Friday, December 31, 2010

 May your new year be meaningful!

New years are interesting things. They’re basically just the rather arbitrary start to another 365 days, but I do like the sense of hope that always seems to accompany them.
If nothing else, a new year is an invitation to reflect on the old one. Unless you’re one of those rare creatures living the dream, that usually leads to some deep thinking about what needs changing in your life and in your world.  I suspect that’s what gives the new year that air of hopefulness.
Fat people resolve to get thin. Harried parents resolve to spend more time with their neglected kids. Struggling businesses resolve to have the year that changes everything. The resolutions of a new year are whatever you want them to be, but they’re virtually always about doing better.
That’s not to say that our resolutions end up happening. We all know the high failure rates of new-year resolutions. But even just thinking about the things that need to change is better than not thinking at all, and for that we ought to be grateful.
I spent three years working with women in crisis at PEERS Victoria. In the early months, I was tripping all over myself trying to understand the kinds of things that were going on in their lives and how to help them.
Fortunately, a local psychologist suggested I do some reading around the stages of change. And it all fell into place.
In that instance, I used the stages model to help me understand why people continued to use drugs harmfully even when they were completely destroying their lives doing it. But I’ve used the stages of change to think about all kinds of puzzling behaviours since then, because it’s really clarifying.
In the language of that model, the new year is essentially the preparation stage - stage three in the five-stage process. It’s the stage where you’ve recognized your problem and that something has to change, and now you’re determined to act.
Not surprisingly, the preparation stage was a profoundly hopeful period in the lives of the street-entrenched sex workers who tended to come through the doors at PEERS in my time there.
They’d gone through much adversity getting to that point, and knew that much personal work still lay ahead if they were to succeed.  But at that very moment, there was nothing but hope.
The new year has that same feeling. For at least a few days once a year, we collectively focus on problems that we’ve been thinking about for a while, and what we’re prepared to do about them. We recognize our own role in making change happen.
I like to think that people in high places experience something similar at the start of a new year. Sure, they probably swear off bad carbs and vow to do more exercise just like the rest of us; Stephen Harper definitely trimmed down over the past year. But I hope they spare a thought or two for the bigger picture.
We need our politicians, policy-makers and business leaders making resolutions. We need health-system CEOs preparing for change. We need provincial leadership candidates who can articulate more meaningful transformation for B.C. than the trivial bits and pieces put forward so far.
And it’s not just up to them. Imagine if everybody made at least one resolution for the larger world this coming year, something that they then made happen.
World peace and an end to global hunger would be really nice in 2011, but a better world is actually built one small good deed at a time. What will yours be?
For those with more traditional resolutions around weight loss and fitness, I hope you find the discipline this year to make them happen.
It’s been 28 years now since I first made exercise a permanent feature of my daily life. I’m deeply grateful for the health, strength, agility and peace of mind it continues to bring me, and for the 25 pounds I managed to lose this past year by eating better (and less).
‘Tis the season of the poet at the Times Colonist. I recommend a piece that I virtually memorized during my time at  PEERS, “Autobiography in Five Short Chapters,  by the late American singer and songwriter Portia Nelson.
Some say the poem perfectly describes the five stages of change. A toast, then, to new beginnings.

Friday, December 24, 2010

A government news release three days before Christmas is always cause for greater scrutiny, because those guys know full well the media are off their game (as are readers and viewers) in the runup to the holiday. So when you see a Dec. 22 release about the province buying former Liberal MLA Lorne Mayencourt's therapeutic village in Prince George, it's just one of those things that make you go, "Hmm."
Not that it's necessarily a bad thing that the province is taking over the addiction treatment centre. I haven't looked into this at all, so I'm definitely not trying to say there's something wrong about the deal. But I'd suggest it's worth a deeper look just to get a better understanding of how this has come to pass, and what it means to other addiction services if money that used to go to them ends up diverted to cover costs at the Baldy Hughes Therapeutic Community. 
Interesting that it's BC Housing ponying up for the project. They've also been tapped for the $20 million in capital costs to build the Pacific Family Autism Centre in Vancouver, a project put together by Vancouver power-couple Sergio and Wendy Cocchia. About $900,000 of that is being provided to the project proponents in advance so a consultant could be hired and a series of focus groups done around the province this past fall.
Again, that's not to say having a fine new autism centre for excellence is a bad thing. But is this new money, or coming out of existing services? If the private sector doesn't come up with the $34 million in funds that the autism-centre proponents are hoping for, will taxpayers soon be on the hook again for yet another private/public dream that didn't work out as planned? And at what cost to existing services?
I'm all for government funding important community services, of course. But not at the cost of other effective, efficient community services, which the province has been putting the squeeze on for a decade now. Just seems to me we need to have a conversation in B.C. about some of this, because it all feels a bit like social-service-by-political-connection at the moment.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Here's hoping B.C.'s ombudsman agrees to the request of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association to look into the resignation of the province's new chief coroner, Diane Rothon.
Solicitor General Rich Coleman has already proven on a number of occasions that he has no problem with sticking with the official government line no matter what, even when it's obviously a bald-faced lie. He's certainly in top form over the coroner issue, contending that the provincial government has never interfered with the work of the coroner's service - and never mind that every single coroner from 1988 onward has said otherwise.
There is simply no reason that coroners' reports should be handed to the politicized Public Affairs Bureau for vetting before going public, other than as a courtesy for PAB to prepare the government for whatever media questions may arise from a particular report.
 If government is truly supportive of an independent coroner's service, like Coleman says, then it should have no qualms with a direct release to the public. In the meantime, listener beware, especially when it's Rich Coleman doing the talking.

Monday, December 20, 2010

My mom the nurse could regale us all with horror stories about the staph outbreaks in hospitals across Canada in the 1950s, many of which were devastating to moms and their newborns. Now it's Strep A. The scary thing about infections that you get in hospital is that they seem to take hold and never let go these days, unlike the staph outbreak of days gone by. Mom tells me that getting a grip on infections back in the 1950s was all about fanatical hand-washing and rigorous cleaning procedures - but is that still possible in these times when even the docs complain about how rarely other docs wash their hands in between patients?

Friday, December 17, 2010

I’ve been a fan of his heartfelt memorials to his dogs in the “Pets Remembered” section for years, which I guess is why Mal Connors’ writing seemed so familiar to me when I came upon his full-page ad in the Times Colonist last week.
I saw his signature at the end of the 1,600-word letter he paid to run in the Dec. 5 paper, and thought, of course! It’s the Rainbow Bridge man. Thank you, Mal, for the opportunity to learn a little more about you after all these years.
As I now know, the Rainbow Bridge man (that’s how he closes the memorials to his dogs, “See you at Rainbow Bridge”) is the owner of Island Carpet Service, Mal Connors. He’s 73 years old, married to Lizzie, father of four, and retiring after 43 years of doing business in the region.
His ad was essentially a long and deeply personal letter to his customers and friends, every bit as heartfelt as his pet memorials.
“As my tour comes to an end in the work force I would emotionally like to pass onto you all, young and to folks like myself of developed years, these words. I have them in my home gym, office and kitchen: Be unlimited. Be Fearless. Be on top of your game. Be personable,” he writes in the ad.
The letter took him a month to write, he told me, and cost him $4,800 to run in the paper. “You can spend money on different things. I spend it on that,” says Mal, who also doesn’t flinch at the cost of the big memorials he runs for his dogs.
Mal listed his contact number at the bottom of the ad. His phone has been ringing steady ever since the ad came out, including a fellow from the Northwest Territories who called late at night to tell Mal his words had “real resonance” for him.
“People are telling me it’s an amazing letter - such an inspiration, simple and honest,” says a grateful but slightly puzzled Mal. “I just want to say thank you to them for even dialling my number. I’m just so humbled by the phone calls, and they don’t stop coming.”
Even if you’ve never read a Mal memorial, you’d know he loves his dogs by that ad. He writes about the seven dogs, several cats and pet crow that have passed through the family home, and urges readers to “be caring, gentle and show respect to your dogs and other valued pets and give them your daily love. Please, never forget them. “
He’s an interesting man, judging by his ad. But who’d expect any less from a man who mourns his passing pets so generously? Anyone who has known love for an animal knows there’s great grief in saying goodbye, which is why I’ve always appreciated that Mal puts his out there.
Mal has outlived nine dogs in his lifetime.  His current dog is Starlit, a white German shepherd from the Cariboo.
But the family’s lab, Dave, died in September, and Mal is thinking about checking the SPCA for another dog or two. “I’ve got a quarter to a half-acre to farm here,” he says. “There’s room.”
He laminates the memorials to past dogs and hangs them in the kitchen. He has most of their ashes, too.
There are costs to doing it the way Mal likes to do it, but again, he doesn’t flinch at those. He pays the pet crematorium to give his beloved pets a sendoff in a “clean oven,” and patiently waits the two hours that it takes to collect the ashes and bring them home.
“Dogs aren’t for everybody, but they kept me on top of my game,” says Mal. “Cleaning their water bowls, taking them out to Beaver and Elk lakes, all their different personalities. Dogs are a big part of my life.”
I asked him about the Rainbow Bridge reference. He says it’s from a poem. I looked for it on-line, but the links were mostly other heartbroken pet owners saying goodbye to their own dear pets. Wikipedia says the author is unknown, but a kind reader who saw my piece in the TC this morning has now sent me the link. 
“My pets are all waiting for me at Rainbow Bridge, and we’ll cross it together into Heaven,” explains Mal. “I’m not a religious guy, but that’s what I believe.”
Well, Mal, I hope your time at the bridge doesn’t come anytime soon. But you’re in for one heck of a happy reunion when the day comes.
Until then, carry on. The world needs more people with heart.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Good piece by Paul Willcocks in this morning's TC, and I'm not just saying that because he's my partner. (As he'd be the first to tell you.) Excellent stats about what's really happening in B.C. around unemployment. The fact that the government press release was so deliberate in avoiding the truth of these figures serves as a reminder that nothing coming out of the highly politicized Public Affairs Bureau should be taken at face value.

Friday, December 10, 2010

I don’t think of myself as an anarchist. But I admit to feeling quite buoyed by the implosion of B.C.’s two major political parties.
We’ve lived through some tempestuous political times here in B.C. It seems we routinely elect governments that we soon grow to despise. Definitely not the best way to run a province, and I do think we need to work on that.
But there’s a whole other part of the blame that lies with our political parties, which have definitely been ramping up the weirdness in the last 15 years or so. I hope this latest chaos shakes them to their roots, and wakes the rest of us up to the fact that there really are better ways to do this.
I’ve been surprised by the media reaction to the resignation of Carole James this week, much of which has portrayed the 13 dissident New Democrat MLAs as the bad guys. I certainly agree with the standard view of her as a lovely, caring woman, but that’s got little to do with whether she’s a good leader.
I had the pleasure this fall of attending a workshop put on by Ian Chisholm, a local leadership coach who always gets me reflecting on what a leader looks like. He calls it a “gift word” - a title that others give to you because you’ve earned it in their eyes.
That’s a long way from the way we use the term at the political level. Most of us in B.C. are living under the rule of “leaders” we don’t even know, let alone hold in high esteem.
In my dream world, we’d be a province governed by collectively minded independents, probably something along the lines of the citizens’ assembly pulled together by the province in 2004 to investigate electoral reform for B.C. Good people coming together for the betterment of all.
Instead, what we’ve got are two political clubs picking party leaders with no regard to what the rest of us think, who by default become our premiers if we vote that party in. No wonder so many British Columbians grow disillusioned with government leaders so quickly - it’s never us who chooses them.
That the Liberal and New Democrat parties are both muttering at the moment about the need to invoke more party discipline speaks volumes about the flaws in the leadership process. Would a real leader ever be afraid to hear what their team members had to say, or to appreciate and act on other opinions? We’re just in for more of the same if the only lesson the parties have learned from recent events is to clamp down harder.
The leaders in my life earned that designation by acting with integrity and vision, in ways that left me and anyone else they encountered feeling valued and connected. None of them were afraid to hear out their critics and act on what they learned.
So is it a surprise that many of us in B.C. feel we just don’t get the leadership we deserve? Even our political parties now seem to share that angst.
Gordon Campbell has been asking for it for ages. Rule like a king and the serfs are bound to rise up sooner or later.
Carole James losing her lustre is more recent, but things blew up quickly once dissent took hold and the yellow-scarf incident was clearly the kiss of death. I think she’s to be congratulated for recognizing that when 40 per cent of your team is openly against you, it’s time to go.
Who would we pick for leaders in B.C. if it were up to us? I don’t see why it’s such an impossible dream to get out from under the party system and get more of that happening.
Yes, B.C.’s first and only referendum on electoral reform failed in 2005, despite the great work done by the citizens’ assembly. But the chance can come again if we just keep pushing. It needs to.
At any rate, this new rebel spirit among MLAs is hopeful in the interim. If we must have parties, let’s at least have ones that encourage independent thinking, genuine representation and true leadership.  
Say what you will about the old Social Credit party, I remember it fondly for its individualism compared to the authoritarian and controlling parties of today. May the winds of change blow them apart.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

More evidence of the high price we're paying for tolerating a growing gap between rich and poor in our country. I can't help but feel we've been tricked - all that talk about freeing up wealth so it could trickle on down, and the result turns out to be a concentration of wealth among the richest Canadians and diminishing tax dollars being spent on services for average Canadians.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Seems like our governments always have massive amounts of money to waste on the projects they get enthusiastic about, like the $3.6 million the feds spent NOT redesigning cigarette packages in an effort to scare off young smokers.
This kind of news is what gets me most when governments are going on about the need for restraint in  difficult times. I'm sure you've noticed that reduced spending is only ever a pressing issue when it involves programs and services that the average Canadian would benefit from.

Monday, December 06, 2010

A reader asked for the link to the source of information in my last column, where I mentioned the government's response to a question about what constitutes lobbying. The information is on the BC Bid site - here's the link to the Request For Information on BC Bid.
You'll need to click on Addendum 8 once there to see the original PDF - scroll down to the question-and-answer part. If you don't care about formatting, here's the relevant text from that addendum:

1. The draft ELMS RFP includes the following clauses regarding communications:
Page 5, Clause b
Any portion of this document, or any information supplied by the Province in relation to this Request for Information may not be used or disclosed, for any purpose other than to prepare a response to this Request for Information, or to any subsequent Request for Proposals or other competitive bidding process related to this Request for Information. Every recipient of this Request for Information agrees to hold in confidence all information supplied by the Province in relation to this Request for Information.

26. Lobbying
Proponents must not attempt to communicate directly or indirectly with any employee, Contractor or representative of the Province, including the evaluation committee for any Catchment Area and any elected officials of the Province, or with members of the public or the media, about the project described in this RFP or otherwise in respect of the RFP, other than as expressly directed or permitted by the Province. In the event a Proponent lobbies the Province in relation to this Request for Proposals, the Proponent’s proposal may be disqualified.

a) Could an individual organization be deemed disqualified from ELMS bidding if an umbrella organization in which it is a member speaks to politicians, bureaucrats, or the media regarding the overall merits of that umbrella’s membership (eg: the umbrella doesn’t specifically mention the member organization in any way)? Under what conditions might that happen?
b) Could an individual organization be deemed disqualified from ELMS bidding if an umbrella organization in which it is a member speaks to politicians, bureaucrats, or the media regarding that specific vendor? Under what conditions might that happen?
c) Could an individual organization be deemed disqualified from ELMS bidding if a community member speaks to politicians, bureaucrats, or the media regarding that specific vendor, even if the organization in question in no way asked or wanted that community member to engage in that communication? Under what conditions might that happen?
d) BC Bid processes are predicated on being as “transparent” as possible, providing equal information to all potential vendors. To that end, can BC Bid provide information about the process it would undertake to determine whether any one organization may be deemed ineligible to bid on the ELMS procurement due to communications with politicians, bureaucrats or the media? What factors would be considered by the BC Bid in making such a determination? Can BC Bid provide more specific information to potential bidders to promote clearer understanding about communications restrictions related to ELMS BC Bid postings?

The intention of the “Use of Request for Information” clause in the RFI is to prevent any use of the information provided as part of the RFI by any person except to prepare a response to the RFI or to any subsequent RFP or other procurement solicitation.
The intention of the “Lobbying” clause in an RFP is to ensure fair and objective procurement processes that are free from any real or perceived external influences or pressures on potential outcomes. The clause warns against direct or indirect communication with any employee or elected official of the Province or the media about the project described in the RFP or in respect of the RFP. The clause does not prevent any person or organization from normal business activities or discussions with any person regarding subjects that are unrelated to the RFP.
The Ministry will determine, at its sole discretion, when to disqualify a Proposal for a breach of the “Lobbying” clause.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Bullying and intimidation seem to be a theme in government these days.
Our beleaguered politicians have been the ones doing most of the sharing recently, and it’s about time. Thank you, Bill Bennett, for starting what I hope will be a steady stream of politicians drawing the line at being treated like trash by the lords of the manor.
 Believe me, politicians aren’t the only ones who endure abusive behaviour.  People inside and outside of government regularly whisper in my ear these days about alarming developments on various fronts, but all are terrified to talk publicly. They’re afraid of being punished if they do.
I confess, I used to think that argument was conspiratorial hogwash. But I’ve come to see that it’s true for those who rely on provincial government funding in some way.
The current government in particular can be brutish in its punishment of those who dare to challenge its decisions, which increasingly come from on high.  Speak up and it just may be that your contract doesn’t get renewed next time around, or a policy change wipes out your whole program.
It doesn’t even matter whether that’s actually the case, as long as people believe it is. It’s been a damn effective strategy, but the bullies in high places are getting so full of themselves lately that they’re now introducing thuggish confidentiality clauses into funding contracts just to be sure.
Bill Bennett chose to withdraw the “battered-wife syndrome” comparison he made during his passionate rant about Gordon Campbell a couple weeks ago. But I think it’s apt. That’s the phrase that comes to my mind frequently when talking to people who count on money from government to keep the bills paid and the doors open.  
That’s not to trivialize the genuine domestic-abuse cycle in any way, or deride everything that government does. Much of it ticks along in competent fashion.
But in places where decisions get political, it can look a lot like the worst of marriages.
The imbalance of power. The fear and secrecy. The isolation. Bouquets and promises to make it all right just often enough to keep the abused partner on side for another day. And then it’s back to the rough stuff again.
Until Bennett let it all out, I’d begun to wonder whether anyone was going to say something. Community groups are so scared you can barely squeeze a peep out of them, despite the many changes, budget cuts and top-down Big New Ideas jeopardizing all kinds of long-standing and well-used social services throughout the province.
Judging by the silence, I’d have presumed a solid win for government on this front. But no - it’s now making silence a contractual condition even for bidding on a contract.
Its latest Big New Idea - which will significantly change the way B.C. delivers employment-training services - includes a warning to bidders that they could be disqualified if they talk about the proposal to the public, MLAs or the media, “other than as expressly permitted or directed by the Province.”
Asked by potential bidders to clarify this point, the Ministry of Social Development notes in documents on the BC Bid site that “the Ministry will determine, at its sole discretion, when to disqualify a proposal for a breach of the ‘Lobbying’ clause.
 In other words, speak out at your peril.
That’s a pretty big hammer to hold over the heads of community agencies that will be very much affected by the massive changes proposed for employment-training services.
This is the contract that combines all eight federal and provincial employment-training programs for the first time. The plan is to reduce 400 service contracts to a mere 73, using a bidding process and a financial model so onerous for cash-strapped community agencies that it’s almost like handing the contracts to the big corporations sniffing around B.C. for more social-services work.
Doesn’t that sound like something the good citizens of B.C. might want to hear more about from the people who currently deliver the services? Don’t we all deserve a thorough understanding of revamped service contracts representing a combined federal-provincial commitment of $320 million?
“I think we’re going to lose a lot of agencies, especially specialized services,” says Norma Strachan of ASPECT Community Services, an umbrella organization representing 180 community agencies currently doing this work. Yet the government demands silence from those who best know the issues.
Coercive confidentiality clauses and governing by intimidation are strong signals that bad decisions are being made - otherwise, what’s to cover up?
Make some noise, people. Bullies thrive in silence. 

Thursday, December 02, 2010

OK, so we have to wait a little longer for decriminalization of the sex industry - the Ontario Court of Appeal has ordered that sex work remain illegal in Ontario until the appeal of the three recently overturned laws is heard.
I'm just going to consider it valuable time for our communities to start sorting out how they'll handle things when the day comes that adult, consensual sex work is no longer criminal.
I think any court that takes a look at the impact of these laws in Canada can't help but conclude that they do more harm than good - in fact, they really do  no good at all, and they greatly increase the danger for sex workers to boot. A shout out to the Ontario Superior Court for striking down the laws around bawdyhouses, living off the avails and soliciting earlier this fall, because that ruling finally changes everything.
Why not get really pro-active and start the conversation now as to how sex work will be managed in our community?

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

It scares me to see the erosion of basic rights starting to happen in Canada. Here's an alarming story (why do so many of my posts involve me saying "here's an alarming story....?") from the Toronto Star that points out there are now more people in our jails awaiting trial than there are people serving sentences. Innocent until proven guilty, sure, but that's not to say you won't spend significant time behind bars waiting for the system to decide which one you are.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Well now, how nutty is it to base our choice of new citizens on whether they can pass a citizenship test? If you remember your own school-years suffering when you jammed your head full of information for tests then forgot it all the minute the test was over, I think you'll agree that tests are just about the most useless way to gauge someone's actual aptitude over the long term. Especially for something like citizenship.
But I always knew Ottawa was out of touch, and here's more proof.
On a happier note, delighted to see I seem to be attracting more well-informed blogger-commentators to my site, judging by the very clued-in comments I'm starting to get on some of my posts.
My partner Paul Willcocks has always had really informed people commenting on his blog and I've been envious. I'm happy to see some of these writers gravitating to mine. They add a heck of a lot to the conversation. More, please!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Outright homelessness just most obvious face of Canadian poverty, study finds

The latest eye-opener on the state of social health in our country confirmed what anyone working in poverty services has known for a long time - that there’s a frighteningly large number of people barely hanging on in our communities.
What the broader community notices is the absolute homelessness - the people huddled in the doorways and camping on the boulevards. But as the authors of the just-released Housing Vulnerability and Health: Canada’s Hidden Emergency have discovered, that’s just the visible edge of a much bigger problem.
For every person occupying an emergency shelter bed, multiply by 23 to calculate how many people in that community are actually falling in and out of their housing at least a couple of times a year, says the report from the Research Alliance for Canadian Homelessness, Housing and Health.
Do the math in our region and that’s more than 10,000 people.  Forget the distinction between “homeless” and “vulnerably housed,” advises the alliance: “This is one large, severely disadvantaged group that transitions between the two housing states.”
Some 400,000 Canadians are living like that, says the alliance, a partnership of 14 hospitals, universities and community services across the country. That includes more than 54,000 in B.C., giving our province and Quebec the dubious distinction of having the highest percentages in Canada of households at risk (3.6 per cent).
These people are dead-poor, hungry and sick, with high rates of chronic and severe health problems.  Almost two-thirds have suffered a traumatic brain injury at some point in their lives. More than half have a diagnosed mental illness.
Whatever the disease or condition, rates are at least double for this impoverished group compared to the broader population - from heart disease to hepatitis-C infections, diabetes to cancer. And while the rest of us experience violent crime at a rate of one in 100, more than one in three of the 1,200 people interviewed for the study reported being beaten up or attacked in the previous year.
The rates of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome are four times higher than in the general population. Asthma rates are triple. Problems with mobility - trouble walking, missing limbs - are more than twice as common.
This is what two decades of social cuts and poorly considered policy changes look like, Canada. How much more will it take to get us to act?
It’s too bad that the annual report from the Select Standing Committee on Finance was released at such an intensely political moment this month, because the findings got lost in the noise of an unexpected tax cut from a desperate premier and the subsequent resignations of affronted New Democrats on the committee.
Side shows aside, I thought the committee really recognized this year that cuts to community services had gone too far in B.C. That’s especially significant given that it was an all-Liberal version of the committee that issued the final report after the NDP walkout.
Hardly a surprise, mind you.  Dozens of presentations to the committee this fall came from people whose work puts them in the midst of B.C.’s growing sub-class. Say what you will about trickle-down economics and “hand up” strategies, it ought to be obvious at this point to anyone with their eyes open that poor people are starting to pile up in our province.
What to do? Get real, for one thing. People on income assistance can’t possibly stay housed on current rates - a single room in a shared home goes for at least $500 in Greater Victoria right now, impossible on a shelter rate of $375 and a total cheque of $610.
Raise the rates and allow people to keep some earnings from part-time work. If someone’s just too sick or disabled to ever achieve financial independence, put them on a guaranteed income tied to the cost of living and help them find volunteer work.
Give employment-insurance benefits to people who are unemployed, which is not the way the system works at the moment.  Raise the minimum wage and tie it to cost-of-living increases.
Mental-health care needs to shake off its stigmatized poor-sister status and become a genuine part of the health-care system, not a rag-tag bit of bother that’s always the first to lose funding and the last to get it. Brain injuries need to be treated as the lifelong sea change that they are, with services and supports lasting well beyond the hospital door.
Not rocket science, as they say. Yet here we are, 400,000 people deep and still dithering.  

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Great blog post from Ernie Tadla today, a local fellow whose passion and moment of transformation really comes through in this piece.

Monday, November 22, 2010

You know, you don't think things like this can happen when you come from the Land of the Wide-Open Spaces, but I've now had two freaky incidents with a massive crowd of people on the edge of losing it, and it's a terrifying experience.
Nothing here in Canada, of course - the first time for me was at a Carnaval celebration in Mazatlan, and the more recent time was this spring at a famous cave site in Vietnam where thousands and thousands of Vietnamese Buddhists do a pilgrimage to in the weeks after New Year.
No bad stuff actually happened in the end, but the possibility of it was made very, very real to me. This latest tragedy in Cambodia is particularly sad in a country that's had a hell of a time coming back from that massive slaughter of so many of its intellectuals and artists under Pol Pot.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Strong stats in this new report looking at the "nearly homeless" in Canada, an estimated 400,000 people. If we presume our region still has at least 1,000 people living homeless, that puts our population of  nearly homeless at 23,000  based on the finding in this report that for every homeless person there's 23 others living at significant risk. Our inability to support people with brain injuries really comes across in this study - two-thirds of the people they looked at in the category of "nearly homeless" had an acquired brain injury.
Not good enough for the federal government to say that housing is a provincial responsibility. There used to be much, much more federal money flowing into the provinces for subsidized housing - let's get those taps open again, because the provinces can't fix the mess that's been created on their own.

Friday, November 19, 2010

No column for me in the TC today - it's that unfortunate Friday once a month when I no longer get a column (budget cuts). Fortunately, there are good writers out there keeping an eye on the scene in my absence - here's a piece from Vaughn Palmer making his prediction on how NDP leader Carole James will make out with her membership this weekend. 
 Personally, I hope Bill Bennett takes the "independent" option and that he and the other three independents in the legislature right now form some kind of  Party of Real People. Four is enough to form a party, and all the better in my mind if it has no right/left ideology. 
How about a party of common sense? Of true public representation? I would love the option to vote for people who were out there representing their constituencies plain and simple, with no need to be currying favour with a particular leader or filtering everything they said through the party line.
I'd definitely rather see a politician in a full-on meltdown like Bill Bennett this week than sitting there in helpless silence while bad things happen under their watch. Nice to see some of them getting some real spine.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

OK, it's not cheery news, but you need to know it - figures from the country's food banks on the growing number of people living in poverty in this country of ours. I was coincidentally just down at the Mustard Seed Food Bank here in Victoria, and they were telling me that 8,000 people in our region now count on the Mustard Seed for a bag of groceries once a month.
Now that the B.C. Liberals are imploding, maybe we can get back to the business of doing something about that.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Good on (former) B.C. cabinet minister Bill Bennett for laying it on the line on his way out the door. Here's today's story - check out the audio file of Bennett on the right-hand side of the story. And hurrah hurrah to a sober second thought on that ridiculous 15 per cent tax cut Gordon Campbell dreamed up in his final days - the government has now rescinded that cut. Maybe that will let us get back to funding at least some of the community services that have been dismantled in B.C. under the Liberal regime.

Monday, November 15, 2010

I do think Health Minister Kevin Falcon has a point in this little squib about how we're housing the homeless in $1000-a-day hospital beds. Yeah, that's a stupid and immensely costly way to do it, but the media would be all over the government if they were just kicking people out of those beds into homelessness rather than leaving them there for a few days in the hopes that a better option can be found.
So thanks for leaving them there, Kevin. But now let's figure out some housing and health supports so that they can get out of hospital sooner and into their own place for a fraction of that crazy cost. Better still, let's give them the support they need to not get sick in the first place.
The truth is that the cutbacks under this government and the Glen Clark New Democrats over the last 15 years have intensified poverty dramatically in B.C. It's showing up in all kinds of ways - including far too many people stuck in costly hospital beds. Not all of them are homeless - a shortage of long-term care beds in our communities is also stranding the frail elderly, the disabled and the brain-injured in those expensive hospital beds.

Friday, November 12, 2010

How do you stay optimistic in light of reality?

My son was teasing me recently about the “tough job” of having to have an opinion on everything.
I admit, grumbling about the stresses of having a weekly platform in the Island’s largest daily newspaper for whatever you feel like going on about must come across as just a bit precious for all the writers and ranters out there who would jump at the opportunity.
But the truth is, having an opinion all the time does take its toll. It requires you to stay informed - and that turns out to be an incredibly discouraging process.
I place great value on having informed opinions, and on changing my mind if new information comes available. Think of me what you will as a columnist, but I’d hope that even the people who can’t stand what I write would at least agree I check into things before weighing in with an opinion.
It’s that checking-in that beats you down. You start to see the unmistakable pattern in how we humans operate, which all too often involves “fixing” specific problems only to neglect them back to life again a few years later. I mean, we’ve made an art form out of reinventing the wheel.
And once you know, there’s no “unknowing” - you see everything differently from that point on. You see the limits on the starry-eyed dreams of those who don’t yet know how things tend to work out. I don’t want to be rolling my eyes at someone’s big new vision for tackling the stubborn problems of our world, but it’s hard not to when you’re acutely aware of how often our enthusiastic plans go awry and our attention strays.
Getting informed has a lot of sleuthing in it. You’re lifting up the rocks to learn why things are happening a particular way. You’re asking questions, reading reports, looking at public records.
I love the process, and that being a journalist leads me to the people who can answer my questions. (Whether they will or not is another question, mind you.) I love this amazing age of accessible information. I love the chance to understand.
But what I’ve come to understand the most from all that paying attention is that we’re people of grand vision with fairly hopeless long-term commitment for seeing things through. We build up and tear down on all kinds of front, wasting heartbreaking amounts of time and energy on things that we soon forget we ever cared about.
My biggest fear is that all this knowing is making me bitter and cynical. I don’t want to be the type of person who pours cold water on every hopeful suggestion. I don’t want to be the Eeyore in the room.
I fear I’m already becoming one of those wet blankets at a party who is always bringing people down with their alarmed anecdotes and unpleasant statistics.
I can take a perfectly amusing little conversation and turn it into a deep and slightly uncomfortable talk about a pressing social concern in under a minute, even when I’m trying to keep things light. I’m sure people can spot the flaming colours of my outraged aura from across the room these days, and who could blame them for quietly hoping I wasn’t coming their way?
The other day, I heard myself making crabby comments about a shiny new family centre for autism being planned for Vancouver (more on that later). What an odd position to be in.
Then I startled a sales clerk at a local store with my passionate refusal to sign an anti-trafficking petition until I knew more about the campaign.  I saw in her eyes that I could very quickly become a real drag to be around.
On balance, I guess I wouldn’t have it any other way. The world just doesn’t need another uninformed opinion. But should you and I find ourselves in the same room one day, I’ll understand if you avoid me. There are days when I wish I could do the same.
Farewell to the late Bob Wise, whose own informed opinions around sex work made the Victoria artist and agent provocateur a favourite of mine in my years at PEERS Victoria.
He could have just stayed angry about having the prostitution stroll on his doorstep at Rock Bay. But instead he got to know the sex workers, and found clever ways to raise their issues in his artwork.  I’ll miss you, Bob.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Couldn't agree more with today's Times Colonist editorial. What the heck is with these guys? They go on and on about the need to prevent drunk driving, then they introduce laws that actually work, then they start talking about reversing the laws because the hospitality industry is griping that people aren't drinking enough anymore??
Please make a pact with me that we will not allow Rich Coleman or Kevin Falcon to be the next Liberal leader. Even a couple years under either of those two would be disastrous.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Here's an open letter to Premier Gordon Campbell issued today by First Call, a coalition of BC child and youth advocacy organizations, that notes the grand betrayal of British Columbians resulting from the instant tax cut Campbell used in a desperate attempt to increase his popularity. And here's a terrific Vaughn Palmer column on the same subject. 

November 9, 2010

Dear Premier Campbell,

First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition was one of the organizations that took time to respond to the call for input into next year’s budget by the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services.  Many of our coalition partner organizations also participated in sharing their ideas and recommendations with the Committee.  We all participated in this exercise in good faith, trusting that the Committee’s report and recommendations, expected on November 15, would reflect our views, among others.

Your announcement on October 27, 2010 of an income tax cut costing the 2011 provincial budget $568 million was a slap in the face to the Standing Committee and everyone who made submissions to its deliberations.  The consultation document specifically asked British Columbians to share our budget priorities for 2011/12, with the figure of $650 million shown as “Available Revenues.”

Our coalition exists to mobilize British Columbians on behalf of children and youth.  We regularly encourage our coalition partners and contacts around the province to engage in the democratic process, such as participating in formal consultations by legislative committees, in order to make the case for the importance of allocating resources to properly support children, youth and families. 

Your action, preempting even the appearance of considering the Standing Committee’s recommendations, has made it harder for people to believe that their time is well spent preparing briefs and recommendations to inform government decision-making.  It has increased cynicism about our relationship as citizens with our government.  It has made it more difficult to convince young people that public consultations by government have integrity and are worthy of their interest and effort.

On behalf of our coalition partners, we would appreciate hearing from you as to why this 2011/12 budget decision was made prior to the submission of the Standing Committee’s report from its public consultations.

We look forward to your reply.

[original signed by]
Adrienne Montani
Provincial Coordinator
First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition

Copies to Finance Minister Colin Hansen and the members of the Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services.

See First Call's submission on the provincial budget here:

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Bye, Mr. Premier. Wish I could think of something nice to say, you having been the premier for nine long years now. But I can't. 
Social conditions have worsened significantly under your leadership. You have insulated yourself from the people, choosing to surround yourself with paid cheerleaders who told you what you wanted to hear. I can’t tell you how many times the phrase, “The emperor has no clothes” has come to my mind when thinking about your governance style.
There was a moment when I glimpsed the human being that I know must be inside you. It was after you got busted for driving drunk in Maui. You came home to what must have been the most horrendous press conference you've ever had to be part of, and I saw in your eyes a man in real pain.
I wish you'd let that guy loose more often - the guy who knows what it feels like to screw up, to not always be the golden one. Your government operates like it's never known a moment like that. If I was going to describe the B.C. Liberals in a few words, I'd say: "Smug and dangerously certain."
These are complex times, Mr. Premier. I do know a little about your life, and that you've experienced complex events. So how come it never feels like you bring that personal experience to bear when making decisions for British Columbia? 
You guys feel cold as ice in so much of your decision-making. It’s like being run by a corporation. And that is not a good thing when so much of what a provincial government does is about looking after people.
Thanks to you, I do have a better understanding that the business model can be put to good application in much of what government does. But I guess I also have you to thank for showing me its striking limitations. 
 You will not be remembered well by people like me, but who knows - you still have years to go in your life, and are uniquely placed as a former premier to do some really good work out here in the world should you put your mind to it. I never say never.
But I don’t think you can be expected to be forgiven easily, and certainly not by me. I’ve actually met people who your government has pulled the rug out from under. OK, you’re just the premier, but you set the tone. And it’s way off.
I’m a media type, always looking for someone to talk to. I’ve noticed that people have become much more fearful about speaking up under your leadership. That says volumes about the climate you’ve created in government. 
In fairness, it hasn’t all been bad.
You’ve definitely made B.C. a better place to do business, and that needed to happen. You pulled off the Olympics - and I admit, I sat riveted in front of the TV for much of it despite my fervent vow that I would boycott the whole thing.
You got things going with First Nations. That’s particularly impressive given how very far back some members of your government were on that issue when you first came to power.
 And I think all-day kindergarten will turn out to be a good thing in years to come, even though it’s also a prime example of the kind of shove-it-down-your-throat style of government that has brought you to this point.
My sense of you is that you never had a clue what consultation is actually about. You seem quite certain that you know best about everything.
But you don’t. You can’t. That’s how it is for everyone, Mr. Campbell. We all need help figuring out the problems of life, even premiers.
Why have you never been able to see the tremendous potential for transformation you have right here in your own communities? Why do you always think that the people you talk to in your high circles are wiser than the people who are actually doing the work for you here in B.C.?
I’ve been a manager, too. I know the compulsion to have a finger in every pie, control over every situation.
But if you could have only let that go, you would have seen that everything you needed to lead B.C. into prosperity and stability was right there among your citizens. We were actually doing a lot of things right before you showed up.
We didn’t anoint you king, Gordon - we elected you premier, “first among equals.” I just don’t think you ever got that.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

We generally picture the U.S. as a black hole of social support, but not necessarily. Here's an article out of Minnesota about a recent expansion to that state's food program to feed poor families.
A family of four earning $3000 or less a month now qualifies for food aid in Minnesota. Eight per cent of the state's population relies on food aid every month.
Compare these changes to the situation in B.C., where the best you can hope for even if you're scratching by on welfare (for a family of four, as low as $1,100 a month) is a place in line at the local food bank.
If there's a food bank in your town. If the food bank has food....

Friday, October 29, 2010

What will be left after the Liberals?

I don’t know if you lived in B.C. back when we were actually building community services instead of tearing them apart, but I did.  I was one of the taxpayers helping fund it all.
So how am I supposed to feel as that same taxpayer, watching all that investment be dismantled because we’ve got a short-sighted, self-interested political party at the helm with some very sketchy ethics?
People, what are we doing here? Please tell me we’re not actually prepared to just sit back in seething silence until the next provincial election in 2013. I think I might have to move away if that’s the case, just to stop my head from exploding.
What gets me the most is the sheer arrogance of the decision-making in the last couple of years.  A colleague recently reminded me that the same arrogance gripped the New Democrats in their final term, so maybe it’s just what happens when parties get to believing their own myths.
The government’s active role in the potential ruination of community services is ever-present on my mind at the moment. The funding levels and service structure for social care are changing so fast in B.C. right now that it really is like the Wild West out there, and I think I can say with certainty that no one has any idea where it will all lead.
Dressed up variously as “transformation” and “greater community integration and independence,” the government is flailing around for savings by dismantling, starving and squeezing services that in some cases have been in place for decades. With no social policy to guide cuts and changes, it’s essentially snipping random holes in the safety net, with no predicting where things will fall out.
But even if you don’t give a hoot about social issues, there’s a lot more to worry about when it comes to the B.C. Liberals.
The Basi-Virk stuff, for instance.
First you’ve got the high-flying guy in government who thinks it’s OK to take a $50,000 bribe from a developer wanting property taken out of the Agricultural Land Reserve. Then you’ve got the very government that bred a guy like that telling us we should just accept their word that the bribe had no effect on the decision, and never mind that the land did indeed get removed from the reserve.
Then you’ve got the $6 million payoff to cover the legal fees of Dave Basi and Bobby Virk, a decision reached by government mere days before a number of high-profile witnesses were to testify about how much the government knew.
And then to insult us with the explanation that government covered the legal bills because it was clear Basi and Virk could never afford to pay that amount back. How kind. This from the same government that will relentlessly grind people on income assistance to pay back $20.
Before Basi-Virk, there was the HST. I’m not so much bothered by the tax itself, because the work I do keeps me up close and personal to the problems that have resulted from the relentless drive to lower taxes. But the lying definitely offends me.
Finance Minister Colin Hansen - a man of integrity, I once thought - almost had us believing that government hadn’t considered introducing the HST until after the 2009 election.
When the media put the lie to that statement after finding an email from the federal government to Hansen sent two months before the election, the finance minister just kept up the Sergeant Schultz defence of knowing nothing. It was as if sheer repetition alone could make us believe.
I’m sure it must be very difficult to be government these days. People howling at the door for services, less money to go around.
But how is any of that helped by starving services that prevent much bigger, costlier problems from developing? And why should I believe anything the government says on that front or any other now that I know that bribes, lying and the paying of hush money are part of the way it does business?
It bothers me a lot that when the bill for failed social care finally comes due years from now, the B.C. Liberals of the moment will be gone and their pivotal role in the tragedy overlooked.  It bothers me more to see our province in the hands of a government that feels so little respect for the people.
I don’t know what the answer is. But it sure isn’t about waiting until 2013.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Read this story out of Indiana and weep. There would have been a time I couldn't have imagined people in B.C. and Canada ever finding themselves in a similar situation, but not anymore.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Here's a very thorough recounting of the terrible injustices going on right now for people with developmental disabilities in B.C. It's from a B.C. blogger who attended a big meeting in Vancouver on Monday over the $22 million in cuts to group homes and services going on right now. Share this information far and wide, and jump on one of the action items at the end of the blog entry. This is wrong!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A disturbing story out of the U.S. on the disproportionate impact the housing crisis is having on black Americans. Some scary figures in here beyond that issue - like the fact that almost five per cent of recent borrowers in the U.S. have lost their house to foreclosure.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I'm in Vancouver tonight, working here for a couple of days. As always, I can't figure out how I feel about this city.
It's beautiful on a day like today - the sun shining, the beautiful mountains aglow in the distance. The high rises in the city core are things of beauty in their own right, catching the sunlight at different angles in the daytime and then turning into sparkling jewels as the night closes in. I drove along the Stanley Park waterfront at dusk today and marvelled at the city scape across the way, perfect right down to the neon-blue and green light spilling down the side of one of the tallest buildings like an electric waterfall.
And yet. Something about a tall city always makes me feel lonely. I don't know what that is - is it the spots of light all signalling other human being out there, yet no way to actually make contact? I'm in one such Rapunzel's tower myself at the moment, on a high enough floor that my only company is the lights from neighbouring glass towers. It just kind of weirds me out.
But earlier tonight, I came out of a day of conferencing, loaded my accordion into my truck, and headed down to the seawall around Stanley Park before the sun set.
I sat there playing music in this incredible sunset, looking at this amazing view of boats and water and beautiful urban landscapes. And it was a real moment.
Then a young couple on bikes rode up and stopped to listen for a couple of songs, which was more or less what happened the last time I played accordion in Stanley Park a year or so ago. That time, a couple passersby had also just dropped onto a bench to enjoy the music.
That's the thing about Vancouver - I feel this lonely vibe when I look out from my glass tower, but at the same time have had special moments in this city that I just don't think would have happened in Victoria. I'm not sure if I could live here, but then again, I'm often not sure I can live in Victoria, either.
But enough with the reflections. I think I'll head out into Vancouver's pretty night streets and find myself a bowl of noodles.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Another insightful report from the team of Mary Ellen Turpel Lafond, representative for B.C.'s children and youth, and provincial medical health officer Dr. Perry Kendall. Lots of good information in this highly readable report.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Thank you, community-builders - where would we be without you?

Organizing an event is an unusual undertaking at the best of times. Things get even more interesting when you’re dependent on community donations and goodwill to pull it off, as has been the case for the three years I’ve been doing the annual Project Connect event for the street community.
Doing anything to benefit the poor evokes a peculiar reaction in some people, as if it’s sainted work. But staging an event like Project Connect, sponsored by the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, is less the work of saints than it is of community worker bees.  They fill my heart with hope for a better day every time I have the privilege to see them in action.
Every year, the outpouring of goodwill and effort reminds me of how much can be accomplished when everyone steps up to the plate even just a little. From the local businesses that donate gift cards and products to the hundreds of people in the community who donate items for “survival packs” or give their time, people attach to the event for all kinds of reasons.
But what really stands out for me is the leadership shown by the local faith community, both in mobilizing for donations and providing wonderful, committed volunteers.
I’m a secular person myself, so my tendency is to look for some broader explanation as to what brings out humanity in people. But what I’ve come to see is that you often find a higher concentration of it within the faith community.
My time at PEERS Victoria helped me see the role that faith and hope play for people in desperate circumstance. They need to believe.
But really, don’t we all? Some of us are fortunate enough to enjoy abundance and happiness to the point of never feeling the need to reflect on the faith and hope in our lives. In truth, life would be unbearable without them.
Much to the benefit of our communities, faith and hope at a collective level manifest as a whole lot of good-hearted men and women prepared to do what it takes to make something happen. Like that noble character Horton the Elephant, the people I’ve come to treasure as community-builders say what they mean and mean what they say.
They show up. They work hard, and for all the right reasons.  
That’s not to suggest that everyone who helps out with Project Connect belongs to a church. But the faith community plays a significant part. I know we couldn’t have filled 700 packs so generously for people at Wednesday’s event at Our Place were it not for the efforts of local Christian congregations.
Every year is a learning experience with Project Connect. But the point that definitely sticks with me three years on is how much I like people who show up.
They say they’ll get a task done, and they do. They inquire about what you need help with, and then they make it happen. They reach out across their personal networks and pull in all kinds of kindnesses.
Obviously, you needn’t attach to a particular spiritual identity to do that work. (Case in point: Me.) But there’s no denying that a significant part of the hard, free work of our region gets done by the faith community, and by the broad base of volunteers they are skilled at mustering around them.
It’s faith and hope that brought so many of the 35 service providers into the room for Project Connect as well, and never mind that some do this work for a living. There’s real love at the heart of a lot of poverty work.
I saw a woman transform lives Wednesday with a set of hair clippers and a friendly willingness to jump into even the most tangled, wiry beard. Who’s to say God wasn’t among the crowd when one of her beaming, newly groomed clients emerged into the courtyard at Our Place to a spontaneous round of applause from his admiring peers?
A hand massage for a person who rarely feels a kind touch is, for the moment, a miracle. When your bike rides better, your dog gets help, your socks no longer cling damp and fetid on your aching feet, your sore tooth is finally dealt with - well, that’s how hope takes root.
Talk is cheap. So is caring, unless you’re prepared to put action to it. Thank God - literally, in many cases - for the people in our community who get that.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Goofy little story I thought you might find interesting. I mean, is this what "low-level" federal bureaucrats do all today - come up with peculiar ideas certain to inflame people? As you may have deduced by now, I'm very supportive of decriminalizing the adult sex industry, but that's not to suggest our country is remotely ready to be viewing that work as just another job to be posted on the regular job board alongside dishwashing and accounting.

I'm all for normalizing the work of adult, consensual sex workers, who have been doing "normal" work in our communities for a very long time. But putting too much politically correct spin on an issue like this will only outrage those who feel otherwise, and lend credence to that ridiculous argument that decriminalizing opens the door for governments to force women into sex work when they can't find any other kind of work.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

I'm reprinting a letter from a desperate mom of a young man with a mental handicap, who is one of several thousand in B.C. experiencing major cutbacks in service and residential care right now. I've heard from many people like this woman - and there are many, many more people with developmental disabilities in our province who don't even have any family to advocate for them. 

Hi Jody
I'm a mother of a mentally handicapped 24 year old man. I would like to thank you for your article to let people know what's really going on. I think the government and CLBC should be sued for falsely advertising themselves as trying to help families care for their handicapped family member. 
My husband and I  take care of our son as he still lives at home. They do not want to give us as parents the help we need. All we hear is no money and wait lists! These government bodies are looking to take away their responsibility and push it on aging  family members.
This is all fine for us right now, as I want to care for my son. But I would like the resources and help I need to achieve this. As soon as he turned 19 all my rights as a parent were gone  because he's an adult. I had to pay a lawyer to be able to have something drawn up so I can represent my son.This province is pathetic - they keep low income, seniors and handicapped people in poverty. It's really disgusting.
I'm one of the lucky ones to be able to work my own hours. If I worked a 9-to-5 job I could never do it. His day program is over at 2 p.m. and he's home by 2:30 . With no funding for after-program hours what does a family do? My son can't stay be himself so I have to be home for him. This is also why people have to give up their family member, because they don't get the help they need and the stress becomes to0 much.
Now with all the closures what's going to happen ? I'm so scared for my son when we are no longer able to care for him. Like most parents who keep their adult children at home, we sacrifice the opportunity to have a normal life without kids at home .We don't have the same opportunity like most people whose kids grow up and leave home ......ours don't.
At this point even if I wanted to have him move out and be in his own home, the funding isn't there to help make this happen . I have no choice but to care for my son until we are physically or mentally not able to do so. 
We need to fight this government, for what they are doing is so wrong . I would like them to spend a week in my shoes.

Friday, October 08, 2010

It's cruel and stupid to close group homes

The provincial government can dance all it likes, and certainly has, around the sticky issue of whether it’s closing group homes for people with developmental disabilities.
But it is. So let’s give up this crazy pretence that B.C. isn’t closing group homes, when the fact is that anyone with an ear to the ground knows it’s already well underway. I mean, come on, guys - the least you can do is be honest.
Here’s Housing and Social Development Minister Rich Coleman in the legislature April 13, as captured in Hansard during a strategically worded cat-and-mouse game on the subject with New Democrat MLA Shane Simpson.
“We don't do forced moves, if that's what the member is getting to,” Coleman told Simpson. “We do, though, sometimes, when we have a redesign or have to have a repositioning with regards to our facilities, work extensively with the families and the advocates to walk them through what other opportunities are available in addition to maybe moving to another facility, if there's a capacity issue.”
Whatever that tongue-twister means, you can see now that he was already parsing things carefully to clear the way for government and Community Living B.C. to cut $22 million in spending. (He’s also caught in a lie, because forced moves are happening.)
CLBC savings are to come from phasing out group homes and cutting support services.  I heard a heartbreaking story of a fellow who has gone to “work” with great enthusiasm for 20 years now at a program that fills his days, but will soon have nowhere to go.
The government likes to portray the issue as being more about having to spread the same amount of expenditure out over an ever-larger group of people and families who really need the help, as opposed to cutting services. It’s a “capacity issue,” as Coleman noted in April.
Whatever. Call it what you will, group homes are closing and services are being cut for people who are completely vulnerable without the right supports. Anyone who cares about rights, fairness, homelessness, abuse prevention, health-care costs down the road or even just plain human decency ought to be completely up in arms about what’s going on for people with developmental disabilities.
Mental illness and mental handicaps get mixed up all the time in the public’s mind. What I’m talking about here are people with low IQs, for all the reasons that such things happen. They often have physical disabilities as well, and some have mental illness complicating things.
I get the government’s point that they’re a drain on the public purse. Then again, so is the government itself, and all the rest of the vast public and political functions we pay for.
Smart government isn’t about singling out specific groups of people for misery because they cost us more. It’s about priorizing spending in ways that best satisfy voters while not burdening future generations with the fruits of our screwups. How does the stupid cruelty of cutting services to people with developmental disabilities benefit anyone?
The Victoria Foundation’s Vital Signs report this week highlighted the priority our region puts on social care. But if we really mean it, we should be jumping up and down right now on behalf of people with developmental disabilities.
We’re not talking big numbers. All told, just a third of the 36,000 British Columbians with developmental disabilities get any help from CLBC, and only 2,400 live in group homes.
The theory is that people moved out of their group homes will go onto enriched lives in a less structured, more independent housing arrangement.  A few group homes may linger on, but they’re no longer an option for new people coming into the CLBC system.
The whole thing has been done extremely quietly, and perhaps it would have all been a done deal by now were it not for a few anguished cries from family members of those getting the boot from the homes where they’ve lived contentedly for years, even decades. That government and CLBC seem surprised to have encountered resistance just underlines the disconnect with the real world.
British Columbians ought to be celebrating the network of group homes and day programs built by previous generations of taxpayers who invested in a better future for people with developmental disabilities. Do we want to be the generation remembered for tearing it apart for fleeting savings?
It’s wrong, and shameful. But families can’t win this on their own.  Learn more at, and add some muscle to an important issue.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

There's been some terrific (and terrible) commentary and writing about Canada's prostitution laws since the Ontario Superior Court struck down three key laws around the sex trade last week. Here are a couple pieces from the former category, one from SFU professor John Lowman in the Vancouver Sun, and the other from the Ottawa Citizen by Steve Sullivan, Canada's federal ombudsman for victims of crime. Nice to see some smart, thoughtful writing on this subject.