Vulnerable people

Compassion should be part of Ontario’s defining character. Compassion means we should be doing our best to help capture everyone’s full potential. Instead, today’s governments are condemning vulnerable people to a life of dependency.

I’ve seen the streets of our small towns change significantly over the past few years.

Poverty is on the rise and mainly within the vulnerable community, and I am fearful with the cost of living and inflation, things are only going to get worse. I deal with many constituents who call me and tell me they cannot afford new eyeglasses or dentures. Those on disability did not choose to be, and they certainly want to be contributing members of communities.

Governments must stop equating disability assistance with the inability or desire to work – that’s wrong. In my 23 years in MPP Barrett’s office, I know how desirous people are to be contributing members of society. Everyone loves the satisfaction of contributing and making their way. But, we know people with disabilities are significantly under-represented in Ontario’s workforce. There are several reasons for this gap, but the two main reasons are 1) many view hiring people with disabilities as burdensome, and 2) a lack of post-secondary education and training opportunities.

I’ve noticed in my career that not all Ontario Works and Ontario Disability clients share the same challenges – they vary significantly from one person to another. Everyone has a story. And yet there is no discretion or common sense applied but rather a one-size-fits-all regulation. 

We know that people with disabilities are more likely to live in poverty and have higher unemployment rates, and we all know we see this locally. Inflation is exacerbating this longstanding and systemic issue. I feel Ontario needs to have a long look at the model in Quebec to index disability benefits to inflation.

Further, Ontario could take immediate action by ending clawbacks on social assistance clients. Ridding of clawbacks is something Toby Barrett brought about in 2010 with Bill 23. This legislation would have allowed ODSP recipients to work part-time to keep more of their earned income without being penalized through clawbacks in their ODSP payments. The bill did not pass, but we kept the concept alive in a white paper on social assistance reform a few years later.

In 2013, I helped write a document that would have seen the reorganization of social services. This reorganization would have focused on leveraging the enormous potential of those with disabilities who remain significantly underrepresented in Ontario’s workforce. The paper also proposed sensible ideas to streamline and improve program delivery and eliminate the hundreds of unnecessary rules that hinder our ability to help those in need. 

It’s time Ontario rights the wrongs. It’s time to take a fresh approach and attitude. Instead of stressing about mission statements and visions used to impress funding sources, let’s look at what works and then adapt and emulate the best.

I think we can all agree that we have enough reports…the issue has been studied to death, and all we need is action. I see people suffering every single day with no sign of things getting better.