By Marvin Ross
In my wildest dreams I never would have expected to see a bit of satire that I wrote in the 1970s become reality in the latest policy announcement by the Ford Government. Let me explain. In 1977, my book Cover Your Ass or How to Survive in a Government Bureaucracy was published (still available in many libraries). One of my anecdotes was of the concern that a number of ruling politicians had over the fact that many of their elderly supporters were dying.
They set up a task force to investigate. What they found was that the majority of people who died did so in hospital. The solution was simple. Close hospitals and fewer people will die.
Absurd, of course, but fast forward to 2018 and the Ford Government concern with reforming social assistance. First, you allow them to earn more money working so that they will eventually earn enough to get off assistance. Second, redefine what it is to be disabled so that fewer people will qualify. And then shift the blame to the Feds by using their definitions.
What is missing in all this, aside from humanity, is the realization that people with disabilities are disabled and cannot work or at least work full time. If they could work and live normal lives, they would not be disabled.
I don’t disagree with letting them earn and keep more money if they are well enough to do some part time work which many are capable of doing. Depending on the nature of their disabilities, some can do a few hours here and there either regularly or when their conditions allow assuming there are employers willing to hire them.
What I disagree with vehemently is redefining disability which will likely be more stringent than now and using the Federal guidelines. Under ODSP rules, a disability is a physical or mental impairment that is continuous or recurrent that impinges on their living and employment. This must be verified by a physician.
I wrote about the disability tax credit from CRA for those with mental disabilities in Huffington Post in 2016 and the rules are such that most with psychiatric disabilities have to appeal to the Federal Tax Court to obtain disability status. The form is highly complex and the requirements were changed by the Harper Government in 2006 to state activities markedly restricted at least 90% of the time. This resulted in many doctors refusing to fill out the forms.
Getting a disability tax exemption is so difficult that an entire industry has emerged of consultants to lobby on behalf of the disabled individual. The largest is the National Benefit Authority but there are numerous others all charging up to 30% of the benefit for their services.
In order to bring more equity to the process, an advocacy group called the Disability Tax Fairness Campaign was established recently headed up by Lembi Buchanan of Victoria. Ms Buchanan has been fighting CRA since 2001 and is responsible for a landmark case on behalf of those with mental illness that was upheld by the Federal Court of Appeal. In 2016 she was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal by the Governor General for her work.
And then there is the Canada Pension Plan Disability which is just as fraught with problems. The Globe and Mail reported earlier this year that 60% of claims are denied. Then most appeals are lost so that Canada has the highest rejection rate of all the OECD countries. There is also a very large backlog of cases to be heard and the cases are now heard by a single adjudicator. Previously there were three which usually included a medical professional, a lawyer and a lay person.
We have all seen the ads by lawyers and paralegals offering to fight for your disability rights under CPP. What Ford is doing is to increase the revenues for the lawyers and consultants who will be needed to fight for the rights of the disabled who will have their income eliminated. They will also lose their access to the medications they need and now get as recipients of the disability benefits.
And by pushing it all on to the Feds, Ford can sit back and say not my problem. So much for the premier for the people.