MR. JAMES MUIR (Chairman): I would like to thank you all for turning out. This is the fourth of the meetings that the Community Services Committee has had around the province. Two weeks ago we were in Sydney, the next night we journeyed to Port Hawkesbury, one week ago we were down in Guysborough. This week we are in New Glasgow and next week we are in Yarmouth. We are going to do the whole thing.
There are a fair number of presentations tonight and I would ask those who are speaking to speak into the microphone. This particular committee operates very much the same as the House of Assembly does and everything that is said is going to be taped, so please make sure when you come up to speak you do so directly into the microphone.
We have quite a number of people who have indicated they are going to make presentations. If there is anybody else who would like to make a presentation who is not on the list, over here on your right is Kim Sheppard and if you go over and identify yourself to her, she will tell us and we can make sure there is a spot on the program for you.
We try to run these meetings fairly informally. The format will be that the speakers will make their presentations and the members of the committee will ask you some questions if there is anything we need clarification with, or perhaps you may have something else you would like to add during that period of time.
My name is Jamie Muir and I am the MLA for Truro-Bible Hill and I am the Co-Chairman of this committee. I will allow the other members to introduce themselves beginning with Mr. Pye.
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: The first person who is on the list is Ed MacMaster. Before you begin, Mr. MacMaster, we are being joined by the member for Digby-Annapolis, Gordon Balser.
MR. ED MACMASTER: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. I am Ed MacMaster, Municipal Councillor with the Municipality of Pictou County. I have been a councillor with the County of Pictou for 22 years.
Over the last few years the welfare system has frightened me; it seems to have changed a lot. We have seen municipal input being taken away into the provincial sector and we have seen it manifest itself in many ways until it sometimes seems that almost everybody is involved in the delivery of welfare, or the delivery of social assistance in some form or another, or assisting those.
We have to believe that the cheque the provincial or federal government sends out is not adequate and someone, somewhere is picking up the part that the cheque does not cover. In many cases it is the mother, the father, the friend, the neighbour, a whole raft of other things, criminal activities, filling in the gap, because people have to eat, they have to transport, they have to remain warm in the winter. They need all these things, the same as an individual with a $40,000 or $50,000 a year job.
Disparity, of course, is rampant. There has never been such disparity in my 22 years as an elected person and, in fact, in the 58 years that I have been on Earth, I don't think it has been as bad as it is. Some people earning $28, $30-some, and upwards in some cases, and other people being expected to live on $5.50, some of the time. That may be only six months, if they are lucky. Well, that just does not work. You know that if someone is paying someone $5.50 an hour, someone, somewhere is going short. Whether it is at the meal table, the clothing allowance, medical, dental, whatever it is, that is the way it breaks down. There is just not enough money there.
This past year, 1997-98, saw something like 15 people involved in the welfare delivery in Pictou County alone. When I first came on council, I think that there was only one person, perhaps assisted with office staff, in some cases, in that delivery. This doesn't include the people that look after the homes for senior citizens, the people who volunteer, like We Care, the Help Line, and probably 80 or over 100 people actively involved just in looking after the welfare side of things right here in the county.
The welfare client, they call them that now; in the early days, we didn't call them clients; I don't know where that word came from, it seems to be a misuse of the word. We didn't see them as clients, we saw them as just ordinary people that needed help. I think we thought of them as people the same, equal as us, and that through perhaps no reason of their own found themselves out of work and in need of assistance. But now they are called clients; I don't know where that came from. When I was younger, lawyers started calling their people
clients, and now everybody has a client. I don't know, I am not happy with that word or the use of it, but I am not happy these days with the use of a lot of words, but that continues.
When I first went on council, we knew who was on welfare. Now, through federal Acts or other Acts, we don't know who is on welfare, so we don't know the next door neighbour is on welfare, we don't know exactly what is going on there. In many cases, we don't know their needs, we don't know if they are ripping off the system. We, in fact, don't know a lot about them, because this stigma is still attached to that system.
UI seems to take on a different guise, it seems to be something that people readily talk about, they say, I am getting UI for another two weeks, or I hope I can get UI, but welfare still has that stigma to it. UI is something that perhaps they contribute to, and maybe it has a different set of rules and so on, but it is something the same. You don't always know, of course, the people that are on UI either, but they have no problem with that, where welfare remains a secret.
We don't often know who to help, because we don't know they are on welfare, until the ship hits the sand. There is a problem with the welfare officer, or they are cut off benefits, or some drastic situation. So then, the counsellor or the elected people are called, then they get in trying to pick up the pieces and patch the whole thing together.
In many cases, it is difficult, because the welfare officer has certain rules to go by, and there is not much room for, let's say extras. It is a very cut and dried system. But there are always times when the client or the welfare recipient needs extras. Children starting to school, Christmas, winter, summer, they have children that like to go on holidays too. All the other children in the community are going to Prince Edward Island, so they like to take their children there. Where does this money come from? Well, it doesn't come from that $1,100 cheque, because as you all know, if you took children to Prince Edward Island or to the park at Aylesford or to the wildlife park, it all costs money. They like to do these things.
Someone has to contribute to that. Now that is perhaps the grandmother or the grandfather or the neighbour or someone. It has to come from somewhere. Some of us are able to contribute, others are not. You know that that is happening. That is sort of an underground system that goes on all the time. It is the same as the food banks, and I don't want to get talking about the food banks too much, but there again, there is a system where if you are nice and go to the food bank, you may get different food than if you are a cranky old s.o.b. like myself or some other person. If you are nice, you get the best; if you are not, you might not get anything.
So this is the system, you see. It is the sort of a system that well, behave yourself, be good, and you will get a few gifts passed down. It won't be enough to meet all your needs, but it will be something that you can perhaps depend on.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Do you have any suggestions for us?
MR. MACMASTER: I have the suggestions on the next page. Do you want me to get into more positive things?
MR. CHAIRMAN: I guess really, I think you may have made your point up to this.
MR. MACMASTER: Well, okay. Incentives to go to work. The person is off unemployment, he is going on welfare, there may be a job out there, but he is scared to go or make any rash moves, because he doesn't want to get himself in any deeper. He has been on unemployment for a long time, he is now going on to welfare, and he is sort of a sleeper, in that mode. He has been through hell, and UIC, he didn't have enough money there, he is now going on welfare, and he wants to make that last or work, if he can. There is probably work out there for everybody, but at $5.50 an hour, there is no use going, if you have a wife and children, or even if you are single, I don't know how you can go to work for $5.50 an hour.
There should be some incentives to go to work. If this guy or family is going to be off social services for three months or two months, it should be worth the government's while to contribute some amount of money to make sure that he can get into the workforce again. Now by going to work, he is going to need boots, clothing, you all know about the Nova Scotia Construction Association, an ungodly amount of equipment has to go with that. That means not Raggedy Ann clothes, you have to have good boots, you have to have good clothing, you have to have all of this stuff, it costs about $500 or $600 at Mark's Work Warehouse before you get on the job, and you don't know how long it is going to last. Some amount should be contributed for that. Maybe even to the employer and to that person.
Now again, so there, some incentive has to be put in place for that person to get to work, because once he gets into that slot, he tends to stay there. A person, like I have been working since 12 years old on farms and things like that, so if I am not going to work and doing something constructively, there is something wrong. On the other hand, if I had never worked, since I was 12 years old, I would never want to go to work. As the twig is bent, so the tree grows. You can't change those old adages. They spent 2,000 or 3,000 years thinking them up.
Special events. Christmas, nothing for Christmas. They don't even get the cheque before Christmas. The cheque comes after Christmas, just like there was no Christianity, nothing at all happening there. School start-up, no advance in the cheque there. No extra amount of money. No bonus or anything for the kids starting to school. The kids want to go to school, they have to have the same type of clothing as everyone else, they have to have shoes for outside and shoes for inside. When I went to school, I was lucky to have shoes at all. Now they order them to have shoes for inside and shoes for outside.
It makes me think of a joke that a neighbour used to tell. They weren't a very well off family, and he said, I only have half an education. You would ask why, and he would say, we only had one pair of gum boots. I went in the morning with them, and I came home at dinnertime, and my brother went in the afternoon. That is different now, they have two sets of boots to get to school with.
Now in serious events in the family, incarceration, death, separation, sudden illness, divorce, all these times, the benefit is cut back to the fact that if someone is incarcerated, then the benefit is cut back just the same as if there was one person there. The person that is incarcerated is maybe getting three square meals a day, but the person who is left home has nothing. He is back down, he can't pay the rent, or she can't pay the rent, the kids don't get anything, it is back down to square one on that count. So, not enough money there again.
Divorce, sudden illness, there has to be some type of adjustment there when this happens. So if someone is being incarcerated, a red flag should go up in the system, and say, well, look, we don't know whether the judge is going to send you to jail or not, but he sent you to jail so okay, that is a special situation, and it has to be addressed.
Early intervention, and it is something I talked about earlier, special workers to become involved with first-time recipients. By this, I don't mean people that are from the welfare system, but they could perhaps be a force of volunteers that would be people who know people, other people in the community, they know where the jobs are, they are the people that find places for these people to work. They are sort of a mentor or something, some development of that kind of people. We know they are out there, now the food bank, the We Care people, the Salvation Army, those people are out there, but there is no person who jumps in in the first few days or months of the situation to try to mitigate the thing and get that person back to work.
That is when the thing starts to crumble. He gets on there, the tools are sold to top up for the rent, to top up for the kids' schools, the hard hat is sold, the boots are sold, the car is sold, after a while there is no way to get to work. It just goes downhill into a chute. That is where it will stay until there is a family bust-up and then it is fragmented, the whole thing starts to fragment.
Training. There is different types of training, but some of you have been to school, and on a student loan or so on, you know how difficult it is to survive on student loans, and of course, many of the students are almost welfare recipients, even the ones that have student loans. But there is training, there are no incentives to say, let's come to a cooking course, and you have to ask them to do this, you don't tell them to go to a cooking course. You can't tell them to go out to work, but you can suggest, you can lead rather than push them to do these things. With some incentive, a prize. They used to do this when I was a kid, different types of food companies and so on would put on prizes for cakes and so on, baking, things like that, and people would come in to learn how to use new mixmasters or Tupperware or different
things like that. There is nothing like that for these people, where they could find out what to eat, what is the best bargain, how to spread these few dollars that they have. There could be dietary courses, cooking, purchasing, transportation, and so on.
Another thing I wanted to talk about is food salvage. At one point they called it roadkill, now that is the wrong word to talk about. It filled up the food banks all across the world as a result. It is like, you say something foolish and it goes right around the world, and you say something wise, and nobody hears it at all. But that wasn't foolish, it was just misconstrued. In the county here, there are 300 deer on the road, nobody picks them up, nobody does much with them. They are different in some of the counties; in 46 states I think, look after these things a lot better than we do here in Nova Scotia, but I don't think it is the lands and forests job to look after these things and trail around. Those people are being highly paid, and I think some type of group or association should go and dress those animals, whether it be deer, moose or whatever, and try to preserve those things for the food banks or the people on social assistance and so on.
The same thing with herring. Another bad law there. The herring fishermen go out, they bring in more than their quota, it is dumped right over the wharf. Judges came up with a theory that maybe the fine should go - and the fine can be quite heavy, $5,000, $6,000, $7,000 for catching too much herring - to look into the herring. Well, it is not hard to find out about the herring. If you catch all the herring, there will be no herring left and there is not much use spending that money seeing where the herring have gone, you know where they go, they are all dead and they are dumped over, and so on. It is an awful misuse of that.
Apples will be falling on the ground, a whole lot of food will be wasted this winter, and people will be hungry. The same as it has happened for several winters in the past. We don't salvage that food, we don't try to look after it. We need a Good Samaritan Act that will tell you that if you do bring a turkey to someone and give it to them, and they choke on it, that you won't be sued or whatever for that. There is always that fear of bringing something to somebody, and they say, well, I got food poisoning from that, what are you going bring me next? I am going to bring you a lawsuit, that is what I am going to do, because I got sick on that g.d. turkey or whatever. We don't have that Good Samaritan Act, and that is something that we could use here in Nova Scotia.
The other thing is respect for the workers, and I am getting kind of sick, not so much for the workers, but for what the workers say about the recipients. They call them clients, I will call them recipients. What they say about them: he won't do anything, she is a liar, he has a leery look, and on and on. They should not refer to them like that. I am not going to go out and tell them that, but as a councillor, they shouldn't be mentioning that to me, because the next guy will go out and say, look, you are no good because the social worker called you a liar or something like that. I wish they wouldn't use those words at all in speaking about the client or recipient or the social worker, because that is not very fair.
The people have difficult times, they sometimes resort to criminal acts because they are starving to death. The richest country in the world, and we can't feed people. There is supposed to be enough money in Canada wasted to build a house, a brick house, not for every family but for every man, woman and child, and give it to us. We wouldn't have to pay for it. You can look around, we have all kinds of rock, we have all kinds of lumber, we have all kinds of land, yet we can't get people houses. That is something that we don't do very well anymore, is provide things, like for a while we provided homes, reasonably fast, under the rural native program here in Pictou County, we don't do that anymore very well. That could be a big improvement in that area, getting houses for these people so that they will be in safe, clean homes. That will improve their attitude and in many cases it did because I was involved in many instances in helping to build those homes and not in every case but in many cases there was a marked improvement.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. MacMaster, could you wrap up because we have a fair number of speakers and we would like to ask you some questions, please.
MR. MACMASTER: Well, that is basically what I am after. I would like to see some incentives, some extra money for special events, some consideration when there are serious events, some early intervention, some type of training in how to survive on social assistance, cooking and dietary courses, purchasing transportation and some method of food salvage. I don't think the Natural Resources people should be salvaging the food. They can look at it, identify it and have someone there who is a butcher or whatever to look after that. The same thing with excess fruit, deer, herring and so on.
I would like to see more respect for the recipients of social assistance from the workers. They may not like me for saying that but I am going to say it. They are people too and you cannot look down on them. We are developing the thing where the customer is always wrong now. It used to be the customer is always right but the way things have turned right around now the customer is always wrong and that is the way the attitudes are today, whether it is the telephone company or so on.
The utility companies need some come-uppance, I think, with regard to propane, particularly in this county, it is pathetic. They don't understand that the people are on welfare and they want their money as fast as they can get it. It is not so bad for the telephone company, it gets about a four or five and the hydro is not too bad either but the propane and gas are pathetic. It is one hell of a price, it is almost the same price as gasoline and two days after you get the fill-up they want their money. Well, that doesn't work when you are on welfare, you know it is going to be the end of the month and they have to take payments. If they cannot do that there is something drastically wrong. Some of the companies are owned by almost global entities so they must be able to wait a little bit, and charge interest and so on so I don't know why that cannot be controlled.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Mr. Parker.
MR. CHARLES PARKER: Ed, you have got some good ideas and we have taken note of what you have been saying but I want to come back as a councillor. You and I served on municipal councils for a number of years and we had calls from residents on a fairly regular basis who were having difficulty with social assistance and we, as councillors, tried to help them and work with our social assistance people. But as you know on April 1, 1998, it went over to the province and I certainly know that because a lot of them followed me, so it is a busy part of our agendas as MLAs, we are getting a lot of calls on that.
I am just wondering, as a councillor are you still getting some calls or have the numbers decreased some? Secondly, what role do you think the municipality should be still serving or do you see a role for them in working with social assistance cases?
MR. MACMASTER: It is possible in some of the larger municipalities, at least, to have some type of a liaison person between the county and the province. I don't know if that would necessarily have to be a social services person or a former social services person or something. It is hard when you are waiting for calls and hard to get back to them. It is a time- consuming thing because you often have to now talk to the head person rather than the social worker. At one point you could talk to whoever you got on the phone but that doesn't work anymore. You have to get to Mike MacIsaac in Stellarton and I forget the other gentleman's name in Pictou. So if they are out or missing, it is a time-consuming thing to speak to someone.
MR. PARKER: Do you see any role for the municipality? We had a special committee that looked after social services. Do you think a committee or a single councillor could have a liaison with the provincial people now? Is there any role for that, or is there any role for any emergency funding from the municipality?
MR. MACMASTER: I think there has to be an emergency portion to it because there are sudden events, there are things like incarceration, death, illness, all of those things that make a drastic change in the family that cause a lot of concern. Those are certainly things when special emergency funding has to become easily available without a lot of debate and red tape. Charlie, you know how it goes, there may be a shortage of funds for medical or whatever and you go through this exercise where you call all the committee members, get them together, they sometimes have two or three meetings; I do not know what the route will be but it was certainly a belaboured thing at the municipal level. I do not know if that is better now or worse. The things that I have now have nothing to do with medical, they are mostly to do with incarceration in the past few days and other types of things.
MR. PARKER: Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. DeWolfe.
MR. JAMES DEWOLFE: Ed, it is nice to see you again. Certainly, one of the topics that you presented here tonight was the lack or need for transitional programs for those who wish to re-enter the workforce and it would not be the first time that we have heard that on this tour. People come to my office as well to tell me they are better off staying home rather than going to work because of the lack of incentives where there is only $10 allowed for babysitting and where would you get a babysitter for $10 and so on and so forth. I was wondering if you have any recommendations you could make to this committee on that topic? I realize we are running a little late and perhaps you could give us a brief answer on that or a recommendation.
MR. MACMASTER: When they go to work, I do not think they should be cut right off. I do not know what the amount should be but it should be some substantial amount to pay the babysitter, to buy the boots and the clothing that is part of the necessary safety requirements and so on to get them out there. If he gets out there in good stead with the safety equipment he is liable to stay there right to the end and perhaps get on UIC or whatever. If he goes there with no boots, improper clothing and he is cold, I have seen them shivering, freezing to death with not enough clothing, not enough food in their stomachs, they are the first ones to go. If the boss comes along and sees them standing there shivering in the cold, I don't know if he feels sorry for them or what but they are the first ones that get sent home. There has to be some type of blending in to the thing, not being cut right off.
I have not really ascertained whether they are paying ahead or paying behind, that always mixes me up, I don't know which came first, the chicken or the egg. Sometimes they seem to be paying ahead and at other times when they go to work they have been paid behind so, whack, they go to work and they are cut right off. That seems to be a problem.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. MacMaster, thank you very much for raising all of these issues with us. A question from Mr. Pye. Could you make it a quick one.
MR. JERRY PYE: Mr. Chairman, I just have a couple of questions. Mr. MacMaster, I guess you are still a councillor, right?
MR. MACMASTER: Yes.
MR. PYE: Can I ask you if the majority of the calls you receive as a councillor, yes or no, are a result of social services calls?
MR. MACMASTER: In my area there are quite a few because the shipyard has been down, there are people laid off from Northumberland Ferry. As a result of social services problems?
MR. PYE: Yes, the number of people who would call you? Are they social services-related calls, the majority of them, yes or no?
MR. MACMASTER: I would say it would be about 50 per cent.
MR. PYE: The other question is about something Charlie made mention of before. As you know as of April 1, 1998, single-tiered social services came in to the province so it took social services away from the municipality. As a result of that, do you find there is less flexibility than before, when you were a councillor you could go into your Community Services Office, talk to the individuals about a particular special need and so on, and have that addressed rather than now you cannot do that?
MR. MACMASTER: I still think I can go in there, but I can't go to the committee because the committee doesn't deal with that anymore. At one point in time, I could go to the committee and sometimes bring the recipient with me and together we would make a strong plea for whatever, but I don't know that that committee, there is no committee in my estimation.
MR. PYE: The final question, Mr. Chairman, is that you talked about $5.50 an hour providing no incentive for people to go out and work, would you be suggesting or would you be receptive to an increase in the minimum wage?
MR. MACMASTER: For sure it is not enough. I mean if the person lives at home and they're working at the doughnut shop, or something, or they own their own home and they have a pension or something, it is okay then but, otherwise, it doesn't pay to go to work. It costs $25, in some cases, to go to work here in Pictou County in a day.
MR. PYE: Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. Mr. MacMaster, I am sorry to kind of squeeze you out. We have quite a number of presenters, actually 13, all told.
MR. MACMASTER: Thank you then.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Is Dr. Jane Evans here?
Barb Reynders, would you come up, please, and, while you're doing that, I would like to introduce our colleague in the Legislature, the MLA for Cape Breton Nova, Paul MacEwan.
MS. BARB REYNDERS: I apologize for my throat before I begin. I am trying to ward off a cold, part of living in the Maritimes. Honoured guests and ladies and gentlemen, I am presenting this paper in response to the social assistance restructuring initiative reports which were sent to me at my request. I read through this material with interest, noting the valuable input of suggestions. I am a single, separated mother of two children, ages six and eight. If someone had told me five years ago that I would be living on assistance, I would have
been sceptical. It is all the more unbelievable because I have a Bachelor of Arts Major and a Bachelor of Education. It was never my aspiration to experience life as a social assistance recipient; I was raised to believe that an education opened many doors.
However, I am discovering that this cliché is also a paradox. I agreed with the options identified in part three of the discussion, Pages 9 to 15, on rebuilding the system concerning the barriers to work. It was satisfying to find that these barriers are finally receiving some recognition as having a real effect on the viability of working. As a single parent, there has to be a criteria in place that will enable me to work and incur the hidden costs that coincide with the job. However, there are other barriers I have encountered and perhaps they have already been debated in a previous panel discussion, but were not recognized in print. I would like to take the opportunity to present these barriers at this time. Please, no squirming in the seats, some of these are a little unsavoury, but I am sure that you have all got strong constitutions and you can hear them.
The first one is on dispelling the myths. There should be an extensive propaganda program directed toward the working public to dispel the myths associated with social assistance and those on benefits. The stereotyping, which is still prevalent, is demeaning to many of us on benefits and an unfair criticism of who and what we are. The view held by the general public is that we are living high on the hog, but the public perception and the reality are not synonymous with the truth. After I have paid the rent and utilities there is a meagre amount left over. The way the public views us has a direct link to our accessibility to jobs. The public perception has overtures of how we are accepted in the workplace; for example: those people don't want to work; they'll miss time; why work when you're getting all the money those people are taking in and so on. Despite the general perception, many of us on assistance actually want off it.
The second obstacle that I have encountered is age discrimination and I would like to see the government stop facilitating age discrimination. I am amazed and frustrated that politicians and other government agencies enable themselves to ignore the other sectors of society which have also been directly affected by the lack of good jobs. For the record, unemployment is not solely the plight of the young, and by focalizing on this age group the government is making a value judgment on who is entitled to a lifestyle. I shouldn't admit this, but I am 45 years old.
MR. CHAIRMAN: You're still young.
MS. REYNDERS: Not by government standards. In fact, I was wondering if you, gentlemen, could tell me how I could apply for a senior's card after the meeting is over. (Interruption) I need lots of room, dear. I am 45 years old and am to be a responsible parent to a six and eight year old for a good many years, this leaves 20 years in which I could be a productive participant in the labour force.
Now, where is the magic equation to determine need? Do I require a job less because of my age, or more because of my situation? Am I and others to believe that there is no one over 30 in this province looking for work? Is there no one over 30 on social assistance? Do the children living in poverty all have parents under this age group? It is not my intention to downplay youth unemployment, however the government has to develop a more peripheral vision of who is affected by unemployment and then devise a strategy to deal with these numbers. In targetting young people, the government automatically condones and perpetuates age discrimination. The message prospective employers are receiving is blatant, hire young. Although I haven't mentioned this is my report, the obvious place to look at is the teaching profession, and see what happened in the 1994 contract negotiations, and ask how many principals received a memo that they were to hire first-year graduates.
Thirdly, effective training with a positive end result. We have been bombarded with the importance for training which will make us marketable in today's economy. However, training a group of people with the advice that now you have the tools to find work, and then proceed into the next batch of trainees, is insufficient in scope. There is little point in implementing training that has short-term gain, training that results in part-time jobs, or until the incentives to hire expire, it is a waste of time and money. In many cases we're simply changing positions by leaving one benefit system - example - social assistance, only to end up on another - example - employment insurance.
We have to lose the one-size-fits-all mentality to job training. Training has to be tailor-made to fit each individual. Training en masse will result in many people falling through the cracks in this system and, ladies and gentlemen, the end result to any effective training in this province is simply going to be benefit rotation. I neglected to put this in the letter because I was trying to cut down, but I was a recipient in that wonderful Compass Program that took place. The Compass Program wasn't worth two barrels of bear shit in the woods. I am not working. I was put under severe financial strain. It did not get me a job. What it did was put me under severe hardship for a period of 14 weeks but, hey, it looks real good in the résumé, doesn't it?
Number four, develop an understanding of the economic atmosphere. You can start squirming at this point. If the Department of Community Services by the present government intends to implement a job training and search strategy directed towards assistance recipients, then they have to obtain an understanding of the dynamics of hiring taking place in each community. People on assistance need an edge in the job market that people with influence already possess. Job training sessions in the past have let clout to ensure that training followed through with an end result, that being a job. When the monetary incentives ran out, jobs were terminated. We on assistance need leverage to secure positions or a good pair of Haynes pantyhose, whichever comes.
When dealing with small town politics, just supplying us with the tools to find work is simply not enough. We are seeing an emergence of a caste system in the labour force, those privileged to work at good paying jobs and those who cannot access these jobs and not necessarily because they haven't got the skills.
The final thing is the one that's really hard to swallow - nepotism. Don't laugh. Nepotism remains the biggest obstacle which we confront in our job search. This is a distasteful subject but its presence and impact on hiring cannot be denied. Since nepotism is so prevalent two essential concepts are automatically negated from the hiring process; firstly, competition and, secondly, work ethic. So you can see the contradiction that is developing here in those people on social assistance who are trying to find work. Unfortunately, Nova Scotians display a passive acceptance of this powerful criteria, thereby justifying its continuance. Qualified individuals are being denied the opportunity to enter some workplaces because of this influence.
To reiterate, it was gratifying to find the barriers that assistance recipients maintained were always present are finally being recognized. However, one barrier cannot be chosen over another for confrontation based on its palatabillity. All the barriers should be subject to attention despite their contentious and distasteful presence. Respectfully submitted.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much, Ms. Reynders. You've raised really five very important issues and I am sure that somebody will have a question. I was just going to ask, you graduated from St. F.X. with an Education degree?
MS. REYNDERS: Yes, I did.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I notice that you went on the substitute list in 1979, 1978-79?
MS. REYNDERS: Yes.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Were you teaching as well or were you doing something else?
MS. REYNDERS: I was subbing and then there were periods of time where I went to other jobs and went back to it. Substituting, at least in this province, is the kind of employment where your dependability becomes your biggest liability.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes, I know.
MS. REYNDERS: And does that need some explaining or do you understand what I mean when I say that?
MR. CHAIRMAN: I understand. Jerry.
MR. PYE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to thank you, Barbara, for the excellent presentation. I think that you've hit home base on a number of issues as the Chairman has stated. I want to say also that on your very last page with respect to your second paragraph, with respect to when the monetary incentives run out, jobs were terminated, and I want to tell you that reminds me of back many years when the old LIP program was in place. I think that you might have known about that.
MS. REYNDERS: Yes.
MR. PYE: The Local Initiative Program where employers were expected to hire individuals, provide a training program, and once the funding ran out, the employees also ran out the door. Thank you.
MS. YVONNE ATWELL: I just have one question. You talked about many of the programs for youth, people who are 30 and under, and how difficult it is when you're over 30. What would you recommend to this committee in terms of assistance or incentives for women like yourself who have a family and who need to work to get them back into the workforce? What would you recommend?
MS. REYNDERS: Number one, I think there should be some extensive propaganda done on fair hiring practices. I think that there should be some work done within the community and people in the community who are businessmen to make them aware that there is another area, there is another populace who are also looking for work. The bottom line is, yes, everybody has targeted youth unemployment and I am not saying that we should just waiver that. What I am finding is when government gets an idea, they develop tunnel vision. It is like tell all the truth but tell it slanted and they don't want to deviate from that because it is easy for them.
When the elections were taking place in the community, I like to think that I vote on some basis of intelligence even if some of the people running are, well, never mind, but I would like to at least think that I am using a degree of intelligence in voting. So I always make it a point to pick up the political platform. Youth unemployment jumps out at me. There is no reference to other people looking for work who have lost their positions through downsizing; women whose marriages have gone on the rocks as mine did; older people in society. I don't know what the statistics are now in reference to poverty among children but do you think that they all belong to 15 year olds?
I think that any responsible government has got to look at all the facts. If you go to the doctor for an operation, you want to make sure that he has done all the testing and he has got all the data at his fingertips. You don't want to end up on the table having heart surgery when you need a kidney removed. It is just kind of, we'll see what we want to see because, Christ, we don't know what to do if we're given any more information because we can't handle what we've got on our plates now and because of it there's a whole realm of people
who are being excluded. Government had better sit down and consider what the fallout of ignoring us oldies is going to be and somebody better tell those young kids just how much money they're going to be losing out of their paycheques to continue to pay for social programs to look after us because you don't think that we are a viable source in the labour market.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you.
MR. GORDON BALSER: A number of presenters we've heard over the last little while have talked about the disincentives to return to the workforce and you've touched on many of the points in this but, generally speaking, it appears that the whole process that goes on is very demoralizing. Could you talk a bit about that in terms of are there disincentives so to speak?
MS. REYNDERS: The worst possible thing you can do to a person on social assistance is hold out hope and then kick them in the backside. That is what's being done to many of us on social assistance. It is like taking a puppy dog and giving him a treat with one hand and cuffing him on the snout with the other and that is what's being done. It is almost like you don't perceive us as being human beings.
MR. BALSER: We've heard that on many occasions.
MS. REYNDERS: It is almost like you've taken away our humanness from us. My landlord stood in my house last week and I told him that I cannot afford oil to which he very quickly responded, well, if you were on welfare, you would be making more money than I am. I don't think that you're going to get anywhere until you start disabusing these myths that the general public has. You treat cattle better than we've been treated and I think that it boils down to respect and we're not getting respect.
MR. BALSER: How would the system adjust so that would happen over time? Is it advertising? What approach will cause that once that shift . . .
MS. REYNDERS: I think if people were profiled who are on social assistance; if the general public knew exactly what we are expected to live on; if the issue of money was tackled and people were given factual information - see, unfortunately, what's happening is that people have a certain perception of how things are. That perception for them, very quickly, becomes their reality. I think that is one of the things that really has to be tackled.
You've got to see us as a viable component in the labour force. Like, we're not all lazy. I don't go to the bingo halls, I don't smoke, I don't support the Nova Scotia Liquor Commission. I think that these negative images that the public has - which by the way, have
been facilitated by the government - have to be tackled. I think that is one of the things that really should be addressed.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Jim.
MR. DEWOLFE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Barbara, it's nice to see you again. You actually just made the statements that I was going to ask you to make because we talked before and so that you're not stereotyped, I wanted you to make those comments that you do not hang out in bingo halls, you don't smoke and all these things.
What might society do, what would you recommend? Like, you haven't really talked about the system, itself, in the way you're treated. Do you feel that the caseworkers and so on treat you with dignity? I don't want to put words in your mouth, Barbara.
MS. REYNDERS: What I have found is that I've got a kind of unique situation. I've got a post-secondary education and because of that, people haven't been able to put me in a particular category. In many cases the people I am going to ask for help are my contemporaries, as far as an education goes.
I really think that throws them off balance and they don't know quite what to do with me. They don't quite know how to advise me. Some of them might not have any problem telling me where to go but they don't have, really, any concrete direction for me. That has got to be the most frustrating thing.
In terms of what could be done, you know, you read things in the paper about the $10 million portion of a $48 million decade loan forgiven to Michelin. Why can't the government say, okay, we're going to give you that $10 million but here is what we want you to do. We want you to hire 20 people from social assistance. Start demanding some things from these businesses. You walk over to Wal-Mart. When is your business important to Wal-Mart?
MR. DEWOLFE: Well, I would say on cheque day, they want to see you, that's for sure.
MS. REYNDERS: Your business is important at peak season, at which time they have sufficient staff. What do most companies do that move into the province whenever they start showing a profit margin? What's the first thing they do? They cut back on their staff, they reduce services.
What do you end up doing? You end up getting on one of those voice-activated machines. You never get to talk to another human person again. I might as well throw out my telephone and just get carrier pigeons. I will get a better response. (Laughter) They won't shit on me any more than MT&T has. (Laughter)
MR. DEWOLFE: Well, thank you very much, Barbara. I commend you on your perseverance on this.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The last question goes to Mr. Parker.
MR. PARKER: Okay, thanks, Mr. Chairman. I guess you don't know what being on social assistance is like until you've actually been there and walked a mile in someone else's shoes. I'm sure that's true for you.
To try to help us put a little perspective on it, you mentioned in your report that you're having trouble finding enough money for oil. I guess - if you don't mind sharing with us, what is the amount of money you receive monthly and how much is actually left over after you pay for your food, rent and utilities?
MS. REYNDERS: Well, I get $800 from what used to be my better half. Social assistance tops that up with $191. I realize that that is an astronomical amount and I'm sorry about that but that is what I get.
My rent is $535; I've got a power bill sitting at home that's around $389; I've got a phone bill that I can hardly pay. When I left my husband I incurred a lot of debts. Social assistance does not look at debt load. You are either supposed to not pay those or go bankrupt. I don't know what I'm going to do for oil. Those are the circumstances. Social assistance, contrary to popular belief, does not pay all these things.
MR. CHAIRMAN: So if you work two days you lose your supplement.
MS. REYNDERS: If you work two days you lose it. Now, just as a point of interest, and people know that I can talk once I get on a roll but just to give you an example - and I didn't bring this up because it had already been addressed before - if I went out on a part-time job at minimum wage and I got 20 hours a week, I would gross $110. My after-school day care, bi-weekly, ends up to be $62. Now, that leaves me a balance of $47 but I haven't taken into account taxes; I haven't taken into account gas for my car, and cars don't run on orange juice; and I haven't taken into account day care for a full day if school is cancelled, but I still have to go out to work.
I'm allowed to make $200 a month, so I get this wonderful 20 hour a week work, $110. Well, there is $220. After that, social assistance starts taking 75 per cent of the gross dollar for dollar. Where has been my initiative to go out and work?
MR. PARKER: Okay. Thanks for sharing that with us.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much, Ms. Reynders, for that presentation, those points that you raised, certainly, some that we haven't heard before. You've made them very well. Thank you for taking the time to speak to us.
MS. REYNDERS: Well, there is one question that I will leave the panel with. Thank you very much for listening to me. If any of you gentlemen, ladies, can tell me why you think I'm on social assistance with a B.A. and a B.Ed., other than some of the reasons that I cited here, I would appreciate hearing from you at some time in the future because, I'll tell you, I'm stumped.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Mr. MacLean. Have a seat and pull up to a microphone.
MR. TOM MACLEAN: Mr. Chairman, MLAs, honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen, good evening. I'd like to say good evening to everybody, first of all, and welcome you to New Glasgow.
Look, I have a few items here that were once heard before. Have your say in changing Canada's social program. It goes on and on, what you should do or shouldn't do. That is the White Paper. Now we're getting into the deep whiter. Leadership starts with listening. Nova Scotians speak out on the economy. Hurray! Now the Annual Report on the Health Council - boy! Look at that paper. It must cost $15 to produce that book. Now the Annual Report on the Health Council; now the Blue Paper Book on Health Sytstem & Reform. The Green Book, Jobs and Growth, Free Opportunity, Sharing Our Future Together. Now, this one I cannot describe. It is called Canada-something but I can't make it out. It is called INFO.
We all heard this rhetoric before. We talk about it, we write about it. This is about the third time that I've been listening to this junk and I mean junk. First of all, it was Mr. Kierans that came along. Then it was Mr. Savage. Now we're under Mr. MacLellan. What next are we going to be under? Under the graveyard?
Now, we spent a lot of money foolishly and I mean foolishly. Anything you want to get on sports and recreation, museums, the changing of the leaves, 40,000 for phone calls, poor people starving, no, nothing for them. Sports, recreation centres, rinks, down in Pictou, new - fix a station up, $3.6 million for the Trenton Airport. I could go on and on but I will cease there.
Now, my problem is, welfare, everything about that, schools, oh boy. We had a one-room school out in Lorne. Who did we produce in that one school? Can anybody tell me? An MP, Elmer MacKay, Mr. MacKay, a wonderful person. He got us a bridge going across, Public Works, wonderful. We're going to pay $40 million for 20 years to pay for that thing.
It's nice to have interprovince lock but I'm getting back to that old social assistance bit. People on that are starving and I mean starving. There is a lot more - there is a lot of abuse out there because I know. People leave - the husband goes out for a couple of nights then moves back in. That's abuse. There are other poor devils that do not even have a roof over their head.
I heard there today, a fellow was telling me that this fellow got in a railcar and the rails tipped over him. All he said, he had to get away from the television. He saw the man's legs sticking out from under the rails sticking up, thinking he was doing an exercise of some kind.
Now, my proposal is - I've been through this before - with Eric Kierans, Savage Government - now, I'm presenting to the MacLellan Government. I've known Russell for approximately 18 years. He worked for the Justice Minister under Allan Rock. What did he do? He got up once and spoke in the House. Yes, sir. He got up once and spoke in the House about justice.
Now, I've been through this before with Mr. MacKay, Mr. Benoit Bouchard, three page letter, two page letter to Mr. Bouchard, wonderful person. The Constitution - there is Mr. Kierans, the kind Mr. Kierans. 1991, Mr. Benoit Bouchard, a gentleman and a half - I talked to him personally on the phone and he told me, Tom, send it directly to his home address, in which I did.
Mr. Mulroney appointed Mr. Benoit Bouchard - he was an Ambassador to France. Where is Mr. Bouchard today? He's working for the Liberals. Do you know what he is doing? He's the Minister of Transport. What a gentleman. I never knew him from a hill of beans or him, me.
Now, we have another situation here from Bernard Valcourt. You know Bernard. He was with the Minister of Employment and Immigration. Oh, boy, I got just a notification from him but Mr. Benoit Bouchard did the whole works.
Junior Chamber of Commerce, the same thing. I got a nice letter here from them. I will go through it call all and I mean I will just touch on it.
Here's the Health Council again. They wrote to Mr. Benoit Bouchard to see what he can do, what I have proposed to him. Now the Canada Pension Plan, retirement income, we had better not touch that. We're after the unemployment now. They came up with the EI scheme. They scuttled that. Now they've got $19 billion they're going to scuttle and they're going to lower the payments, the premiums down to 33 per cent. I hope they do not do this because a man gets, say, $300 a week, he's cut back 33 per cent, he gets $200 a week. Can he live on $200? That's about $800 a month. Try living on $800.
Here is how it is broken down in the UI system. The UI people pay about $19 billion to $20 billion a year, $1.4 billion goes to New Brunswick, $1.6 billion goes to Nova Scotia, the big one, $320 million goes to Prince Edward Island, $1 billion goes to Newfoundland and the rest of the $6.4 billion goes to Quebec. We are the under-provinces.
I have talked to Roseanne Skoke on the same thing and they were going to talk about a committee - a committee this and a committee that. I have a letter pertaining to that which reads, we acknowledge your letter of 1994. Now, here we go, guaranteed annual income. Did you ever hear of it before? You certainly did, didn't you? Mr. Stanfield brought that in in what year, Mr. MacEwan, can you tell me?
MR. PAUL MACEWAN: Well, Mr. Stanfield never brought it in when he was Premier. He was Premier from 1956 until 1967 and he didn't bring it in in any of those years, since you asked me.
MR. MACLEAN: I thought Mr. Stanfield brought it in and I thought he lost his seat on account of that. Well it is something that has been thrown around for a number of years and I mean it, thrown around. In 1993, it was brought up in the House of Commons and Mr. Dingwall said no, not at this time, no, no, no. I will leave it with Mr. Dingwall. Wells Wants UIC With Guaranteed Income, did you hear about Mr. Wells?
Our social system is the best in the world and I mean it. I have items here from other countries like France, Germany, England, whatever and I think Sweden has the best social assistance in the world. They operate on a gold mine and all of the people benefit from it, I think it is Sweden, and everybody is paid proportionately. The low wage earner is not forgotten and that is what is happening here. We should have the low wage earner increased to at least $10 an hour. I brought this up in 1986 but nobody ever listened. They said we can't pay that amount, it is too much money. Both you and I know that the employer pays 1.4 times as much as the employee and if you scuttle that down to 33 per cent so therefore you know what is going to happen, the employer is going to benefit but not the employee.
We have got the plant working down here the best it has worked in a long time, three months sometimes out of the whole year. People say, I worked down there for 40-some years but they lived on Unemployment Insurance for nine months out of that year and I know it, during the War, yes, well done.
In conclusion I will say this, we need guaranteed income and we need it greatly. Everybody must pay their weight and I mean the load. First of all we have the worker, he pays Unemployment Insurance, Canada Pension, he has a pension of some kind, he has a medical plan and union dues. Also, he has the GST and we have got to get rid of that one, he pays 116 per cent. People on pensions of any kind only pay 16 per cent. Is that fair? We must help that worker. We must help the poor. We must help the ones that have not or will not have homes. If we take the tax off of building supplies, take the tax off of how much it costs a man to
come and do your work, we could put at least six people to work and that is the man in the hole too. If you take the man out of the hole and you take the man out of the building. Remember that because the man at the top of the building will not go down in the hole to dig and he is a tradesman also, the man in the hole and don't you think he isn't, he is a labourer. That is the backbone of any society, the man digging, the worker in other words.
I have another suggestion to make and this is phenomenal if we don't do something about it. We talked about it and we did nothing. We talked about it about four times now, we have written about it but nothing is done. Talk is cheap, let us see some action. I will say my last word here right now, how would you politicians feel if you were unemployed? We need more unemployed politicians and just maybe we would get some work done.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. MacLean. You were true to your word. Are there any questions for Mr. MacLean? Mr. MacEwan.
MR. MACEWAN: I will just say this, that if I was an unemployed politician I couldn't help you.
MR. MACLEAN: Well, you do no help anyway. You have done nothing. If you are going to fight take your coat off. (Laughter)
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. MacLean. The next group is the Antigonish Early Childhood Intervention Program with Brenda MacInnis, Jerome Deon and Pauline Spin. We did hear a little bit about your program last week in Guysborough.
MS. BRENDA MACINNIS: Honourable members of the Legislature and fellow participants, my name is Brenda MacInnis and I am the Coordinator for the Antigonish Early Intervention Program. I am also a Board Member and Treasurer for Early Intervention Nova Scotia. Also presenting this evening are Jerome Deon, Board Member and Treasurer of the Antigonish Early Intervention Program for the past eight and one-half years and Pauline Spin, a parent of a young child with special needs who is currently receiving services from the Early Intervention Program.
I would like to thank the members of this committee for travelling around the province to hear the people's views on Community Services and for giving us the opportunity to express our suggestions and concerns on early intervention programs in Nova Scotia.
Antigonish was one of the first programs in the province to get started in the early 1980's. Presently, there are 13 programs operating across the province. Twelve of the programs receive some funding from the Department of Community Services and one program receives federal funding through a Brighter Futures grant.
The Antigonish Early Intervention Program got started because the parents felt the need for support in raising young children with special needs. They felt isolated and wanted something more for their child and their family. The model that has been developed works and suits the needs of the rural communities. It is necessary that the Department of Community Services develop a plan to work toward increasing funding for the established early intervention programs and the early intervention programs that are available to families raising children with special needs across the province.
Presently in Antigonish there are three staff members with the Early Intervention Program. I have been working full time for the past eight and one-half years. I graduated from Mount Saint Vincent University with a Bachelor of Child Studies degree. Two years ago we were fortunate to have an increase in our funding to hire a part-time home visitor. Georgia Cleary was hired and she has a Bachelor of Education degree and a Bachelor of Special Education Degree from Memorial University of Newfoundland. We also have secretarial help, someone who comes in for about eight hours a week.
On average, our caseload ranges from 20 to 24 children year-round. This number is based on the formula recommended from the Standards and Guidelines Manual put out by the Department of Community Services. Early intervention is a home-based program for families raising children with special needs, birth to school age. The children are either at risk for or have a diagnosis of developmental delay. The goal of early intervention is to facilitate the child's development and to help support the families. Bi-weekly home visits or pre-school-based visits are scheduled to plan functional activities geared toward the child's developmental level, while minimizing the child's condition. Families are provided with information on their child's condition and what services are available in their area.
Developmental assessments are prepared with the skills being divided into six categories: cognitive; language; fine motor; gross motor; social; and self-help. From this, individual program goals are designed by the parents and the early intervention worker and in conjunction with any other professionals that may be involved. For example, we incorporate speech therapy, occupational therapy and physiotherapy goals into the home-based program. Each member of the team is seen as an equal partner, and parents are encouraged to express their needs and concerns. The program is set so that it fits in with the family's routine and can be followed on a regular basis at home.
Two of the more common reasons children are discharged from the program is if they reach their age-appropriate developmental level or they transition to school. The transition to school has been developed into a protocol that begins one year prior to the child entering the school. This helps prepare the parents and child for the change and it allows the school and the school board the opportunity to know what they will be facing in the next year for extra services.
If early intervention programs are an effective means of addressing problems among pre-school children, thus reducing subsequent education costs, then it is important in this time of fiscal restraint that the government target the places that it will spend its money so that it will get the most bang for the buck. We all recognize the high economic and social costs involved in working with children with disabilities once they are in the P to12 school system.
Through targeting early intervention programs as the destination of government funds, we can both address the immediate needs and minimize the later expenses. For example, last year six children graduated from the early intervention program into the school system. We were able to have intensive discussions between ourselves and the teachers where the children were to be placed. We were also able to have input into individual education plans and we were able to ensure, with the help of both parents and teachers, that the children were fully integrated into their new school, as the integration of children with special needs into the regular programs is a stated priority of the Department of Education.
It is also our duty and responsibility to ensure that children entering the school are fully prepared to cope with the demand of formal school. A number of the children who graduated from our program did not require the services of a teacher aide in the classroom. Others can excel at school sharing an aide with other children. These are the tangible benefits of early intervention. For each child who does not require an aide, there is some direct savings of $15,000 per year.
However, not all the benefits are financial. After having the experience of an early intervention program, the families talk about what it has meant to them. The child has made gains in his or her development; the child has had successful play experiences with other children their own age, and are more likely to be integrated into the community. The parents are educated about their child's condition; the parents feel empowered that they had the opportunity to participate as a team member in discussing goals for their children; and most importantly, parents had support through what are often very difficult years.
In conclusion, children are more likely to reach their full potential because the parents worked hard with them, and their parents had the guidance and support of an early intervention worker. The program help families reduce stress and increase their confidence, so that the whole community benefits from parents who are more knowledgable about health care and education services. Early intervention is a good investment in the future: the future of our children and of our province.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Brenda.
MR. JEROME DEON: The Antigonish Early Childhood Intervention is an incorporated, non-profit organization run by a volunteer board of directors. The board is made up of a group of 10 to 15 individuals who have an interest in the well being of children with special needs, and that service and support be provided to those families. This group,
while responding to the local needs, operate a program following the provincial Standards and Guidelines Manual, Department of Community Services. We need more funding for existing programs.
As an executive director of the board, it is difficult to attract board members because of the huge financial commitment. In Antigonish, although it is a prosperous town, great demands are put on it. There are numerous groups fund-raising for the same dollar. Examples, Canadian Association for Community Living, St. Martha's Regional Hospital Foundation, health groups such as the Arthritis Society, cancer, diabetes, and it goes on.
While Antigonish has survived, we feel that unrealistic expectations are placed on the board to fund-raise this amount. An amount of $10,000 to $25,000 per year is a huge commitment to put on a volunteer board of directors. An enormous amount of hours are allotted to fund-raising compared to other committees on the board. With this financial undertaking, little time is left for board members to spend on other committees. We try to solicit help from parents, and that is not always possible. For example, when you have a child with special needs, it may not be as easy for a parent to volunteer their time.
The ideal scenario would be to have the government fund our administration expense 100 per cent, that would be salaries, benefits, travel and training. Even with that funding to ensure the survival of the program, we would still have to fund-raise a substantial amount to cover such items as phones, supplies, equipment, resource materials. Just as an example, last year, the amount that we had to fund-raise was approximately $11,500. The year before was $21,000, and the year previous to that was $18,000.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Jerome. Pauline.
MS. MACINNIS: My turn again.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Oh, your turn again. I am sorry.
MS. MACINNIS: I am just going to talk about expanding the early intervention programs to cover the province. The Antigonish Early Intervention Program has been successful in providing service to the town and county, however the board of directors still has to deal with referrals from other counties which border ours, that do not have early intervention programs established.
There is a desperate need to establish early intervention programs across the province. We have served parts of Guysborough, Inverness and Richmond Counties for short periods of time, depending on our caseload size, however, this has not been very successful because we are unable to provide full service to them because they are out of our catchment area.
They end up travelling long distances to our centre instead of receiving home visits, and they are receiving less frequent visits, and they could be discharged from our caseload if we receive new referrals.
Guysborough, Inverness and Richmond, and like other areas of Digby, Victoria, Annapolis and parts of Hants County, are all without programs. The reason is not because they do not have the need for or want the program, but because it is very difficult to initiate programs in areas that are sparsely populated. For areas to have to depend on parents, professionals, and community members to submit a proposal when they are not only taking on the commitment of initiating the program, but also the huge financial responsibility, it is unrealistic. Oftentimes what happens is that parents that have worked extremely hard to get the program operating don't get to reap the benefits of it, because of the long wait before funding is granted. By then, their child has turned school age, and is no longer eligible for early intervention.
The establishment of an early intervention program in Guysborough has been attempted, and now this falls on our board of directors to come up with a plan on how to serve this county. With Guysborough, we have provided periodic service and stopped because we were not providing quality service. In 1996, we hired additional staff to serve the families in Guysborough, and to work toward submitting a proposal to the Department of Community Services. The committee was formed with members who all believed that this was something that they needed for their community, but did not feel it was realistic to expect that they could meet that kind of financial expectation.
In 1998, Antigonish submitted a proposal requesting funding under the umbrella of the Antigonish Early Intervention Program to operate a satellite program. The budget that was requested reflects what realistically can be fund-raised in Guysborough. We are awaiting feedback on whether the funding will be granted. These are our attempts to get a program operating in Guysborough and the challenges we face. Early intervention has to be recognized as a necessary program, available when families need it, and accessible to all families raising young children with special needs regardless of where they live. That program should operate knowing that 100 per cent of salaries, benefits, travel, training and resources are covered.
MS. PAULINE SPIN: My name is Pauline Spin, and I have a five and a half year old son. You will have to excuse my voice too, I am sorry, who is currently enrolled in the Early Intervention Program, and has been for about the last year and a half. When we first joined the program, my son, Jacob, had a lot of difficulty socializing with children his own age. As a matter of fact, when friends would come to our home, he would take a temper tantrum and go running and screaming into his bedroom and stay there for the duration of their visit.
Through the early intervention program, he attended a play group two mornings a week, and at the end of that first summer, he was quite comfortable to be with children his own age. It was also suggested that he attend day care, and so, that September, we enrolled
him in day care. He is in day care again this year as well. Another really big hurdle for us was the toilet training. He was four years old and had no interest whatsoever in being toilet trained. But with some helpful suggestions from our paediatrician, Dr. Ahmet, and from our early intervention worker, Brenda, we also conquered that by the end of the summer as well.
This year, our goals for Jacob are to engage him in activities that would make him able to converse with other children his own age, and with his day care workers, also to strengthen his fine motor skills which are necessary for printing, colouring, cutting and gluing. These two goals must be achieved, at least one of them, because right now, when he goes to day care, he doesn't say a word. He is quite capable of talking and can talk quite clearly, but for some reason, he just doesn't feel like he should talk while he is there. If, when he goes school next year, he doesn't talk to the teacher, and he can't produce on paper what she wants him to do, then she is not going to be able to know whether or not he is retaining the information or learning anything. So, it is vital that we try to get him to at least achieve one of these goals.
Brenda and I usually sit down and discuss what the short-term and long-term goals will be, and then we notify day care and of course, they reinforce these goals whenever it is possible for them to do so. Of course, the program is geared towards the needs of the child in it, but I found, and our family has found that it has been quite valuable to our whole family. For instance, they would come out to the house for home visits, and for me, right now, that is really important because I have a six week old, a two and a half year old, and my five and a half year old. For me to pack them all up and drive 20 miles and get there by 10:00 a.m. would be quite difficult sometimes. So it is great that she is able to come out to the house for the visits.
Also, they include other siblings in the activities that they are doing. Of course, to a two and a half year old, it is quite important that he be involved in what is going on. They are great at gathering information for us that would help us to better understand what is going on with our child. They give us books, toys that maybe we need for a specific skill that we are trying to teach him. They notify us of meetings, conferences that we might want to attend, and they are also very good at arranging and attending meetings with us, with other professionals that our child might be involved with, such as the speech pathologist, the physiotherapist, and day care itself.
I think the most valuable aspect of the whole program is that they are there when you need someone to talk to. Sometimes when you are raising a child with special needs, you have some pretty difficult days, and it is nice to be able to pick up the phone and call someone who really understands what you are going through without being judgemental. I think that if nothing else, having a sounding board is sometimes just as important as finding suggestions or solutions to the problem.
I can only say that for myself and for my family, that the Early Intervention Program has been a real godsend to us; our child wouldn't be anywhere where he is at, he has gained so much in the last year and a half, and I am quite confident that he will achieve the goals that we set out for him this year with the help of the program. I think that any family who has access to an early intervention program could only benefit from it as our family most assuredly has done. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. One question, Jacob is now five and a half?
MS. SPIN: Yes.
MR. CHAIRMAN: And I was just going to ask, Brenda, how old would you take a child in the early intervention program, what would be the maximum age?
MS. MACINNIS: Birth to school age.
MR. CHAIRMAN: School age. Okay. So, after this year, Jacob would not be eligible. Mr. Pye.
MR. PYE: I want you to know that there was a presentation in Guysborough last Thursday. In Guysborough, there was a definite recommendation to this committee, and it was made by a presenter for the establishment of a universal early intervention program in Nova Scotia, and that it be fully funded by the provincial government. I take it that you would support such a recommendation?
MS. MACINNIS: Yes.
MR. PYE: Okay. This is just a statement, I want you to know that I recognize the importance of having that early intervention program from birth to six, because it certainly has a significant impact upon the education system from six to 12, which education is a right in the Province of Nova Scotia, not a privilege. As a result of that, it gives the educational boards the opportunity to hire the teaching assistants and to provide that individual educational program that is needed to come along with it, if in fact they have knowledge of the difficulties of the special needs children at an earlier stage. I want to thank you for that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Parker.
MR. PARKER: I guess I just want to follow up on Mr. Pye's question there. He asked you about a province-wide program for early intervention, and I am not sure what you or he meant, was it for special needs children or is it for all children from birth to age five?
MS. MACINNIS: Well, this program is for children with special needs, so I guess we would be looking for a universal program that would cover . . .
MR. PARKER: All special needs children. Is that what you are recommending, is it? Not all children.
MS. MACINNIS: All children with special needs that would require an early intervention program.
MR. PARKER: Okay. The reason I ask that, I know in some jurisdictions, I know there is at least one state in the U.S. that has a program called Head Start, maybe you have heard of it, and it is for all children. They have a program where there is a health care worker, somebody going out immediately after the child is born, into the home, to spend time with the parents, and it is proven that children start to learn almost immediately after birth. It works very successfully I know in some jurisdictions elsewhere.
MS. MACINNIS: The guidelines that we follow which are put out by the Department of Community Services, stipulates the criteria for children being accepted into the early intervention program. So they would have to be either showing a delay in their development or have a diagnosis that would suggest a delay in their development.
MR. PARKER: But would you see any benefit for a program for all children? Or do you feel that it should just be for special needs children?
MR. DEON: The Kids First program, is that not similar to the program that you are talking about? I know we have a program in Antigonish that is called Kids First. I think that is a program geared to all children.
MS. MACINNIS: And that would be through the Family Resource Program. But what we are talking about here tonight is just for children with special needs.
MR. PARKER: Okay. Thanks.
MS. MACINNIS: If we can get funding for that, we will be doing great.
MR. BALSER: Mr. Chairman, perhaps you mentioned, but how many years has your program been in existence?
MS. MACINNIS: The Antigonish program has had funding for the past 12 years.
MR. BALSER: Okay. So, what would be the highest grade level that a child would presently be in or have completed who had come through your program? I can tell you what I am looking for, and then that may help you. Simply, has your organization conducted a longitudinal study or tracking to determine the correlation of success after the program? Some programs appear to be effective initially, and then as the child moves through the system, there may be difficulties that emerge later on.
MS. MACINNIS: Well, two things, this is a program that is almost province-wide and it is Canada-wide as well. This isn't something that is just happening in Nova Scotia, it is all across the country. Second of all, the children that leave early intervention programs don't have the option of going into a segregated classroom anymore, they have to be integrated. They don't have the full-time classrooms anymore.
MR. BALSER: What I was looking for indirectly was simply correlation to support the continuation of the program through the level of success attained, and looking at communities that because of regionalization of school boards you have children who have come through the program and then others who enter school without having come through the program. The argument conceivably could be made that if you monitor the success of the children and how they have been integrated into the school system, there would be a correlation in there for support for the argument to expand and continue.
MS. MACINNIS: There hasn't been any research done on that, but you hear feedback from families and from educators saying that you don't know how lucky you are in Antigonish to have such a program, when in other areas that don't have them, that when they are entering the school system, they are not prepared. The families are not prepared, the child is not prepared, the school is not prepared, and with families that leave early intervention, they are entering the school system knowing what an individual program plan is. They are knowing how to set goals, and how to work as a team member.
MR. BALSER: That would be another part of my question, that is the liaison between your organization and the receiving school, that would be a leg-up in itself, I would think, the fact that you would network with the receiving school prior to the children ever entering.
MS. MACINNIS: Yes. We used to do it years ago, it used to be a few months before the child entered the school system, now the school is requesting that it be even earlier, so now we are looking at children entering the school system for next year.
MR. BALSER: One more question, if I may. In light of the fact that the public school program now requires the development of individualized programs through a consultative process, are you involved in that in terms of establishing the initial program in the primary level? The transition team, so to speak, and the means that come out of that?
MS. MACINNIS: Yes, we are part of the transition team, and we meet usually in the spring, prior to the child entering school, and we pass on our reports stating our goals and where we feel the child is. We are not involved yet with the team meetings that the school has in the fall, once the child is in school, but that has been recommended and it may even happen yet this year for children that have left.
MR. BALSER: Further to that, if I may. If your recommendation was that a child who was entering the primary year would function most effectively with a full-time pupil aide, would that weigh heavily in favour of that in terms of the board's consideration of allocating resources?
MS. MACINNIS: I would say yes. Some schools specifically ask us for our recommendations and others don't. Most times they do.
MR. BALSER: Thank you very much.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Fraser.
MR. HYLAND FRASER: I am just going to say, Brenda, you had indicated early in your presentation that the program started in the early 1980's even though the funding never started until 12 years ago; I think that was, as you probably know, started by parents who had children with special needs at that time, and they sort of got it off the ground, and had to prove to government at that time, the government of the day, that it was a worthwhile program to fund and I think, you know, that the program has proven to be successful, perhaps more so now than ever with the integrated school system the way it is, where special needs children are integrated into the classrooms. I am not sure what other areas are doing. I am sure they are not as well off as we are.
I congratulate you people for carrying on with what you are doing, and I guess as I said in Guysborough, it is unfortunate that areas like that don't have the opportunity now to participate in that. We had a presentation from a mother of a special needs child at that meeting, that showed everybody that was at that meeting the need for such a program in that area. I guess I am pleased that it is in our area, and it started in the town which is an easier place to start than a lot of other rural areas in the province. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. The parent that spoke, by the way, was a person who had been participating in your program, but then you got cut back, and the other person that presented was Isabel den Heyer and you probably know that too. I am just going to exercise a Chairman's prerogative here for a minute. Two quick questions, 20 to 24 students, you said that was too many or exceeded provincial standards?
MS. MACINNIS: That is the provincial standard.
MR. CHAIRMAN: That is the provincial standard, thank you. And the second question is, . . . .
MS. MACINNIS: . . . . for different statistics, different recommended caseload size. For a coordinator of a program who is not supervising other staff, it would be 12 to 15 children on their caseload. Where I am supervising other staff members, my recommended caseload is 10 to 12, and for a part-time hers would about 7 to 8.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Up to 20 to 24, so you are significantly above that. And secondly, the provincial guidelines, what year were they established, and do they need to be updated?
MS. MACINNIS: I am not sure what the original date is on the guidelines that we have now, but they do have a draft copy that is out now this year. It is still in draft form.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. Atwell.
MS. ATWELL: I have a couple of questions. The first one is, is your funding secured through Community Services at this point? How do you apply, do you apply for funding every year? Is it secure funding?
MR. DEON: Actually, in the last few years, it has actually changed. They were, up until last year or two years, covering 75 per cent of our salaries, benefits, secretarial, travel, and training. Two years ago, they changed that because we were sort of compelled, if we didn't spend the money, we would lose it, so two years ago they changed the funding to a block funding. Now we are getting 75 per cent of those, and that hasn't changed in the last two years.
MR. ATWELL: And the other question I had is, do you - and any one of you can answer this - feel that early childhood education offered special needs children should be the responsibility of the Department of Education?
MS. MACINNIS: That is always a dilemma of where we fit, and I guess we have come under the Department of Community Services and I think there may even be discussion happening between the three departments, between Health, Education, and Community Services to talk about that but nobody wants to take us.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Pye.
MR. PYE: Mr. Chairman, it is not a question it is just that I want to make a comment so that everyone is aware that across Canada there are 8 of 10 provinces, plus 1 territory that have an Early Intervention Childhood Program and it is fully funded by those provinces and that territory.
MR. DEON: As I mentioned earlier about attracting board members, at the present time I don't think we have a board member who has a child in the program. These are strictly people who are basically donating their time and it is a lot of time. Of course, we have a hard
time getting someone every year because of the fund-raising. People hear fund-raising and they turn the other way.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much for coming up. I know that the Antigonish program is one of the leading ones in the province and it is not hard to see why.
The next organization is People Opposing Poverty and there are a number of people from that group who wish to make presentations. Are you going to come up collectively or do you intend to do it, I know there are going to be individual presentations but are you going to come together? (Interruption) Come together, okay, thank you. I know that each of you has particular things that you wish to say. I would ask that when you do it, if you would identify yourself please and make sure you are in front of a microphone when you speak. First is Mr. Callaghan.
MR. PATRICK CALLAGHAN: My name is Pat Callaghan and I have been in Pictou County for about 23 years, coming from Prince Edward Island. I am a Clinical Social Worker with a Master's Degree in Social Work and I have done individual marriage and family counselling for that time in private, government and industrial agencies. I am with this group called People Opposing Poverty that was just recently formed in Pictou County to educate ourselves and others on the issues about poverty and its causation - and to try to work toward its alleviation - and its terrible destructiveness in the lives of people.
We want to thank the Standing Committee for taking the time from their own lives to sit here and be with us and others, and the people who are assisting them. In presenting this we are looking at the Discussion Paper that is in front of you or at the back, on Social Assistance - Rebuilding the System, a restructuring initiative they call it. The tone and words of this document suggest a sense in it of rebuilding the system and having many in our group who live daily with poverty, we are perhaps many of those people who are - I myself am not living in poverty - more keenly aware than some others about the need for rebuilding this system. This is especially true with the cuts to social services provincially and nationally which have been generally grossly minimized in this country. So we are greatly concerned with the seeming difference between what is being said in this document and what is being done in this country and in this province.
In its introductory section, the discussion paper suggests the need for change and these are words from the discussion paper: So that Nova Scotians can support themselves; The need for basic essentials before people can use effectively education and training toward greater self-reliance; so that the need for a secure safety net for individuals who cannot support them would exist. For the most part we agree with these statements although the use of certain language like support themselves is misleading and prejudicial, as it implies that supporting oneself is only about access to adequate financial resources.
More importantly, however, we question the integrity of these statements when: a) the paper does not acknowledge cuts in the last few years in Nova Scotia to undermine these very goals and cuts in federal programs that do the same thing; b) that the Government of Nova Scotia has been involved in changing the administration of the social assistance system without adequate consultation with those most impacted by this system, creating confusion among recipients and workers alike; c) that in the present changes that are presently operational just in this last year, the government has cut the incentive to work in half. This is present day practice just instituted under the rebuilding of this system; d) that there is no real effort in this paper to deal with the number one priority promoting poverty in this country and around the world, which is unemployment and how to connect with all of government, business, unions and communities to tackle this major issue together. There is, in addition, no meaningful looking at the definition of work to pay attention to the enormous amount of unwaged work and where it fits in the picture of self-reliance; e) there is no questioning of the market place and how it operates more and more to reduce employment or promote under-employment so that there is more and more need for social assistance. There is no questioning of mainstream economic thinking that puts profit before people, inflation before employment and deficits before people living in poverty; f) there is no effort in the paper to define basic, adequate, in terms of a measurable yardstick, that as its first aim promotes healthy living. This is at the same time that people in Nova Scotia who struggle daily with poverty are now worse off than they were a few years ago. Thus, we are presented with the question of trust in this document and the difference of what is being said and what is being done.
The next section of the paper talks about rebuilding the system. We believe you do not rebuild a system without direct and extensive involvement by those most impacted and all other stakeholders, like is beginning here tonight or has begun in some of your work in other parts of the province. This is a very long-term process as anybody who wants to face reality knows, to change this system appropriately to deal with some of the goals and issues that have been talked about here tonight. The single-tier system is mentioned in the document as being a major milestone. It may be a major milestone from a bureaucratic point of view and, indeed, may promote equity at some point, but whether or not, in fact, it has done that remains to be seen. I think the poor need to be asked about that.
We support the idea of flexibility in the document and the criteria that are listed that the new system should meet but again, it is too vague. When it talks of the needs of people it needs to spell out what needs are and to tie this definition to a goal which clearly affirms healthy living. Like, for instance, if you are going to talk about adequate food it should be measurable in terms of the Canada Food Guide. Self-reliance again seems to imply only financial resources without reference to the other major aspects of peoples' lives. Further, the criterion only mentioned re-entry into the labour market with no reference to how our system needs to challenge the market place to be more responsive to people's needs.
We support the initiatives at the national level to promote better social policy which is again mentioned in the paper, but believe the federal government is short-sighted in talking of child poverty and not family poverty and then not address the major issues already mentioned, like the lack of emphasis on job creation, too much emphasis on the deficit, not challenging the market place, allowing corporations to pay less and less tax while they promote their own ends. It further casts doubt on government's sincerity about rebuilding a system when the Nova Scotia Government has chosen to deduct dollar for dollar, the recent addition to the National Child Tax Benefit Program. It is a grievous insult and extremely disrespectful to talk of using this money, taking it from the hands of people who need it, to put it into programs for them. This is not in any way to undermine early intervention or any other kind of program, it is talking about the source of the funding which is essentially from the poor. This is essentially tearing the system down and further undermining oppressed people. We support the initiatives to keep disabled persons but are unfamiliar enough with the particulars and again the document is vague about those.
In short, does the Government of Nova Scotia really want to contribute to the redistribution of wealth which it says it does in the paper or do we just want to talk about it? If we are just going to talk about it, let us at least touch the major issues that contribute to poverty and the growing trend to poorer distribution of wealth in this country and in every part of the world and let us not take action that is directly contradictory to what we are saying. Other people in the group will elaborate on some more specific concerns as they go goal by goal through the criteria and we may not get through it all but . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Are you going to be able to leave a copy of your presentation with us?
MR. CALLAGHAN: It hasn't been put together yet but we will send it to you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Mary Walters.
MS. MARY WALTERS: My name is Mary Walters. I am a single parent. I am on social assistance and I have been since 1991. I have a 10 year old child who requires special needs and I will get into that a little bit later. I am doing Goal One and Goal Two. I will start with Goal One.
Goal One is to create a fair and equitable system. The first concern voiced was what does fair and equitable mean? When defined, equitable and fair for whom? The next concern is the statement that those who are able to work seek work opportunities. The group began to address this issue in a previous section as there are many issues in this section to deal with, such as pre-employment training. It doesn't exist. The basic realization that bringing up
children in a loving and caring manner must be seen as valiant and necessary work and must be morally and financially supported in an adequate and equitable manner.
Job barriers do exist for people in rural areas and for people living with disabilities. They also exist in the small town arena as well. Such things as self-esteem training, transportation, child care and no opportunity for training and no jobs, or no new jobs, exist. The unpaid work is of no value even though it has been proven over and over again that it adds a great deal to the overall health and well-being of the entire community. In this section, generally, we see a philosophy being put forward with little or no infrastructure in place to support any of it. In fact, there is much happening within the new procedures and policies to indeed sabotage the goals of this and all sections of this report. The committee felt that the questions put forward were generally sincere but do not show an in-depth understanding of the realities people live.
I have addressed the specific questions that were asked in the report. The first question was, should a new program have a separate component for people with disabilities? I believe that social assistance should take into consideration that people with disabilities have different needs. They have more challenges in entering the workforce. Any changes should most definitely take into consideration what type of disability a person has and their ability to become self-supportive.
Question two, should a parent face the same expectations for work as a person without children? No. Single parents must ensure that their children are being taken care of while they work. Consideration should be given to the fact that single parents have only one income but have greater expenses than a person who does not have children, the main expense being child care. They need employment that would enable them to support their family. I would also like to notify you that in Pictou County alone there are 65 subsidized child care spaces; 50 are apparently for pre-schools and 15 are children that are school age. How many people are there, single parents, in Pictou County that need subsidized child care spaces in order to go to work? If there are only 15 for school-age children, and I am a person that wants to go to work, what's the waiting list? Do you have to have a job before you can apply for it and then wait? What do you do with your child while you're on this waiting list? It doesn't make sense.
Question three, should the ages of the children be considered in the employment expectations? Yes. Parents who have younger children who are not in school during the day should have the option of staying home to raise their children until they reach school age. There is also the fact that child care is more costly for younger children than for school-age children since there would be more hours involved. This should be taken into consideration with the fact that children should have the opportunity to form the parental bonding which takes place at a young age.
There is also the real reality that the workforce situation itself doesn't even take into account the parents, the way their situation is, whether they have to be home at 3:00 p.m., whether their schedule can be moved around during the day if they have to have their parental responsibilities of looking after their children.
Question four, should basic benefits be the same for all clients regardless of their needs? I believe that different clients have different needs. Disabled people may need more specialized shelter expenses because they need wider doors, ramps, lowered sinks, bathroom accommodations. Everybody understands that. They may need special food requirements. Sometimes that's not taken into account in their food budget. Parents may need assistance with child care and education upgrading to become working parents and provide for their family. I just stated the child care situation with subsidized child care. We need more subsidized child care.
Single parents may also require upgrading. The upgrading situation is ridiculous. I tried to get upgrading. I was on unemployment at the time. I was told I should be able to save money out of my unemployment insurance to pay my tuition. My tuition was $3,500. I received less than a welfare cheque and I was trying to support my son and myself. There is no way on earth I could save $3,500. It doesn't make sense.
The second part is Goal Two. It is called removing barriers to work. This section offered a challenge to the group and that it is not a simple problem and, therefore, not easy to respond to. If one believes that all citizens have the right to adequate housing, nutritious food with the Canada Food Guide, and the basic amenities to live a healthy and productive life, then this problem is solved. On the other hand, if we as a society are going to punish people for being poor, then we need to set up a system that at least appears to be fair and equitable. In this section we decided the most effective way of addressing this issue would be to agree with all of the policy options and to address the questions directly.
The employment incentives have been defined in previous sections. People need enough income so they are not living in poverty. Minimum wage, you multiply that by 40 hours a week, weekly, yearly, what is it, $11,000? What is the poverty level, $14,000, $16,000? My income is $10,000 a year, $7,000 goes for shelter. I am left with $3,000 to live on. It doesn't address it and my special needs have to come out of that too. People need enough of an income so they're not living in poverty. We need to get back to the national standards as far as the poverty line is concerned and allow people the opportunity to provide adequately for their families.
Of course, it is useful and necessary to pay for Pharmacare while people are in transition to work and the time limits should be worked out by the worker and the client on special needs. There also needs to be an agreement between the federal, provincial and municipal governments to provide a comprehensive job strategy incentive. This would be drafted and given to consumers for approval before implementation. We're talking about
consultation with the people directly involved again which did not happen with the municipal-provincial agreement. That was by invite only and I didn't appreciate that.
We need to be encouraging volunteerism. When you apply for a job, you need to show experience. There is nothing in social assistance that will help me with costs involved in being able to volunteer to get experience, child care, transportation to do this volunteer work to get experience. Employers won't hire you without experience. It is just a basic fact. Volunteerism also enhances self-esteem and increases skill development and job readiness skills and provides a circle of contacts for future jobs and decreases isolation.
I have questions on Goal Two. There needs to be more incentives to assist people to become employed. The first thing that has to be done is to increase the minimum wage to a living wage. I worked out the figure, $220 a week on minimum wage. You take taxes off that. Then you take child care off it. Then you take transportation to work off it. I am allowed to make $200 a month and 75 per cent of the rest. After I work 36 hours in a month, I start going downhill. My net profit, I believe, would be $78 after paying child care, transportation and taxes. The next week that I work, we have the same coming off that $78. I believe for every hour I work I may be taking home $1.00, if that. I'm working for 10 per cent of my wages. No, it was 47.5 cents an hour I believe, I would be working for, after 36 hours. That's ridiculous. (Applause)
You need to provide a more realistic child care program which addresses actual child care costs. Right now, if I wish to access child care costs, I have to reduce my income to the income assistance level. In other words, I would go from $863 a month down to $748 a month, just to access child care expenses which would be $120. My actual child care expenses - because my son is school age - are approximately $217 a month.
In order to access the transportation allowance of $100 a month I would, again, have to live on the $748. I would be allowed a $100 allowance but in order to get a taxi to and from work it's, again, $217 a month. Again, another decrease. I'm losing $109 off my cheque just by accessing these allowances and then I am losing money from child care and money from transportation. It costs me more to go to work than it does to stay home. I don't sit home, smoke cigarettes, drink coffee and I don't go to bingo.
Okay. The next one, training and education are key issues that should also be addressed to enable the person to obtain employment that would provide enough of an income to support their family. People attending training and education should receive financial assistance while they are attending these training sessions.
Consideration should be given as to what the person is capable of. Right now, I believe when you apply for income assistance you're told to go out and ask employers for jobs. Is there no assessment as to what these people are capable of doing, aptitude testing like
they do at Human Resources. There needs to be more communication between Human Resources and Student Loan Boards.
The next section is, single parents should not be forced to attend training or school while they have small children. They should be able to stay home with their small children and raise them, not ship them out or farm them out. Children need their parents at this young age.
Social assistance recipients should be encouraged to seek out other health care programs such as Blue Cross to assist them with special needs or health care costs when they get off the system and obtain work. All effort should be made to help these people find alternate methods instead of Pharmacare once they are off the system. Extending Pharmacare, if no other options apply, is an excellent idea.
Family benefits has no allowances for child care, transportation or special needs. Like I stated before, I would have to take a decrease of $109 a month in order to access these. I think that sucks. To be perfectly honest, it sucks. That happened April 1st and I don't like it. There was no pre-warning. I was told before that I had to just go to the office about two or three days beforehand, tell them what I needed, fine, the cheque would be there the next day. When I did that I was told I would have to give them two to three weeks notice, pre-plan any emergencies. There is no such thing as emergency assistance any more. They told me there would be and there isn't.
This needs to change to give people on family benefits the ability to obtain employment. Income Assistance has very low allowances for child care, transportation or special needs. These are not realistic amounts. If someone on Family Benefits wishes to access these allowances, they are forced to reduce their income. Again, that is not acceptable.
Social services must change their policies to give people the opportunity, ability and the tools to enter the workforce and support their families. People on assistance should not be punished financially for trying to go to work.
Also, one of the other key issues that is a barrier to work is a phone. You're only allowed to have access to a phone for health needs, emergency health concerns. How do you get a job if the employer can't phone you? Is he supposed to call your neighbour and leave a message, and have your neighbour give you the message and then call you back and play phone tag? That's not acceptable.
I want social assistance to give me the tools and the ability to go to work so I can teach my son the value of an earned dollar, not a charity dollar that I have to fight tooth and nail to keep. I do not accept that. My son, when he speaks of buying things, he talks about pricing around and getting the best price. It is not, I want this, it's, where can we get this on sale? He checks flyers. He doesn't look in catalogues. He checks flyers to see sales. He knows now, we live on a very strict budget.
One of the other issues that is not in that report that I would like to address is this delightful little agreement, one between the municipality and the province. Mr. Parker mentioned earlier about some sort of committee. The eighth paragraph here says, a committee of senior officials representing the province and the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities will be established. When? Where is it? I don't know where it is at.
It also says there should be regular communication from the council or municipality with the minister. I've been trying to get my Town Council to find out what the hell happened to my special needs, why I have to book everything in advance, why there is no emergency assistance. It's something we warned them about at a Town Council meeting. I believe it was in March. We warned them this was going to happen.
Francene Cosman - I have a copy of the article from one of the newspapers where she stated, the rates would be increased or remain the same and no one would receive less. I'm calling her a liar, right here, right now. I am furious about this agreement. Special needs is cut off to people on family benefits unless they reduce their shelter expenses, their food expenses, their clothes. It's not right.
The other part that I am really ticked off about is the reason my cheque was reduced lately. The National Child Benefit Program was taken off my cheque. I would like to know why it was taken off my cheque.
MS. REYNDERS: So the government could recoup under losses for waiving loans of $10 million to Michelin . . .
MS. WALTERS: Most likely.
MS. REYNDERS: . . . for waiving loans to other businesses and giving them all the concessions. They had to recoup their losses on the back of the people who are the weakest to fight back and have got no avenue to object.
MS. WALTERS: This little pamphlet I received said, what is the National Child Benefit Program? The first check mark says, help reduce child poverty. If child poverty - if the poverty level is $16,000 and I live on $10,000, obviously, I am living in poverty. My son is living in poverty. You took $50.49 off my cheque. I'm a little perturbed about it.
When I received the Working Income Supplement which this is supposed to replace - which it said on TV, when they came down with the budget - that Working Income Supplement was not taken off my cheque and I am kind of ticked. I want it back and I want it back today. I want it changed. If I have to reduce my income for special needs and emergency assistance - this money could have helped me and my child.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I guess, if I could just, perhaps, make a comment about that and I am not pretending to speak for the minister because I certainly do not speak for her, but the intent of that Child Tax Credit was primarily for people who were working. You should, as I understand it, with the level of income that you have described, be receiving a cheque this month to help you.
MS. WALTERS: So you take $50 from me and give me $20 back. Does that sound fair to you, sir?
MR. CHAIRMAN: I'm not saying it sounds fair. I am simply trying to indicate that that is how I understand it works.
MS. WALTERS: Well, I'm saying the way I understand it is, $50 is being taken from me to fund programs that are not even in place and will not be in place until some sort of study is going to be done in 1999 which is of no benefit to me now, which we need the help now. You are taking this money and you are giving every person in Nova Scotia this Nova Scotia supplement. You are taking the money from me on welfare and you are going to give it to everybody in Nova Scotia. Why isn't this National Child Benefit being taken from people on unemployment insurance? They're not working. It's just for people on welfare.
MR. CHAIRMAN: They probably wouldn't be receiving it. Are they receiving it?
MS. WALTERS: Everybody who has an income under $20,921.00 gets this.
MR. PYE: Everyone in Canada receives the National Child Benefit Program. Everyone that earns an income of under $26,000.00 . . .
MS. WALTERS: No, no.
MR. PYE: Isn't it?
MS. WALTERS: $20,921.00.
MS. WALTERS: Everyone gets it but the only people who have it clawed back are people on welfare who need it.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes. The ones, basically, that you say can least afford it.
MS. WALTERS: That's right.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Again, just going back, the intent of that program when it was signed, and I'm not defending it, I'm just simply trying to describe it, it was intended for people who are working as opposed to people who are not working.
MS. WALTERS: That is not what this document says. This is for children in poverty, it's not for people who work. It's for people who live in poverty. That's what this brochure says that was sent to me.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I haven't seen the brochure so I can't say. . .
MS. WALTERS: It was mailed out with every cheque.
MR. PYE: Mr. Chairman, I just want to make a comment that, in fact, you do make an excellent point. Also, the National Child Benefit Program was, in fact, not clawed back in two provinces: New Brunswick and in Newfoundland.
MS. WALTERS: That's right.
MR. PYE: Also, the intent was, in fact, that - and this is something that has to be reviewed - there may be some discretionary position made with respect to the policies of Community Services and the clawing back of that NCB.
MS. WALTERS: That's right.
MR. PYE: That's something that needs to be looked into. I hear you clearly.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thelma Edwards.
MS. THELMA EDWARDS: That would be me. I am a member of POP; I am also a director of a day care centre; a single mother of two children. I used to be on social assistance years ago and I worked my way off of it, though I am still struggling financially, being a single woman. My daughter is on social assistance.
Most of the things I wanted to address Mary has already addressed. My biggest concern was, upon reading this report, it seems like you are leaning towards putting people back to work. My fear is, the infrastructure is not in place to support this. The child care is not there; there are not enough subsidized child care spaces; there is no work available to people. The work that is available is low-paying. When you consider 80 per cent of single people with children are women, it just stands to reason that you are going to need day care.
The other thing I really wanted to address - again, she touched on this - was the special needs aspect that is gone. For example, when my granddaughter started school - I don't know how you don't recognize school supplies as a necessity but you don't - I had to help her buy those school supplies. As for her eyeglasses, they are still sitting down at Vogue Optical because neither one of us has the money. Because she falls within this guideline of - she's on mother's allowance but if she was on municipal assistance she would get it. She has to reduce her income to qualify.
Up until this point in time, she was supposedly supposed to take her back and forth - because her eye is turning in - to eye appointments. The hospital is, like, two miles away, to the specialist she is supposed to be seeing. She is supposed to buy eye patches and put them on the child; most of the time she doesn't because she does not have the money. Then she is perceived as an unfit mother by some of these specialists. I do what I can but she finally gave up and stopped taking her because she began to feel so inadequate as a mother. I have a very difficult time speaking about this, as you can see.
I feel that the children in poverty are not getting the same health benefits as other children. We say we have an equal health system in this country and we do not. I can't understand why you would not provide for basic needs such as school supplies and I don't understand how you could let necessities go by such as glasses or any other type of medical costs in this country.
Basically, that is all I wanted to say.
MR. PYE: Mr. Chairman, can I make a comment. Thank you. Thelma Edwards, I want to ask you a question. I believe that your daughter who is on social assistance, is on family benefits?
MS. EDWARDS: Yes.
MR. PYE: As a result of family benefits she cannot tap into the IAP, Income Assistance Program?
MS. EDWARDS: Yes.
MR. PYE: It's not municipal assistance, it's the old municipal assistance. However, there is an avenue. Has she talked to her caseworker? Do you have an advocate person who will, in fact, channel you through to IAP?
MS. EDWARDS: Who is she supposed to talk to now? Where the system changed, we don't even know where we're supposed to go.
MR. PYE: If I can just offer a little advice, Mr. Chairman, and all I'm doing is offering you some advice. I don't how correct or how it will be directed here in Antigonish or the surrounding area but I do know that there is, with respect to eyeglasses, an opportunity - even though you are on family benefits - to go over to Income Assistance, to collect that special need out of that pocket and bring it back in to the person who needs the glasses. I was about to say client but I've already been advised that that is not the name.
It can be done. I know that we do it in our offices in the metropolitan area. I think that you should check it out to see if, in fact, she is denied the glasses.
MS. EDWARDS: I think, basically, what they have told her is that because there is a difference between what she gets on mother's allowance and what someone else gets, she is supposed to take that money from the money she's getting.
MR. PYE: Yes. That's what they might tell her because the amount that she is receiving from family benefits is more than she would be receiving from income assistance, so, therefore, she cannot collect those eyeglasses as a special need. All I'm saying to you is that you should go back and take a second look at whether there is the opportunity to do that. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Armed with a note from your doctor.
MR. PYE: Yes, armed with a written note from the eye doctor, the optometrist. With that written note, then there is a requirement to fulfil that.
MS. WALTERS: I've done that. I've brought letters into my income assistance worker from my doctor and it's not covered.
MR. PYE: Well, I just want to say, thank you very much. It will be duly noted and I think that it will go on record.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Bernadette MacDonald.
MS. BERNADETTE MACDONALD: Hi, I'm a member of People Opposing Poverty. I also work at the Pictou County Women's Centre. I'm the Coordinator there. The Women's Centres of Nova Scotia will be doing a presentation and responding. I'm going to be very brief because I don't want to repeat. It's a big ditto in terms of what I see as the Coordinator at the Women's Centre.
I have been an advocate in this community for many years and the main fact that stands out is that social assistance recipients do not have enough money to live on so they are forced to take slum housing, poor housing, inadequate housing or housing so that they don't look like they're on social assistance. They take housing so that it disguises their identity so that impinges on their food budget because the rent is higher than they can really afford.
Without feeling that I want to repeat, there are two things that I really want to say here. One is, I have heard all too often from women how degraded they feel by certain workers at the social assistance office when they have to go in and ask for financial assistance.
The job of the worker is not to judge but to determine a person's eligibility. I feel that some sensitivity training is needed for the workers who have to deal in the social assistance field. I feel that part of that sensitivity should be about that poverty is not just an individual program, we are faced with a social program here. If they could get that and have a
conscience about where poverty is coming from - because it is not their fault. Many things have occurred socially that brought them to that place of poverty.
I feel, just like Thelma, that the - what we are looking at here - and I take my hat off at this committee doing a tour and trying to untangle and trying to come up with something that is going to work. This new program that has been introduced in April is like a Band-Aid because the infrastructure is not there. It is like having an engine that's working, but the car has rusted. So if you don't have a car that has a body that's going to take you through the winter, you will be on the side of the road.
Until - and I have four or five things that cover the until - the rearing of children, particularly pre-school children, is seen as a right and not a privilege. Until the workplace is friendly to a family-leave program, which means a mix of workplace participation and child rearing, so that at three o'clock the parent can leave the workplace and go and meet their child, so that they're not going to get fired next week for needing to do that. We need a friendly leave program because there are not enough subsidized child care spaces available. We need a national program in place and women's groups have been saying this for 20 years now, that we need a national child care program.
Until there is an improvement in household incomes, and whether that be guaranteed annual incomes, starting from there and working up, I don't have all the answers, but I feel that the infrastructure needs to be there in order for this program to work. Until there is a job strategy that focuses on realistic liveable wages and, until, the NCB is given to all low income families, so the poorest of the poor can benefit as well, we will be stuck in a system that will not work because the infrastructure is too weak. Also, in an affluent society like ours, poverty should not exist. Poverty survives in part because it is useful to society or some of its parts. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much.
MS. ARLENE MACDONALD: I am a member of People Opposing Poverty and I am also the Director of Planned Parenthood at the women's centre. I am going to address goal number three and it says, to provide social assistance recipients with support to upgrade skills and education. It is an admirable goal and I took the approach that the chances of the government actually scrapping that April 1st policy are probably nil.
So, to provide social assistance recipients with support to upgrade skills and education, there are specific, realistic steps which must be taken. In the current social assistance policy manual, which just came out, clients are categorized into four divisions
called streams. Skills and education support are offered with a goal of moving clients through the streams until they reach stream one, which defines a client as employable. I don't know how they reached this decision that they could categorize clients into different streams but, if they are going to be set on following this manual, then we have some recommendations on how they can achieve their goals.
The current manual defines a stream-one client on the basis of four criteria, and POP has taken each criteria and made specific recommendations of the support that must be offered to enable clients to meet the criteria. The first goal - and this strictly comes right out of the policy manual that's being followed right now - is that in order to be employable, clients must possess work skills that are in demand in the labour market. In order for this to happen, social assistance must first help the client to identify where the demand is, what sectors offer the most job opportunity, and those change all the time.
They must provide financial assistance to cover the cost of obtaining work-skills training which will realistically empower a client to find a job in today's market. A one year community college program doesn't cut it anymore. University programs, four year programs, maybe even up to a graduate level, computer skills and interact training are just to name a few. The training, six months, or a course here, a course there, it doesn't meet today's job market.
Goal two is, to possess a minimum total, one year, non-problematic work or volunteer experience and/or has sufficient training that would allow access to enter level employment without experience. It is an admirable goal, but they don't actually offer any support to obtain volunteer experience. They have to provide transportation costs, child care costs and they have to make it a public program, so that people are willing to take social assistance recipients as volunteers and train them so that they will gain job experience.
Goal three is, has no noticeable unexplained gaps in work history and does not have a history of being fired or quitting jobs. Before you can expect somebody to reach this goal, you have to help them to address the reasons for the history of firing and quitting and provide support such as anger management, addiction counselling, learning challenge support, physical and mental health support. Clients aren't going to move just because you make that goal, you have to help them to achieve it.
Goal four is, ready and willing to become involved in active job search. You have to address why readiness hasn't been present. For example, résumé workshops, interview workshops, child care for at-home children, lunch and after school child care, access to transportation and funding for child care and transportation, and to address the willingness, self-esteem, self-esteem workshops. Once a client moves into stream one and is labelled employable, in order to help them find work at that point you have to continue the child care and the transportation support in a realistic manner.
I am a working parent and if I work 35 hours or more a week, it is going to cost me $200 a month in transportation - and that's being frugal - and $500 a month in child care. The $200 limit is just ridiculous. I mean that's a realistic value that I live in and I buy my child's clothes at Louie's; I am not a spender.
There has to be a schedule set up that realistically looks at these costs, and it should be followed and clients that start work should not be penalized until, you know, this is set and people have reached a liveable income. The $200 has to be scrapped right off the policy, and most of that policy itself should probably be scrapped and reworked with consultation of the people that are living in that situation right now. A government official who is working and making a lot of money, I don't know how they can say that somebody on social assistance doesn't need as much as they do to live.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. That was a very articulate presentation and you have all raised quite a number of points and raised them very well, too, I would like to point out. Are there questions from any of the panel members?
MR. MACEWAN: They have raised so many good points we could be here questioning them all night, Mr. Chairman. I would love to do it. I would like to ask how many more presenters do we have because I have to drive back home to Sydney and it is about a two and one-half hour drive.
MR. CHAIRMAN: There are four.
MR. MACEWAN: We have four more to go, all right.
MR. CHAIRMAN: You will see that we get a copy of the presentation and I guess it will all be incorporated together. Yours was fairly lengthy and I would like to have that, too, Ms. Walters. Thank you very much.
Wendy Kearley. She's not here? Thank you. The Open Door Society, Valerie Tarso.
MS. VALERIE TARSO: Good evening. My name is Valerie Tarso and I am the Executive Director of the Open Door Society which is a social rehabilitation centre for persons with long-term mental illness; however, I am here tonight presenting as an individual. I bring with me much personal and working experience.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Could you just say one more time what the Open Door Society does?
MS. TARSO: It is a social rehabilitation centre for people with long-term mental illness.
I have had the wonderful opportunity of living on a welfare budget as well, for myself and my two children but, for the past 13 years, I have been working in Pictou County with the marginalized people, a majority of whom get some form of social assistance, whether it is a disability, a mother's allowance, prior to the one-tier system, the municipal assistance, and I have shared stories with literally hundreds and hundreds of welfare recipients.
It seems to me that at some point we have to stop looking at the dollars we're spending and start looking at the individuals on a case-by-case basis. We could do this by eliminating, as we have started to do, the varieties of social assistance. There should be a one-tiered system and we could be working with employment insurance and pensions as well to give all Canadians an adequate living allowance. This adequate living allowance must not only include food and shelter, we also have to look at Pharmacare, dental, glasses, and education. If we could do this, the approach would free up some of the staff time that we have with our caseworkers, some of the paperwork could be eliminated, some of the red tape that you have to jump through to get your glasses could be done away with, and this time an effort could be then diverted to developing individual care plans for those that need the extra help.
This approach would provide an incentive for those that are able to go to work to go to work without stigmatizing the ones that are not able to do that. It would also provide opportunities for people who are unable to work to contribute within their communities, without having the pressure of a full-time job. We have a lot of people in this community who could and do contribute on a volunteer basis which, if they are caught, is against the rules of social assistance. So we are limiting them and they may not be able to handle the pressure of going to work on a day to day basis.
At a certain higher income level the assistance payments could start going down gradually and taking into consideration any extra costs that the client might incur. This approach would also enable us to support our child protection agencies who are currently unable to meet the demands.
If all of the changes took place and we found that we still did not have the money to sustain them, we should be looking to the rich, to the excesses, to the corporate citizens, to the corporations, to the government that is giving them cutbacks, not to the poor for the funding.
While waiting for these changes to occur, and I expect that they will take some time, I have some suggestions of what we could implement almost immediately and the enormous meaning it would have for the recipients.
First of all, the Child Benefit Program. I think that this should continue as long as the child is in an educational setting. If the child no longer lives at home the money should follow the child, maybe not necessarily the parent. I have a daughter at university right now and I know that $50 or $60 a month would be an awful Godsend to her right now. I am a single
parent and cannot afford what the student loan does not give her. She is going hungry to get her education and there is nothing I can do about it.
Persons with disabilities need an individualized care plan based on their situation and not the category of their disability. Just because someone has a mental illness does not mean that they are a throwaway person that we do not have to provide for. We must as a society provide for all people.
One of the big issues that comes to me in my position as Director of the Open Door is that a lot of people do not get their glasses, their dental and for some, not even their Pharmacare. This is a disgrace. I hear when you say go back to your workers. Most of these people come to me and because I am a very strong advocate I have been able to assist some. A lot of the time I have had to go to non-profit community agencies to secure the funding for this. They are out raising the dollars day by day in our community and the community is saying stop, there is no more. But this is a basic need that we must meet.
If you need glasses and you have to drive somewhere and you do not have your glasses, chances are you are going to get hurt and end up in an institution, in a hospital, or wherever, and you are going to cost us a whole lot more money. If you need glasses and you cannot afford them and you can steal the VCR out of your neighbour's house to pay for them, you are probably going to end up in a correctional facility and we are going to pay for it. Let's pay for the glasses and cut out the middle man.
An activity allowance. I think about my child all of the time and I wonder about the children who never have an activity allowance. Those are the ones that cannot play hockey, the ones that cannot be on a baseball team because their parents are on assistance. If we had an activity allowance it would encourage and enable children and families to participate in community events. By making the money available to the child, he or she can decide whether they want to participate in a particular activity and they would not be set apart as that welfare child.
Families that do not access the fund would need to be asked if they are aware of its availability, which is a big problem here, we keep these little secrets to ourselves so we do not spend the money. We do not tell anybody they exist and we need to make people aware that they exist. If there are barriers to their participating and using it, we need to help them overcome those barriers. Children need to be able to be with other children and by not allowing them that privilege we are promoting their ill health.
In-home support workers, and they don't have to be high paid professionals, should be available to all persons having special needs. This could include persons with long-term disabilities and persons having short-term budgeting or parenting problems. Your next door neighbour may be excellent at making a budget. You may not be able to handle your $700 a month. If we could connect the two, we could save a lot of heartache. If you cannot pay your
rent, if you do have an addiction problem and it goes there, we need to divide the money up, we need to have help for that person to get the bills paid so that they are not on the street.
I understand that the changes I have recommended will take a great deal of time and understanding in order to ever come to pass. However, the short-term goals are possible and would promote our moving towards a fair and equitable society. If we want people to be respectful of themselves and to respect their communities, we must first learn to treat them with respect. This means ensuring that everyone has the basic necessities of life. This means providing the appropriate support so that every individual has the opportunity to reach his or her full potential, whether that be a corporate financier or a community volunteer. Thank you for the opportunity of addressing you this evening and I hope your quest and our quest for a better system is successful.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Ms. Tarso. Are there questions?
MR. PYE: Mr. Chairman, I just wanted to make one comment. When I, as a committee member, come here and listen to individuals and I know you made reference with respect to the remark that I made to go back to your worker, I understand in most rural areas individuals do not have the luxury of an advocate to act on their behalf. I am very fortunate to hear that you are one.
The other avenue that I want you to know is that I like to see individuals be persistent and to go back continuously until sometime they recognize that there has to be something to address this particular problem.
MS. TARSO: I support that theory but I must say, however, that my main job is working with people with mental illness and for someone who has a severe anxiety problem, to continue to go back is going to put them in hospital. I can share one instance where there was a gentleman who came to me who needed a root canal. He went to social services and they said, no way, we are pulling that tooth. If you are getting help from us we are pulling that tooth. Well, the thought of having that tooth pulled for him was traumatic. He ended up in hospital for a week. I called social services and I said, are you going to do a root canal on that tooth now? They said we cannot and I said how many weeks are we going to pay for this person to be in hospital rather than pay the $400 for that root canal?
MR. MACEWAN: You got it?
MS. TARSO: Yes, I did. We had it paid in one day. Thank you.
MS. ATWELL: My question is you spoke a little bit about volunteering and how you are penalized for that. Could you tell me a little bit more about that, please?
MS. TARSO: Well, if you have the time and expertise to go out and volunteer you should be able to go and find a job and therefore we are not going to pay you. While you are volunteering you are not available for work.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes, that was the point I believe you made to . . .
MS. TARSO: And that is before you get into the expenses of doing it but I have a lot of people who would like to do it but if they do it they are going to lose their benefits. Are you going to do it?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Are there other questions? Thank you very much for coming out and speaking to us tonight. Again, like the others, a lot of food for thought in what you have said and the committee appreciates it.
MS. TARSO: Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Next is Kids First Family Resource Unit, Ms. Lynn Henderson.
MS. LYNN HENDERSON: Thank you for this opportunity to say a few things. My name is Lynn Henderson and I work at Kids First Family Resource Centre in New Glasgow. I am sorry my co-worker could not be with me tonight, she was doing a parenting program. We work daily with families that are low income, mostly social assistance. We see the need for more programs to help families, to help with everyday needs and obstacles. Part of our job, excuse me, I am a little nervous, is to value parents for doing the difficult job of raising their children. We value the commitment of parents towards raising their children, and believe no parent should be punished or intimidated if they choose to stay home with their children.
We have identified self-esteem as key in working with these parents. Our self-esteem program went very well, that we had all last year, but it left us overwhelmed with the needs of these women, which led us to develop a longer program which we cannot afford to put on. We have been trying to access funds for more programs, but so far have been unsuccessful. In Pictou County, we have not been able to access any kind of financial assistance to help with the parenting programs from Community Services. Guysborough and Antigonish get their funding for these programs directly from Community Services.
Community Services was given so much money to put into parenting programs, but in Pictou County, they saw the need to hire an extra family skills worker. We agree that they definitely did need that. But we continue to get more referrals from Community Services, Children's Aid, Justice Department to take parenting programs, but nobody is helping us to pay for these, and we don't have the money for it.
Right now, we have one parenting program going. We had 24 people signed up for it, 24 parents, and there is only supposed to be 12. We did put on one, and we put three facilitators in, one as a volunteer. Our clients that come feel safe and supported at our resource centres and we have the potential to do a lot for them, but we do need more support ourselves from the partnering agencies that access us as well. We have some dedicated volunteers who give of their time and energy because they feel empowered and supported, and they believe in our philosophy.
I know we have had a lot of success with a lot of our programs and the numbers have really gone up, that are accessing our resource centre. I think it has really helped, because we have been there, my co-worker as well as myself have been on social assistance, we have had to struggle raising kids as single parents, and we really understand exactly what it is like for them, and we offer them encouragement and support in that way. We don't judge them, and we don't look down on them, because we know what it is like.
We welcome reform to the Social Assistance Act, as it is long overdue, however, our concerns are for the clients that don't have their basic needs met, such as healthy diets for their families, adequate housing, self-esteem issues and parenting support. We also can't understand how the government can talk about eradicating child poverty on one hand, and claw back the money intended to help with this on the other hand. We ditto everything that POP said on that, People Opposing Poverty.
We have had assessments done on the resource centres all through Nova Scotia, and the final analysis is yes, these family resource centres are working, but then, in the report, there is this nice plum there for us, because the money that you have taken from the people that are on welfare and put in this fund to put into programs, we are thinking oh wow, we could really use that money to do our parenting programs. We really need it. But at the same time, I can honestly say I would rather see that money go to the people who need it, because it is not worth it. They need the money now, they need to raise their standard of living now, and get more self-esteem, that is just part of the problem. It is a real difficult situation to be in, because you are offering money to us, and we desperately need it, but at the same time, it is hurting the poor. It is a real difficult situation to be in, it is like we are being divided there.
The system creates cheaters, it lowers self-esteem, a lot of people go against their own values that they have, and in most cases, it is a matter of survival, but they could get charged with fraud, but is it fraud or is it survival? We found this paper vague and unrealistic in light of the announcement yesterday that the province is running a deficit. So you wonder, where are we going to get the money for all this, because the whole social assistance needs more money, and then the province, the government is saying, well, we are in a deficit. It doesn't look too good that you are doing these discussions now when the money is just not there. It is not there in that department, anyway.
This cannot be emphasized enough, of course, you can't promote financial independence when jobs are not there, affordable jobs.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much, Ms. Henderson.
MR. PYE: Just one question. Where do you get your funding now? You said that you do not receive funding from Community Services.
MS. HENDERSON: No. We get it from Health Canada, CAPC, Community Access Program for Children.
MR. CHAIRMAN: You also indicated that there was money from the provincial government for this, but in Pictou County they opted to . . .
MS. HENDERSON: Hire a family skills worker.
MR. CHAIRMAN: . . . parent counsellor or worker as opposed to funding the program.
MS. HENDERSON: Yes.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Is that money, do you know, available throughout the province, or was it available to each region?
MS. HENDERSON: I think it was, I am not positive, but I think it was. Antigonish and Guysborough got it from Community Services to do the programming, but with Pictou County, since it is a bigger place . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: They opted to do something else with it.
MS. HENDERSON: Yes. We realize they need it, but we also need it.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Balser.
MR. BALSER: I am not sure if this is a question as much as it is a comment. We have heard a number of presentations about various things, and terms like valuing people, and people talked about the creation of false hope, and sort of the eroding of expectations, and the damage we are doing to self-esteem, and here we are as a committee travelling seeking input. You as a presenter, and maybe you can speak for others, do you have faith that the system can be fixed? Or that it can be made to work? Or do you sort of feel like a voice in the wind, that we will go through the motions, but our expectations are that it will be just false hope created . . .
MS. HENDERSON: I guess, I just have hope that things will change, and whatever I can do to help, I will be there, but, who knows?
MR. BALSER: Hope springs eternal. That is fair, though. There is still that underlying sense of hopefulness.
MS. HENDERSON: I mean, the way everything is going today. I know you guys are intelligent people, you can see what is happening in the world with big corporations and less and less jobs all the time. Everything needs a big turn around.
MS. REYNDERS: May I ask a question? I know this is inappropriate, but may I voice a question? In the Province of Nova Scotia, we are operating on the highest tax basis that we ever have, 15 per cent tax. In the news last week, it was debated that there is even more money that the government wants to take from VLT machines. You can understand why so many of us on assistance are perplexed. With all the revenue that this province is taking in, where in the blue bloody blazes is it all going?
We have seen a deterioration in health care, our education system is ridiculous, and you are taking in all that money. We are not mathematicians and we are not economists, but you have to ask yourself, where it is all going? Why are we feeling so bad about ourselves in approaching you with our problems, like we are bad boys and girls who should be shifted aside, like you are to be seen and not heard, that kind of philosophy?
I think that we have reached the point where we are pretty fed up on it, and yes, we are asking for answers. We would like to know why are we in the situation that we are, given the fact that you are taking in such astronomical amounts of money and we are battling to get a decent standard of living from you.
The other thing I would like to point out to you . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Look, I don't want to cut you off but we do have another presentation.
MS. REYNDERS: I realize that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: And we are running late, so I will give 30 seconds.
MS. REYNDERS: I did just want to make that point. We are all contributing to the tax base of this province and I think that those are questions that should be asked.
MS. HENDERSON: I just want to say one thing before you call the next presenter. There just seems to be a real trend lately of blaming the poor for their own situations and it is really detrimental to people's self-esteem.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. The Pictou County Early Intervention and I believe there are two. Jill Cameron and Lisa Jollymore. Would you identify yourselves please, when you speak.
MS. LISA JOLLYMORE: I am Lisa Jollymore. I am the Co-ordinator of the Pictou County Early Intervention Program and in light of tonight's earlier presentation I will be brief. I am sure you now know more about early intervention.
Basically, I just want to raise the case again for 100 per cent funding of our program. Having already been familiarized with what early intervention is through tonight's earlier presentations, I would again like to stress the need for 100 per cent funding on the part of the Department of Community Services to assist our programs in providing special needs children and their families to receive this much needed service.
The Pictou County Early Intervention Program evolved out of the initiatives of concerned parents and community members. Although the program is partially funded by the Department of Community Services, the early intervention board is expected to raise the remaining monies within the community. This burdens our program and puts financial stress on the services being offered. It may also possibly keep the program from expanding if future funds are not raised.
The importance of early intervention for special needs children and their families is evidenced in the success of all other early intervention programs in the province and in the success of the individual children themselves. Recognizing the need for such programs, we ask that the government consider our request for 100 per cent funding as a priority.
Upon recently writing a letter to the Minister of Community Services requesting 100 per cent funding to provincial early intervention programs, we received a reply stating that our interest in 100 per cent funding would be considered in light of new funds available. The letter went on to say, and I quote, "It is a pleasure to read of the success of your program and how quickly you have managed to address the need in Pictou County.". I was both pleased and a bit confused by this letter. I assure you that the success of our program is dependent upon government support and fund-raising efforts. I also assure you that our program which has been operating for just over one year was the result of the efforts of numerous people and was not developed quickly but rather over years of hard work.
In addition to this, I feel it necessary to say that our program has not even come close to addressing the needs of special needs children and their families in Pictou County. In order to do so we need 100 per cent support from the Department of Community Services. Yes, we
are operating an early intervention program, however, there are other services within the program we could offer with more financial support. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you.
MS. JILL CAMERON: I am Jill Cameron. I am a parent of a child with special needs and I am also the Chairperson of the Pictou County Early Intervention Program.
When our son was born we were met with a great shock. The pediatrician gave us a booklet and sent us home and that was it. When my son was eight months old I was approached by Brenda MacInnis from the Antigonish Early Intervention Program and she asked me if I would like to get something going for Pictou County. So I got together a group of people who are still on our board today. That was in 1995 when we submitted our first proposal. It has been a long hard road and a lot of work by the same people for the past three years.
Without early intervention we were lost at the start with our son. We did not know where to start with him, although I do have to say that we did have very good support from the health professionals in Pictou County. I commend them. We had great support from them, but with early intervention our son has now excelled in many ways. He has been in a program now for the past year and he will be for another year until he goes to school. We expect that he will be going to school next year when he is five.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. It is nice to hear a positive story at the end of the evening.
MS. CAMERON: I do have to make one comment though to Mr. Parker. You asked if this program should be for all children. For all children it would be a luxury. For our children it is a necessity.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. The early intervention programs, as I say, they spoke in Guysborough and two excellent presentations tonight. I was at a meeting this afternoon with the Autism Society of Nova Scotia and again the power of early intervention was spoken of in very positive terms.
That brings the evening to a close. I would like to thank the people of Summer Street Industries for hosting us, to the people of Pictou County area for making such articulate and very powerful presentations. This was truly a good learning experience for us tonight and the way the issues were presented and so many in such a thoughtful and clear way will certainly help us as we try to continue our way around the province and at the end of that time put forth a report to the Legislature. I thank you for coming out and hopefully the input you have will help everybody. (Interruptions)
The report from the committee goes to the Legislature and the Legislature will determine how to distribute it. At the committee, we submit it to the Legislature and the Legislature then does that so for us to give you . . .
MR. MACEWAN: There probably will be maybe several hundred copies of the report printed up and be available to people who want them. I think we could recommend to the committees office that those who made presentations be sent a copy of the report.
Is that agreed?
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The meeting is adjourned. Thank you.
[The committee adjourned at 10:08 p.m.]