Tag Archives: Doug Ford

The Ontario Ford Government – When Satire Becomes Reality

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.


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Doug Ford, Donald Trump

By Dr David Laing Dawson and an addendum by Marvin Ross

I just heard Doug Ford proclaim that he was elected by 2.3 million people whereas the judge was appointed by one person.

This is perilously close to a Trumpism.

Our systems of governance are complicated and cumbersome. Our judiciary is independent and equally complicated and layered. They have evolved this way not so that one man or woman can easily get things done but to prevent one man or woman or a group of men and women from doing stupid harmful things. From the moment I became aware of governance and politics, as far as I can remember, Canadian and American politicians, presidents, premiers, prime ministers understood this – up until the last 2 years.

Donald J. Trump demonstrates every day that he does not understand this. He has had 72 plus two hundred years to learn. He didn’t. And it seems a portion of the American population have forgotten as well. And another portion of the American population has become inured.

And now this is creeping into Ontario. We seem to have a Premier with Donald Trump instincts, the instincts of a bully, of an anti-democratic strongman. And like Donald Trump, he is willing to trample on democratic principles to push through his own agenda, both, tellingly, the small, personal and petty as well as serious policy.

The number of Councilors representing parts of the biggest city in Canada is not an important issue. It can be adjusted with discussion, consultation, voting, over time as demographics and population densities change.

It is an historical pet grievance of one Doug Ford. To use the “not withstanding clause” of the charter to override a judicial decision about such an arbitrary unimportant issue is stupid, reckless, thoughtless. And this is not about good governance of Toronto or Ontario. It is about the fragile ego of one Douglas Ford.

Please let us not follow the Americans down that regressive path.

Addendum

David is of course quite correct in his comparison but there is one fundamental difference that I’ve been meaning to write about. That is the difference between the US Federal system where the president is an entity pretty much unto his own and the British Parliamentary system that we enjoy. In the parliamentary system, the prime minister or premier of a province is one of many elected to the legislature and then elected by his peers as the leader of the party.

The prime minister sits in the legislature and is subjected to a regular question period where any member can and does ask some very difficult questions. If Trump was compelled to sit in congress, take questions and answer them, things might be somewhat more transparent (or not).

In attempting to pass his unpopular legislation slashing Toronto City Council mid-election on Wednesday, Doug Ford was subjected to a barrage of questions from the opposition and a public gallery that became unruly. Security had to clear the gallery and some were removed in handcuffs including a 77 year old grandmother. Then, when the legislature resumed, the opposition loudly opposed and were removed by the Sgt at Arms.

OK, it looked like a kindergarten gone mad but the points were made. The sensible members on the government side must be giving their support for their leader Doug and his ideas a good second thought with visions of the next election outcome.  Doug must be wondering how he is going to get through his mandate if he continues to introduce stupid bills. Senior and respected members of his party oppose his actions like Bill Davis the former premier who was involved in negotiating the Charter and  Brian Mulroney the former prime minister (whose daughter is the current Ontario attorney general). His governing will be even more of a mockery if he keeps this up. At least I hope.

South of the border, Trump is isolated from direct confrontation surrounded by his yes people while denouncing the media opposition as fake while Doug must take the full brunt of an angry legislature.

Madness Can Be Contagious

By Dr David Laing Dawson

Some years ago, working within psychiatric clinics and mental hospitals, I used to advise staff, students, counselors, therapists, psychiatrists, that the most important thing they should strive for at all times, was “to remain sane.” At all times, remain sane. Your job, as a mental health professional, is first and foremost, to remain sane.

Sane meant, of course, keeping calm, ethical, sensible, compassionate, and not reacting or over-reacting to the insanity that surrounded them. That insanity coming from both the patients and the human systems we all worked within.
Sane also meant not assuming responsibility for that which was not yours to assume, and not trying to change the unchangeable. It was also wise to bring perspectives of time and relative importance to all events.

Of course none of us were always able to achieve this.

But I am thinking of this as Maxime Bernier angrily leaves the Conservative party to start one of his own, presumably along even more conservative lines, and Doug Ford sets up a hotline for parents to rat on teachers if they step past 1950 in their sex ed teachings. And from James Cagney mouthing the words, “You dirty rat.” to the 15 year old boys I see who don’t “rat” on their friends, to Donald Trump calling John Dean a “rat” and then offering that maybe “flipping” should almost be illegal.

It is hard to remain sane.

It is hard to remain sane living next door to the USA as they fall into a deeply conflicted madness. But that is our Canadian task. Remain sane.

Americans are currently struggling over dichotomous extremes, polarizing issues that should have been settled long ago, now requiring mere tweaking with each new generation.

In Canada, all our systems can be improved, carefully, gradually. None of them need be abandoned, or drastically and dramatically changed. Our problems are not either/or. We do not need to choose capitalism or socialism, abortion or no abortion, accepting refugees or not accepting refugees, being multicultural or not multicultural, of having social programs, guaranteed income, health care for all, or not having these things.

We just need to tweak them and improve them from time to time, occasionally shifting the balance of private enterprise and government, reacting sanely and generously to crises, tweaking our laws and services to deal with the new realities, all the while pursuing the goal of a healthy, equitable, and happy society.

I am not downplaying the problems we face around housing, adequate income for all, employment and health care, not to mention saving the planet, but we must not fall into the contagion of vitriol south of our border.


On Youtube: A new play by Dawson premiered at the Artword Artbar, Hamilton.

 

Buck a Beer and Dented Tuna Tins

By Marvin Ross

The Buck a Beer campaign (opposed by many craft brewers) was first developed about 2002 by Lakeport Brewery in Hamilton Ontario as an attempt to gain market share. It worked and they went from a 1% market share to the top 10 in a very short period of time. But, Ontario raised the minimum price and Lakeport was bought out in 2007. The CEO of Lakeport, Teresa Cascioli, went on to become a major philanthropist in Hamilton donating over $4 million to various institutions in the city.

How it came into the mind of Doug Ford as something anyone wants is bizarre. Unlike the woman who used her wealth generated by the buck a beer, he is willing to spend tax dollars on this scheme while not only cutting the basic income pilot program but by cutting the increase in social assistance planned for September from 3% to 1.5% . He has also put on hold all other improvement to social assistance to come into effect on that date.

Doug, unfortunately, is a carryover from the last Conservative government Ontario had starting back in 1995 led by Mike Harris. Harris slashed welfare rates by 21.6% and despite modest increases during the Liberal regime, rates have not recovered from that slashing. It is important to remember that most of the people impacted by those cuts are disabled and cannot work or can only work part time.

Treating the disabled this way is cruel and smacks of Marie Antoinette. In fact, when the social services minister under Harris, David Tsubouchi, was challenged in the legislature, his suggestion was that the poor and disabled could buy dented tins of tuna at less than the usual price if they bargained with shop keepers. He then put out a proposed welfare diet that includes pasta without sauce, bread without butter, and the elusive 69-cent tuna can.

He even went further by telling single mothers on welfare that they had ample time to find jobs because they had a three-month warning. He also suggested welfare parents could just ask neighbours to look after their children, and accidentally ordered 115,000 disabled people and senior citizens to be cut off from their welfare benefits.

A report done in 2015 on the 20th anniversary of those cuts found that the consumer price index had gone up by 45% but the cost of the welfare diet had increased by 107%. The welfare rate has only gone up by 37% to 2015. Pathetic.

In an op ed in the Hamilton Spectator, Michael Taub a former speech writer for Stephen Harper, argued that the Progressive Conservative Party is not progressive and should not have progressive in its name. He argues that rather than being progressive they practice:

“compassionate conservatism. For instance, working with religious organizations and private charities to help out the poor and needy. Finding ways to use the free market as a means of getting people back to work and wealthier, such as reducing taxes and state involvement. Supporting public programs like health care and education, but ensuring the private sector has a greater role and/or influence in these sectors.”

He supports Ford’s cutting of the Basic Income Project and of social assistance rates. His argument:

Rather than a never-ending cycle of government handouts, the PCs will use other means, such as tax cuts (including the 10 cent reduction on gas prices) to accomplish the same goal. This will hopefully produce far better results and savings for Ontario families.

Right, let us reduce gasoline by 10 cents a litre to help people who cannot afford to buy a car and who have to use the food bank to eat in their substandard rental units.

The utter folly of this is that if people cannot afford to eat nutritious food which is more expensive, it will impact their health. They will end up getting costly medical treatment for the ill health caused by their poor diets. That will cost more than the money saved on social assistance cuts. And don’t think that the Liberals are any better. Despite being in office for 15 years, they failed to bring the social assistance rates back to where they were when they were slashed in 1995. Social activists found a loophole in the act that allowed for the poor to get an extra allowance if they needed more expensive food for health reasons. Doctors and nurses began signing the forms for their patients so they could eat better but the government put an end to that practice.

Going off on a tangent, I must point out that I knew David Tsubouchi and he was our lawyer until he went into cabinet. To this day, I do not understand how he could do what he did as he was a very nice, compassionate person. He was a poet and, because he was bored with the law, he acted in his spare time and played a Japanese salesman in David Cronenberg’s Videodrome and other shows.

But then, politicians do stupid things that run against their principles to be in power. A recent Toronto Star column asked where the grown ups are in Ford’s cabinet as they are all silent. I think the explanation for this was spelled out by the late journalist Heather Robertson. I’m just reading her book, More Than A Rose (1991) on the wives of Canadian Prime Ministers. She makes the point that politicians can make peace with anyone if it leads to power.

Power corrupts but the whiff of power corrupts just as easily.

Buck a Beer Trumps Compassion for the Poor and Disabled

By Dr David Laing Dawson

“Buck-a-beer” as proposed by Ontario’s new Premier, Doug Ford (and brother of the infamous Rob) is simply a very silly adolescent political promise. With all that is going on in this world our premier comes up with “buck-a-beer”. I am embarrassed.

But now his government is discontinuing the basic income pilot project.

I have always been astonished by the gap between what we know of human behaviour and how our governments function. Especially, for example, how so many leaders think “punishment” in the form of sanctions will change the behaviour of dictators.

But back to the issue of basic income for all.

There are far too many variables to know how each and every recipient of a basic income will behave. For some, will a basic income simply make their lives better? Will their health improve? Will they develop more or less incentive to work? Will the cost to taxpayers be, ultimately, less or more? Will the increase in basic income be offset by a decrease in health care, social service and correctional system costs?

For those who could in theory work or be retrained for work would it be an incentive or a disincentive? And ultimately, for our economy, would that matter?

Surely in our society in 2018 it is simply cruel to force people to live on $700 a month. So the humanitarian argument is easily won. It is the other arguments that go on and on. Incentive, disincentive? Can we afford such a program? Will the taxpayers tolerate such a program costing them money? Can we prove to the taxpayers that it will cost them little?

I know the fear our inner Ayn Rand holds is that some of the recipients will take advantage of “the system”. They will pocket the money, buy booze and drugs with it, and continue in their sloth-like ways.

But we are, I like to think, a rich, modern, caring and scientific community. So, let us study the problem. Let us choose 4000 people to receive basic income and compare this to a matched sample of 4000 people who receive the usual services. Let’s give this a few years and then let’s study the results down to the penny. At all levels. Health care costs, trips to emergency, social service costs, police costs, alcohol and drug addiction, part-time and full time employment, effect on next generation, income tax paid, volunteer hours…

A difficult component to track I am sure (but maybe economists can) would be the effect on the broader economy. Every extra dollar a basic income recipient receives will be spent (note: in Canada, and not on a luxury yacht made in New England). The money will go round and round, and at each stop it will increase the income of others and shed a small percentage to taxes.

And I gather that is what we were doing, though I have little idea about the details of this pilot project and the extent of the evaluation. To stop it now is Trumpian, allowing ego, prejudice, ideology, and politics to Trump truth and compassion.

More to come

A Caution For the June 7 Ontario Election

By Dr David Laing Dawson

Doug Ford wants the municipal governments of Ontario to adopt the American model. U.S. mayors, like the US president, have executive powers. They decide things. They award contracts. They don’t have to contend with a fractious group of councillors. They have power. And with power residing in one person we can have efficiency, quick decisions, a single vision, the rapid enactment of a plan. And we can also have corruption.

“Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

We have all grown up hearing this adage over and over again. But I suspect we each hear it as “Power corrupts – others, not me.”

I know of an astonishing number of US state governors and state representatives being convicted felons but this proposal by Doug Ford made me wonder about U.S. city Mayors. So I looked it up. I stopped counting at 50.

Power corrupts. A pot of public money attracts crooks faster than yellow jackets to syrup. Municipalities, cities, with so many lucrative contracts to dish out, need all the safeguards we can possibly apply. We need to accept the slowness of change, the tangles of red tape and the constant bickering of municipal politics.

We do not need to copy the American model at any level of governance. We suffer sufficient folly (and undoubtedly bits of corruption) as it is. We do not need to add an American scale of corruption to our poor, struggling Ontario cities.

Political Ideology – Right or Left – is Disastrous

By Dr David Laing Dawson

Just once I would like to hear a Canadian politician say ideologies make bad government.

We have now had sufficient history and experimentation with democratically elected governments to know that unfettered, unregulated capitalism is a horror for all but the rich, and ultimately destructive for them as well, and that ideologically driven socialism is a disaster that fosters corruption and gives birth to tyranny. This history lies before us from Venezuela to Russia to Cuba; from the USA to Greece and Chile. In Ontario we already enacted these dichotomies (in moderate Canadian fashion) with Mike Harris and Bob Rae.

But we are neither an ant colony nor roving bands of sharks. We are human.

So this means our shark genes are always in conflict with our ant genes. Our impulse for self preservation and self aggrandisement conflicts with our empathy for others, our social impulses. We want to help ourselves and help others. We seek both hierarchy and equality. We are Donald Trump and Mother Theresa.

So we need both a system of governance and economics that allows us each to pursue a pot of gold, an invention, success, membership in an exclusive club, achievement, and at least a comfortable life, and a system of governance that oversees the ethics and morality of these pursuits while ensuring we are all at least well fed, clothed, educated, housed, protected from predators, and kept healthy.

And a system of governance that ensures we don’t destroy the planet in our pursuit of the former, and don’t bankrupt the province and nation in pursuit of the latter.

It was disheartening to hear Doug Ford mouth a ridiculous Trump hyperbole: We will cut taxes and you will see the economy grow like “nobody has ever seen before.”

And equally disheartening to hear Andrea Horvath say they would do away with back to work legislation.

We’ve been here before. Cutting the taxes of the wealthy and well-to-do does not cause trickle down. It causes trickle up.

Without back to work legislation in place as a last resort our government becomes beholden to the tyranny of the collective.

Both of these ideas are driven by ideology rather than one hundred years of experience.

My unelectable ideal politician would be saying, “We need a mixed economy. We need rules and regulations that foster invention and entrepreneurship while providing all of our citizens a comfortable life and protecting them from corporate greed. To do this we need to keep many services within the public sector, paid well and monitored carefully, while creating an atmosphere in which the pursuit of wealth, of entrepreneurship, of excellence, and the greed of a few, can benefit all.

We continue to need a mixed economy with a complex set of rules and regulations. And we promise to tweek these as best we can based on experience and knowledge over the next five years, with a goal of bringing health and prosperity for all.”