's this huge deficit here and we lived high off the hog for too long. That's funny. I can't recall ever having so much.

These reports piss me off more than anything else, because I, like most readers, know things are not good again. Newspapers are celebrating the advent of 100 new call centre jobs in Fort Erie. Wow! One hundred more minimum wage workers to prop up the wealthy corporations that retain the centre as their client ... at the same time, I am watching us continue to bleed manufacturing jobs, so men and women in their fifties and early sixties are now thrown on the street with no options, other than a minimum wage call centre job. At the same time, every second person I talk to is receiving some kind of social assistance, whether this be EI, Ontario Works, Ontario Disability Support, CPP or other long term benefit that doesn't pay all that much.

Yet we undergone both a federal and now a provincial election where our politicians and candidates for political office continue to lie to us by pretending everything is as good as it was before the 2008 crash. They promise us tax cuts, from ....? I almost drilled a new one into the rear end of one of the local candidates when they tried to sell me on this whole "tax cuts lead to jobs" mantra, which I explained in earlier posts why that is a lie. It irritates me to no end how politicians will go to the lowest common denominator to try to convince people of lies they heard over and over and over again, yet in reality, when these policies are put into place, NOBODY is better off other than the very rich! We have to stop voting for politicians that lie to us, and do not tell us the truth of where their policies will be taking us.

If you want health care cuts, or to pay more out of pocket for various services, including health care, community services, education, and so forth, then go ahead and vote for your tax cuts. Chances are you are not making $93,700 a year as a family, which these same politicians wildly claim as the "average" as they sweep the province this time around. The less taxes people pay, the less money there will be to pay for health care, education, social services, roads, bridges, and so forth. However, politicians were a bit reluctant to cut these services, so they went even further into a deficit. Deficits are caused when the government is not taking in as much as it spends, and when taxes are cut and cut and cut, there is less and less and less money in place for governments to use for health care, schools, social services, etc.

Tell me the truth: Did YOU feel any impact from any of these tax cuts? Maybe a bit extra, so you can buy one more double double each month? That is about all the average person will feel from these tax cuts. The very poor do not benefit at all, and with the onset of the HST, the very poor are likely paying as a proportion to their total income, MORE taxes than the top 10% of earners. The McGuinty government of course is being ratted out all over for promising not to hike taxes, but then later on, adding new taxes. So what, Hudak, I don't give a rabbit's behind over taxes. I read your platform. Which one of these taxes are YOU going to eliminate? None. However, you want to cut taxes for the wealthy and big business more and more as each year passes, just like McGuinty did. I know Hudak understands that tax cuts to corporations and wealthy persons does not create new employment. After all, he has studied economics, before he turned to politics. But unfortunately, we have a mediocre community that includes many high school drop outs and people that believe anything that is told to them, and all that matters is votes. They might as well try to convince us that moon is made of blue cheese!

Hudak did make a statement in his platform that his government would allow people receiving ODSP to earn more money and keep it, but there are no details as to how he will go about this. There is no promise to make real changes to this system so that people receiving ODSP can get married without getting their incomes cannibalized, especially if they are NOT able to work but their spouse can. What in the living Hell does a spouse's income and business affairs have to do with their other half's disability? Maybe if somebody told me where this comes from, I might believe them, but I have yet to hear any plausible excuse for a policy like this, which only entraps and subjects the disabled partner to abuse and diminishes their independence at best.

The second one is even more interesting. Hudak is painting himself as pro business, pro jobs, and pro entrepreneurship. Well, will Hudak get rid of the entangled rules that any ODSP recipient or their spouses have to deal with if they choose self-employment as their way of making money? Self-employment income is not counted in the same way Canada Revenue Agency counts for other businesses, yet we wonder if Hudak will allow ANY business to be treated the same. Either tell all businesses they are not allowed to hire staff, not allowed to deduct costs for conventions, not allowed to deduct costs for professional clothing and appearances (especially if this is part of the job), etc. and see where that gets you. So Hudak, either you are for small business and for increasing the number of jobs or you are not. Which is it? Dalton McGuinty has given these same people the same wimpy excuse year after year about how they do not want to "subsidize" businesses with ODSP, yet on the other hand, the McGuinty government will throw Samsung $7 billion, Silicon Knights $2.8 million, GM almost $3 billion dollars .... yeah, now I get it.

The poorest of the poor, the entrapped poor and their families and the "working poor" are supposed to continue to pay for these subsidies and benefits given to the rich and to large corporations they will never benefit from, even though these same entities have been busy sucking out of the government trough for years, leading our government into this huge deficit they are saying is there now, and because of that, WE but not THEY have to tighten our belts. I'm sorry. THIS IS NOT MY DEBT. I OWE NOTHING. The more of us that can say this and really mean it, the more impact it will have. If there is a debt that has to be repaid, take it from those that benefited in the first place from all the largess.

Take it from the multi millionaires that pay less tax as a percentage of their incomes than the people that clean their offices. Take it from the corporate executives that paid themselves bonuses after their companies went tits up and got government bucks to "stimulate" the economy. Take it from the $3,000 a day consultants that worked for e-Health under McGuinty's watch, who had the nerve to charge their Tim Horton's on top of it. Take it from your so-called "average" family that makes $93,700 a year and up.

One of my MPPs in my region asked me how I would respond when groups like the Canadian Taxpayers Federation show up at their door crying poor because they do not want to pay any more taxes. I told him to ask each and every one of them present to bring in their last year's tax return and show him line 150. I am willing to bet my first born that their incomes are all in the six figures and they can damn well afford the taxes they are supposedly paying, and probably have more loopholes than the average person anyways if they want more write-offs. Ask them to make a choice: earn the money they are earning or more likely receiving right now, while continuing to pay the taxes that they allegedly do, OR earn only $20,000 a year and pay NO taxes, and still have their current expenses. I am curious which one they would pick. Are you?

To me, it is people in the higher income brackets that benefited from the spending and tax cuts that led to this monstrous deficit and it is THEY and not US that should be tightening their belts and giving up more. This era of the selfish has to end, as it is driving all of us into the ground. These same people do not want to help the poor other than their "charitable donations" to food banks etc. - (no thanks). At the same times, poverty is costing every man, woman and child each year over $2,700 according to a study by the National Council of Welfare, but would cost less than half to eradicate it.

Some of you people reading this probably wonder what I have AGAINST the rich. Actually, I don't have anything against the wealthy. I have many friends among this upper middle echelon and so forth, and I once made good money in the past where I had few financial worries. However, when I made the good bucks, I did not care about the taxes, as I believed if I made more, I should pay a little more than those that earn less than I do. Taxes create a civilized society. This does not mean we do not have the right to criticize HOW our taxes are spent, as there are likely ten thousand different ways governments can save money without cutting services, and to use their resources more efficiently. What I am critical is the growing passive acceptance by the public of the growing gap between the very wealthy and the very poor, as well as the decimation of our middle classes.

Some might argue that companies will leave if they had to pay more taxes. This has never been proven. Companies do leave jurisdictions, usually for a variety of reasons and not necessarily because of taxes. Many times, it is labour costs. There are companies that move to Canada as well because employers are not stuck with a bill for health insurance for their employees. Others choose a location because of the pool of labour available, the number of people with particular skills and expertise. However, as I said before, there are probably a few companies that would be eager to hire chimpanzees in exchange for a clean cage and bananas, if they could do it. The very wealthy often do not seem to want to share their wealth, even though it is their best interests.

First, the work of the lower and middle echelons of their companies effectively keep them in business, and in turn, with a public with an acceptable level of income, there are more consumers for the corporation's product or service than if this inequality is allowed to continue as it has. People on the bottom end of the income scale do not eat at restaurants, do not buy their clothing at department or clothing stores, do not buy their books at bookstores, do not go to the movies, nor do they buy computers, iPads, cell phones or even cars. When companies that supply these things have less consumers, because more and more members of their communities are unable to afford anything beyond their housing, these companies eventually fail. Henry Ford, when he set up his factories, knew that he had to pay his staff enough money so they can afford to buy his product, or he would not sell enough cars to enough people to make any money at all.

I tried over the years to tell politicians how to achieve this aim, how to do true stimulus, and how to deal with objections by the selfish and senseless. I also tried to show politicians how to achieve change without killing people, or putting people into positions where they feel they must take their lives, or they develop health conditions where they slowly die. All of these things seem senseless or illogical, but when you think of it, when more of us are healthy, costs for our cherished health care system go down and become more manageable. When we have not only sufficient funds for bare physical survival, but also for meaningful participation in the community, everybody is richer, from the butcher at the corner, to the farmers at the market, to the chef that runs the downtown eatery, to the man that owns the movie theater.

This is all common sense to me. How come our leaders seem to be losing their way?

Sunday, September 18, 2011


As I might have stated before in this blog, I live in a very conservative, willfully ignorant and at times, divisive community. At the same time, there are elements within this same community that are trying to present themselves, and become a cultural force and eventually a political force.

The Region of Niagara lacks organized opposition to the current destructive path our governments are taking us down: the path of austerity for the poor, and socialism for the rich. When I personally speak to people, or discuss issues in informal groups that gather in coffee shops, at street corners, at Tim Horton's and other places, without triggering a reply, these individuals reflect the same kind of worries and concerns that I illustrate here on this blog.

At the same time, I met many ordinary individuals that, while they are generally kind, funny and productive with their lives, they do not understand the culture of the "other". One such man met with me and we had a chat about the economy. He told me that they should limit people's stay on welfare for a short period of time, and then force them to get off the system. As attractive an option that may be, I ask, where will these people go to when their time is up? He told me, "They'll get a job". This is the thinking of people who have likely not spoken to or met with somebody who is struggling to get off welfare. If they would "get a job" at the end of their time on the system, they surely would get a job earlier before the clock stops ticking, in my not so humble opinion. This is because that is what they want: a job. At another forum, a participant posted that there were almost 500 jobs listed on the Job Bank, a program offered by Service Canada. I then asked if they knew exactly how many unemployed workers there were, and whether all we needed was 500 jobs to create full employment. If Niagara has 9 - 10% "official" unemployment rate, chances are it is double that in the "real unemployment" figures, given many people have long since given up looking for work, or have accepted work that is not full-time or permanent. This would mean up to possibly 40,000 people in Niagara would be seeking employment, or deem themselves to be grossly underemployed.

As a professional service provider that works in the community, I see what happens at the grassroots. I ask questions all the time. To the man who told me that the welfare recipient at the end of their time would get a job, I asked if he would hire that person. After all, he runs a small construction company and he is growing his business. He told me he would not hire that person. I then ask him, if he would not hire this person, what gives him the idea that "somebody else" will? He did not know. I know why, although he might not quite understand why. These problems are always considered to be somebody else's problems, not our own. We talk a lot about what employers "should" be doing, but as employers, are we willing to actually take these issues on, and do our part in the public interest?

I spent time working on the AODA Standards Development Committee, and met many wonderful, smart, intelligent and outspoken individuals: some were spokespersons for organizations, such as the Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Mental Health Association, the colleges, the universities, and the civil service, while others were individuals, including entrepreneurs and persons with disabilities themselves. I don't think a single human being in that room felt that persons with disabilities were unworthy of being hired and offered promotions, and so forth, equivalent to their peer groups. The debates were hearty, passionate and at the end, compromise was reached, sometimes while standing on tenterhooks. It reminded me of a process that one learned judge told me when I first started practising: "You know when a mediation worked when all parties to the mediation end the session with their lower lips to the floor". We all walked out at the end of our final submission happy in some ways, not so happy in others, but we can live with it.

I returned to my own community to find a lot of the knowledge and passion lacking in many otherwise intelligent, well-meaning and positive people that are considered our community leaders. Report after report here points out that there are openings in jobs, but no takers. This is not because people are lazy and do not want to work, but because there is a disconnect between the employers that want workers, and the workers that want jobs. Nobody is integrating this puzzle, to create the mosaic the Niagara workforce needs, which would become an inclusive and improved labour force, as opposed to leaving the low waged, insecure and "bad" jobs for the people on welfare and disability, while keeping the "good jobs" for people who are already part of their own networks.

The other day, my husband and I were walking down the main street of downtown and I pointed out to him where various businesses shut their doors, others opened theirs, and others are having difficulties. Niagara College moved its employment program downtown, and Business Education Council moved downstairs from where it was previously located in the Landmark Building. They are promoting "older workers", many of whom were thrown out of work and have the expenses of a mortgage, kids in post-secondary education, car payments, and so forth, but nowhere to go. I just hope this organization is not fooling the older workers by making them believe there are good jobs out there. This is particularly interesting given that I did take a scan of the Job Bank selections when that individual pointed out there being 500 jobs, and most of these jobs are low wage, temporary or otherwise, not appropriate for an adult that has financial responsibilities.

At the same time, candidates are sweeping the area for the next provincial election saying only if we threw more tax cuts at rich people and their companies, we can get more jobs and investment in the Niagara Region. I am angered at these politicians, both as a business graduate as well as somebody who has an IQ beyond her shoe size. These tax cuts were in the making over the past couple of decades. If this worked, Ontario and Canada would be booming with employment opportunities. It would be a worker's paradise, where a worker can walk into a company and pretty well name his or her price. However, the "full employment" definition kept creeping up from 2% to 4% to now, around 6%, meaning that somebody in the federal government knows that tax cuts are not doing the job that politicians are trying to tell us they do.

Canada and Ontario have to begin to deal with the social safety net that was designed for a time when we really had full employment and short term mean short term. and people with disabilities were not being squeezed out of having any quality of life like they are now. The simple fact is that business thrives only when people buy from them. If everybody around them is poor, and the business is not selling a good or providing a service that is as base as rent and perhaps, groceries, then that business will suffer with at least a couple of million people in Ontario that just are not buying anything. People who are poor do not go to the movies, do not eat out at restaurants, do not buy clothing from the clothing stores, do not buy big screen TVs, do not buy cars, and if they have an old car, do not get gas very often and from what I have seen, many have tried to drive without insurance. All of these companies that do not have these buyers are receiving less revenue, and as such, are not as able to hire as many people as they would otherwise be able to, had this whole group of people been able to participate in the economy.

Giving tax breaks to wealthy people does not grow jobs, at least in the way politicians are claiming. Even a millionaire family of four only need so many groceries, clothes, gas for their car, and will only eat out so often. There is an equilibrium in terms of how much a consumer will purchase to receive their maximum satisfaction. What the wealthy do with the rest of the money is what is important, and research has shown they do not spend the rest of it in the community. In general it is divided between savings, and non-labour intensive purchases, such as a family vacation to Disney World.

If they are business owners, the tax cuts come AFTER they hire their last staff person. A new employee is a complete write-off for taxes, and tax liabilities are transferred to that employee and not the company. The money that is left is profit, and that is what is taxed. A company that is charged less tax on the profit is not going to suddenly need and desire to hire more staff. Instead the company will divide the profits among shareholders or reinvest it into long term financial instruments. No company I know of will hire more staff just because they feel like it; companies are not charities. Staff are utilities in helping the company get its work done, and to get paid. If a company can hire chimpanzees and robots to achieve the same goals, they might just do that - but fortunately, this technology has not reached the state where this is possible.

In this election, the Progressive Conservatives, under Tim Hudak, is all about tax cuts. There is very little new spending other than a 6% boost to health care, to reflect what is status quo now at the federal level. McGuinty's agenda is similar. Both parties assume that the average family income in Ontario is still $93,700 - likely taken from the last Census. We know this has substantially changed since the recession of 2008, but we have no numbers since Harper scrapped the long form Census. The whole idea of allowing families to split up to %50,000 off the high earner to add to the low earner's income is insulting to the majority of people that don't even earn close to $50,000.

Further, Hudak's talk of providing relief to families means nothing to families where one of the spouses is on ODSP. ODSP conscripts the working spouse into its rules, thus creating a family income that is capped at best, and at worst, leads to family break-up with the disabled person losing all benefits and income of their own, leaving them susceptible to abuse and isolation. The working spouse can work all they want, even around the clock, but they will not be able to bring their family out of poverty. In situations where the working spouse is self-employed, ODSP's rules about self-employment put the family's financial health into even further jeopardy with rules against the self-employed spouse hiring employees. What? Isn't this government about helping business and creating jobs, yet it will not allow these businesses in particular to hire employees? The effect of this is that it caps the self-employed person's income, as it is impossible to earn on their own more money to get the other spouse off ODSP so they can live more normally.

I talk to people about this all the time. 95% of the people I speak to are shocked about this, as they never knew any government in Canada would do this to people, and punish spouses of persons with disabilities. I point to the relatively low number of people on ODSP that even bother to get married, and yes, they understand that. I also helped a gentleman get onto ODSP a few weeks ago, and when his case was transferred, he called me to seek advice on what he needs to do to leave his wife, as her income left him qualified for nothing. I warned him that if he does leave, ODSP will require him to file a lawsuit for support against her to get as much of her income as possible, so she will continue to have to subsidize ODSP anyways. This is ODSP's way of continuing to shift more of its costs onto persons with disabilities, a group that can least afford to pay this cost.

These people are in the market, on the street corners, in Tim Horton's, or who run their own businesses, and they ask why one person's business is not allowed to hire employees, but others are? Perhaps, if Hudak was that concerned about removing the "burden" from families, he can start right there. If he does, I can guarantee a groundswell of support from many people in the disability community. If they stopped counting spousal income against the very low rates of the person with a disability, the family income would double without the government adding a single penny to the program. I say this, because what I see happening are spouses that are stopping work and then living on the other's disability allowance, because they are finding working to support the WHOLE family too exhausting. On a similar note, a friend of mine was working three minimum wage jobs and ended up on ODSP now, because the human body was not built to work without breaks, for very long hours at a time, and to burn to the candle at both ends. If I hired you to work for me, and made you work sixteen hours in a day, without paying overtime or minimum wage, and in fact, asked you to pay me back half your wages, I would be convicted by the Ministry of Labour ... why is the government allowed to do this to those that are trying to get ahead through self-employment? This is why some of our small businesses downtown had to close down in a hurry, because the entrepreneur was not able to support his or her family on less than fifteen cents on the dollar. Think about it.

Those objecting to hiking corporate taxes whine about losing the incentive to invest. What do you think these rules and regulations do to potential entrepreneurs that are attempting to work themselves either off ODSP, or to increase their family income as a family with two incomes, instead of one limited "see saw" income that caps the worker at a level well below the poverty line? Does fifty percent of the income of politicians come off their spouses, if they are working or receiving any money from another source? I doubt it.

The walk to the market each day is fraught with people wanting a piece of my time. I am the one who took an international fit to get regional transit in this area. I am the one that asks the questions that need to be asked. I litigate whoever needs to be litigated. I am not afraid. But the whole world became much smaller for me over the past few weeks, trying to do computerization of all my files, while still trying to get some essential work done. The days are getting shorter and the night falls, making it lonely once again, when I don't want to be alone.

In the day time the buskers are out. At one time, right after Jack Layton's death, one of them was out by Coffee Culture singing from a script. She was singing Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, and the words to this made me cry. Like when is this going to end? When are we going to see less people die? One of my clients told me about three who died from a drop-in centre in one month alone. I used to do this as the executive director of the Niagara Mental Health Survivors Network. I attended a lot of funerals, and organized a lot of memorials.

I am so afraid if the political people that get elected this October 6, 2011, do not want to learn about the "other", and re-focus away some of their priorities from constant tax and service cuts, and start listening to the people that matter, that we will be organizing a lot more funerals and memorials for people who die in their thirties, forties and fifties, after living a life of Hell.

Your thoughts?

Sunday, August 28, 2011


It was early last Monday morning my son announced he just heard that Jack Layton, NDP Leader and Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, had died of the cancer he had contracted in July 2011. We we filled with hope that he would be back fighting in spirit in Parliament on September 19, 2011, when Parliament resumes.

I watched the State Funeral he was given yesterday. One of the songs, Hallelejah, by Leonard Cohen, was one of the songs that was played to him apparently in his final days. At his funeral, Steven Page, former front man for the Barenaked Ladies sung it at the Roy Thompson Hall, with grace as members of the audience on both the inside and outside had tears in their eyes. The other one was with the original singer, Lorraine Legato, of Parachute Club fame, singing Rise Up. Reverend Brent Hawkes talked about his Sunday sermons, he would check the balcony above and he would find Jack and Olivia in attendance.

To me, Jack Layton was a big part of how Toronto became the wonderful place I find it to be today. I am so fearful that the recent election of Rob Ford is going to destroy that community. Jack Layton stood up for inclusive communities, and for a long time, Toronto tried to be an inclusive community. I always envied those who lived there for their lives, and today they are interwoven in the Toronto legal, social, urban and political landscape, while I, as an outsider can only come when I take part in something province wide.

But, I want to tell you about Jack Layton. I have met him numerous times, many times as a young person when I was all NDP-idealistic and even presided the riding association at one point. I belonged to a group called ACT for Disarmament, which was a fight against the cold war, something both my husband and I recall as being big in the 1970's and 1980's. We would have marches here by the federal MP's office at one time when the Landmark Building was actually a federal building. We would travel to Toronto, and join the larger peace movement there, led by Toronto's ACT for Disarmament.

Jack Layton would be involved. I remember his face, simply by looking at what he looked like in the 1980's. He would sometimes speak, and make various venues available to us. I loved Toronto then, as it was so much bigger and more powerful and it was branching out to Niagara in those early days with our rag tag group, which still seemed to attract hundreds to our own local demonstrations and Hiroshima and Nagasaki awareness days in the park. I remember listening to the music in my ear, especially of We Built This City by Jefferson Starship. Ben and I were young then, both of us in college during that age, and even afterwards.

You see, Niagara was not always the drab, conservative, do-nothing, bend-over-and-let-me-let-you-screw-me type of community like it can be now. There were at least fourteen activist organizations that had my name on them somewhere. At the same time, I fought major battles before I was trained in the law. One was being denied access to university funding and education, and the other was an action I had to take against the very old fashioned CMHA at the time for their decision to expell me because of my politics at the time. I organized the clients of the agency to teach them demand better, and ask for jobs there, or to become volunteers so we can run our own programs to some extent. Apparently, a substantial petition was taken to force them to take me back, as well as a legal action, which attracted Ontario Division and United Way to the table, a nightmare I was not going to allow to stop until they stopped excluding me. I ended up joining the Board after I came back and served there for many years, and was eventually awarded a lifetime membership.

There was also the Unemployed Action Alliance. I pass the old Grantham Township Building in St. Catharines everyday. This was 145 King Street, where a drop-in centre, advocacy and support services were provided for the city's unemployed. We held the clout to bring the Mayor and city council to the table and make demands for things like reduced bus fare, and free activities like a large picnic for the unemployed, where I eventually met my husband (who was volunteering for the event). We would also demonstrate, do protests, as well as enjoy Christmas dinners at behest of the local labour leaders. We responded to the rhetoric of the day about those of us that were unemployed, that said we were lazy, did not want to work, and resisted a version of workfare that being introduced at the time.

I was in college then, first taking my legal clerkship and then later fighting throught the Ombudsman and the MPP office for my OSAP. I was a force to be reckoned with, as I was not happy to let people tell me I cannot do this, or cannot do that. I lived on my own since I was a teenager, and always trying to adjust to the rules that either enabled me, or confined me in many respects. Somebody I met in Toronto told me to talk to Mel Swart, then an MPP for the NDP representing Welland. They told me I was not capable of going to university, and further, OSAP would not qualify me, so I fought. I still have the letters I wrote, until the NDP took me up as a case in the legislature, and because I received very little support from my parents (even for signing a damned form!), I had to do things the hard way ... I still remember Mel phoning me to tell me that the Minister approved my application for OSAP by order-in-council, and I could get information for this from the finance department at the university, which I did.

While all this might not seem to be about Jack Layton, he was in my life throughout this whole period of time. I was in the NDP. I would attend provincial and federal conferences, as well as attend meetings where NDP leaders would come down to do a meet and greet. Jack Layton sat at my table at a couple of these conferences. He encouraged me to apply for co-operative housing, which I did. I remember Jack standing up and stating why the government had so much against co-ops ... because the people in them were politically aware and can push for change.

It was a few years later that Jack Layton was attacked by the Toronto Sun because he and his wife, Olivia Chow, were living in a downtown housing co-operative and at the time, collectively were bringing in over $100,000 a year. This was all based on the public's ignorance of the philosophy of co-operative housing. While co-operative housing IS a form of social housing, it is not necessarily a "low income housing". It is part of the co-op mantra to include people from all backgrounds, all incomes, all races, all religions, etc. to live in an intentional community. If it were so wrong for Jack and Olivia to live in their co-op at the time, why didn't mine evict my family when I used to make approximately $85,000 a year on my own? You just don't get your rent subsidized when you earn good money, but you are not excluded.

These were the days when the latter half of the baby boomers were beginning to speak out, and the earlier baby boomers supported us. There was a large movement to develop cooperative housing in the Niagara Region during the 1980's and early 1990s from what I remember. That is why there are a considerable number of these projects in the region today, even though much of what we did back then has become depoliticized and individualized by those that didn't want the change.

I began to go to Toronto a lot in the late 1980s to the mid 1990s. On many of these occasions, we would meet in places where the political movers and shakers of Toronto met, and we would interact. In the early 1990's, I was given a special invite to Niagara-on-the-Lake's Queen's Landing, where then Premier Bob Rae and his Cabinet were having a meeting, and we not only were able to stay for the public part of it, we were able to socialize with them afterwards. I remember speaking to Frances Lankin at the time, then made Minister of Economic Development and Trade. There was a similar meet and greet in Toronto, where Jack Layton was also present among the invitees, and at that time I shared a table with Premier Bob Rae, and his wife Arlene Perly Rae.

I was just getting out of school in Toronto, and supporting myself through a variety of consulting contracts, both for the federal and provincial government ministries, as well as for private non-profit organizations. After my 10 1/2 year adventure in university was over, I had no job waiting for me. I continued to be a consultant until I became an executive director of the local Niagara Mental Health Survivors Network, a job I held for three years which allowed me to see both sides of an issue, changing my politics considerably. I still have downstairs all the copies of the Niagara Survivor's Journal we ever published through that organization. Later, I accepted similar jobs at the provincial and federal level, until I was exhausted. Upon returning to my roots, I started up private practice again and eventually situated my office next to Start Me Up Niagara, an organization which was formed and funded through one of the jobs that I held over the years.

When I read Jack Layton's history, he did not have a work history like "everybody else's" either. Neither did I. There were no organizations begging for my services (apart from my expertise as a consultant or now as legal representative). I found that the timing of my job search hit every major recession in my career path, leaving employers with no openings for new people, just those who have already been laid off. At one point, I did bluntly ask how I could make myself into somebody that has already been laid off there so I can have a chance at a job. Experiences like this led to some of my more centrist positions on issues. But, regardless of what stage of my life, Toronto was always there for me.

It could be for the peace movement, the NDP, contacting various legislators to get issues pushed, conferences, and even some of my schooling. Eventually I worked on contracts in Toronto, and this has always given me a positive feeling about Toronto. To me, Jack Layton and his wife, Olivia Chow, were very much a part of moving Toronto into a progressive metropolis. Over time, I used Toronto as a way to be surrounded by progress, even in the law, as I once went around taking pictures of the Ontario Court of Appeal, the Law Society, the University Avenue Courthouse, the Human Rights Tribunal, etc. This was the location where the power sources were, and how they generated themselves out to the broader province of Ontario. I would attend conferences, accept various appointments, and do other work in Toronto, simply to get away from Niagara, which since about 1998, has become a very apolitical and hostile environment in which to live. The last anti-poverty conference was held in the mid 1990's, and was organized by me and my agency.

Today I have been so proud to see some people come out. Niagara has been dull for so long, and we have been so isolated. The political epicentre here is Start Me Up Niagara, and my legal office, it seems. There are scattered people in Welland, but they've never concerned themselves with the interests of others in the region, where our problems are just as bad. I have to unfortunately be politically neutral in my direct dealings with government agencies, as my legal office serves many interests. Being involved as a young person with the NDP, then spending some of my time working with the Progressive Conservatives in the 1990's gave me a good bird's eye view on how the inner political workings work, even though I am not interested in any political party now, although I will work with whoever wants to get the stuff done that I want to see done.

During the last federal election, I was torn. I liked both candidates for the Conservatives and for the NDP, but I liked Jack Layton better than Stephen Harper. On May 2, 2011, Jack Layton made an excellent victory and concession speech to a very large crowd of cheerful supporters, and Stephen Harper glowed in his victory in finally achieving a majority government. In a way, Canadians all got they wanted. We got rid of separatism in Quebec with an orange sweep over Quebec, and the NDP won an unprecedented number of seats, placing him and Olivia in Stornaway, an honour never given to an NDP member of Parliament in all of history. Conservative supporters also got the majority they long sought after.

During the election campaign, I was very impressed with the NDP ads. They were not mean and vicious against other parties and other leaders; they were cheerful, optimistic and powerful. When he spoke on election night, he was so optimistic, and I bet every Canadian across the land except for those whose heads were deeply in the sand did want to see a Canada for all Canadians "where nobody gets left behind". Various election ads, such one about small businesses, health care, and leadership. Many of these commercials during the election ended with Layton speaking to a large audience saying, "We won't stop until we get the job done!".

And then last Monday comes along. Jack Layton is not coming back. He died at 4:45 a.m. last Monday, just after a meeting I was part of at Montebello Park planning an anti-poverty response to the provincial election. It is like I lost a major limb, or a large part of my heart was cut out ... it is more than a "now what?". Is this the end of an era? I hope not. Canada has become too lean and mean lately. While I resented a lot of the political correctness, union issues etc., during the Bob Rae era, I wanted so badly to see a progressive movement like one led by Layton that did not push these issues that turned too many off the NDP.

My family watched the State Funeral on Saturday. It was Stephen Harper that approached now widow, Olivia Chow, to offer it. The procession was wonderful, a celebration of his life, and how the people of Toronto gathered in the thousands and thousand on sight and mourned and others of us mourned across the nation ... not a dry eye in this land. But what do we make of this? Jack Layton wrote a final letter to Canadians from his death bed, which I was not able to read in its entirety. There is too much of me in it, too much of my time in Toronto in it, and too much of dawning realities in it ... a mother-in-law with possible cancer in the liver, a friend of mine just diagnosed with another type of cancer, and how Layton - a hero in the minds of so many Canadians - just was felled by the same thing.

The Letter to Canadians is inspiring me to act, to act against cancer, to act against the destructive influences of the ridiculous right, to find a way to unite Canadians, to find a way to help us find ways to love one another, to help one another, and to teach one another, and how to empower one another. A text version of the letter is available here

In closing, the final words resonated with all Canadians: My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic.

And we'll change the world.

All my very best,

Jack Layton

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Did you know that the Social Assistance Reform Commissioners had been in the Niagara Region earlier this month?

OK. You are probably asking: (1) What is a Social Assistance Reform Commissioner?; (2) Whatever they are, what were they doing in Niagara?; and (3) Why should I care? I spoke to people in the broader social services and legal community and they were aghast as usual, but then again, given our recent "consultations" on the HIP (or Hospital Improvement Plan, anaethema to anybody in Niagara who even sees these three little initials), this is sort of the expected thing that goes on around here.

First, late last year, as a part of the Poverty Reduction Act, which was passed provincially and agreed to by all three major political parties in the Legislature, the Provincial Government appointed Frances Lankin, of former NDP Cabinet and Toronto United Way fame, and Munir Sheikh, made famous by his departure from Statistics Canada when our wonder Prime Minister decided we can do away with a major part of our National Census, to go on the road to consult the community on how to make social security programs and systems work better in Ontario. It is not limited to Ontario Works (OW) and Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), and will encompass housing, training, employment supports and related programs, to see how people can improve their lives (mostly by returning to work, but not necessarily) and to streamline the systems.

Anyways, the Social Assistance Review, is arms length from the government, although it includes some civil servants who have been seconded from their jobs in other parts of the Ministry, as well as some external researchers. On visiting their website, we learn about who they are, why they were appointed and what kind of job they are going to do. There are numerous resource documents being posted to their website, one of which they have asked for from me, which will be made available to them as soon as some minor adjustments are made to it. They have made a commitment to visit twenty-two Ontario communities to meet with social service people, agency folks, advocates and people who have direct and "lived experience" with both programs.

While each region was asked to set up their own meeting, and how they set it up was up to the regional contacts, not the Commission itself, almost all of the meetings set up around Ontario were public to some degree. By the term "to some degree", I mean, some of them were organized by anti-poverty organizations that reached out to others and basically set it up conference format. Others like the one in Hamilton, opened up its convention centre, and opened it up to anybody that registered in advance. However, when Niagara set up theirs, they shut it up tighter than a drum the minute they agreed to a date with Commission organizers. I looked it up the minute the Ontario calendar was put up, and made a phone call and email to the persons identified as contacts for Niagara.

The first thing they said was that it was "full". Upon further probing, I learned it was not even open to anybody in the "public" to begin with. Nevertheless, I feel badly that the Commissioners did not have the best opportunity to hear about some of the unique challenges presented by persons in Niagara. I am not saying the people there or even organizing the event did not have good intentions; I am saying it was completely wrong to exclude legal advocates like myself, and probably about thirty or forty other persons (easily) that I can bring with me that have "lived experience" to speak for themselves as to their own personal dilemmas created by either program.

So, as usual, I created my own hornet's nest, not because I am trying to embarrass anybody, but trying to show people what consultation and community inclusion actually involves. I personally never felt included in this Region (for a number of reasons), even though I lived here since 1983, and the least these people could have done was to make an effort to seek my input, and allow me to bring a few individuals I feel would be representative of the Niagara community of "lived experience". It is not that I don't have other ways of making my views known and articulated, because I am involved at other levels where I have provided comprehensive input, and will continue to do so with selected groups. It is that segment of the community I work with that were very upset to know this happened, and they were forfeited an opportunity to present their stories in person. As one of them told me, "there is a difference if I were presenting on my issues face to face, than even if I put it in writing". This particular woman single handedly organized a poverty forum a couple years ago with almost a hundred people in attendance. Why wasn't she invited?

There is symbolism in my presentation, different than anything I can ever write. I was gently prodded by a friend that reminded me of a story I relayed to my local MPP while the Mike Harris government was in charge. This story created a greater interest among even those with financial conservative leanings, when they understood why the policy of making oneself "permanently unemployable" was not a good thing. It killed somebody here, and as executive director of a local community group at the time, I made this an issue, which in turn led to a lot of the push province wide around the ODSP eligibility criteria we have today. I read about myself in Hansard, on Google, in the special collections department at the library, and in other records, and I envy the perseverence and energy I seemed to portray in those days. My friend, who I shared many of the links with, said I can do this again.

I am concerned that somebody might be worried about too many people going on ODSP and not going off, and who might want to tinker with the definition of eligibility once again, therefore putting more vulnerable people at risk. There have been musings by the current Minister that there were too many people on ODSP and the definition of disability is "too broad". This Minister has also been in charge of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, almost leading one to believe that this hugely watered down Integrated Accessibility Standard is going to get employers province wide to suddenly open their doors to people with disabilities. As I tell people, because I was also involved in this process as well, that the standards are an important step, but it is not going to cure the labour market of most of its ills. To tell a person on ODSP who is trying to work, for example, that they will no longer qualify for the higher benefits this program offers, will discourage any of this effort from going further, or worse yet, lead to more people like Stella Mae Williams (the name of the person who chose suicide over likely and imminent eviction when she was cut off her then Family Benefits cheque for trying to keep a part-time job).

I mention this incident because it happened right here in Niagara, and our beloved Peter Kormos, took this to the legislature, as just another example of how mean social assistance rules can become. I wanted the Commissioners to hear about Stella Mae Williams, and others like her that did not become known through the legislature or through my usual publicity pushing efforts. I wanted the Commissioners to know some of the people by name that I have known, year over year, who have turned to suicide, as opposed to continuously living in abject poverty and alone in this world that is created by ODSP, as well as its predecessor, Family Benefits. The rate of break up in relationships between ODSP recipients and working spouses is very high, over ninety percent of those I have known have split, while the so-called divorce rate for the rest of us is about forty percent. Some ODSP recipients have died, while others continue to live desperately alone.

In my community, I am a paradox. I work professionally as a paralegal advocate, taking cases to courts, tribunals and appeals all over. Many times, I attempt to mediate solutions between parties to get something for both sides, at times in very difficult circumstances. While most of my cases are typical events involving companies, individuals, employers and others, and all of them are very important to me, as all have a legitimate issues that need to be dealt with. About twenty five percent of my caseload is poor, many of them trying to qualify for various disability benefits, or to deal with some other circumstance, such as trying to seek health care that is not available in Ontario. I see the world that nobody else sees, other than some of my peers, as well as folks that work directly in social services. I see for myself what has not worked over the years, and I hear from people all the time what would make things work better for them.

It is unfortunate in our society today, there appears to be an addiction to charity and other ineffective solutions, which only deflect the issues, and continue to fail the people they serve. The culture that is created within the charitable context solidifies the dichotomy of our community between us and "those people" (who would be the intended recipients of charity). Donors are told to feel good, be proud and some even seek their fifteen minutes of fame for running major campaigns to support these charities that in the end produce nothing. It is unfortunate in places like Niagara that people that run these kinds of charities have more say about what should be done than those that live the issues. I am not saying that those that run these charities are bad people or do their work with ill intentions; they fail to understand the effect of the dichotomy this creates, and how it impacts on the self-esteem of the people that are provided for.

In other words, I missed my opportunity to tell the Commissioners what my people tell me they need to become more financially self-sufficient or to bring their families out of the kinds of desperate circumstances that lead them to the door of these charities. I value the adage that if you feed a man a fish for a day, he will not be hungry today, but if you teach a man to fish, you have fed him for a lifetime. We need to get more people that think like me on board to make sure that we stop covering our gaping wounds with band aids and congratulating those that provide the strips. We need more people that can heal the wounds, and make people whole, or at least to the point, where they can choose.

If anybody in charge here in Niagara is reading this, I certainly hope they make attempts to contact me, as I need to belong, and teach people how to stop the bleeding. Your thoughts?

Monday, May 23, 2011


The recent federal election was a very difficult one for many people. We heard about many of the "dirty tricks" being played such as midnight phone calls, phony calls from Election Canada to tell people their polling station is moved, or false reports that one can only use Photo ID to vote with. These tricks were well publicized, and hopefully being seriously investigated and charges laid where possible. However, there were other things going on that were less publicized, and has only reiterated the position I have taken in my last blog entry, "From We to Me". Over the course of the election, there were reports of low income people getting "egged", racist remarks being openly shared in public forums and poor bashing once again becoming a national sport. These techniques, as well as the dirty tricks cited above, are no less of a vote suppressor for those that might otherwise have exercised their right to vote.

We hear about stories in developing countries, where their democracies are very fragile, where people are getting threatened if they dare oppose the ruling party, or they get rewards for promoting the dictator for yet another term. People get punished in these countries. Many have lost their jobs for exercising their right to vote for an opponent, others had their cars bombed or their homes broken into. In this election, right here in Canada, people's cars were vandalized if they were parked in a yard where a political opponent is being supported. There were also allegations of a fire bombing, as well as bar fights over the election. These things that happened here can only move a small amount further, and our country's democratic principles are no further advanced than those of a banana republic.

Unfortunately, many of the problems that surfaced during the election did not stop. Ardent supporters of the now majority ruling Conservatives are holding it high on top of others that they are "better" than those that supported other parties, morally superior because they supported the "stability" of Harper ... one of them even commented that we now don't have to worry about having regular elections. Hey, dictatorships have that too, where people don't have to worry about elections, because they are never called and when they are, they are certainly rigged in favour of the incumbent. Saddam Hussein, Muammar Ghadafi, Robert Magube, Fidel Castro, and many others felt they did not need elections. Why not? They were costly, inconvenient and who wants to bother with them anyways?

The poor bashing sadly continues too. It is so remarkable how the wealthier classes refer to "their" money, when in fact the majority is inherited or otherwise unearned through investments or other means. I stated in another blog why the wealthy do not work as hard as the rest of us, and please don't try to disabuse me of that notion, as I know too many people who worked themselves to death practically, who were by no means wealthy, while wealthy people would complain that increased taxes would only curb their lifestyle somewhat. Again, this is a pestering inconvenience for them to pay their own way in the society in which they live.

Throughout the election, I asked people if they can afford private health care. Ardent supporters vehemently deny that Harper or anybody in his government will ever cut health care. Well, there is plenty of history on the web with Harper's name on it, and his continued antipathy towards medicare. Ardent supporters did not want to read these articles, as they were blinded by ... whatever it is that made them feel Harper was so inviolate. Some would argue that having a parallel private and public health care would lessen the wait list for the ones that cannot pay. Well, this has been tried in many jurisdictions, and unfortunately, this only made those that cannot pay wait much longer and in some circumstances, get inferior treatment. Many of these same people blocked me on various websites because they could not win an argument with me. I don't care. I do not need their ignorance on my computer anyways; let them go pollute other people's mind space.

One person tried to get me to commit to six months of this government and then return to say whether it was good or not. I'm sorry, we ALREADY HAD FIVE YEARS of this same government and what is going to happen in the next four is the same that has happened in the last five years, except the ongoing hyper-partisanship and destruction of opposition opinions will be on steroids. This already happened, as Harper could not even give Parliament a chance to open or even give a Speech from the Throne yet, but he had already re-appointed two Senators that resigned their positions to run in this election and they lost, only to be put right back in the unelected, unaccountable Senate.

In 2006, Harper ran a reasonable campaign to clean up the Senate, clean up spending, make government more accountable, make government transparent, make leaders in the government accountable to their constituents, and to reign in things like AdScams under the Liberals. I was one of those that was fooled by this platform, and they got my vote in 2006. They had FIVE YEARS to make it right, and they only made these things worse. We have government hiding key issues about Afghanistan, the G20, secret papers that have been left with a Cabinet Minister's girlfriend, a Cabinet Minister that ordered a document altered after it had been signed by the parties, and then lied about it, and lack of answers regarding how much corporate tax cuts, fighter jets and private prisons are going to cost the taxpayer. They were found to be in contempt of Parliament, yet they get elected again.

My faith in some Canadians is not very high. As somebody coming into my polling station on election day jokingly suggested, voters should have to pass a basic civics and economics test before they get handed a ballot. Of course, as electionn workers, all we can do is smile and take their identification, etc. and send them to vote. Apparently, there were pro-Harper ads playing on the radio the day of the election, which is apparently against the elections law. But they got the majority now, so nothing is going to get done about that either.

People around me are nervous about Harper. I tell them there is probably not much we can do, other than watch what other people are finally doing in other parts of the world and standing up to their governments. Harper is going to make us all pay for the billions of dollars in handouts to his corporate friends, corporate tax cuts, untendered contracts, among other things, so that the deficit that was created from these ill informed decisions will be paid for by the rest of us that neither created the deficit or had any benefit whatsoever from the spending that led to it. I ask my ardent Conservative "friends" if they can identify ONE job that was created as a result of a corporate tax cut, they couldn't even do that. Because they know that taxes are only applied AFTER the jobs, equipment, research and development, administration, etc. are paid for ...

I am far too educated and intelligent to believe in any of this bunk anymore. In some ways, I wonder why I even bother voting, and perhaps I should join the growing group of non-voters who are fed up with this archaic, corruptible "first past the post" system that can only be manipulated to lead to huge majority governments with far less than 51% of the popular vote. With more people voting against him than for him, Harper SHOULD try to govern for all of us, but I am not holding my breath.

My guess is people will be understanding what I, as well as many other Canadians have been saying about this, in about two or three years when they find their economic circumstances have not improved one iota, and they seem to be paying more and more for the same basket of goods and services and paying more out of pocket for health care and other so-called "public services".