This was a nasty week, though not too full of surprises from either the federal or the provincial budgets. What bothers me most is how governments lie to their people about these things. They assume voters are stupid and will swallow whatever bit of ideology of the day that seems to make people believe they have to "do their part" in repaying the debts of others. Yes, that is what I said. This deficit is not our debt, at least for most of you reading this here. If your neighbour takes out a mortgage on their home and uses the money to enjoy a pool in their backyard and to create a fireplace in their basement, are you willing to give your neighbour some of your hard earned cash to help him pay off this mortgage? Of course not! So, why are we gladly acceding to paying for debts of the wealthy and the corporate sector, while our own incomes dwindle away year over year?
At the provincial level, the Premier stared at the camera and said in his usual gaze: “Others would make different choices,” Mr. McGuinty said, noting that the previous Progressive Conservative government cut welfare by 22 per cent.
“We are not prepared to balance this budget on the backs of families who may find themselves in difficult circumstances for the time being, or on the backs of our children.”
Yet, this is exactly what the provincial government is doing. As the wealthy and higher corporate elites sleep well this week, knowing the government is not going to be picking their pockets anymore, and in fact will continue to be getting even further "out of their way", the costs will all be borne by the poor and middle class. A single individual on welfare, or what is euphemistically called Ontario Works, gets a total of $599 per month to live on for all of their needs ... that means shelter, utilities, phone, clothing, transportation, and personal hygiene products. Most are lucky if they can even find housing at that price, let alone all the other necessities of life.
A single person on the Ontario Disability Support Pension gets $1,063 per month, also for all of their needs. While better than welfare, most people that get ODSP have major barriers in the paid labour force and often vilified by others, particularly those that think "at least half of those on disability aren't really disabled". I would love to have their internal knowledge of everybody's personal medical history like that. Would work nice in today's Parliament, particularly when vilifying another politician, but not in the streets where it is usually done. The people who say these things usually don't even know the people they are talking about, and use their "friend of a friend" story as statistical research. When you work at the ground level with these people, you know they pay rent and usually have very little for anything else, and they also face huge barriers to a healthy diet.
I argued one time here that the policies of the Ontario government are not unlike genocide in slow motion. Through the death by a thousand cuts, these programs are losing their purchasing power rapidly, leaving the poor in the dust, usually with very serious medical problems that could have been prevented if ... they had a healthy diet, they had safe housing and they had an adequate income. You know these are things our federal Conservatives don't want to hear about either? They just decided to cut the National Council of Welfare, a social policy advisory group that was established in 1969 to advise the government on poverty issues. Between that, and their elimination of the mandatory long form census, it is clear they don't want to know about poverty, and what to do about it, so they can lie to the public as well, about how there are no poor people in Canada. I suppose that might actually come true at some point when they all die of their medical conditions the state is imposing on them, but to me, they are no better than the architects of the Nazi Euthanasia program in the 1930s. It is just that those guys in the 1930s were just in a bloody hurry!
The provincial government is indeed making the poor pay for the tax cuts enjoyed by the wealthy for way too long. They say the budget for social programs is suddenly unsustainable, but their program for all day kindergarten isn't? Giving people on Ontario Works and ODSP a decent raise is unsustainable, but continuing the ongoing corporate welfare cheques is not? The Special Diet Allowance was unsustainable, but somehow a double digit jump in the number of low income people with diabetes, heart disease and other malnutrition-based diseases is not? They want to dump the Community Start Up and Maintenance Benefit and the Home Repair Benefit, which helped many people on assistance move from slum dwellings, get rid of bedbugs or replace their furniture after an infestation, or leave an abusive relationship, or fix the leaky roof that is causing mould to grow in the children's bedroom. They want to dump it to the municipalities, so they (the municipalities) can decide if and when they are going to do this, and what kind of benefits, if any, they will continue to offer.
Have you ever tried to secure a so-called discretionary benefit from your municipality? I have seen people repeatedly turned down for essential health services, such as physiotherapy, orthotics, mouth guards, dentures and other so called discretionary benefits, which get awarded on the basis of a worker's say so, not on actual medical need. By downloading these benefits, there are no appeal mechanisms available. Many municipalities use the money for other programs, and when one seeks help for these types of programs, they get handed a list of charities to go begging to. I don't know about you, but if somebody is seeking a job, the last thing they need is for a potential employer to know their personal and financial business. The reason I say this here is because the vast majority of these charities are run or led by local business people, aka employers. I met one woman who had been interviewed for a dream job, only to go to the food bank the next day to find the same man who interviewed her the day before stocking shelves at the food bank. The privacy of the rich was one of the reasons why the long form census was abandoned, while the privacy and confidentiality rights of the poor are so casually disregarded.
Hospitals will now get funding based on expertise and numbers, so if a low income person does not happen to live near a busy, urban hospital, their needs will likely not get met. The wealthy don't have to worry about this. They can just cross the border and use their VISA or American Express cards to pay for what they need right away, while the rest of us will be facing longer waits for poorer quality care. The health care sector is personal beef of Harper's. His strategy is to encourage provinces to "experiment" with private health care, and gradually give less and less to the provinces, so they will end up having to consider cuts. This has already been demonstrated with Harper's health care accord he just imposed on the provinces. There is no need for a meeting, he says. He will tell the Council of the Confederation where it's at.
So, wither the hope for the poor? This is no different how than the poor have always been treated. I don't recall massive spending programs to help lift people out of poverty, ever. Yet, it is these very programs that are now getting blamed for causing the deficit. Like, never mind ORNGE, eHealth, OLG and other programs gone mad under the present regime with truck loads of money being given to people that already have enough to do very little, and despite the controversy around any of these programs -- not a single benefactor, including those consultants billing over $3,000 a day for their "expertise" and their choco bites from Tim Hortons, ever had to pay a penny back! Yet when somebody on Ontario Works or ODSP even dares find a penny extra, it is clawed back before it is even noticed.
Dalton McGuinty has lied to us in the past. We know that. However, please know he is now lying to us once again when he says he will not balance the books on the backs of the vulnerable. He just did. It is too late for this friend of a friend of mine who heard "budget rumours" related to housing or something, that led her wrongly to believe she was going to lose her housing subsidy under the budget. She tried to kill herself, and is now in hospital under 24 hour suicide watch. This $800 a day could have went to give her better nutrition through additional funds to help her eat better, or they could have been spent on making necessary repairs in her building so that she can feel more safe ... but no, another $800 is a day is being spent to pay professionals to protect this woman from herself. I am sure there are more out there like this and I would encourage all of you to share your stories here.
The sad fact is austerity agendas do not save the government any money or lead to more job, but in the end, can actually result in the needless misery and death of many people. It is a form of population control. At one time a former Minister of Community and Social Services suddenly announced there were "too many" people on ODSP. I would hate to believe this is the way the government would go in order to reduce these costs, although it is not difficult to imagine. The same debate is going on in the UK, except it has gone beyond debate into three dimensional reality. There are suicides, hate crimes, continuing harassment of people with disabilities, riots, etc. The government of the day wants to cut more taxes, only of course to make matters even worse -- less revenues means less money to spend and less money to spend can aid a government in enforcing their own prejudices.
The federal Conservatives chose the chicken way to get elected by denying they will ever touch old age pensions, but now as far away as Davos, Switzerland, he publicly muses about how the Old Age Security is no longer sustainable. Perhaps, as he tells his banker and other elite friends, most of whom earn too much to even qualify for the Old Age Security anyways, that it is good enough that people are "living longer" and perhaps, they should be working longer - assuming of course, they even have a job to work in, or can work at all. I have no illusions about ever retiring. People my age were literally robbed of our entitlement to a retirement pension by people like Stephen Harper and other proponents of socialism for the rich and austerity for the poor. It is also another way for Harper to "stick it to the provinces" which will now have to carry more people for two years on welfare or ODSP monies.
Unfortunately, this ignorance is just going to spin its course because there are still too many people out there who are "all right Jack", that continue to believe the poor and disadvantaged are there on their own merit, and not due to systemic issues beyond their control. Personally, I am in a bloody hurry too. I am in a hurry to one day see those who today say, "I'm all right Jack" lose the one or two things that are keeping them from joining the breadlines today. That may be their spouse who earns a good income. Marriage isn't guaranteed in stone, girls. Forty to fifty percent of marriages end in divorce. It may be their health. Not everybody can continue to work if they fall ill, and less and less workplaces are offering benefits to those recovering from serious health issues. Welcome to the world of ODSP, folks... the place you turn to on your way down! It can be their job. Many say they are living one or two pay cheques from the streets, and we all know how fragile jobs can be. Caterpillar is just the tip of the iceberg, folks. Maybe tomorrow it will be your boss that comes in to announce that you will have to take a fifty percent cut in pay, or lose your job. Can you survive on fifty percent of your salary? Maybe not. Even if you can, what stops your boss from coming in two years down the line and asking you to take a further fifty percent cut?
People like me have been watching the trends. Former middle class workers who used to be "all right, Jack" are now living out of their cars, losing their homes, and losing their health. Women who used to be self confident in the corporate world are now getting ill, having to rely on social assistance incomes. Because their doctors have nothing more to do for them, many of them have been shipped to nursing homes in their forties, just so they can have three meals a day! Another man I know, a former home builder, is going to lose both of his legs later this year to diabetes, because his disability allowance leaves him less than a hundred dollars a month for food. I wonder how much all of this is costing the public purse.
Perhaps, we need to take another look at that report on the cost of poverty, and how little it would actually cost at the federal level to bring everybody who is currently living in poverty out of poverty and destitution. Oh, I forgot. The National Council of Welfare that produced that federal report is no longer useful, because they do not march to drummer of austerity like the federal government thinks everybody must. I think all of you need to read the links, understand that the government is making policy choices to keep people in poverty, as opposed to it being an inevitable thing. There are countries where poverty is very rare, and such countries have the best economies of the world. Unfortunately, our governments don't want us to know that, because they want us to become more ignorant of the facts in our own country.
However, I refuse to be ignorant. I refuse to stop asking questions. I also refuse to stop demanding that our politicians start representing all Canadians, not just those that can live in comfort this week knowing their pockets will not be picked and that government will just "get out of the way" for them.