Tag Archives: Ontario

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.

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Family Day, Serious Mental Illness and Murder

By Marvin Ross

I’m posting this on Family Day in Ontario. This is a new statutory holiday promised by former Premier Dalton McGuinty during the election campaign of 2007. It was, of course, part of his platform so that he could win re-election by giving people an extra day off between New Year and Easter and sold as an opportunity for people to celebrate family.

Unfortunately, families with serious mental illness in them lost out when the recommendations of an all party Select Committee on Mental Illness and Addictions Report of 2010 was largely ignored by that government. There is little for many of these families in Ontario to celebrate as you will see from my Huffinton Post blog that follows. It was published on February 9 and I will update it at the end.

Was Ontario Complicit in a Father’s Murder?

Last Spring, I mentioned the problems that a Richmond Hill, Ontario family was having with acquiring adequate service for their son with schizophrenia in one of my Huffington Post blogs. That was one of the many blogs I write on the pathetic state of care that we have for the treatment of those with serious mental illness.

Sadly, the father in this case, Bob Veltheer, was murdered on Sunday evening February 7 and, the next day, his son Jacob was arrested. Bob and his wife talked to me before I wrote the blog wanting to reveal just how badly people with serious mental illness are treated by the health system but decided to remain silent other than what I reported then.

Before I outline what I know of the care their son received, I should mention that Bob was the founding member and president of Home on the Hill, an agency set up to try to get housing for the mentally ill when their families could no longer keep them at home. I had been invited to speak at their monthly meetings a few times as had my blogging partner in another blog we share, Dr David Laing Dawson.

Last year, Jacob, who suffers from schizophrenia, was found sitting on a bus at the end of the line in Newmarket, Ontario presumably having failed to get off when it passed through Richmond Hill. He was suicidal, so the police were called and he was taken to South Lake Hospital. After a week and still suicidal, according to the family, he was discharged against the wishes of his family and that is what I reported.

Upon discharge, he ran off, as do many people with schizophrenia, and the York Regional Police went looking for him. He was found after three days and returned home only to disappear again. This time, when he was found, he was admitted to MacKenzie Health in Richmond Hill. After a brief stay, he was discharged with a community treatment order to a residence. A community treatment order is a legally binding order that the individual must accept regular medical help and medication. If they fail to abide by this, they can be returned to hospital by police.

Jacob, it seems, was too sick for the residence to cope with (but not sick enough to be in hospital) and was evicted from the residence. What should the parents do but what all parents do and that was to take him home. Just recently, the team that supervised his orders (the South Lake Assertive Community Treatment team), wanted him discharged to the care of the family doctor. His mother had just made contact with a local Richmond Hill psychiatrist and was waiting to hear back to see whether that doctor would see him.

Friday night, Bob had a meeting with a member of Home on the Hill executive at his house and I was told that Jacob was so distraught that he was pacing about the house talking to himself (or his voices or demons) in a loud voice. That Sunday night, the police allege that Jacob murdered his father.

This horrific tragedy could probably have been prevented had Jacob been kept in hospital long enough to stabilize him properly and, if that was not possible, to give him a secure place where he could live. The number of psychiatric beds in Ontario has been declining considerably over the past few decades but the total extent is not available since statistics on that can’t be found. And I’ve tried. The most recent Ontario report released in December of 2015 called Taking Stock found that access to services varies across the province and is inconsistent.

Late last year, the brand new psychiatric hospital in Hamilton closed a ward because of budgetary problems although that hospital has 6 vice presidents, 31 directors, a medical director earning $500K a year and a CEO making $750K a year. And, as I wrote a year ago, Ontario has had 17 reports on the sad state of mental health care between 1983 and 2011 but little has been done.

This is not the first preventable death, nor will it be the last unless we finally start to care. In my book on schizophrenia, I describe a case where a family in Mississauga, Ontario desperately tried to get help for their son. They could not and he ended up killing both his parents. I met the son a couple of years ago and found him to be a very pleasant and sane individual. But that was after years in a forensic psychiatric hospital where he has been getting treatment. Imagine if his family were able to get that when they first tried.

I am not Emil Zola nor was Bob Veltheer, but I accuse the complacency of the Ontario government for his death. Government bureaucrats have been informed repeatedly both verbally and in writing about the need for accountability, program evaluation, transparency regarding mis-spending, mis-use of privacy legislation and the historical resistance to partner and collaborate with families. The Central Local Health Integration Network where Bob resided, I’m told, had recently been notified about the profound need for hospital beds by Home on the Hill.

Home on the HIll has been attempting to meet with the new Health Minister, Jane Philpott, whose constituency is near Richmond Hill but have not heard back yet.

I would like to see either a Coroner’s Inquest or a Royal Commission into the circumstances that led up to this horrific event. And I would like to see Ontario finally do something other than commission studies which they then ignore.

Update

This blog received a great deal of attention as it was distributed widely and to a number of politicians where the Veltheer family live. I attended the funeral on February 13 along with politicians from the all three levels of government. The local town councillor who is a supporter of the work of Home on the Hill plans to bring this to the attention of the Ontario Minister of Health as is the local representative in the Ontario legislature. The representative who sits in the Canadian House of Commons is planning to raise this event in the House of Commons and a meeting has been arranged with the Federal Minister of Health.

We all hope that Bob’s death and the pain that his family is going through will result in some positive changes. Ontario which has direct responsibility for providing health care needs to get off its duff, stop generating reports which they ignore, and start providing the services that have been recommended so many times by so many reports.

The Federal government needs to take the money they are wasting on a Mental Health Commission that has no direct authority and does nothing but generate its own reports and put it to providing funding programs in the provinces. And just maybe, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau whose mother, Margaret suffers with bipolar disorder, will understand and do something.

Doing something would be a welcome change and would honour the memory of Bob and all the others who have been sacrificed by our lack of resources.