Tuesday, July 31, 2018


Another provincial election has come and gone.

The PCs led by a moderate candidate, Patrick Brown, imploded one day in January of this year, allegedly by anonymous accusers of the #MeToo movement.  The suddenness, the abrupt change and sudden shift in direction in that party looked bad and gave me what information I needed about you and any of your competitors.  It was almost created by prophecy to put you in the Premier's chair.  Because of that turmoil and the sudden decision to move your party to the far right has turned me off from possibly being a supporter.  I am of the radical middle, not to the left or to the right (and have supported all of the major political parties at different elections).  I was hopeful for the People's Guarantee, a modest platform, with ongoing efforts to continue to build and grow the province, improve health care and address climate change, would have gained traction.

You say "the people" voted for change.  You say "the people" were tired of Kathleen Wynne, even though I can't think of anything policy-wise that Kathleen Wynne did that deserved such hatred and animosity from some of "the people" in Ontario.  Nor can I think of one good reason to change the direction of the province to what you were campaigning on, which was essentially nothing.  Under pressure to present a costed plan, you and a few pals spent the night photo shopping prior election announcements and attached some price tags to them.  This was in spite of the fact if you fulfilled every part of your platform as written, the province was going to be in a much deeper hole than it would be under any of the other party's governance.

You promised that everybody would have more money in their pockets under your governance.  Sadly, I think you are only thinking of SOME of the people, not all of us.  A forum at Ryerson University was held on disability issues prior to the election and your deputy premier Christine Elliott stated that she was empathetic that more money should be put into ODSP, but said that the province is not in good financial shape, so it was a priority of your party to put the province back into healthy balance.  Let me say one thing ... the province will NEVER be in good enough shape for your government to allow people with disabilities to have more money in THEIR pockets and live decent lives, whether they work or not.  If the province was in such bad shape, why is your government still moving ahead on significant tax cuts that for the most part benefit only the well-off, most of whom will not spend a single penny in their communities?  

My daughter just graduated from high school and is now moving on to post-secondary education in the arts.  She is a very different person than the people you speak for and represent.  My son is going for post-graduate studies and will be thereafter practicing in the medical field.  He is also a very different person.  He is smart, well-educated and works hard. He cares about our health care.  My son wrote a paper on how much the cuts that your predecessor Mike Harris costed the province. Yes, these cuts COST the province and as a result, plunged us into a major deficit.  Mike Harris was going around at the time promising the same kind of "trickle down" economics you are, but all I witnessed were more people dying, children being removed from more homes, more people getting charged for minor crimes and ending up jail, more people on the street after losing their homes ... That costs the province something.  It costs to keep people in jails.  It costs to keep people in homeless shelters.  It costs to force people to scrounge throughout the day, sometimes committing minor annoying acts that were back then criminalized, so more people can be punished for being poor.  Our courts, police forces, judiciary and legal aid costs the province money.  These people did not see any of the money that supposedly "trickled down" from the province's wealthy.

I worked in the mental health system back then.  I was watching people die, many times at their own hands, and other times, as a result of health issues.  I once read a report that stated that homeless people live to an average age of 47.  Is this the kind of province you want to lead?  Your single-minded pursuit to get people receiving "social assistance" back to work is a familiar refrain as well.  I remember the workfare program implemented by your predecessor, and how it had to shut down because there were not enough "jobs" to place workfare clients in.  Do you think things have changed since then?  Do you think businesses will suddenly open their doors and hire people from the OW rolls and help people get off ODSP?  If this were the case, businesses would have started that already! We are just wondering how your government intends to force employers to hire people with disabilities, pay them decent wages and accommodate their needs so they can perform effectively.  Many people with disabilities are well educated, well qualified for the jobs that are out there, but most of them are unemployed or not in the labour force. Perhaps, you can pass one of your laws that you can ram through the legislature that employers must hire anybody with a disability or who could prove they are on social assistance.  Or are you just going to put the whole burden on the person as usual, many of whom experience ongoing discrimination?  The longer they are out of the workforce due to discrimination, the less likely they will ever return to the labour force.  In the meantime, how will they get by when the amount one receives on "social assistance" barely covers their rent, let alone any costs associated with conducting an effective job search?

Your Minister of Community & Social Services, the Hon. Lisa MacLeod, has announced today that Ontario is officially moving backwards on social policy.  She has decided that your new government is scrapping everything that could possibly represent positive change and will help enhance health and improve people's outcomes.  That, instead of putting more money in these people's pockets. Basic income studies will now be scrapped, so that the social assistance system can move back to the dark ages of policing and criminalization of people living in poverty, who are only doing what everybody else does to survive. You ran your campaign on not being a "politician", which is fine.  But this also alerts me that your government needs help from lots of people who have actually studied policy, know what works and what doesn't work, and can certainly advise you not to repeat the barbaric acts that the Mike Harris' government did to "the people" that you claim to serve.  

My memory is long and I remember people dying in the mid to late 1990's and early 2000's ... many times, several in a month.  I also recall people coming into my office desperate because they were about to pushed out of their homes.  Only a couple days later, I would hear from somebody else that they had committed suicide, or I would read their obituary in the local paper the following week.  I also remember a close friend of mine that died of AIDS because at the time, Mr. Harris thought a lot like you, not liking the idea of harm reduction programs in the community, such as supervised drug injection sites.  My friend could have been saved, at least long enough to benefit from the then new anti-retroviral medication regimes that were becoming popular in those days.  But he was denied help because he was an IV drug user and by not helping them, it was going to get them to quit on their own.  News flash, Mr. Ford!  At the time my friend was alive, he was an avid user of one of the many UNSUPERVISED sites where some people gathered to use highly addictive drugs, like heroine.  Today, the number of these unsupervised sites are greater and more out of control than they once were.  If it is not important enough to save the lives of our most vulnerable people in the community that resort to this addiction, then one should wonder whose lives you DO prioritize.

Again, back to the Harris days.  Mr. Harris was just like you.  He got elected in early June 1995, just like you did, and like you, he acted really fast!  He couldn't wait to get those tax cuts out to his (and your) friends, while cutting supports to half a million people on social assistance, as well as in other areas, such as health care.  I remember that summer of discontent.  Mr. Harris decided to turn the Family Benefits Program (the predecessor to the ODSP program) and then taken anybody who was on that program because they were "permanently unemployable" and move them to Ontario Works, moving only those with severe disabilities to the new program "that takes people with disabilities off of welfare where they do not belong and into a program that will meet their needs".  Most people on Family Benefits at the time were "permanently unemployable", usually due to mental health, chronic pain, or cognitive disorders.  They were not going to benefit from Ontario Works.

Remember back then, I was working in the mental health system.  My agency did counseling, crisis care and referrals, as well as individual advocacy for clients who needed supports in such things as filling out forms, getting into residential programs, etc. I would also have outreach people who would travel to the difficult areas of my community to assist people in accessing services, as well as linking them to the needle exchange, which just started after my friend died.  Unfortunately, I noted an uptick in crisis calls shortly after Mr. Harris took office.  One day, a few months after the FBA program was turned upside down, a young woman in her late twenties came to my office to access counselling for family suicide.  Her mother who I will call Amy (to keep it confidential) took her own life.  It soon became clear to me that she was also seeking support to make change for people like her mother.  It turned out that Amy was in receipt of Family Benefits as somebody who was "permanently unemployable" due to various mental health and physical maladies.  She accepted a part-time job at what was then minimum wage at $6.85 an hour for approximately eight to ten hours a week.  She reported her job and her income to her FBA worker.  Shortly thereafter, she was one of thousands across Ontario who tried the same thing who received a letter from their caseworker advising them that they were cut off FBA because they were no longer "permanently unemployable".  Before long, Amy went home and emptied a number of pill bottles into her system.  She died later that night.

I immediately became familiar with the workings of things like the Coroner's Act, an application for mandamus, among other things I was taught at university before I actually decided what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I handled the media well.  Amy was on the front page.  I made sure my local PC members of provincial parliament knew what happened.  I continued to push her case.  At that time, the provincial government was busy with Dudley George, and later with Kimberley Rogers, and Walkerton ... all symptoms of a problem that populist politicians fail to consider when they are interacting with people's lives.  I almost added a new case to keep Mr. Harris and his government busy, but they were wise enough to finally start opening the doors instead to create THAT program "to move people with disabilities out of welfare where they do not belong".  It was called the Ontario Disability Support Program.  I remember sitting around a table at Wellesley along with a number of other advocates to talk about the major components of this program.  

In the new program, people were allowed to work and keep some of their earnings, access employment supports to help pay for things the worker (or self-employed) person needed to enter or re-enter the workforce, as well as a number of benefits, such as drug coverage, hearing aids, eyeglasses, dental and extended support for approved devices under the Assistive Devices Program.  It was by no means perfect, but it was a start.  Unfortunately, despite Mr. Harris' good intentions to take people with disabilities "off welfare", this did not truly happen.  People receiving ODSP were still subject to most of the same rules that people on Ontario Works had to follow, such as depleting themselves of most of their assets, stripping their retirement savings, losing income support if they even live with somebody else for a few weeks.  This was not okay, but as soon as the new Ontario Disability Support Program Act and the Ontario Works Act (arising from the oddly named 'Social Assistance Reform Act', or Bill 42 at the time).  Over time, court challenges were done to force the government to change other things, such as a lifetime ban from receiving any further assistance if they were ever convicted of "welfare fraud".  There is a lot that I can say about that, but that would be for a different post for a different day, as all "welfare fraud" was is, outside the obvious tiny fraction of those that would collect under different names, etc., were those poor folks who just did what other people would do to secure opportunities or enjoy improved quality of life (e.g. accept short term jobs "under the table", moving in with a partner to improve their quality of housing).  But, next time!

Over the years, the Liberals eventually took over.  Once Dalton McGuinty took power, they did their own form of austerity measures on the poor, such as stripping the then in place, special diet allowance, restricting medical transportation monies, and eventually scrapping the community start-up benefit and home repair program.  These were not good steps, as they were poorly thought out and later handed down to the municipalities, which either provide supports in these areas, or they don't and among those that do provide, the degree and type of supports available varied depending on where you lived in Ontario,  I learned this when I began to notice a significant number of people on ODSP who had no teeth.  Others were trapped in inadequate housing because they could not afford to move.  I am also aware of homeowners who were unable to complete simple repairs, which later resulted in substantial deterioration of their homes and living conditions.  In fact, a few of these situations turned into 'no occupancy orders' resulting in the homeowner moving to a shelter.  Again, good money thrown after bad.  

Eventually, while Mr. Harris was still in power (and prior to his successor Ernie Eves taking the reigns), I moved back into law.  This came from the sheer powerlessness I felt when I was forced to see what really was going on in people's lives.  Even if people accessed mental health programs, they would still return to inadequate housing and be forced into a severely inadequate diet.  I have met people who were diagnosed with health conditions that would normally appear in people who live in what we call "developing countries".  I also noticed a significant number of people on Ontario Works were really getting sick due to inadequate supports, to the point where they eventually became eligible for ODSP.  I met one chap who was living on ODSP, but barely making rent so he needed to work ... and he tried.  He secured about twenty-three jobs one year, only to be fired two or three days after he started.  Others want to work, but couldn't seem to get hired.  I participated in numerous employment consultations, as well as self-employment consultations, with the Ministry staff, as well as with other ministries under the Liberals.  They were really trying to do some good, but the reality persisted that is going to persist with your government, Mr. Ford.  There are no jobs.  

I became a legal advocate.  I work for anybody that needs legal services that fall within the range of my areas of experience and knowledge.  I started with a small office at home, to a small office in a commercial building, to an office as a sole practitioner with others working for me, to what I am doing now, as a professional corporation.  Although I love the law and what I do, I still struggle, as I have to always be "on", which is not what I envisioned when I went to school for so many years. It is the folks I work with or for, as I always seem to enjoy being with others and working with others towards common goals.  I've also assisted in the advocacy that the former Liberal government engaged with that resulted in policy that was finally moving in the right direction.  An Income Security Working Group was formed which included top policy analysts, economists, labour representatives, legal professionals, mental health and community agency representatives, as well as people who were poor who were articulate and knowledgeable about what would work for people in their own communities. They produced a report called the Income Security: A Roadmap for Change.  A basic income study started in four communities in Ontario to study the lives of 4,000 people to see how it would affect them if they received more money, less conditions and were not forced to work (as many as seventy percent of those in the basic income pilot were working anyways).

Between the 2017 and the 2018 budgets, a number of very progressive reforms were proposed and put into place for ODSP and OW recipients.  The minimum wage was hiked to $14/hour and slated to increase to $15/hour.  There would be an end to asset stripping of people on ODSP.  Common law relationships were going to be permitted for up to the three years without it affecting one's income.  Exempted earnings was increased.  One would not have to spend down their RRSPs or TFSAs they may be saving for their retirements. There were many more changes that would make the lives of people on ODSP much easier, even though the amounts were still highly inadequate.  I was advised that people with disabilities on ODSP would eventually be moved to an assured income, which would be like the basic income, with more money and less conditions and continued support for those that wish to and can work.  People in receipt of the assured income would not get cut off if they married somebody who also had an income.  They would be permitted to earn so much a year and their earnings would be annualized and averaged to determine their monthly income.  There was finally hope in this community.  I noted many of the people who participated in the basic income study start small businesses, take short vacations (with family money), work part time and/or get involved more in the community.  Even as the overall changes were put into place, people had hope.  There were less crisis visits and more visits where I can truly provide wholesome assistance to people to build a small business, take courses, etc.

However, today the lights went out and really fast!  I had three contacts today from people I know in the community who were feeling suicidal and many others, anxious.  Two people I know who are involved in the basic income pilot in Hamilton will now have to give up their housing they have been able to grow and become more productive in and move back to inadequate, shabby housing in poor repair.  Another was looking forward to "keeping more money in her pocket" when the exempted earnings were scheduled to increase to $400 a month instead of $200.  She told me she was simply going to work less hours now, as most of her money is clawed back or gone to work related expenses that are not paid for by the program.  Another who was able to invest some monies in health and wellness programs from a recent inheritance is now worried she will be cut off ODSP because her funds will be now "over the limit".  Another that started to put money into a TFSA will now have to withdraw it and spend it down and be guaranteed an old age in poverty.  My network is a microcosm of people who are now responding to the lights being turned out.  The "promise" to reform 'social assistance' over the next hundred days is only bringing anxiety.  Nobody thinks the new reforms under your government will be beneficial.  In fact, many of us in the legal profession remember what happened to thousands of people in Ontario for several weeks when Mike Harris' government turned FBA upside down to cut off those who were deemed "permanently unemployable".  I know the name of the person I helped and I know there are many more Amys out there that can only be hurt if something to this level is attempted again.

If the province's books are in bad shape, you do not hand out tax cuts either.  If there is belt tightening to be had, those in the best position to handle it should be impacted and that is those with the most money, not those with the least.  The people I know do not get any help from tax breaks.  In fact, people who work and are trying to get off social assistance are the highest "taxed" group of people in this province and I fail to see where in any of your policies you intend to do something about that. Your promise to lower gas prices is fraught with assumptions, given that I know your government really can do nothing about the price that companies charge for gas, nor can your government dictate to the breweries what to charge for their beer. The same applies to hydro. With the partial privatization of Hydro One, it is no small wonder that with the cuts in conservation programs that would otherwise benefit low income homeowners and tenants, I can only foresee the cost of gas and hydro going up for members of this group, while those with the funds to get high efficiency appliances will save money.  Again, where do these policies put more money in the pockets of the poor?  As stated before, you stated you are not a politician, and given that - you need people who know about policy, who know their community and so forth, to help set policy so it helps, not hurts.

As a business owner, I know what cuts to the poor do to local businesses.  Small businesses rely on the income people in the community have in their pockets.  If minimum wages are stalled, basic income is trashed, social assistance is raised at a rate less than inflation and programs that were once available to low and middle income people are no longer available, these people will not be going to small businesses anymore because they will not have discretionary income.  These people do not benefit from your tax cuts.  They need more income, not tax cuts (when many don't pay much provincial income tax anyways).  When people stop shopping, businesses lay off and close their doors.  I am sure you do not want to preside over a province that is pushed into a recession.

I am offering you an invitation to come down to visit my community, with me as your tour guide.  I will take you to different parts of my community where you will meet different people.  This will give you a chance to meet "the people" that you claim to represent face to face so that you can learn how most Ontarians are being forced to live and not just the well heeled that can attend your rallies.


  1. This is a well written article Angela. I too am terrified of what the next 100 days has in store for us :( If you recall, as per our discussions I was there just the Harris era, and I had to approach a Queen Park Journalist for assistance.

  2. Very well written, ckear and concise. I fear it is a grim reminder of what's to come.

  3. The poor are going to get screwed and the rich are going to get richer.

  4. thank you for this long and clear letter. thank you for talking the truth of suicidal phases and suicide. i went quite close last summer when my ODSP review was in process.

  5. Remember Mike the Knife this going to be Worse he has a machete

  6. Very well written article. Speaking truth. Thank you.
    Cyndy Maracle

  7. I'm very scared right now. When they go back on a promise & scrap a program that was having great progress & all the positive things to make life easier. I feel my fear in this man being elected is everything I feared it would be. Say whatever will make people happy then do whatever he wants without regard. It seems amazing to me they can come up with a quality plan in just over three months.

  8. I found this article terrifying! And I thought things were bad in BC! Thank you Angela for exposing things that I never thought possible. It is unbelievable that, under Harris' reign of terror, the most vulnerable people in Ontario were the helpless victims of trickery and deception by a sadistic premier! WTF!

  9. There are hundreds of thousands of Ontarians and their advocates struggling each day and living on tenterhooks as a result of being told that Ford's government is somehow going to come up with a new program within the next hundred days. We know it will not be based on proper research. It will not be based on consultation. It will not be based on common sense. It will be yet one more attack on the vulnerable in Ontario, leaving many of us in the professions picking up the pieces again ...