Monday, December 31, 2012


I am ending this year's series of blogs on a regrettable note.  On a personal level, my mother in law, Anne Gretzinger, died on or about May 27, 2012, in hospital.  At the same time, I met no less than two others in my region suffering from the same kind of supposedly rare cancer that overtook her.  Others are dying in other ways, many before loved ones and many without a soul in the world.  Each one of us wants to make our mark in the world, and in many ways, I try to do that for those that were unable to speak for themselves.  I am afraid of our world moving to a slippery slope.

Prior to shutting down my practice for the holidays, however brief this idea turned out to be, an old friend phoned me to tell me that another had given her the power of attorney over his health and financial affairs.  This is the gentleman I once wrote about that, for the lack of political will, to finance an insulin pump, he is now in hospital dying.  Both of his legs have been surgically removed above the knee and he has been moved to Welland, where access to dialysis is readily available.  They now consider him what many in some quarters refer to as being a "bed blocker" or in more polite terms, a patient requiring "alternate level of care". Every day in hospital is costing him and his family $53.00 and change, as they await a spot in cheapest form of long term care.  This is where my cynicism sets in big time.  When I met him, he was a strapping man of 5 feet, 9 inches, and walking most places.  He still had his kidneys, his feet, his eyesight and most of his health, although he did require some foot care.  He was a late diagnosed Type 1 diabetic, and like many in his family, this turned out badly.  At the same time, a close colleague of mine, also Type 1 diabetic, has access to an insulin pump and he gets along fine, complaining only once in awhile of numbness in his feet.

There is a movement on paper at least about treating people in their own homes, allowing people to live in the least restrictive setting.  People do not want to die in institutional settings.  Most tell me that they want to die in their own homes, surrounded by family and friends, both two legged and of the four legged, furry variety.  People also tell me they want to live out their old age in their own homes that they bought and paid for, perhaps, passing down the title to this same property to their kin.   Our government is encouraging that, at least for those people with money.  The Healthy Home Renovations Tax Credit is one example that I played upon when I compared the math between what healthy seniors with money would be getting after the recent and well publicized cuts to OW and ODSP Community Start Up and Maintenance Benefits and Home Repairs.  It was cut in half and yes, the other "half" of this budget went to this new Tax Credit.

There is no way my friend could have stayed in his own home.  He would have had to hire a private nurse and have a live in caregiver to keep an eye on him during the day, as well as somebody to cart him around to his medical appointments.  Wealthy seniors rarely get to the point where they become this ill, but if they do, they have the resources to hide it and to live as close to a "normal" life as possible.  However, in recent weeks, my friend has passed out a couple of times.  I noted that he would not call me back when I notified him of an engagement that he was made aware of several weeks before.  When I finally found him, he had just exited the ICU unit of the hospital.  A few days later, I saw him strolling on his electric wheelchair telling me "they" were going to cut off his legs. I saw them. They needed to go, yesterday. He was also full of bumps and red sores, likely from his ongoing kidney failure. If he had money, he would not have gone as far.

Then as I prepare to pack my bags to go home and rest some during the holiday, my old friend called me in tears telling me that "they" wanted her to eventually consider pulling the plug on his dialysis.  She and I know that if this were done, within seventy two (72) hours, he will die.  She did not want to take responsibility for making a decision that would ultimately end his life.  I couldn't blame her.  Not that his quality of life is exceedingly great ... BUT I know if he had some money, my old friend would not be having that conversation with his doctors.  They would be referring him to one of the better retirement homes in the region, a private nursing service, as well as regular transport to the golf course and perhaps, a brief vacation. There is a lot to be said for the movement for the "good death" or euthanasia for the critically and terminally ill, but there is also a lot to be said when we even measure how social inequality even in its crudest terms is now dictating to us who lives and who dies.

This is certainly not the only story like this that I heard this month, although this one is going to involve some legal work for me and a close associate, as well as paperwork at the end of the day.  There were a few others as well, such as a woman who is in her mid-fifties who suffered from three subsequent heart attacks who had to quit her job and is now relying on social services, as the system wrangles its way to getting her onto CPP Disability and ODSP benefits.  In the meantime, her mortgage has gone begging, and she is likely to lose her only asset she owns: her home. On the contrary, I also happen to know an old curmudgeon who has been fortunate in his working days and is currently living at one of the most expensive retirement homes in the city.  He gets computer training and communications support through another friend of mine who is also a client.  He is approaching his nineties and there is nothing about this city, its community and its politics that he does not have an opinion about, no matter how crazy.  But at close to $5,000 a month, plus some handy extras and a supportive family, he is going to live well past 110.  His secret, he says, is a glass of red wine a day and a fighting attitude.  Never give up, he says.  Never give up.

There is quite a difference between my other friend who is dying and this old curmudgeon that might well wander the earth past the time of all of us.  He has money, but my dying friend does not.  There is very little that medical science will not do for somebody that has the money to pay for it.  There is very little that medical science will do for somebody that most desperately needs care and recovery, but has no money to his name.  My old curmudgeon friend includes among his friends a couple of former mayors, a former and a current MP, and several lawyers.  In his day too, he was involved in such causes as Rotary, Lion's Club and such.  He did a lot of good things in his time and knew a lot of good people, many that my readers likely heard of (but will not be named here).  My dying friend includes people like myself, but also others who nobody has ever heard of, or has reason to get to know, although they too are precious human beings.  Most of his friends apart from myself are also in the disability community, working minimum wage, or on the vulnerable border between life and health failures.  His very best friend is a four legged golden retriever, which he calls Ralph.

These issues and ideas around life and death not only revolve around us homo sapiens, but also around our beloved four legged creatures.  Nobody knows what will become of his four legged friend should the very worst outcome take place against him.  I am not sure if my old friend Renee, his attorney, has the energy and wherewithal to re-adopt this adorable pooch.  My friend adopted Ralph when he was well enough to care, well enough to love another living being with all of his heart.  Ralph came from an abusive home and came to him from a shelter, where thereafter he fed and cared for him like a grease monkey and a brand new car.  I can only imagine how when my friend first went to the hospital, Ralph wandered around the house waiting for him to come home.  This image in my mind reminded me poignantly of Angel, my in laws' dog, and how it likely reacted when she first learned that Anne Gretzinger was never coming home again.

I leave this year with this kind of sadness.  Today, my father in law still comes over with Angel, who becomes so excited and whines hysterically as she sees us approach.  I am sure my friend's sister is at a loss as to how to get Ralph used to the idea that my friend is never coming home again.  This is an issue I am going to have to deal with as soon as I get back to work, and part of why I have to cut my holiday short.  I have received plenty of hate letters and e-mail messages over the years over the strong political opinions I express, as well as "cautions" from even my friends who think that anything but positive messages is going to throw the world sideways.  I come from a place and time where we called a spade a spade and did not put lipstick on a pig and call it something other than a pig.  I always loathed the inventor of Pollyanna, as much as I loathe the inventor of social inequality and damnation.

If we do not talk about the trends that are occurring, the societal values that we have will be displaced by these seemingly medical directives, the increased scapegoating across the globe against the most vulnerable, we are giving "them" (whoever "they" might be) a license to continue.  My friends who I still love regardless but still err on the side of Pollyanna, may want to ask me what do we do.  The important thing is to allow this conversation to take place.  During the times of Nazi Germany, "everybody" knew what was going on with people with disabilities that were living in any of six designated killing centres under what then was referred to the Action T4, or Aktion T4.  In fact, people used to tease one another that if they continued to act as "crazy" as they were, they would be shipped to Hadamar, one of those notorious institutions.  Kathryn Quarmby is doing the right thing in her expose in her latest book, Scapegoat: Why We are Failing Disabled People.   This book and the issues it raises were becoming more eminent in the rise of the UK governing Coalition's welfare reforms that in effect merges persons with disabilities with all others who claim assistance from the state, such as Job Seeker's Allowance and other forms of social assistance available to the able-bodied.  People with disabilities now enjoy equal status to that of the alleged blood sucking welfare cheating scroungers of the UK (see this website and the many valuable links to it).

It is not that it "can't happen again" or it "won't happen in Canada", the fact is it is already happening.  It is happening with my friend with the amputated legs and dialysis, my friend with the three heart attacks, and many others I know about as I write, despite the tingling effect of Bailey's Irish Cream.  I know about people who have been pushed off wheelchairs and told they can walk, that they have somehow scammed the government into getting them a "free" wheelchair.  Another friend tells me that ODSP will not repair her wheelchair because her wheelchair is "somewhat akin to a car" and nobody pays her (her ODSP worker) when her car breaks down.  Well, let's see you take that car from your bedroom to your bathroom and see how well that works.  This kind of thinking has been going on for a long time, not just around the water cooler but in real policy terms as well.  I remember that portion of the course I taught to many students in the early 1990s, asking them to write an essay to argue whether or not something like the Aktion T4 can happen again and happen here in Canada.  It was and still remains to be an amazing thing that people tell me what a horrible time folks with disabilities had during the Third Reich, until I remind them that the World War II had not even begun before the war on people with disabilities began.

People are also disbelieving that even modern day social assistance laws are based on eugenics based thinking.  The whole concept of "man in the house" and "birth out of wedlock" was treated as something to be ashamed of, hidden and penalized by social program analysts.  Many readers will recall how early welfare workers would search the homes of single parents or deserted/widowed women to search for "signs" of a man being in the house.  These days, they may not be so oblique with their intentions, but financial penalties always ensure when people behave in ways that others that are not on social assistance behave; that is, they are penalized when they are married or living common law, have a child remain with them in the home after they pass the magic age of eighteen years, or require a child to pay room and board from their part time employment.  The "incentive" under social assistance is to remain vulnerable to poverty, whereas, any attempt to leave poverty is penalized severely.

Poverty rates for married people are much, much lower than people living alone, but if a person receiving disability/ODSP tries to engage in a relationship to improve their financial circumstances, the law now requires the working spouse to instantly support them, warts and all.  It is designed to repel even the most tolerant and loving persons from engaging in relationships with persons with disabilities.  This, coupled with the fact the eugenics board in Alberta continued to exist and act against certain persons with disabilities well into the 1970's is proof of this.  When this was successfully challenged under the Charter and damages were awarded to persons so affected and forcibly sterilized against their will under Canadian law, the Alberta government had the nerve to attempt to pass the notwithstanding clause of the Charter of Rights to severely limit the damages and parties able to claim damages.  It was only after serious backlash from the disability and human rights community, that this pathetic attempt at upholding paternalistic and abusive values was eventually discarded.  I remember editing a national newsletter at the time.  One of the activists that fought this attempt to discard these rights under the Charter was an ex-Torontonian conservative that shared with me many of his insights over the years, leading me to believe that governments do not always govern with the best intentions.  In many ways, they have historically governed with the worse intentions, especially but not expanding this discussion to the fate of our aboriginals and our so called residential schools.  We are not innocent bystanders when we allow our governments to do this.  We are active participants.

We have to acknowledge what is happening, understand the roots of how these things begin, and to discuss it and then take collective action.  Many communities have rightfully taken collective action against the cuts to the Community Start Up and Maintenance Allowance and Home Repairs Benefit for people receiving OW and ODSP benefits, shortly after it was announced in the 2012 Budget.  This was a very large collective effort across Ontario.  A group of fourteen communities met on December 14, 2012, and delivered a common statement to the Premier afterwards.  Some are saying the government response is positive, in that they have injected $42 million of "transitional funding" to the municipalities to get them used to the fact they have to do more with less and less money.  This is a band aid and at best, a temporary reprieve.  The municipalities will still be in charge of the money, have little to zero accountability for how it is spent and no appeal rights for individuals turned down from assistance from this new program, and apparently $42 million isn't even close to what they cut from the original programs and it is only good for 2013.  Many advocates asked about what happens afterwards, but were cut short by the mainstream media.  Many referred to this as a drop in the bucket, and others like myself state this does not change the fundamental shift from entitlement rights to "discretionary" and "charitable" rights, which really are not rights but are decisions made by others based on their perceived value of you as a person, not your right as a citizen.

Like the doctors in my friend on dialysis' case, once again judgment calls will be made on the value of people's lives.  My friend dies.  My friend, the curmudgeon with money, lives forever. Some people's lives will inevitably be deemed to be more valued than others, and of course, regardless of individual value, at some point in the fiscal year such as May or June of each year, the money will run out and people will be told they have to wait until April the following year for their next installment.  Municipalities don't have to cough up after that.  These benefits are no longer mandatory.  There are no appeal rights.  Your case can be brought to a worker who is having a PMS day, or somebody that believes that people on ODSP are "better off" than people on OW and they will be allowed to make a FINAL decision on your case to deny you.  Or you can wait until next year to take care of the bedbugs, or leave your violent partner who is beating the living daylights out of you.  Sleep on the floor in the meantime.  Our wonderful Ombudsman Andre Marin does not even have the jurisdiction to review these ridiculous decisions.  A private members' bill to include the so called MUSH sector which includes municipalities died on the order paper when McGuinty rabbited from the Legislature this past October.

Rights are being eroded for the poor, as the charitable sector has no legal consequences for privacy breaches it may happen upon in the course of its work with vulnerable persons outside of health care.  With health care, Personal Health Information Protection Act, privacy must be safeguarded but not if you are a client of a food bank, a homeless charity or a drop in centre of ambient sorts.  Meanwhile, wealthy people are allowed to live in gated communities, have their personal privacy of all respects protected in all areas, as well they worked to decimate the long form census because they did not want people to know how well off they really were -- while the rights of the poor get further decimated as we speak.  In addition, has anybody tried to sue a food bank or soup kitchen for serving spoiled food that resulted in some form of illness or disability, in the extreme event?  Better bet that if a wealthy person got sick after eating sushi at a sushi bar, they'd be able to sue and more!  My discussions in these blogs are about accountability.  They are about equality.  They are about having equal rights in the pure and crudest sense.

I want poor people to have the same rights as millionaires when millionaires do not lose more than a small fraction of their income to taxes and clawbacks to government.  Why do the poor often lose more than one hundred percent of their income this way?  Why aren't we asking our leaders the right questions?  We need to stop glossing over these questions and start putting them to our leaders and refusing to give up or let up our protest until they agree to make it right and follow it through.  I don't believe they reversed the CSUMB cuts one bit.  We need to call a spade a spade and put it forward now and educate one another how to get involved, write letters, get involved in collective action, teach others the facts the media will deny and to partake in movements like Idolnomore and push and push and only until we have full rights of citizenship, and stop admitting or believing that our government have our best interests at heart, because they don't.  All one has to do is find out what corporate board or corporate job they get as soon as they leave politics, or what lobbying organization they join ... because that is what the truth is my friends.  That is the truth.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


The Agenda did a serious entitled "Why Poverty?".

Normally, The Agenda can present some interesting topics that people want to hear and they do bring in guests that can speak intelligently on these issues.  This show is a refreshing change to what is usually found online where people blame the poor for their own circumstances and propose even more rules on them to keep them apart from others.  It is somehow believed by the "average Joe" that poor people are more likely, for example, to have addictions, but the research on the issue does not bear this out.  Chances are greater that one's colleague at the next desk or their boss is likely to be addicted, when compared to welfare recipients.  Why isn't anybody proposing to test these people for drug use?

The Agenda first had Frances Lankin and Munir Sheikh, the authors of the quintessential social assistance review report, to discuss their final report and what they felt it would mean.  As you are aware, I am no fan of this report and feel that even if it were fully implemented, not a single person on assistance affected by the report will ever get out of poverty.  Unfortunately, I feel that both Lankin and Sheikh swallowed too much of the same Kool Aid that is being distributed among people in coffee shops, people driving stop and go on the Gardiner Expressway and people that feel that "if I work, why should THEY be allowed to sit at home?"

This is so frustrating, as the crux of their report essentially pits the so called working poor against those receiving either Ontario Works (OW) or Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) benefits.  Apparently, they think there are too many people on ODSP and want to stem the tide of people getting on.  They also want to get some people off it through their own version of workfare that will theoretically cover everyone, including those with severe disabilities and even terminal illnesses (similar to the way they do in the UK).  They further want to put more responsibilities and management on the municipalities, which over time will ensure major cuts to programs for the poor because municipalities do not have the same taxing power that the provincial and federal government have.  Because most municipalities are loathe to increase property taxes and user fees, they will look to cuts first and benefits for the poor are low hanging fruit.

The current situation with municipalities where people living in some communities can access a rich array of benefits, while others in other communities can only get the bare bones will only be further enhanced with the province's choices of its own priorities, such as: giving rich people tax cuts, giving rich seniors a "healthy home tax credit" to do repairs they will probably do anyways without the tax credit, and pouring more money in corporate welfare to various companies with the hope -- even the faintest hope -- that these companies will hire people off the welfare and disability rolls.  Even companies that want to "champion" people with disabilities don't know the first thing about the true potential of people with disabilities.  A government office will hire people with disabilities to water plants.  An insurance company will hire a few in their mail room.  A publisher/newspaper will hire some to deliver their publications.  Higher level jobs that involve higher skills and higher pay will still be remote for people with disabilities, even among those that have the required skills for these jobs.

Barriers to employment will persist even with the report's full implementation.  As one person told Steve Paikin's producer at The Agenda, "There are no other working people in Ontario that have fifty percent of their wages taken off, even though we pay the same taxes that everybody else does".  The report recommends scrapping the $100 work allowance and raising the "earnings exemption" to $200 per month for both OW and ODSP recipients.  I bet it cost YOU much more than $200 a month to keep your job, let alone even get one in the first place.  Thank about the price of gas, car insurance, work clothing, lunches, coffee breaks, dry cleaning, haircuts, and in some cases, cell phone and internet access if required.  The total bill for these basic items exceeds $500 - $600 per month for most people.  You might not think so, but for those of you that have retired, you will note that you don't have to drive as much, don't need to dress up, can eat at home and can throw away the cell phone.

If you went to work and paid the normal taxes and deductions you normally do, plus lost fifty percent of what is left over, how much more willing would you be to work more hours, take on a second job, especially  if your job does not provide much security and benefits?  For those who are self employed, it is worse.  Anybody in Ontario can start and run a business of their own.  Canada Revenue Agency has rules that allow for certain deductions and tax rates for base levels of income, and depending on how your business is set up, Canada Revenue Agency is fairly permissive around such issues as hiring staff, investing in equipment, work related clothing, mileage and even something called "business meals".  That is, if you have to work long hours and need to grab a bite to eat, or you are meeting with a potential client over lunch, the cost of this can be written off by fifty percent. The situation is totally different for self employed also in receipt of OW or ODSP.

Self employed people on OW or ODSP are not permitted to hire staff, so the business owner has to do absolutely everything in their business by themselves, which often means cutting into the time they could have to actually grow the business and make money.  The government appears to believe that people with disabilities are only capable of running low skill, low cost home based businesses, such as dog walking, baby sitting, or envelope stuffing.  After all, this is what employers would hire them to do anyways.  This same thread of ignorance that crosses over for prospective employees with disabilities also affects the kind of businesses one can have.  When somebody shows or demonstrates that they can operate a business that has more skill required, as well as a potential to get them completely off benefits altogether, OW and ODSP rules sabotage any attempt on the business owner to get ahead.

They are not allowed to hire staff.  If their company is incorporated, the income the corporation receives (as opposed to the individual) is counted as income, which leads to the corporation being unable to retain earnings and keeping a base from which to pay taxes and other bills that only come periodically.  The person is not allowed their CRA deductions, such as "business meals", work clothing or transportation beyond what is considered "reasonable".  They cannot go to conferences and conventions unless the person is earning an income from this attendance, even if their profession or business requires this attendance.  The OW or ODSP recipient has to choose to pay their business taxes or eat each month, or pay their commercial rent or to purchase clothes for their kids.  There is no distinction made between the person with the business and the business itself, which leads to loss.  Even the monies that are "left over" after approved expenses are ravaged and cannot be set aside to pay taxes later or to save for a large expense, or even contribute to a meaningful retirement plan.  Nope.  These people are not allowed to retire, unless they are satisfied with the dumpster diving level of income people without a private pension will likely get when they hit 67.

The social assistance review report ignored this issue entirely even though they claimed to be in favour of work incentives.  Yet at the same time, I speak to many business owners as well as people on OW and ODSP that have paying jobs that actually quit because it is more financially beneficial for them to sit at home and pick their nose.  When I raise the issue of treatment of business income, I get the same runaround that somehow OW and ODSP doesn't cover the business, just the person.  Hello?  Since when did OW or even ODSP cover all the basic needs of the person?  Does ODSP even cover the full cost of one's housing, including utilities?  Most people are paying between 70 - 80% of their entire month's income on shelter.  To say that a business run out of one's home cannot write off part of the housing costs is ridiculous, as ODSP does not cover all the housing costs.  This applies to food too.  I am not aware of anybody that works and receives benefits that actually get INCREASED benefits to cover the cost of working, etc.  True, they get a $100 "work allowance", but this is soon negated by the 50% claw back of everything else a person earns.

Further, the argument that this is taxpayers' money doesn't sit with me either, especially when governments hand out billions of dollars in corporate welfare and tax breaks to companies year over year that contribute little to the economy, and few have actually used these breaks to create new jobs.  If we want to cut welfare,  let's start cutting from the rich first.  At least, they won't feel it as much.  They may have to give up their fourth vacation and cruise to the Carribean or give up one of their Mercedes or rent out one of their five homes they own, but these people are still eating and living somewhere safe -- even without a penny in tax cuts or corporate welfare.

Another argument often given is that everybody is assessed on family income and it affects their tax credits.  Guess what?  Earned income affects the tax credits of OW and ODSP recipients too.  The more they earn from employment or self employment, the less that family receives in tax credits, while at the same time, their total household income actually drops that more that they do work.  If millionaires had to follow the same rules, they would have moved to Aruba a long time ago!

At the same time, poor people are told to accept charity.  I haven't met anybody that has used a charity that was helped to escape poverty through that charity.  The charities in question benefit from the poverty of its users.  If nobody lived in poverty, the directors of these charities wouldn't have a job, nor would anybody have a reason to go crying to the papers about stocking their shelves with old, sub-nutritious processed foods that to be honest, few would even feed their pets.  Charities are also uneven and do not follow any set of rules when determining eligibility for services.  Privacy is compromised against its users all the time, while the agency just writes it off as a "mistake" (despite the fact this 'mistake' in question could have cost somebody their job or custody of their children).  My advice to the poor -- stay away from charities, unless they allow for anonymity and do not use a means test.

What is needed for people living in poverty is to be included and be supported in this inclusion.  Inclusion means different things to different people.  For some, it means getting their food at the same places that others get their food.  For others, it means being able to get to community events and meetings without having to beg or to depend on others for a ride.  Niagara Region is bad for this sort of thing. It recently held a high profile conference on accessibility issues for people with disabilities at yet another location that one has to drive to in order to be included.  If you do not drive, or do not own a car, then you are not included, despite the fact this conference was theoretically set up to discuss issues related to accessibility.  The less people feel included, the less they feel they are valued as a member of the community.

This feeling of value of oneself, of one's own person, does not come from handouts of aged, rotting food from a food bank, a lice laden homeless shelter or some kind of afterthought given to people that don't drive in arranging rides to a meeting.  I've experienced it in Niagara, where even when a ride has been arranged to get to a meeting, one has to find their way back -- usually about another $100 in taxi fares, because most areas of Niagara are not accessible to people with disabilities that do not have their own means of transportation.  Niagara's only so called poverty group also meets in an inaccessible location, which again excludes many people that can provide input around that table.  As a result, the voices of the non poor and service providers are the only ones that get heard, once again somebody else that gets paid to "help" the poor determining what poor people need.

We have to protest against downloading to the municipalities.  Doing this will only encourage future cuts of greater depth with little or nothing that can be done to reverse them.  Already the so called program that is going to replace the provincial Community Start Up and Maintenance Benefit in Niagara will only be available to people on OW.  I get told to protest this to the region. Many people already have, but our region has its own priorities, which usually involve goods and services that benefit the non poor and the police services (e.g. a $100 million new police palace in Niagara Falls, for one).  Our region talks about the GTA Expressway, as though this is going to encourage thousands of new jobs ... even if it does, not one of these jobs will be available to the poor, as most of the poor do not have vehicles.  These jobs will likely be located along this new highway, where one would need a car to get to anyways.  Why did I have to file a lawsuit against this region just so they can set up some type of starter regional transit between the three main cities (but nowhere else), in order to get them to move on it as opposed to continuing to talk for another forty years?  Now, some regional councilors are attempting to sabotage this pilot project by pushing for its discontinuation.  It is a safe bet that none of these dinosaurs would be willing to drive me between cities when I need to go outside of my own city to work on different files, etc. if they got their way.  It is also a safe bet that not a single one of these regional councilors are without a personal vehicle.  Chances are they each have three or four of them in their driveway.

Privilege breeds ignorance.  People who live in privilege have no idea what others that live with less privilege or without privilege altogether actually live like, or what they need.  Privileged people should not be in a position to make decisions about people without privilege, because of this willful blindness most of them tend to have.  I notice that our regional councilors and city councilors cry poor and whine about seniors that cannot pay more property taxes, as a reason for them to cut essential services further.  Yet these same seniors are the ones that miraculously can afford to upgrade and renovate their homes and will now, thanks to Dalton McGuinty, receive a tax credit for it too.  The so called "poor seniors" or the truly poor seniors are already unable to live in their own homes and have had already moved to subsidized housing, the home of a child or sibling, or even to a nursing home, and very little of this has to do with property taxes ... it has to do with their income in general.  With a net retirement income of approximately $1,300 a month for a single senior that no longer has coverage for dental, assistive devices, etc. cannot afford to live in their own home - period!  While this is not the fault of the municipalities, I wish our local politicians would stop lying to the people about this, because most of the retirees that are able to live in their own homes have private pensions, thanks the generation before me that actually had job opportunities that meant something.

The province needs to UPLOAD, not to DOWNLOAD.  Municipalities should not be in the business of delivering social services of any kind.  Municipalities should be only responsible for predictable programs, services and infrastructure that do not ebb and flow wildly with the economy like social services do.  Services like libraries, public transit, road maintenance, sewage and water treatment, bridges, community centers, certain recreational programs, police and fire departments, are examples of municipal services that should be run locally.  Social assistance of any kind, including OW, ODSP, social housing, employment support services, health and addiction services, senior's support services and so forth, should be run and paid for provincially, even though local offices can operate programs at the local level.  This way, expenses that fluctuate can be covered as required without having to raise property taxes, which by the way, impacts on the supply of affordable housing in any local area.

Most of the rules that govern OW and ODSP need to be eliminated if they actually expect people to work, or accept any kind of employment.  Stop clawing back half the income of people when they take a job.  Stop counting the income and assets of spouses and older children when they take a job or run a business.  For those interested in starting a business, they should have no more rules to follow than anybody else that runs a business and in fact, they should be able to hire, fire, incorporate, invest, retire, do whatever they need to do with the business to help them earn an income.  Because until the government is ready to do real social assistance reform, which is not going to cost a whole lot more than what it does now, the vast majority of OW and ODSP recipients are better off sitting at home.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

WE NEED TO ROCK ON TO ELECTRIC AVENUE ... and then we'll take it higher!

Down in the street there is violence 
And a lots of work to be done
No place to hang out our washing 
And I can't blame all on the sun, oh no 

We gonna rock down to Electric Avenue 
And then we'll take it higher 
Oh we gonna rock down to Electric Avenue 
And then we'll take it higher
Eddie Grant, Electric Avenue (1983)

I don't care if the Social Assistance Commissioners say it is a bad time to be on welfare in Ontario.

I don't care if the Social Assistance Commissioners say that it is a bad time to be writing reports on how to reform the welfare system.

Carol Goar hit the nail on the head with her article today in the Toronto Star, which includes a reference to barriers to reform, such as people with disabilities not wanting anything to do with the report and its recommendations.

Yes, this is true.  As a disability advocate, I look through these things with a human rights lens.  Not a single reference to lifting the spousal penalty, increasing the earnings exemptions for people on ODSP to match what the lucky few can get in gifts; or allowing people with disabilities to retire in some form of dignity, especially if they are working, have worked or their spouse is working.  What about encouraging those that choose to start and run their own businesses, so they can enjoy the same rights and deductions as others in business enjoy?  Yes, people with disabilities want to work, but this report recommends continuing to cut them off at the knees and still expect them to walk.

Poverty Free Ontario got their analysis right.  They explained why people with disabilities have good reason to fear what is in the report.  Instead of some form of dressed up and shiny new workfare model being imposed only on those deemed capable of securing employment, the recommendations go as far as to suggest that persons with disabilities should be lumped into this same category. Many still fear if they do work, they will now be at risk of losing their benefits too.

The Conservatives learned from their mistake when they forced those labeled deemed "permanently unemployable" to stay out of the workforce, and for those who tried, they lost their benefits altogether, jeopardizing their ability to keep a roof over their heads and food on their table.

The Conservatives learned at the time not to mess with disability benefits because one such person walked out and tried to better herself, only to be cut off her benefits completely for the sake of a job she can do for ten hours a week at minimum wage.  In response, she killed herself.  The case made front page.  The case made the legislature.  The case made a forever bleating class of advocates even madder at the Conservatives.  Let them be damned if they allow people with disabilities to die!

But, why do these Liberals seem to believe we can try something like this again, and not expect to see province wide implications of a monumental degree?

Have we lost our way with understanding why some people will simply not make it in today's unreliable, precarious and punishing labour force?  For those that want to work, I see no problem with allowing them, even encouraging them so they can earn up to the same amount of money that people on ODSP can receive in gifts each month or year for each person in their "benefit unit", before the 50% claw back.. I see no point in punishing these people.  As one person told me, most people had to go through "circles of Hell" to qualify for ODSP in the first place, so why are they trying to take that away now?

The Social Assistance Commissioners repeated the government's mantra that there are too many people on ODSP today.  They wring their hands wondering why this is the case, even though advocates have told them that when people get cut off WSIB, long term disability, get denied EI and CPP, they have nowhere to turn to.  Government and the Social Assistance Commissioners, who will be forthwith referred to as the "SAR Czars" are pretending these same people can just go get a job.

Of course, it is easy for middle class and upper middle class folks that are used to having a range of decent opportunities before them to choose from, who were raised by intact parents in intact households and had a head start, to tell those less fortunate than they are that they need an "incentive" to work.

This "incentive" unfortunately is becoming much the subject of debate.  Self employed give up more than they earn by way of claw backs.  Those living with or married to working spouses lose most or all of their income support under the guise that somebody else is supposed to pay their bills.  Recommendations from the report even suggest dropping the Work Related Benefit AND the Special Diet Benefit in exchange for the "right" to keep a whopping $200 a month in earned income before it becomes clawed back.  If the tax department told all of our millionaires that their tax deductions and corporate handouts will be provided under the same rules, I am not sure the reaction to this proposal will be much different than the reaction we are seeing from people with disabilities, who will not, by the way, find jobs overnight.  It is cuts for people with disabilities that have the greatest challenges in the workplace, to help prop up those on Ontario Works by a very modest amount.

Even then, our illustrious Social Services Minister tells us that we as a province cannot "afford" to boost any of the benefits.  Take this statement with a grain of salt (with a whole damn shaker thrown over my left shoulder to keep the Devil at bay), as this same government has no trouble paying for over $5 billion in tax cuts to the wealthiest corporations, over $1 billion for eHealth (remember those $3,000 a day consultants that even had their Timmy's treats paid for?), another billion or more for ORNGE with its head somehow earning over $1.4 million a year; and lately, up to a possible billion dollars spent to move two gas plants to satisfy a couple of dying Liberal constituencies.  Dalton, where do we people with disabilities apply for these well paying jobs that seem to be unavailable to us?

It doesn't even matter that the Premier and the Finance Minister thought about tax cuts first for the wealthy when they came up with their 2012 budget.  Well, they can take the money for this OUT of the pockets of the poor once again, with their cuts to the Community Start Up and Maintenance Benefit and Home Repairs Benefit.  Instead of admitting they are cutting the monies spent on this benefit in half and sending it to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing for distribution to the municipalities to do with as they choose, they also introduced a seemingly unrelated tax cut for home renovations for rich elderly people that want to stay in their homes.  I guess you seen that Premier Care Bath commercial, where a seemingly healthy senior gets into their jacuzzi like tub amidst their washroom that appears on screen to be much bigger than most of our living rooms ... seniors get this tax credit if they can front up to $10,000 themselves first.  I have an idea about this one.  If they can afford to front $10,000, they're going to spend that money anyways,  so why do they need a tax credit for Pete's sake, when down the street their neighbours on ODSP cannot find the money to stop their house from being a mould infested nightmare?  So be it.  I digress.

We had a wonderful town hall here in St. Catharines at the Start Me Up Centre on October 16, 2012, with over 150 people in attendance to attest to how they were helped by the Community Start Up Benefit or Home Repair Benefit in the past.  Without this benefit, many of those in the room would have become homeless, or worse yet in some cases, dead.

Yet, who exactly is the genius that figured out this new shell game that determines that people on Ontario Works and ODSP can somehow scrimp and save from their monthly pittances to cover the growing costs of moving, replacing furniture that gets ruined by bedbugs and other infestations, or escaping an abusive relationship?  I suppose the government thinks that either they are all hiding money or can get "family and friends" to move them, which is just a big a crock as their allowances for "gifts" of up to $6,000 a year that only a handful of ODSP recipients benefit from.  Middle class families haven't seen family break down to the same extent that poor folks have, unfortunately.  Many of them don't have families - period.

How about those homeowners that do happen to get assistance that cannot afford to fix their roof, or their plumbing or their foundation that is riddled with mould and cracks to such a point, their whole house is unstable?  I know people like this in Niagara.  Their city tells them it is unsafe to live in there.  Their insurance companies drop them a hot potato.  Their mortgage company decides to foreclose on them because they don't have any insurance.  No insurance, no mortgage, no home,. says the bank.  But there simply isn't anybody around anymore that will help pay for this mess and allow people to stay in their own homes.  Just keep watching the media, folks.  I am coming back!

I don't care what Carol Goar, the Hamilton Roundtable on Poverty, many municipalities, and so forth, say about this report.  Most of it is a bad idea and by far.  Their idea of an adequate allowance means depriving those sick enough to need a special diet from the additional funds they needed to buy the right foods to keep them healthy.  Pay for it from your basic needs, they will say.  But what if there is hardly any basic needs left after I pay the rent?  That's your problem, they say.

Unfortunately, folks, we have to do much more than what have been doing.  Sitting in a room talking nicely to government officials is no longer working.  My region in all of its wisdom decided to replace the start up benefit, but for only those on Ontario Works.  People with disabilities, I assume, can just take it out of their basic needs, which are already stretched beyond reason here.

To me, this government either has to hire every single person with a disability that can work and place them in their chosen fields at the going rate that others get paid to work in that same field or give them enough money to live on!  People in prison eat better than persons with disabilities living in the community.  Perhaps, some enterprising researcher can speak to medical people to determine the cause of the rising incidence of recalcitrant TB, scurvy, rickets and other organ killing malnutrition based diseases we previously believed only happen to those people in the so called "third world".  It is now in our backyard.  That's why our health care costs are going up.

A report recently stated that poverty is costing Niagara alone over $3.8 billion a year.  Yet the region's fathers continue to choose to ignore this growing tsunami by trying to divide us up.  We can't let them do that to us.  We must stand together, or remain divided and lose all of our rights.

Out in the streets, all of us!  Out to our MPPs front door, all of us!  Find out how each regional councilor voted on the question of depriving people on ODSP any further help and let's pitch a few tents on their front lawns.  We have nothing to lose but our chains they have trapped us in.

Don’t you understand what I’m tryin’ to say
Can’t you feel the fears I’m feelin’ today?
If the button is pushed, there’s no runnin’ away
There’ll be no one to save, with the world in a grave
Take a look around ya boy, it's bound to scare ya boy

And you tell me
Over and over and over again, my friend
Ah, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve of destruction.

Barry McGuire, Eve of Destruction

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


The buzz on the street came as a big surprise to the people of Ontario.

Premier Dalton McGuinty not only announced his pending resignation (which takes effect after a Liberal leadership convention is called and a new leader appointed), but he rabbited from the scene by shuttering the doors to the Ontario legislature. Observers speculate this might have something to do with being caught with his pants down, as both Opposition Parties continued to peel the onion only to reveal more and more monies wasted on things like ORNGE, eHealth, OLG, and most recently, as we learned, the movement of two gas powered plants to different locations in order to appease voters and save a couple of Liberal seats during the last election. After being found in contempt of the legislature, by motion of the two Opposition parties, against his minority government, McGuinty rabbits.

For those among the curious, to prorogue a legislature (or Parliament, where McGuinty's perceived model Stephen Harper has himself done the same thing twice when the going got tough for his own prior successive minorities), it means all bills, committee referrals, public business, etc. is shut down. This is not the complete dissolution of the legislature, which means an election, but a shut down, which means a brand new Throne speech and a new session from scratch ... as all previous bills and business in progress is wiped from the slate. A motion passed by the majority of MPPs can technically adjourn the house business to allow bills and so forth to remain and such work to continue once the legislature re-opens, but this is not usually the case.

Voters should be furious at the latest trends by both federal and provincial governments that prorogue their legislature at the first sign of reasonable expectation of accountability. This prorogation, marked for now as indefinite, is supposed to theoretically end once the Liberals and likely the Opposition Tories return with yet another austerity budget and further spending cuts for the lower and middle income Ontarians, and under a shiny new leader with supposedly a "fresh" mandate. Almost nothing else has been discussed in my community circles in the past couple days, not even the weather, and I have yet to find a single soul among those I spoke to who actually WANT a shiny new Liberal leader. Most want an election, however, some are concerned that if the Progressive Conservatives under Tim Hudak get elected, even deeper cuts and further privatization will ensue.

I was a meeting of over one hundred and fifty warm bodies this afternoon that were notified only through social media and some community postering, where cuts to the Community Start Up and Maintenance Benefit, Home Repair Benefit and certain discretionary benefits for persons in receipt of Ontario Works and/or ODSP were being discussed. The majority of those in attendance were ODSP or Ontario Works recipients, many of whom benefited from either or both benefits in the recent past. At my table, where I volunteered to be a note taker, several horror stories emerged. A man who owns his own home has no functioning toilet and a broken sump pump. He has to use a broken toilet in his basement. He did not apply to ODSP Home Repair Benefit before the June 30 cut off, which by the way, was only announced approximately thirty (30) days prior to the cut off by inserting a notice of this in recipients' cheque stubs for May of this year. There is no parallel program in place at the Region yet, where theoretically, municipalities are supposed to be given all sorts of "flexibility" to meet their local housing needs.

Another woman used the start up benefit to escape an abusive situation, and moved into a room. Two years later, she applied for subsidized housing and eventually was moved into a unit. However, like most subsidized housing complexes, the building was poorly maintained, nothing ever got fixed, and the police were over there "at least three times a day" for anything ranging from drugs, to domestic abuse to violence, on the property. She had applied for a transfer twice in then same number of years, and has been denied. It seems that the region does not mind keeping poor people in slums, and exposed to the worst that society has to offer. It seems that fear, anxiety and exposure to whatever vermin in the home is acceptable for "those people", while those of us with middle class niceties deserve better.

Another man is living on Ontario Works. Until recently, he lived in a three bedroom apartment with two other roommates. The apartment rented at about $900 a month, plus utilities. Then one of his roommates finds a job in another community, and leaves the apartment. The other one left shortly thereafter to move in with his girlfriend, leaving this man holding the bag with nothing but a $590 OW cheque, and a worker that refused to give him anything more than the first month's rent if he even finds a place within his impossibly tight budget. Beside him were his backpacks, and a luggage bag, all containing his worldly possessions. Now homeless, it is difficult for him to secure the necessary benefits to be re-housed, unless he can tolerate AND find space in our local shelter system (which according to the region, funding is being cut for these services too).

Another fellow told us that he had bedbugs at his place last year. He lives in a rent geared to income unit. The Community Start Up and Maintenance Benefit was secured to assist him in replacing his bed at the time. He expressed his disdain as he recently secured a part time job, only to see his rent get hiked at over 500%. Housing subsidy calculations haven't changed a bit since the eighties when I was forced to give it up for market rent in order for me to budget month to month. For this man, who also receives ODSP and is subject to at least a fifty percent clawback on his earnings by ODSP, his housing provider disregards this clawback and counts only his gross income, thus leaving him ultimately with less money on hand than he had before he started to work. Yeah, get a job, they say ... if working only paid.

Another woman was homeless, but recently was able to secure Community Start Up and Maintenance Benefit when the shelter she was living in helped her find a low cost room downtown, at least a place to lie her head at night. As of January 1, 2013, even this benefit will be gone. Stated with enthusiasm by the Liberals, like they usually do when recycling and repackaging old money into new, municipalities will now receive the dollar amount of these benefits, after they have been chopped in half, and managed exclusively by them as determined by "local priorities". This means the dollar amount of the CSUMB and the HRB is now going to be cut in half, and redistributed to the cities and regions to do with as they choose, as long as it vaguely deals with housing security issues. Any municipality can conceivably decide NOT to offer a start up like benefit at all, or even home repairs, but instead use the money for other priorities, such as fixing social housing units, or building seniors housing. or funding more shelter beds. If they choose to offer these benefits at all, it will have to be spread not only between all people on OW or ODSP that might need them, but others as well, who are not on assistance, but might be living in poverty. The loaves and fishes again. The trouble is this is not going to work.

When these benefits existed before the cut, they were fully appealable for those that feel they were unfairly denied access. After the changes, any worker can decide at a whim whether or not an applicant "deserves" this benefit, and there will be no appeal avenue whatsoever for those that are denied. As for those who experienced any kind of application process through Ontario Works in many municipalities, there is a lack of consistency between clients, and often arbitrary criteria set for how these benefits get distributed. I hear from people that work for Niagara region all the time how they will pay half the cost of dentures for those that need them, yet I know far too many people wandering around without teeth. They allegedly got told all sorts of things when they tried to apply. Some got told the money for this had run out (yep, this was in the middle of May, less than two months after the start of the new fiscal year!). They tell others they only help out Ontario Works recipients who are seeking employment. All sorts of excuses abound. For those "lucky" enough to get help, only half the cost is covered, and somehow the OW recipient has to find the other half out of their $600 monthly budget, or in the case of ODSP, their $1062 monthly budget. Or, as I have also witnessed, people get told they can write to myriad charities to demean themselves and beg for help.

One would think that Charles Dickens has long since died, and the days of Oliver Twist should have been over with for good, once it has now been proven that large corporations in Canada (and Ontario) are literally sitting on billions of dollars, or have socked them away to offshore bank accounts. I say, get rid of Oliver Twist and make these companies pay our government back for the deficit they caused and obviously benefited from! They certainly aren't creating any jobs with it, nor is anybody holding these same executives accountable for billions of dollars in corporate welfare dished out to them without them even having to prove a need, nor are they being asked to show how many jobs they created as a result of massive tax cuts they received year over year. Yet when somebody applies for Ontario Works, their entire life is scoped inside and out, and they are judged as to their "worthiness" of help. Given the amazing wealth of our country, there should be no need for food banks, homeless shelters or anything of the like. In fact, there was once an anecdotal report from somebody that entertained guests from Scandinavia, who never even heard of these things and wondered why anybody would want to put food into a bank.

Political leaders live a relatively charmed life. They do not have to deal with the same pressures those they govern have to. They do not have to live with the results of the greed of those they represent and speak for, the corporate elite. Most political leaders are almost guaranteed sweetheart deals at the helm of large corporations once they leave politics. It is no small wonder how they got there, regardless of that individual's actual business and financial knowledge. The powers that be appoint the political drop outs or exiles these jobs as rewards for their loyalty while in political office. In recent months, one highly respected federal Cabinet Minister decided to resign his seat and move to the "private sector". He was given an executive position at one of the chartered banks. Must be nice, when the most the rest of us can expect to get when we apply to a bank is a low paying job as a teller. And Jim "no such thing as a bad job" Flaherty will not likely return to his yearned for youthful days when he worked as a taxi driver and hockey coach. It is easy to prescribe these things for others when you no longer have to do it yourself.

In the meantime, the Social Assistance Reform Commission, which originally promised to report their findings to the world in June 2012, and has since delayed the release of their report three times, recently announced they were going to go public with their final report this October 19, 2012. However, with the Premier rabbiting on us all, and leaving behind an empty legislative assembly for an "indefinite" period of time, the Commission's most recent notice reads: Led by Frances Lankin and Munir A. Sheikh, the Commission is charged with examining social assistance in Ontario through engagement, research and analysis to provide the government with a concrete action plan to improve the system for the people who need it.

Please note: we are rescheduling the release of our final report from October 19 to a new date in the near future. We will announce the new date soon.

It might be interesting to see if this report ever sees the light of day. Our lovely Premier that oozed with such enthusiasm, while all parties of the house embraced its Poverty Reduction Act and held out much hope for the Social Assistance Commissioners to figure out how to fix our social programs to make them work better and to reduce poverty. Those were the days when our lovely Liberals literally endorsed the target of reducing poverty by twenty five percent in five years, and how they were bound and determined to succeed. Unfortunately, Premier Dad has since abandoned the homestead as Ontario's poverty rate has actually increased, as opposed to decreased. Are you feeling like the orphaned child yet?

Henceforth, many of our social advocates were concerned about what kind of recommendations and policies might be proposed once this report ever did get released anyways, namely the proposal to combine Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program all under municipal "welfare" administration. The Toronto Star or the provincial Liberal Party mouthpiece still tried to pretend this was all well and good, as late as last week. However, disconcerting is one paragraph in this piece:

For too long, politicians have pigeonholed welfare recipients into two types: the “good poor” who were helpless (children and the disabled), versus the “bad poor” who were hapless (able-bodied men and women). After all these years, the lesson to be learned on welfare is that the origins of these cases matter less than the outcomes.

Why not merge these two unwieldy Harris-era programs (ODSP and Ontario Works) into a single, more coherent system that doesn’t discriminate between “good poor” and “bad?” This is the kind of bold idea that scares some people — advocates and bureaucrats alike — because $8-billion programs aren’t built or redesigned in a day.

With this proposal, instead of having "good poor" and "bad poor", all that will now be seen by the public is all "bad poor". This is happening in UK, as that particular Coalition government is forcing that country's poorest to pay down that country's deficit. Austerity is killing people, they say. Nightmare reminders of the Nazi Holocaust has perked this individual to write this column. Since these cuts in the UK, a few dozen suicides a month have taken place, as well as there being a spike in the number of hate crimes against persons with disabilities. If the government thinks that doing that here will be different, because we are supposedly more humane Canadians, think again. Even without this change, I am constantly hearing from people without a clue, the temporarily able-bodied as I might add, who proclaim that "over half of the people on ODSP should not even be on it". Is that so, I ask? It is interesting how their extrasensory perception and intimate medical knowledge of over 300,000 very poor people comes to mind, but this same perception is not shared about how many billions are poured into the pockets each year of wealthy executives and profitable corporations through our government's failed policies of corporate welfare and endless tax cuts, while money hoarding (as alleged by Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of Canada, that recently reported that large companies are hoarding billions of dollars of cash and not investing any of it, aka. taking in corporate welfare and benefiting from tax cuts while creating zero jobs), doesn't even matter.

After the cuts take effect in January 2013, more people will have no place to go, other than to a shelter or to the streets, as a result of various reasons tied to their deep poverty and a punitive social assistance administration that on average, among the people I previously interviewed in my region, cuts off or suspends Ontario Works recipients' cheques four or five times a year, often resulting in eviction and/or frequent moves. And the government might actually consider adding people with disabilities to this mish mash of economic slavery as well? Many people reading this do not and will not understand the significance of this, but then again, they are too damned comfortable for now.

There, for the Grace of God, go I.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012


By now, we have all heard of several incidents of gun violence setting its cloud over the city of Toronto, as well as the murder and dismembership of a Chinese national student in Montreal, and more recently, a shooter at a theatre in Aurora, Colorado, at the premier screening of the Dark Knight Rising. Reports coming from Colorado indicate a substantial spike in the number of people accessing guns. Reports in Toronto cite the growing anger of people in the vicinities where the shootings, cited as gangland style, have taken place.

How many readers are believing that the shooters ought to be "insane", particularly Luka Magnotta, originally born Eric Newman, as his deed was most dreadful, filming himself dismembering the body of Jun Lin, a Chinese national who had been attending Concordia in Montreal? I don't believe in "insanity". Perhaps, some may want to re-word the term as "mental illness". Nah, don't think so. First, there is no research that shows that people with Axis I Disorders, or conditions that we refer to as "schizophrenia", "bipolar affective disorder" or "schizoaffective disorder", are more prone to commit these kinds of dreaded acts of violence than anybody else. Secondly, we are doing people with mental health conditions no favours by analysing these people's actions as "sick", "crazy" or "psycho".

True, we do need to distance ourselves from the kinds of people who do these dreadful things. We like to believe that we ourselves would never be capable of doing something like Magnotta, or lately, James Holmes in Colorado, just did. But, does that mean these people are "psychotic" or "mentally ill"? It certainly does help things when Greyhound Bus beheader, Vincent Li, suddenly reveals to the police he was "hearing voices" while on the bus, telling him to kill the passenger next to him. I am not sure if I believe this, but that is what the media reports, and what was put forward in the courts. To me, it was just defence counsel doing his job in protecting a client from having to serve a likely indeterminate life sentence for his heinous act on the bus, and unlikely due to any "real evidence" of mental disorder. I am not sure how to explain the behaviours of these people, but to me, citing them as having "mental illness" and being "not responsible" for doing this deed, is akin to saying "the devil made them do it".

We will likely never know what was going on with Vincent Li that day on the bus, but in my opinion, as well as the opinion of many people who watched this scenario cycle its way through the news, his lack of conviction for this offence, and the very likelihood he will be out in a few years is less than what he should have received. By even allowing this kind of "defence" of "not criminally responsible due to mental disorder" diminishes virtually every other person with the same diagnosis, or potentially the same diagnosis, in terms of who they are, and what kind of future they should have. While this business with Vincent Li was flowing through the airwaves and was the talk of the town, I was in the midst of fighting disability claims on behalf of three persons, all with distinctive histories and issues. Due to privilege, I cannot cite the specifics of these cases, but nevertheless, where one could have benefited from an evaluation from one of the consulting psychiatrists that I have worked with, all three declined to get involved with anything even nearly "mental health" related due to the stigma.

I have had others who experienced severe stress and anxiety as a result of their involvement with litigation and/or appeals, who could very well benefit from even one to one counselling with a professional. I was in a position of arranging a third party to take up the expenses of this support service, but still they refused, not necessarily denying they were likely suffering from a form of mental distress, but again, because of the stigma. Virtually all of these people self identified as being very much a part of the community, the workforce, their families and other social spheres, either prior to the matter that led them to my front door, or even still, while they were involved with my office. Many feared they would lose their job if "anybody found out" about this, or would never again be respected by their families, or friends they continued to cling onto.

This issue is coming up at a time where our society is not exactly empathetic towards persons with disabilities - any disability, including mental health disabilities. To add the burden of people like Vincent Li, Luka Magnotta, and James Holmes, on top of the growing antipathy towards people with mental health issues, is not the way to invite people to seek help, even when their problem is severe enough for a short-term hospitalization. They become even more treatment resistant, and they are more likely to hide their personal experiences, even from somebody like myself. I have had middle aged men, though not exclusively, come into my office to appeal a case for Canada Pension Plan disability, or ODSP, who omit any references to any "mental health history" when they explain to me why they believe they should be getting either or both benefits. It is often the case of the "bad back", the "inflamed knees" or "tremours" (and they would emphasize them as they hold their hands up for me to see), but not the lengthy hospitalizations and years of treatment for various mental health issues they want to focus on.

For those who have already been treated for mental health disorders, many are afraid to return to treatment due to the negative effects of many of the medications still used for the treatment of various types of conditions. If you looked up many of these drugs on the websites, you will find many of these drugs are the subject of legal actions, and people are seeking damages for various "effects" from taking these drugs for a period of time. I also know people who have developed severe forms of diabetes, heart disease and movement disorders as a result of overuse of these drugs as well. A dear friend is now reliant on the use of a power chair to access her surroundings. I later learned that she had spent many dreadful years being treated as a guinea pig for "mental health" issues it turned out she did not have. She has paid the price big time, while still trying to educate those around her as to what she could have been, had she not been subjected to these things.

In my youth, I became an avid follower of Phoenix Rising magazine, as well as the early psychiatric survivors' movement. This artefact is still available through the Psychiatric Survivor Archives of Toronto, currently maintained by "veterans" of the early movement, such as Don Weitz, Geoffrey Rheaume, David Reville, and likely Carla MacKague. These same people did not follow through and join the movement of "consumer-survivors" in the 1990's due to the co-opted nature of the funding for these initiatives. In those days, I as well as a small group of people here in Niagara took over the co-opted initiative, and formed our own "mental health survivors' network" that was decidely pro-choice, although not 100% anti-psychiatry. The Niagara Mental Health Survivors Network became a regional, member-based advocacy organization that had several committees, representatives on external bodies, as well as working deeply within the political system to fight for change. As its Executive Director, my function was multi-varied, including counseling individuals and their families with respect to their rights, access to services, and other related issues, such as how to access income support benefits. We also published a quarterly newsletter Niagara Survivors Journal, which reported on various important issues affecting our members. We also gave input to various policy and legislative initiatives. We pushed for "normalization" of expectations among persons with mental health issues, as well as access to supports as needed, and controlled by the individual.

Membership in the Niagara Mental Health Survivors Network was not limited to those who self-identified as having a "mental health disability". Members could be family members of individuals with a "mental health disability", community workers that worked in the "mental health" field, legal professionals, as well as others that gave a damn! Our board still had a majority of its members being persons who self identified as having "mental health issues", as well as the majority of our committees. Over the four years I led this organization, I met hundreds, if not thousands of persons, who experienced various aspects of the mental health system, for the sake of calling it that, here in Niagara, or elsewhere. Some of our members were anti-psychiatry, meaning they promoted the views of writers like Dr. Thomas Szasz, Dr. Jeff Maisson, Dr. Peter Breggin, among others. Others were more traditional in their beliefs, where they saw the value of medication and the mental health system.

However, my work with the Niagara Mental Health Survivors Network, and various other policy levels I was involved with before that, and afterwards, I knew very few persons who suffered one of the more commonly known "mental illnesses" like "schizophrenia" and "bipolar disorder" who had a violent bone in their body. In fact, I knew many so called "forensic patients", some of whom were housed at forensic wards in the prison system, who would not likely be released due to a finding of being "not criminally responsible". The vast majority of those deemed to be "not criminally responsible" were not psychotic in the traditional sense, but were broken in other ways. Their likely final diagnosis was some type of personality disorder, as opposed to an Axis I disorder like "bipolar disorder" or "schizophrenia". These are people we truly do not understand very well. We may some day understand them, but through my interactions with people like this, as well as professionals that worked with them, they were certainly a different mindset than those with traditional "mental health" histories.

I don't support the use of "mental illness" as a reason to "mitigate" one's responsibility or accountability for one's actions. Instead, I support if someone is in need of help, that they be sentenced normally, but treated while incarcerated in a prison system that is geared more to rehabilitation than the semi death row boot camps that Prime Minister Harper wants to set up. We hear that prison does not offer treatment programs for mental health, addictions or really much of anything. I say, why not? I have known people who have been in prison who have been denied care for even physical ailments, such as diabetes and heart disease. This is totally against the Geneva Convention, as far as I am concerned. The overall effect this has is to terrify certain individuals who have done something horrible, who would seek any way out of a life sentence in the barbaric conditions of the modern prison system. This in effect pushes a few of them to try the so called "insanity defence" to see if they can avoid prison, while people outside who "hear voices" and have been in psychiatric hospital who have never hurt anyone, will now be viewed by employers, neighbours, family and others, as somebody who just "might" hurt someone, as the particular diagnosis "schizophrenia" becomes tied to the kiss of death. In fact, a large portion of people with this diagnosis end up dying from suicide.

Throughout my career in the mental health field before I joined the legal profession, I experienced the suicides of many people. The suicide of my older brother is what triggered my understanding of many of these things, and my push to make things better for everybody. Each one hurt just as much as the one before did. The sad thing is that many times, I only spoke to the person a few hours before they finally ended their lives. Before their suicide, their lives were always off balance. Absolutely all of them saw no way out of their situation, whatever that might be ... and quite often, poverty, shame and stigma led them down that path, leaving some crisis or other to break the camel's back and turn their minds to suicide as the only way out. I've experienced suicide among some of my legal clients as well, which continues to bring despair to me. I knew many of them, their issues and their lives well enough to know what likely tipped the balance, but specifics could not be shared with even family.

What I do support however is something that everybody in our community would support if they knew it would make a difference. Social inequality leads to a major cause of mental disorder in the community, and worsens the impact and social isolation of those with diagnosed conditions. Research from the so called Third World has demonstrated that persons with even the most severe of diagnoses, such as "schizophrenia" do well in places where they are accepted and included, as part of whatever community they live in. The rate of "social recovery" from mental health disorders in these types of societies is very high, up to ninety percent in some regions. In the Western world, "schizophrenia" was originally referred to as dementia praecox (which referred to a person who is young and is permanently deteriorating in their personality). Never mind the extensive work I have done in reviewing the history of "mental health issues" and disability, and how eugenics, social isolation and even genocide, was a major issue, given society's view that people with these conditions will never get better.

We need to be open and accepting of people, even if they are "different". We have to put an end to chronic poverty, which leads to homelessness in some, as well as poor health and continued descent into the "black dog" of depression and other forms of mental distress. All people, regardless of their abilities, culture, level of appreciation, and so forth, have to have cause for hope, and a sense of belonging. While I am not a fan of the modern "consumer/survivor movement", it does give an important message to people not in the know. The needs of people with mental health issues is really no different than those of others; they all need a "home, a job, and a friend", just like the rest of us. If we continue to gear our society's direction to isolating people with mental health problems, deeming them to be less responsible than other persons, unable to make choices, and so forth, they will become what we believe them to be. If we continue our attitude of "everybody for themselves", which appears to have been set into place more and deeper since the mid-1980's, we will continue to see a rise in the number of theatre shooters, school shooters, dismember murderers, and so forth.

As Michael Moore explained on Piers Morgan last night about recent mass shootings in the U.S., he cited there are so many more mass shootings on a per capita basis in the United States, even though the prevalence of so called "mental illness" is roughly the same everywhere. Norway had its own whack job last year, that shot and killed about sixty people who were convening on an island for a type of retreat. However, this is something that does not happen to the extent that it does in the United States, and to a growing extent, Canada and Great Britain. To me, people like Wilkinson and Pickett, Author of the Spirit Level, are on to something. It is well known that societies that are less equal than others are prone to these sorts of outbursts of violence, spates of "mental illness", obesity, teen pregnancy, high school drop outs, and so forth.

However, I am not optimistic that things will change soon under our current government structure, with people in power that do not understand how inequality is ruining our nation and vulnerable individuals within it. I listen to Bruce Cockburn's Santiago Dawn, and it is my dream that someday the society's most oppressed will find their way back home and find a way to belong and to participate in our community, and the jackboot law and order mentality will fade.

Your thoughts?

Monday, June 25, 2012


The much vaunted, long awaited and hoped for Social Assistance Reform Commission was appointed in the fall of 2010.  It provided an initial consultation paper last summer and as recently as March 2012, revealed its second discussion paper.  Over one hundred and seventy five respondents were posted to the Commission's website on each of these occasions, many of whom will read this blog entry and understand the concept of irony and oxymoron. Many of us have concerns about this review and what is going to happen once it reports back to the government and its recommendations are made public.  The latest report by the Commission is that it will complete its said recommendations by the end of this month or early next month, and have the final report released to the public in the fall, likely mid-September.

To give you a bit of history, this review was a key plank in the province of Ontario's Poverty Reduction Strategy, which included Bill 152, the Poverty Reduction Act.  This is no lie. All political parties passed this legislation with much fanfare at the time and substantial public support.  Part of the legislation was to appoint the Commission, so that it can review all social assistance programs and make recommendations that would reduce the complexity of social programs and reduce poverty in Ontario.  However, like the Drummond Report (which reported publicly on February 15th of this year), Social Assistance Reform Commissioners Frances Lankin and Munir Sheikh were given marching orders from an austerity minded government.  To me, they were asking Lankin and Sheikh to decide the fate of Solomon, while deferring to the banks, the bondholders, the wealthy corporate elite and the pandering anti tax crowd.  In other words, they were asked to become the oxymoron that an austerity agenda would make of any efforts on the part of any government to reduce poverty.

Don Drummond, principal author of the Commission to Review Public Services of Ontario (or the "Drummond Report", for short), Frances Lankin and Munir Sheikh, are all intelligent, well-respected individuals, with grounding both in government and in economics.  They know intimately that Ontario cannot cut its way to prosperity, or cut substantial numbers of public sector jobs without having a negative impact on private sector employment.  They also know that welfare rules that forbid people to grow assets, build a business or form families, militate against poverty reduction, and as such, given free reign, I do believe that all of these individuals would be making quite different recommendations if they based their analysis solely on best practices and the actual objective of poverty reduction.

However, beholden to an austerity agenda that was neither created by or leading to any benefits whatsoever to the target population of this initiative, Lankin and Sheikh are euphemistically expected to create a miracle by finding so called "efficiencies" in the two social assistance programs in Ontario, namely, the Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program.  This story kind of reminds me of the Biblical parable of Jesus feeding the hungry, from a small amount of wheat and a fish, to multiply His Holy offerings over hundreds of people, each of whom had at least a full loaf and fish along with wine.  Except this time, there will not be an endless supply of loaves and fish.  There may only be one loaf and one fish to cut up in many thousands of parts, while the Ontario government continues to feed the wealthy of this province virtually all of its wine and fine caviar.

The agenda of this Social Assistance Reform was clear from its second discussion document, whereby it seems that the myth of employment being the sole route out of poverty further prevails, whilst neither Commissioner pretends to be instructed to find ways to fix the labour market in order to make this so.  A fix of the labour market is not on the Ontario Government's agenda.  We only need to look as far as the federal government with its recently planted reforms to the Employment Insurance program, temporary foreign worker program, and related initiatives, such as eliminating employment equity requirements from the Federal Contractor Program and reducing budgets for important enforcement bodies, such as the Canadian Human Rights Commission.  As federal Finance Czar James Flaherty stated, "There is no such thing as a bad job", as he relates to his distant past of coaching hockey and driving taxi (likely before his Princeton pedigree education and successful career as a lawyer and politician).  I am sure if his government completely had its way, it would eliminate the need for minimum wage and health and safety regulations; they are such an impediment to business anyways.

At the same time our Honourable Minister Flaherty reflects longingly on his early 'careers', both he and the rest of us know he will never have to do a "bad job" again.  Lest all the "bad jobs" that Canadians refuse to take because they pay too little, lack any benefits, offer inconsistent and irregular hours, and potentially destroy the soul of the bearer should they even last more than a mere few weeks, are now the new pathway for the poor and unwanted Canadians.  Flaherty reassures us that no middle or upper class crust will ever be forced to take these "bad jobs", but if you dare make a claim for Employment Insurance and by extension, social assistance, you may be asked to take one of these jobs, never mind that you are trained as an engineer, a teacher, a social worker, a manager, or even an artist.  The poor will get their hands dirty because the middle and upper crust of our society will not have to.  Simply put, we are following the ways of the UK, for example, that take the willingness to work and dreams of inclusion by persons with disabilities, and deliver them to the worst jobs that nobody else will take, perhaps for less than minimum wage.

In fact, in the second discussion paper produced by the Social Assistance Reform Commission, it is posited that a substantial raise in Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Program Supports would make it "unfair" to those that already work in these "bad jobs".  Poor people on social assistance deserve to be poor because low wage workers in "bad jobs" are also poor, so why should people on social assistance, including people with disabilities have it "better" than those in bad jobs, hence the assumption there are even enough "bad jobs" to go around for everybody in the first place.   The federal government refers to "labour shortages", which euphemistically refers to the fact that not enough Canadians are willing to take low wage jobs with no benefits, at a time when housing and other commodity costs have been driven skyward.  The answer to reforming social assistance is to get people out of welfare poverty into working poverty ... as if this will accomplish a damned thing!  So much for the Poverty Reduction Act, as the Ontario Government can just say it can't be done because we have to pay back this massive deficit their wealthy friends helped to create.  Never mind thinking outside the box and asking why we have so many "bad jobs" to begin with ...

Another theme that is repeated throughout the second discussion paper is to divide people with disabilities up between those who can and those who cannot work, as if it were that simple.  As an academic that had developed both employment and self employment initiatives at the provincial and federal level, I can tell you there is no "test" that will positively affirm somebody as being "able to work" or "unable to work".  Ability to work in fact is not related to the severity of one's disability, but more the social, economic and attitudinal barriers held towards persons with various kinds of disabilities.  I once wrote in this blog about how accessibility begins at my front door.  People believe that the installation of a ramp, widening doors in buildings and setting desks lower to suit persons in wheelchairs, will make this whole group of people, voila -- instantly employable.  This alone is not taken into consideration that somebody will have to get to the workplace each day, and reliably so, on their own power and be able to remain consistent.  There is no test for this, nor can this be determined based on the type of disability or diagnosis one has.  Two people with the exact same disability and limitations may have a very different set of opportunities and barriers.  Virtually none of these issues are properly reflected in the report, as this bears upon "fixing" the labour market.

Nevertheless, the above constraints are ill considered when such "tests" have been issued in other jurisdictions.  Persons dying of terminal illness, blind persons, quadriplegics and others, even if they can just move their thumbs, can be deemed employable, simply by showing up on time for the so called "test" - of course, disregarding the probable trouble, substantial efforts and barriers one likely had to go through just to get out the door as well as probable help received for the same that cannot be relied upon again and again, if one were to replicate this reliability in a real job.  In the UK, those deemed employable lost a substantial portion of their income benefits, even if they cannot find a paying job.  There is no rationale for lowering the incomes of people deemed employable, as I have yet to see housing prices, grocery prices, transportation costs, and so forth, lower accordingly.  All this does is spell an imminent crisis for many people, and in tune with this, hundreds of people subject to this re-evaluation have died, many by their own hand.  For example, if we drop the already inadequate allowances of $1,064 monthly income for persons with disabilities to the welfare level of $599 per month, what do you think is going to happen?

When I discussed this with some people who I randomly encounter or meet with who have never experienced this level of desperation, they told me they believe they will just "get a job".  If this was in any effect true, if they were looking for work while receiving $1,064 a month, their chances of finding a job would certainly not change once their income drops, and as a matter of fact, they might be less likely to find work, given that it costs so much to conduct a good job search.  Interview clothing, stable housing, a telephone contact, references, transportation, and so on, are not free the last time I checked.   Henceforth, when I asked further of these same individuals, many of whom are themselves employers, if they would hire any of these folks, and almost universally I am told, they would not hire social assistance recipients.  If they will not hire them, why do they think somebody else will?  It is my belief that unless government somehow forces employers to hire people from the Ontario Works or ODSP rolls, and to accommodate all disabilities, it will never happen on its own.  The marginalized will always be marginalized unless the labour market gets a true "fix" and employment opportunities are created for everyone that wants and needs a job.

Putting more people out into the labour force to look for jobs is not going to create more openings.  In fact, all that will happen is there will be more and more unemployed persons looking for the same number of vacancies.  Statistics Canada recently reported that there are between three to six and a half unemployed persons (meaning people who are already currently looking for work) for every single job vacancy.  That means if we filled every single job vacancy that exists, there will still be another two to five or six people without work for every filled vacancy once all the jobs are taken.  The Social Assistance Reform Commission is supposed to look at ways to make sure these remaining people do not lose their homes, their health or their families, but instead, it appears by the tone of its second discussion paper, the Commission intends to answer to wealthy corporations that are feeling a "shortage of labour" in its lowest paying, most unstable positions, as opposed to trying to find ways to make all jobs "good jobs".  Working poverty is becoming more and more of a problem without any apparent attempt at a resolution.  A good friend of mine had a heart attack after she attempted to juggle three minimum wage jobs to support herself and her three children; now, she cannot juggle any job and was forced off on ODSP.  With enough "bad jobs", it is inevitable that the human soul will be crushed and no longer able to function in such a capacity, leaving labour market reform an absolute must if the Social Assistance Reform Commission, any government of the day, or even the business community as whole, wants to see less people on "the dole".

Another set of recommendations appears to make ODSP operate more like Ontario Works; in fact, one of the proposals is to combine ODSP and Ontario Works into one program.   That means punitive rules as they exist for people on ODSP will never be changed, regardless of the negative impact these rules have with respect to maintaining people in legislated poverty and preventing their reasonable chances of escape.  One example many in the disability community want to see changed about ODSP is when a person receiving ODSP marries or lives common law with somebody, the income and assets of their partners should not be considered when evaluating one's continued eligibility for ODSP.  As somebody who has worked in the advocacy community, I see how this particular rule has forced many persons with disabilities to remain with abusive partners.  In some cases, they are cut off when their partner or spouse refuses to cooperate by not handing over pay stubs to ODSP officials.  Eliminating the necessity of this would allow more people to form relationships, as well as provide the person with a disability a way out if that relationship becomes toxic.

Henceforth, I have noted that relationships between ODSP recipients who are largely unable to work, with a partner or spouse who does work at a more than minimal basis, rarely last.  Their health worsens, as they are not permitted to stop working, or take breaks, or get sick themselves ... lest they risk losing a lot of money, leaving their bills, including their rent or mortgage unpaid for several months until adjustments are made, as earnings deductions are made for income earned currently in sometimes a few months' time when there is no longer any work income coming in.  I have represented landlords at the Landlord and Tenant Board, where these kinds of relationships have broken down in the way I describe above, and almost always, an eviction is inevitable.  With the current loss of Community Start Up and Maintenance Benefit, it will only be that much harder for the person on ODSP, either on their own, or with their newly unemployed or ill spouse, to find a new place to live.  Sadly, I have seen it go the way where when the spouse splits, they become under employed or sick themselves, and thus a new benefit unit is created as a result - which only costs more money, two shelter allowances as opposed to one. The last I heard, homelessness is not cheaper than housing somebody, even at full cost.  I am sure any austerity minded politician does not intend for more good money to go after bad; in other words, would it not be more cost effective to prevent the heavy costs that homelessness, persistent poverty and long term unemployment are bound to create?

Merging ODSP with Ontario Works is certainly going to cement these very counter productive rules that do not serve people with disabilities or encourage them to fully develop to their potential.  I will accept spousal income being included to determine the income of the other spouse when ALL people who are paid by public funds have to deal with it.  Premier McGuinty's income should be split in half and taken from his wife, if she works, regardless of where or how much she makes.  Spouses that are eligible for CPP, WSIB, OAS, and any myriad of other programs of various types should also lose their benefits if their spouse works, even a little bit.  If you see what it does to a family with a disabled spouse, you can only imagine the chaos that would ensue if this rule were universally applied, including politicians, civil servants, as well as others that work in jobs paid for by tax dollars, such as the postal worker, the bus driver, the teacher, the police officer and so forth.  No more double income, no kids, folks ... everybody will have to live on a single cut down income, and continue to pay for rising costs.  If you think the divorce rate is bad now ...

Finally, there were a number of proposals concerning employment supports.  While I share the concern that employment and education supports are very important and that a goal should be to get as many people into good jobs as possible, or training for good jobs of the future, I fear the proposals will not result in this.  There are merits to consolidating all employment supports under either Employment Ontario or through a local service agency, but the devil is usually in the details.  One would want to know what this means.  Does it mean the monies that are currently spent on the most effective programs will now be further spread out, thus slicing the pie even thinner for more participants?  Or does it mean a continuation of the same flawed formula used for ODSP's employment supports programs that appear to encourage or reward service providers that can most quickly get candidates into a job ... any job, even one that is beneath the person's talents, aspirations and educational attainment?  In my discussions with people, it appears we have to move cautiously on this one: we want to make sure that everybody who is seeking employment or to advance their education and training, has access to the necessary programs that will help them do so.  We must see the full range of employment candidates served, ranging from the most needy, vulnerable and inexperienced, to the most well educated, but currently unemployed person seeking a career-based job.  Greater use must be made of head hunting agencies that are experienced in placing professionals into jobs; perhaps, contracting with them to assist qualified OW and ODSP recipients in accessing the higher paid jobs, while supports for disability and other related issues can be provided by other agencies.

This means service coordination, something we were once allowed to do as Employment Supports Service Providers, where we can work with other providers to achieve best outcomes for single clients, while sharing the fees for service for the direct services provided by each partner to the client.  Somehow, this has become lost under the new delivery model, whereas each Employment Service Provider takes on the full range of services and as such, may not be able to service some persons that tend to be lost or fall between the cracks in most of these situations.  People with good educations are told they can't be served and are often told they have "more qualifications" than the employment support worker has.  They get told to negotiate their own accommodations, to negotiate their own job descriptions.  This means the job seeker that cannot drive a vehicle for disability reasons has to confront an employer to try to address the job description that seems to ubiquitously require one to have a driver's license and personal vehicle.  In other words, you must already have a job and the financial means to own and maintain a reliable vehicle at commercial insurance rates; if you are disabled and cannot drive, but can otherwise fulfill the other parts of the job, you are toast.

To me, if one is working in this field and is delivering employment supports, it is up to the employment supports worker to negotiate job descriptions and so forth, even before a candidate is proposed to the employer, so that the employer becomes more aware of his or her obligations under the Human Rights Code.  It is not the job seeker's responsibility to do this, because when this is done, if ever, the employer will only select the next person on their list that isn't as difficult to place, e.g. somebody who drives.  There are Employment Supports Service Providers that have successfully placed professionals and executives in positions, although they are not as common as those that work in disability specific areas.

If the Social Assistance Reform Commission and Ontario Government truly want to reduce poverty, increase participation in the paid labour force by all persons, including persons with disabilities, it must be a voluntary and well supported initiative, not based on a threat to the person of loss of benefits or reduction in income supports.  Earnings disregards should be designed to ensure that the person is always much better off taking the job, or working in self employment.  Persons who are not likely to engage in paid work should still receive sufficient benefits to allow them to not have to live in poverty.  If there is concern that low wage workers will not perceive this to be "unfair", then serious labour market reform is a must, which should include increases to minimum wage, easier rules to develop and organize unions or other workplace structures that encourage mobility and advancement.  However, if we are to persevere on the so called "unfairness" of raising social assistance rates versus how low wage workers are treated, neither group is ever going to advance and any poverty reduction goals, as well as saving well earned health care dollars, and so forth, will all be for naught.