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?