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.