MADAM CHAIR: We are going to get started. First of all, welcome; it is very nice to be here. We started on this journey some time ago, I would say around September 15th or 16th. The Standing Committee on Community Services reconstituted itself after the election in March. Prior to that the standing committee had not met since 1993. The background to these public hearings is that we are an all-Party committee, we have three members from each of the Party caucuses in the House of Assembly. By unanimous agreement we decided we wanted to go around the province and hear from Nova Scotians with respect to the social assistance system and the restructuring of social assistance and welfare reform that has been underway for some time. We wanted to hear from people with respect to what their experiences were and what their ideas were for improvements in the system.
We started in Sydney in September. We have been in nine different communities. We have been in Sydney, Port Hawkesbury, Guysborough, Truro, Stellarton, Yarmouth, Kentville, Bridgewater and last week at the Black Cultural Centre in Preston. So we are sort of bringing it home now to metro, I guess, for myself at any rate. I am Maureen MacDonald, I am the MLA for Halifax Needham and I chair the committee. The process that we use in the committee is one where we have a list of presenters we call in the order in which we have them on the agenda.
Sometimes people have written presentations they read from, because that is what they feel comfortable doing and that is fine. Other times they have written presentations that they summarize or just speak to, and that is fine. Other times there are people who just want to speak more or less spontaneously and that is fine as well.
At the end of the evening, if there are people who have not had an opportunity to speak who would like to do that, we would really like to hear from you, even if you have not called in advance. You can indicate to Kim and Darlene, the two women in the front row who work with the standing committee, that you would like to make a presentation.
We try to keep it as informal as we can, which can be a bit difficult given that everything is recorded for Hansard, just as if we were in the House of Assembly. Before we have our first speakers, I will ask the other members of the panel to introduce themselves. We will start with the Vice-Chair of the Standing Committee on Community Services.
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
MADAM CHAIR: I would just indicate that we are a little thin in numbers tonight. The House recessed at 2:00 o'clock this afternoon, to give members from outside of Halifax an opportunity to go home to their constituencies so they can participate in Remembrance Day services tomorrow. I would really like to acknowledge and thank both Mr. Montgomery who has stayed, who is from the Annapolis area and no doubt has a long drive in front of him later tonight, and Mr. Muir who is from Truro, for staying and giving us a quorum so we can proceed tonight. We had not really thought through the scheduling when that happened, when we scheduled. So thank you both.
The first presenter we have is Dalhousie Legal Aid, Professor Vaughan Black.
MS. GILLIAN GRANT: My name is Gillian Grant, I am a student at Dalhousie Legal Aid. I will be making the presentation this evening but Mr. Black is certainly available to answer questions and to help out where I forget things.
We have made a written submission which you have before you and, first of all, I would like to apologize for the fact that we got the name of the committee wrong at the top, so if you could indulge us and ignore it, we would appreciate it.
Second of all, I would like to thank the committee for giving the opportunity to appear before you. It is not often that people get to express their view on such an important issue as welfare reform, so thanks very much.
Dalhousie Legal Aid has had many years experience providing legal representation to people in the Halifax Regional Municipality with low incomes, and we are familiar with many of the social and legal issues that face them. In our experience, levels of assistance provided by the government are too low. Under the current system our clients are often unable to meet their basic requirements of shelter, clothing and nutrition.
I am sure that many other people have talked to you and will talk to you on these issues so I would like to restrict my remarks tonight to those issues that we are most familiar with at Dalhousie Legal Aid, namely, procedure, administrative regularity, due process and protection of human rights under the welfare system in the province.
Since the 1970's there has been a wide-scale recognition that welfare is an entitlement and a basic right of citizenship. Government programs over the years have recognized this and have been administered according to standards of due process, equality and fairness. I should say at the outset that we feel this is far from complete as the courts have yet to interpret the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to guarantee an unambiguous entitlement to public assistance for Canadians.
However, at the outset, I would also like to say that many positive steps have been taken in Nova Scotia. For example, social assistance recipients have the opportunity to challenge decisions made about their entitlement to benefits, withdrawal of their benefits or, indeed, overpayments they are assessed with. They can do this before the Social Assistance Appeal Board; before this board they are also entitled to the right to legal counsel and, in addition to this, they are entitled to receive decisions from the board on their cases.
We do have two principal concerns we would like to raise with you tonight: first of all, we would like to say that despite the progress made in the province, there is a long way to go and we would like to outline some of the areas where we think there is room for improvement; and secondly, we would like to say that the progress that has been made should not be forgotten. It would be unfortunate to go back on reforms that have been made to the system that entitle social assistance recipients to a number of rights and processes, and we think those are quite positive.
I will begin with talking about the right to receive reasons, although people who appear before the Social Assistance Appeal Board - and, indeed, when talking to their social workers - are entitled to receive reasons as to why their benefits are reduced or cut off entirely. However, in our experience, these reasons are often not very detailed and do not spell out the evidence on which the decision was reached. Reasons by the Social Assistance Appeal Board, in particular, although in writing, are frequently brief, as I have said, and generally recite a policy or regulation without giving any interpretation of that policy or any indication of how it applies in the case before them.
Beyond this, the board often fails to make clear findings of credibility in instances where there is conflicting evidence and we see this as very problematic, problematic because the decisions they are dealing with have a fundamental effect on the people who appear before them. Although often the sums of money are not that significant, the effect on the individuals' lives is significant in that they would be denied money to be able to pay for shelter, food and those types of things. Again I would stress here that the province should look into this, should try, I guess, to ensure that the reasons that are provided by the board are fully thought out and
do cite policies and provide the person who is receiving the decision with a better idea of why it was made.
Next I would like to address the issue of adequate legal representation. As I have mentioned, clients are entitled to legal assistance in appealing decisions regarding their social assistance benefits before the Social Assistance Appeal Board; however, many of them cannot afford private lawyers. In the Halifax Regional Municipality they can come to Dalhousie Legal Aid and perhaps Nova Scotia Legal Aid, but this access to legal aid is certainly not consistent across the province. We see this as a very large problem, not only because it is intimidating to make an appeal before the board but also because it is unfair that people in this area have representation and those in other areas of the province do not necessarily.
Next, we have identified problems with time delays. It takes an awful lot of time to schedule a hearing date before the Social Assistance Appeal Board. This is particularly problematic when we are dealing with people who are living very close to the line and do not often have a lot of reserves to help them through, plus this is very stressful for them and, when they do not have them, if they have been cut off and cannot support themselves, it poses even more problems. In addition to this, even if a client is successful at his or her appeal, there is often a disruption of benefits once they have been reinstated and it takes time to have this completed. Again, this is a cause of stress and often disrupts their ability to make budgets and pay bills.
The next area I would like to address is the need to have trained and impartial decision-makers on boards that make decisions about social assistance issues, specifically the Social Assistance Appeal Board. Once again, because the people who appear before these boards have serious problems and the issues that the boards are dealing with are so fundamental to their basic needs, we feel that it is important these decision-makers be highly trained, familiar with the issues facing social assistance recipients, and also that the boards be independent and arm's length from the Department of Community Services. Without this, the principles of administrative fairness and due process are seriously in jeopardy.
I would next like to deal with issues around the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and human rights legislation and how it affects social assistance recipients appealing decisions. Although a number of rights have been enshrined in the Charter, these are not always respected in social assistance legislation and often clients have to resort to going through the courts as opposed to having the government review legislation to ensure that it is consistent with the principles and values outlined in the Charter and, indeed, in human rights legislation.
I would just like to touch briefly on the Rehburg case, which dealt with the "man in the house" rule which is a provision of the family benefits regulations. It was held to be discriminatory under the equality rights provisions in Section 15 of the Charter. Despite this decision - I believe it was made by the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal - the government
continues to prosecute recipients based on the man in the house provision. There have been other examples of this as well.
Finally, something that we are quite concerned about at Dalhousie Legal Aid. The Department of Community Services has recently developed a consent-to-release-information form which recipients of social assistance and family benefits are required to sign in order to get their benefits. This consent to release information is very broad. It includes things like releasing the right of the department to gain information from financial institutions, credit bureaus, insurance companies, Revenue Canada, federal and provincial agencies, employers, landlords, judges of the Family Court, officers of the Family Court, as well as officials from the Maintenance Enforcement Program, which is a very wide scale list of agencies, and the consent to release information form gives the department access to all of the records from all of these agencies, irrespective of the fact that the purpose is to gain some idea of the client's eligibility for social assistance.
We believe that this goes way too far; indeed, it could be termed an administrative stip-search almost for clients who really have no choice but to sign the form as, if they do not, they will not be able to receive their benefits and they often have no other means of having an income or supporting themselves. We believe that this violates several provisions of the Charter as well as common-law principles of administrative fairness and due process.
I would just like to add to that that we acknowledge that there is social assistance fraud and that the government does have to take steps to ensure that public dollars are spent wisely. It is our contention, however, that there are less intrusive ways of doing it and we hope that the department will reconsider this form or perhaps will be forced through a court challenge to make changes to it.
So to conclude our presentation, I would just like to say that we appreciate that pleas for due process, norms of procedural fairness and, ultimately, more law, can appear to carry with them requirements for red tape and court-like processes which conflict with the principle of administrative efficiency. We believe, however, that there have been many steps taken by the government to consolidate the court system as well as to develop a range of alternative dispute resolutions which can be used to speed things along. There is also the possibility that computerization will help in this area as well.
We would like to reiterate, however, that such developments - and when I say developments, I mean in speeding the process along - should not come at the expense of respecting principles of due process and administrative fairness which are essential to the Canadian justice system. They should also acknowledge the fact that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a part of our Constitution and is the supreme law of the land and must be respected at all costs. Thank you very much.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you, Gillian. Are there any questions or comments?
MR. JAMES MUIR: I just have one I guess, Ms. Grant. You mentioned the release of information form and, quite frankly, I was not aware there was one of those. Nobody has ever drawn it to my attention but, when you're talking about less intrusive ways of getting that information, could you just list a couple of those for us?
MS. GRANT: I think that much of the information that they're looking for can probably be obtained from a Revenue Canada tax return, for example, or it can be obtained perhaps from the client providing pay stubs and that type of thing. We feel very strongly that to give wholesale access to all financial records from all financial institutions, as well as all interaction with employers and landlords is just too broad, but I might refer to Vaughan, if you have any other . . .
MR. VAUGHAN BLACK: A particular concern we have with the form is that it requires the client to authorize pretty much every third party that's involved in any aspect of their life - I think with the single exception perhaps of their doctor, although I should point here that because they have to authorize any of their insurers to divulge their insurance records, there are often medical records in connection with that - authorize pretty much everyone who knows anything about them to divulge any information to the department. A particular concern we would have with that method of information gathering is that it is, in our view, likely to have the almost inevitable effect of putting before the decision-makers some irrelevant information.
I am simply thinking if somebody goes down to Family Court and says I need to look at someone's Family Court file because it is likely to have, maybe there has been a maintenance application that is likely to have information in the Family Court file divulging expenses and income and a range of things like that, the Family Court worker is just going to say here is the Family Court file and if that has information in it that someone has all-night parties, or a drug habit, or a range of things that simply may be impertinent to the decision-making process of family benefits, that information is going to be before the decision-makers.
In our view the process itself I think is going to have almost the inevitable effect of getting before the decision-makers' information that is simply not pertinent to the particular process, information that if it were requested on a form, somebody would be able to say I don't have to tell you that. If it were requested on viva voce examination, someone could say that I don't have to tell you that, it is irrelevant whether I have all-night parties or, you know, what my sexual orientation is, and a range of things, but that information is just, I think, of necessity going to come out if someone says that I have the right to look at your Family Court file, your insurance file, and it says: any federal, provincial, municipal or intergovernmental agency.
To get back to your question about a less intrusive means, I think one can simply ask recipients to - and I appreciate this may be more expensive - ask clients to provide given information or a limited release in a given situation, as you know, I want a release to get such and such type of information from the file with such and such institution, and I admit that is a bit more complicated than a blanket, up-front authorization to consult anything. To expand on this, I can't think of any government service - I mean, if you had to fill out this sort of information to get a driver's license or even in connection with your federal income tax, there would be a revolt. I can't think of any government service that requires anyone to provide this sort of blanket authorization to investigate any aspect of your life. Certainly, not even the criminal process requires a person charged with offences to provide that sort of information. While we acknowledge welfare fraud, I think this is a real concern.
MR. MUIR: Just one other quick question that perhaps either of you could answer. Dalhousie Legal Aid, obviously, represents, as you said here, people who are involved in appeals. What percentage of your time, I am talking about the agency's time, would be involved? Do you do this half the time or 25 per cent or 10 per cent or once every seven months?
MR. BLACK: I would be guessing, but I would say 15 per cent of our work is social assistance appeals or court matters arising out of that. It could easily be more. We turn away a variety of cases or turn away a considerable number of cases.
MS. GRANT: It doesn't really make sense for us to represent people at the board if there is not a strictly legal issue, as our resources are limited, as you can appreciate. We often tell clients they would be better off to represent themselves on the matter, both because there is not much more that we can add and also because having lawyers or law students involved in the process often makes it a little bit more adversarial and I think has a detrimental effect on the person's claim. So there are many that we do turn away.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Pye.
MR. JERRY PYE: Madam Chair, my questions are going on the same train of thought of the MLA Jamie Muir with respect to Dalhousie Legal Aid and the Appeals Board. I do know that Dalhousie acts as an advocate for appeals process, but I didn't know it was strictly to deal with the letter of the law issue, as you had pointed out. I thought it was much wider in its scope. I am going to ask you to give me an example of what kind of cases Dalhousie Legal Aid would be expected to handle before the Appeals Board with respect to social assistance and what kind of waiting lists you do have? Those are the first two questions I want to ask.
MR. BLACK: I see Claire McNeil from Dalhousie Legal Aid. I was hoping she would have been here earlier. I think she is better qualified than I am to answer this question but I can answer it.
In terms of waiting lists, I think you should appreciate that we do a range of things at Dalhousie Legal Aid, in addition to this. We do a lot of family work and a lot of criminal work, particularly young offenders. The need for our services is such that we could do 100 per cent social assistance work or 100 per cent family work and so on. In terms of the waiting lists, appreciate that we book appointments at Dalhousie Legal Aid and we open up bookings for two or three weeks a term and sort of fill them up for the whole term. After that, people are just turned away. I do not have a real good sense of what numbers of people would phone us up and simply be told, we are too busy, we can't take you. But I would think that we are fulfilling, say 20 per cent, of the need for, or at least the requests for, legal assistance in respect of social services and family benefits appeals in the metro region.
MR. PYE: Am I led to believe that even though you may turn people away that you don't keep a record of why you have turned people away and the issue they have brought before Dalhousie Legal Aid?
MS. CLAIRE MCNEIL: There would be a number of reasons, just in terms of us being a small office and not having the capacity to meet everyone's needs. The other thing is that we just operate within the metro region and, obviously, there is a huge problem out there with people who live in other regions of the province not having access to legal representation. We get calls, quite frequently, from Cape Breton and Amherst and Yarmouth and all over the province from people with concerns about their social assistance or family benefits entitlement.
MR. PYE: I understand the geographic boundary in which Dalhousie Legal Aid works within. I also, as an MLA, know the number of people who come through a constituency office seeking assistance or referring to me through their conversations, telling me that they are unable to get help from Legal Aid because Legal Aid does not deal with a particular issue, or else Legal Aid is backlogged to such a point and therefore those clients are left in the dark with no one to offer assistance and no one to help them. I guess that expresses the kind of concern that you earlier expressed with respect to the limited resources that you do have.
MR. BLACK: In respect to your question, I think we don't keep full records on people who are turned away. They simply phone up and are told we are busy and they have an appeal date. We say we are full to the limit, you are going to have to handle it on your own.
MR. PYE: I am wondering if there has been any thought after tonight, maybe, of giving that some serious consideration, because I think it is important for government to know who is being turned away from what organizations and/or agencies out there in the community and what kind of concerns they do have, so that we are better able to provide
those kinds of services at a government level, if they are unable to be provided through an agency or an organization.
I guess my last question is with respect to the National Child Benefit Program. Do you believe that is a violation of an individual's right and what violation would it be? I am asking. Going through the province, many recipients have told us that they were appalled by the provincial government's clawback of the National Child Benefit. I am wondering if you have had any calls with respect to that, and legally, how you interpret that, if, in fact, it is a violation of the federal level with respect to all families receiving a benefit.
The other concern I have is with CPP. Now, I do know that sometimes Dalhousie Legal Aid deals with Canada Pension benefits, particularly where individuals are expected to sign release forms because it takes a period of time in which their disability benefit may come to the fore. As a result of that, it may be three or four years. Some people are illiterate, uneducated individuals who, in fact, put an x on a sheet of paper or get someone else to sign that sheet of paper over to the Department of Community Services, entitling them to take back that money. Yet when the time comes and they have found a real need for those dollars and feel they are entitled to it, some don't. Some have not read and all of a sudden it is a clawback by the Department of Community Services through an overpayment and it is taken out. I am wondering how you people view those two issues and how you address them, if you do at all.
MS. MACNEIL: Do you want me to go first? First, with respect to your question about the Child Tax Benefit, I will be quite frank with you that that is not something that we have focused on in particular. I don't have a response for you here today as to what our position is with respect to that. However, I would say that there has been a longstanding problem, from our point of view, with how the legislation defines income and unearned income in particular. Traditionally, amounts received from the government by way of, originally it was called family allowance and then it was called child tax credit and then it was child tax benefit. All that kind of stuff came to recipients and they were allowed to keep it. It was one of the few bits of money that they were actually allowed to derive a benefit from, unlike child support payments or CPP will provide a dependent's allowance for children who are not in the home of the CPP recipient, income like that, which was clawed back, if you want to use that phrase. There is all kinds of money like that that is clawed back from people on a regular basis. I think that it is good that this committee is giving that some attention. The problem is much bigger out there in the sense that there are a lot of funds that people receive for the benefit of their children that they are not allowed to actually derive benefit from because it is deducted dollar for dollar from their family benefits or social assistance entitlement. I think this one is different in the sense that it is a step backward from the previous policy of allowing recipients to actually keep that money.
With respect to the CPP, those retroactive lump sum payments, yes, that has been a concern of ours over the years as to how the government has been going at that and whether people have, in the first instance, adequate legal advice around the implications of signing those waivers or those agreements to assign their benefits down the road and all that kind of stuff, and that has been challenged in the court in various forms, and then the Department of Community Services will go back and redraft the forms and stuff and come at in a different guise. That has certainly been an ongoing concern for our clients, as to how they go about getting at funds from that source as well.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Montgomery.
MR. LAWRENCE MONTGOMERY: You brought up the element of fraud, and you just mentioned it briefly. I was just wondering if you see that as a problem and, perhaps, to what degree it is a problem, and if you have any suggestions or recommendations that you would like to give us here on the panel?
MS. GRANT: Speaking for myself - maybe Vaughan and Claire can add more - I don't think we know much about it, more than the fact that it does exist. It is really an issue for the Department of Community Services more than for us. I don't believe that we have much to add on that.
MS. MCNEIL: I am not sure what the context is of the question that's been posed, but from the point of view of illegal or intentional receipt of monies that people aren't entitled to, I think that is dealt with under the Criminal Code, and the department pursues people. I think if you look at the statistics, there are remarkably few prosecutions for this kind of crime in this province, i.e., I assume that the problem is quite a small one relative to the vast numbers of people who are dependent on social assistance and family benefits for their income.
MR. MONTGOMERY: I was thinking, where you handle a lot of cases, you might be more familiar with that sort of thing, that is the reason I am asking the question.
MADAM CHAIR: Ms. Atwell.
MS. YVONNE ATWELL: At one time, Dal Legal Aid used to be an advocate for poverty groups or groups of people who were looking for some legal advice; I don't know if you still do that or not. How do you see people who are on social assistance or poor people using the Charter to move those issues forward in the court?
MR. BLACK: Certainly we continue, in addition to working on our client files, to be involved with, for example, the Community Advocates Network and a variety of groups who are concerned with poverty generally, and with groups focused on disability or on reforming social assistance. Certainly we consider our involvement with those, and our attempt to
coordinate various types of expertise around that, but our involvement should be focusing on, among other things, challenges through the court system to ways in which the existing system might be thought to be in violation of the Charter or human rights legislation or, just broadly speaking, common-law principles of administrative fairness.
We have, I think, in the pipeline, a couple of challenges that we hope are going to get to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court sometime in the next year and, certainly, we consider that part of our mandate. Again, we have spoken about our resources a couple of times here, and we are often very torn between the need to service individual clients and the fact that we can't keep up with all the demand there is for that, and the attempt to balance it and take a couple of steps back and appreciate that there may be instances when, either working through groups in an advocacy organizing fashion or through the courts, one can challenge it and ideally achieve some large-scale gains.
MS. MCNEIL: I think the other difficulty with pursuing those kinds of cases through the court is that you are dealing with a body, an institution by definition which has very little knowledge of poverty and what that means. I just think of a recent example of a case that we took for some students who were on family benefits and they needed student loans in order to be able to go to school but, when they went to apply for their student loans, they found that the student loan that they were entitled to was far less than what anybody else would have been entitled to, with the same income. By virtue of the source of their income, they were disentitled to receiving a sort of cost-of-living portion of the Student Loan Program, and that didn't seem right to them.
They went to the court on the basis of Section 15 and argued that their equality rights had been violated; there was also a Human Rights complaint filed. Both of those have not succeeded and both of those institutions have taken the view that because these family benefits recipients are already deriving a benefit from the government they are not going to be eligible for this part of the Student Loan Program.
So it is quite a frustrating process to litigate some of this stuff because there is an attitude and a mindset out there that these people are already getting a benefit so why should we help them any more than what we are already doing. It is really unfortunate, it really does stigmatize people in poverty and people who are forced to be dependent on family benefits. Maybe this is just me sounding jaded, but the courts are the best place to have these kinds of things aired and it is good that there is a political process here where we can talk about these things.
MR. PYE: May I ask one more question, Madam Chair?
MADAM CHAIR: Quickly.
MR. PYE: I am pleased to at least have some people from the legal community here this evening, because this has been a troubling spot to me with respect to eligibility review officers. I don't know if you know much about eligibility review officers, the right for them to come in, unannounced, to a residence to search it out and to search out to the community and by way of their reporting back to their superiors, the right to deny individuals benefits which they were actually receiving from time to time. I guess my question to you is, how do I, or how does any other advocacy group tell them that, in fact, this has been a violation, and what can we do to enlighten the client or the recipient that, in fact, there is a violation here and how to address it?
MS. MCNEIL: A violation of . . .
MR. PYE: Their basic individual rights, if it is, in fact, considered to be a violation of their basic individual rights? Just briefly.
MS. MCNEIL: The department made a decision a few years back now to create this position of eligibility review officer, which is kind of a fancy term. What they do is they investigate, they are kind of the welfare cops is what they are. I guess it is a concern as to the methods used and as to how invasive. If you read the policies, in terms of their investigations, there are all kinds of direction to them not to invade people's privacy. When you look at the details of some files, you have some real concerns about them going in. Arguably, they are persons in authority in that sense, when they go into someone's home and take a statement from them with respect to some of these matters, and whether people are getting advised that they have a right to counsel at that point is kind of an open question. I don't have a lot of information on that, but that would be my comment about them.
MADAM CHAIR: I have questions in two areas and they are big areas, so I will try to be brief. One is with respect to the ending of the Canada Assistance Plan. I am wondering what your experience is in terms of the ending of that plan and the national standards that were part of that plan and maybe, specifically, the right of appeal and whether or not you have seen any changes since CAP has come to end and the CHST is in place?
MS. MCNEIL: Officially there has been no change to the appeal process, but we have noticed a real shift in the last year or so, and it is mostly in the area of delay. Perhaps this was already covered in response to earlier questions, but it makes us wonder what is really going on here because it seems to us that there are not sufficient resources being put into the appeals process at all levels of the process, right from the word go. When a recipient sends in a letter saying that they want to appeal, the Director of Family Benefits, what used to be the municipality, is supposed to get back to them right away giving the reasons or outlining the bases of policy and regulations for the decision under appeal, and that is just not happening. People are writing in with their appeals letter and then they come to us, maybe months later and they still haven't received their reasons, so nothing can happen until that piece falls into place.
This is a real shift and a real change from the past practice, when those kinds of reasons would be forthcoming within a reasonable period of time. I am not pointing fingers at any individual within the system, I think that the system is not putting the resources necessary into that part of the appeals process. Right to getting a date, and getting an opportunity to actually appear in front of a Social Assistance Appeal Board, there are delays all the way long the line. I have real concerns around getting dates for emergency hearings, those too, where someone has been cut off, they are not getting assistance pending appeal under the existing regime of regulations, so they have no source of income. You need to set up an appeal date very quickly, and I am very concerned about delays in that area as well.
Officially, no change but, in practice, yes, we are seeing that it is taking longer and longer to have things dealt with.
MR. BLACK: As I say, we did touch on this in the oral presentation; as well it is in the written brief. We refrain from naming clients' names and individual files, we actually have been sort of preparing this and did look at a long list of files where you write the appeal letter and hear nothing for months and months. I would just reiterate that that seems to be an enormous change from even five years ago.
MS. MCNEIL: The old saying, "justice delayed is justice denied", is really true in a lot of these situations. Whereas before, under CAP, you had some guarantee there, some way of maybe forcing your right to have an appeal, now we are sort of waiting on the good graces of the government to provide that.
MADAM CHAIR: That leads somewhat, I suppose, to the next question which is in respect to the provincial takeover of social assistance, because we have been hearing from people around the province on how they view this and what the impact of this has been. I guess my question is, has the system improved since the province has taken it over? Is there more flexibility, a better use of discretion, are special needs available, and are basic needs available? Those are sort of issues that have been raised outside of the metropolitan area, so now they are my questions for here.
MR. BLACK: I would say no, it is simpler. I have not experienced anything that I would label as an improvement. One expects that is right around the corner, that further consolidation and rolling things into one Statute is going to produce something, but it has not been our experience yet.
MS. MCNEIL: I think that is right, that we still have two separate legislative schemes that are delivering social assistance, and the hope was that by making the same department or same individuals responsible for that delivery system, that we would see efficiencies, I guess, of scale or something. Certainly our clients haven't experienced anything of the sort, and when asked, I think people in the department are quite upfront in saying it is taking a while to train people and get them familiar with those systems, and to develop new protocols
to make sure that the thing works smoothly. We haven't actually seen those benefits yet, but maybe they are coming.
MADAM CHAIR: Are there any other comments or questions for the presenters? Thank you very much. That was great.
Our next presenter is Michael Burke, the Director of Hope Cottage.
MR. MICHAEL BURKE: My name is Michael Burke, and I am the Chair/Director of Hope Cottage. We will be making this presentation in five parts, and you have the documentation there. I will make the first introductory remarks and cover Part 1; Neil MacDonald will give the Part II; Amy Moonshadow and Marg Dwyer will do Part III; Mark Boyle Part IV; and then I will be back for Part V.
I am very pleased and our group is very pleased to be here tonight to meet with you and to present some thoughts from both the board of Hope Cottage and also from the people who attend Hope Cottage. Hope Cottage, as you are aware because I know there was a motion in the House on the 26th, is Halifax's first soup kitchen. It was established in 1971 by Father Joe Mills and on September 23rd we celebrated or commemorated, I guess is more the right word, the one millionth meal being served there. Presently Hope Cottage is operating on a budget of about $125,000 a year. All that money comes in from unsolicited donations. We receive no funding from any level of government at this time. We have been running break even for the last 10 years or so. We have now reached the point where we have to put an addition on. The present facility just will not continue to house the people that we are getting. The kitchen is dreadfully small and inefficient.
The building we occupy actually is owned by the Archdiocese of Halifax and we use it free of charge. The addition that we are planning is about $150,000 to $170,000. When I wrote this we were saying we were trying to get in there by Christmas, but we are having a problem getting a building permit because it is an archeological resource, a heritage building, and so we still have not crossed that last hurdle.
Hope Cottage has been around for 27 years and the problem is certainly not the problem of this government. It dates back many years so everybody has had a kick at it. Certainly, this government has an opportunity to do things that maybe will relieve some of the pressure. The Department of Community Services has initiated the process of reforming the welfare system. The minister in her opening letter states that the department, "has made considerable progress in strengthening Nova Scotia's social assistance system over the past year.". It further states that, "As we head toward a new century, Nova Scotians have a renewed sense of confidence and achievement. After five years of successfully dealing with fiscal crises, our government is now able to follow a balanced approach of investing in social policies with careful spending.".
These two statements are in stark contrast to the reality of living on assistance. The successfully dealing with fiscal crisis is seen as cutting the social safety net to ribbons. While these cuts are seen as successful to the government, those persons living on assistance view them less glowingly. The department is boasting of having maintained its budget over the past years under tight economic conditions. It fails to realize, however, that the number of persons on assistance has risen and if you keep the number constant and divide it by a larger denominator, the number per person goes down.
The introduction further states that "Nova Scotia has a history of encouraging creative, compassionate community support that enrich human dignity and spirit." Now, the present reform process, previous cuts, and the clawback of child benefits from people on family benefits does not exude compassion but a spirit of indifference, driven by accountants and ill-informed bureaucrats. While the department is determined to proceed on the reform process, it fails to produce any reasons why or suggest why such a major overhaul is required. What are the reasons for this initiative? The persons who live and will be directly affected by this initiative should have more information and more reasons.
The department concluded the introduction with a call for public consultation. How are people on assistance expected to participate in this would-be consultation? We are particularly thankful to this tri-Party committee for providing this public forum. It is our recommendation to this committee that the Minister of Community Services do the compassionate thing, the just thing and the right thing and conduct public meetings designed to allow and encourage consultation from all sectors of society.
I will offer the following quotation from Frederick Ozanam, the founder of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, "God forbid that we should calumniate the poor whom the Gospel blesses, or render the suffering classes responsible for their misery, thus pandering to the hardness of those bad hearts that fancy themselves exonerated from helping the poor man when they have proven his wrong-doing.".
The following overview will underline some of the problems of the recipients with the system in general and these will be articulated specifically by the following presentations. The present system, Goal 5 of the discussion paper, suggests that the number of abusers is 4 per cent to 5 per cent. The people that we are dealing with suggest that this number is actually closer to 2 per cent or 3 per cent and if we suggest a higher number it artificially inflates the number of abusers and it instills a feeling of resentment in society toward the recipients of assistance.
The high cost of housing is also very difficult on people, single people, particularly. The personal allowance for single people in an unrealistic $225 a month. The resulting accommodations that are available for this amount of money are uninhabitable. Given that rooms are not available for this living allowance, people are forced to spend more of their
money on rooms and then come to places like Hope Cottage for their meals. Again, this is unfair to organizations like our own.
People who are on assistance are expected to be looking for work. Transportation costs are also extremely high and a bus pass presently costs $57 and I think it is going to go up. Again, this puts stress on the people. Caseworkers appear to be overworked making it difficult for people on assistance to contact their workers on short notice or on a regular basis. The system must be designed to react to the peoples' needs. Disincentives to part-time work must be removed. The low dollar value of allowable earnings prior to clawback, $50 for singles, is much too low, resulting in very little incentive to seek some of the growing part-time jobs.
People who are actively looking for work should have the tools available to them to do so. Items like a transportation allowance, a fax machine, computers to surf the net, post office boxes or fixed addresses, local and national papers, a phone with a long distance allowance and educational and training programs are all fairly simple things to add and yet they are things that these people presently don't have.
To allow the succeeding people and the people following more time here, I am going to skip the last section of my first part here, the failed experiment. You can read that, it is presented by Jim Stanford of the United Auto Workers and it does give a ream of statistics which are not really all that productive right here now but it does give you some background as to where we are going and why we are going there. Again, most of this dates back a few years so it is not casting any aspersions on the present government, not that we are trying to do that.
I will go to Part 2 and it is a day in the life and it will be presented by Neil MacDonald.
MR. NEIL MACDONALD: A day in the life, October 16, 1998, Hope Cottage. Madam Chair, members of the Standing Committee on Community Services, I am pleased to have the opportunity of being here tonight, along with a representative number of persons from Hope Cottage. My name is not Alan Fitzgerald but he wrote this and I thought, in theory, important that it should be heard.
To whom it may concern: I wake up. Waking up is a bitch. Here I go another 12 hours on my feet, always moving, always searching, always aching feet. I start my day with hope, I am going to Hope Cottage, a soup kitchen for breakfast and then I am walking over to the Halifax Shopping Centre to the Human Resources Development Canada Employment Office. I will check the job bank computer terminal while there, I go every morning after Hope Cottage. Same faces every day. They tell me the same thing every day, no jobs today. Well maybe a training course will be available if the appropriate matching funds, federal-provincial, gets earmarked and released, they tell me.
I walk the dreary miles back to my room. I get back to my room and stare at the big, brown, old wind-up clock that used to be my grandfather's. The clock permanently records his moment of passing, 5:08 on its face. I gotta shake these blues, I tell myself, so I try to emerge with some ancient Zeppelin - Stairway to Heaven, to raise my spirits. My life is a stairway to heaven.
Actually all these tunes do is bring back memories, old bittersweet memories that get me thinking about the impossibilities in my life. I want some lovin'; I want some sex, but do I really? Some booze and drugs would help, too, but no dice, it's a f... dry f... season. Maybe all I want to do is lie on a bed, fully clothed, in a nice hug instead of sex? Yet, this champagne nirvana desire on my beerless budget sucks, especially when the woman at the front desk does her sexy thing while asking me for another late rent payment. Meaning: this is as close as I get to a sex life. Oh, for a diloudid or a Talwin - artificial heroin for an artificial life - oh, for a cold beer. Oh to feel something, to feel good for just a few hours. I want my life back, f....
Once, during one of my arrest scenarios with the RCMP, I mentioned this sentiment and again to the CPP disability caseworker: I want my life back. Response: social insurance number please.
Back into the fray; back to the chase. Called a janitor buddy, that is, cleaning companies or telemarketing, the only opportunities these days from the courtesy phone at the Metro Turning Point homeless shelter. Oh yeah, I made a list of all the free-of-charge courtesy phones downtown, like the QE II, the Turning Point, Hope Cottage, Discovery Centre, Brunswick Street United Church, St. Mary's Basilica, and MT&T Phone Payment Centre in Sobeys at Fenwick Street and, as a last resort, I dial zero, for operator, and ask her to put me through to an employer sans cash. Some say yes, some say nay. Oh well.
Oh yeah, I heard this from a friend - not me remember - welfare spells farewell backwards. On welfare, farewell to your life, mate. I want my life back. So I try a volunteer opportunity. To keep sane I try volunteer work, but my application for volunteer work is jettisoned when I am told that to have me work as a volunteer could be construed as a conflict of interest. Unexplained, mystifying, God, just like the countless unreturned, f... phone calls, which is a lot of people's experience in trying to communicate with DCS staff. Unexplained, mystifying. Why the hell doesn't DCS return phone calls?
You don't get a job in the 90s, you romance a job. I will drop off a resume maybe at a prospective job lead I have been courting, another one, two miles there and one, two miles back. Gottingen for employment centre and facilities, Halifax Shopping Centre again for more resources and job bank double-check; then follow-ups, leads and supper time at Hope. I'm hungry. So I need to check the clothes. Oh, my God, I am running out of calories and rapidly wearing out shoes, so I need to check the clothing bank at St. Andrews or Brunswick United
Church the next time around that circuit. Walking everywhere gets to be spiritually, f... exhausting.
Excitement at Hope tonight, a two-rounder and the second bout rolled into the street. Stopped the traffic going home on Brunswick Street, clogged up the approach to the Macdonald Bridge. Sport utility vehicles' frustration. Give me a break. Blood and mud with stew, beans and a roll.
But seriously, fights at Hope are really an extreme rarity and Hope Cottage gives me good nutrition and some spiritual energy to keep pressing on, to keep up - I don't know about the good fight - the necessary struggle until I get my life back.
Judging from an informal year and year-in year-out street analysis of the lengthy Hope lineup at 5:30 every night, Monday to Friday, there are a lot of the same faces, but these same faces change on an annual basis or, actually, more frequently. People move on with their lives, they begin to rebuild a place for themselves, perhaps painfully slow in an uninspired North End rooming house, but it does happen. Lives at Hope Cottage do evolve; in most cases with perhaps a humble, yet positive tale to tell.
Well, not today. I head home after supper, pass all the bums on Spring Garden - more out than usual tonight - they have their hats out. I don't have a spare anything, Buddy.
Nobody wants to be on welfare.
Back home. Night time. The worst time. God, I wish I had a woman. Night time is a boring time. Bored. Lonely. Can't leave my room because I can't trust anybody. Robberies lately. Can't afford a TV in my own room. I want to go to the TV lounge, but who wants to abide more shitty welfare stories and more fights when the dreads cut particularly deep? Blood in the corridor again last night. War stories from recovering addicts. Mood trigger, dangers galore. Nobody to bum a cig from. F.... Two-weeks-until-cheque-day blues. Also last night we had another bin, oh yes, another brother binned, another mental health casualty in invisible, nameless, godless war, or so it seems at times. Ghandi said poverty is the worst form of violence.
Another disgruntled consumer of the Department of Community Services' largesse bites the dust. Bedtime. I am tired as f... and my feet are killing me; I wish we had a bathtub. No booze, no drugs, no snuggles to go to sleep with tonight. Will I ever see my kids again? I turn out the lights, go to bed, hoping for release. I try to settle down. Night circles and embraces me. I begin to dream dreamless dreams. Darkness prevails.
The End. (Applause)
We have a quote by Paul Shepard, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy, at Pitzer College, Claremont, California, U.S.A., "The problem may be more difficult to understand than to solve. Beneath the veneer of civilization, to paraphrase the trite phrases of humanism, lies not the barbarian and animal, but the human in us who knows the rightness of birth in gentle surroundings, the necessity of a rich nonhuman environment, play at being animals, the discipline of natural history, juvenile tasks with simple tools, the expressive arts of receiving food as a spiritual gift rather than as a product, the cultivation of metaphorical significance of natural phenomena of all kinds, clan membership and small group life, and the profound claims and liberation of ritual initiation and subsequent stages of adult mentorship. There is a secret person undamaged in every individual, aware of the validity of these, sensitive to their right moments in our lives.".
He is also the author of numerous monographs and essays on psychology, anthropology, ecology, history and ethics. Noted texts by Dr. Shepard: "The Tender Carnivore and the Sacred Game", "Nature and Madness", "Man in the Landscape: A Historic View of the Esthetics of Nature". Thank you very much.
MR. BURKE: All right. Part 3.
MADAM CHAIR: In looking at your written presentation, there is quite a long part left, and I am going to ask that you summarize rather than read from the text, to give other presenters an opportunity tonight.
MR. ALAN FITZGERALD: Excuse me, Madam Chair. My name is Alan Fitzgerald, and I would like to point out that "Today in the Life" that was read, was not written by myself, and I take offense at the language that was inserted was used under my name. I would like to thank Neil for doing the presentation. Thank you very much.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you.
MS. AMY MOONSHADOW: My name is Amy Moonshadow. I am a recipient of family benefits. We are going to do Welfare Priorities and Accountability.
Number one. Fair and adequate treatment to meet needs; fortify individual humanity. To meet that priority, there must be allowances for budgeting for special needs, fair and adequate treatment to meet needs, to fortify individual humanity. The Department of Community Services must reconfirm the commitment to assist those people with special needs or extreme needs. There must be budgeted dollars sufficient to assist those on Department of Community Services assistance with such problems as epilepsy, diabetes and cases of malnutrition.
The mostly nutritious meals served twice daily at Hope Cottage as a stopgap for those in the most extreme need in the long run is not a balanced diet. This does not meet the needs of those with alcohol and drug dependency addictions/afflictions, or those with a no-sugar diet or those on special medications. B-12 and vitamin C, required by many social assistance recipients due to malnutrition and other stresses, as well as those with substance abuse crises in their lives, is sadly lacking.
There are other needs, including technical aids, artificial limbs, hearing aids, assistance for those with vision impairment challenges, special dental and footwear needs, wheelchairs, et cetera. The stories of six month, or longer, waits for wheelchairs are cruel and unnecessary.
Number two. We would like holistic programs that will address the entire community. A great benefit to all members of our community can be provided by holistic programs for the community, to assist in health and healing for the entire neighbourhood. For example, no-cost or very low-cost recreation facilities could be enhanced by the Department of Community Services. This is based on the fact that the more physical activity the people in a community experience, the greater health and general healing will be facilitated.
Number three. No fault/penalty for people who are trying to help themselves through volunteer programs. Please, take the penalties out of the system for people who volunteer. Volunteering gets social assistance recipients out of the house, away from their stressful situations and in an environment that is more stimulating than staring at the wall for hours at a stretch. It motivates the mind in novel ways, instead of maintaining the "welfare blues" status quo that clients fall into when they unintentionally allow their minds to go round and round, focusing on the negative or darker expectations of their lives. Volunteering offers a way out of the dreads.
Volunteering also helps build self-esteem, gets people into the hustle and bustle of the workday world, and assists those interested and motivated to begin to explore new networks and do networking, maybe even some self-employment opportunities. For instance, the VON has provided help for those interested in home care and hospital experiences. Volunteering can sometimes lead to a job in the competitive labour market.
Number four. Make the income assistance during employment transition less difficult by providing a more realistic time-frame before stopping the full rate of assistance. Please, allow transition times for income assistance recipients who begin to enter the world of the employed, at least a 90 to 180 day buffer zone, to be realistic; otherwise, the employability of the recipient with a brand new job could be endangered.
During this very vulnerable start-up time, the beginning of employment, please allow the drug card to be maintained, as well as a realistic build-down time for the removal of all social assistance dollars on the cheque. Also, bus passes are usually required to get to work; additional funds for meals, especially lunches; cleaning; washing and, in some cases, expensive
dry-cleaning of uniforms, suits or the like is also needed. Until that first 90 to 180 day trial period or probation period is successfully experienced, please do not cut off newly employed social assistance recipients, and leave he or she in the lurch. We have to see if the job takes.
Number five. We would like to see Pharmacare coverage for low income individuals, the co-pay system as they have in the family benefits system. Many low income individuals and/or social assistance clients do not qualify for a drug card or the co-pay $3.00 prescription program. This is arbitrary and enhances suffering of clients, especially those with medical and/or psychiatric needs. Please allow the clients to access the $3.00 per prescription program, and pay no more than $3.00 per prescription regardless of the length of the time of the prescription. For instance, a client-renewed prescription for a three month supply, but only has $9.00 to pay upon the receipt.
MS. MARG DWYER: Madam Chair, my name is Marg Dwyer. I am pleased to have the opportunity of being here tonight, along with the representative members of the persons from Hope Cottage. I am going to be dealing with accountability.
Number one. As a department of the provincial government, Community Services must have much-improved internal communications amongst themselves. To deal with that the appeal process must be more expedient and equitable. It is a six month to one year process at present, it is no good. Please make this a shorter procedure. I am not going to go through it all. The appeal process must be more quick, a lot shorter.
Number two. A six month to one year process at present is no good. Please make this a shorter procedure. Do not penalize single moms or dads when the 18th birthday rule comes into effect. Surely there must be a cut-off line drawn, yet in many cases an 18 year old is still a dependent at home with a DCS client. It is punitive to suddenly cut down the DCS client by $200, $300 or $400. Some families will implode if they suddenly find it necessary to absorb such an extreme shortfall.
If the number crunchers at DCS want to do the math, if an 18 year old boy or girl moves into a North End rooming house and requires assistance, the DCS will be paying more dollars than pre-shortfall numbers indicate. Please do not punish single moms or fathers who are applying for two-parent families. There has to be a better way. Also, have no penalty retribution for individuals being persistent when trying to have needs met by a social worker.
Number three. Please do not penalize the persistent client, who continually telephones, writes or shows up in person at the DCS office, please reject any notions of retribution or punitive penalties towards those on assistance who are just trying to meet their individual needs or the needs of their families. Thank you.
MR. BURKE: Thank you, Marg. Part 4 will by done by Mark Boyle.
MR. MARK BOYLE: If I could just read through this fairly quickly, it is only a couple of pages that I put together. Basically my concern though is, as a person on income assistance, I really don't have much choice but to turn to the Department of Community Services for job search resources, because they are not provided to me in any other capacity. I am not afforded money resources for a telephone or newspapers or fax machines or what have you. I have been on income assistance here for 18 months, and I have come to this department, I think, with a pretty good education. I have pretty good work experience, I have qualifications in my field, which are really second to none.
So, I go to this department, and I said, look, I am in a bind here, I am not eligible for the UI programs, although I see them, but you have to be on UI in order to qualify for some of these placements. I go to the job search centre and I go okay, look it, I am in pretty good shape in terms of my qualifications and my work record and so on, let's get me set up. I can identify the research and laboratory facilities here in Halifax where I would best ply my trade. The kind of response I get is, well we don't know what you do, we don't understand that technical stuff so you take care of it yourself, and that is fine.
So then I go and say, okay, what I am going to need is Internet access, I am going to need fax machines, I am going to need telephones. But this is against our policies. We can't let you use Excel because we don't let the clients use software. If I go to use the Internet, no, we don't have this service available to you, go down the street to the YMCA, go down to the North End Public Library, which is all well and good but it leaves me wondering what is that job search centre actually there for? What are they spending money on? I go in there and they seem determined to discourage recipients of income assistance from going in to look for a job. The impression I get is one of, if we could just stop the clients from coming in here we would be okay, we could get through our day's work if we didn't have to contend with these little unpleasantries.
I had occasion once, after writing kind of a nasty letter to the manager of the job search centre, outlining some of my concerns about the lack of service they provide, I was then assigned to a job counsellor. Okay, that is something definite. I went and spoke to this counsellor and I said listen, one thing that I am going to need, given that I have got a background in research laboratories and science, I need to be able to talk to universities and pharmaceutical companies, these technical agencies across North America, if need be. I am going to need to use the Internet. She says okay, that is fine, if something is wrong, of course, you have access to the Internet. I go back down the next day and was told, no, it is not our policy to allow clients access to the World Wide Web. This I find kind of odd and so I am getting two stories from different aspects of the same department. A few days later I question it and in fact, I got kind of irate.
The biggest hurdle that I have encountered in getting myself back into the job force is that job search centre. Every time you turn around they say, no, we don't provide that kind of service, no, I am sorry, we don't have that kind of thing on line. I was patient with them
through September and October of last year while they moved down from the West End Mall, down here and they had nothing going. Then December comes along and it is, well things kind of break down a bit for the holidays. I am anxious to get things out for January so that I can be in touch with employers for January, for the New Year, well, that is not available to you. If you are out of work you are out of luck.
Here is an organization which is funded by public funds, presumably to help people like myself get re-placed into the workforce. Consistently, that is what they do not do. After this denial of Internet access, a few days later I am in there and the same woman who told me no, it is against our policy to let clients use the Internet, she is surfing the web looking for recipes because they are going to have an office party. So that Thursday I go down there and it doesn't matter but in this particular case it was Black Heritage Day. It could have been Thanksgiving Day, it could have been St. Patrick's Day, it could have been anything. I go in there to work on my résumé, I just had a plain bread and cheese sandwich at Hope Cottage and these guys have got a buffet going in the job search centre. I am going in there to do some word processing and they have got jambalaya all over the tables. That is really pretty appalling. If nothing else, it is utterly thoughtless to think okay, we are going to deny you everything except the most basic living expenses and we are not going to let you pursue your job search and what's more, we are having a buffet under your nose. It is just appalling, it has got to be kind of borderline criminal.
If you ask me, the group that was on from Dal Legal Aid, and I realize it is a concern, but you want to talk about welfare fraud and you want to throw that onto people who are on income assistance. Let's start with the presumption that they are all of criminal intent, to me, the fraud is going on down at that Donald MacDonald building. That is where I see it, people who are assigned a mandate to tend to the concerns and the needs of the unemployed or the unemployable or people who need upgraded skills or what have you. The last thing that they do is actually provide a service of any kind.
I find that you have a government agency and I can appreciate budgetary concerns but inside that department you have got a bunch of incompetents who are really more interested in furthering their own careers and ensuring their own pensions and benefits, more so than they are either willing or able to look into the legitimate concerns of people on the system. If you ask me, if you want to save some money don't take it from people on income assistance, just drop some of that department. It is really very frustrating.
The most aggravating thing that I find is trying to work with the resources presumably provided by the department but, in fact, they are not. You are already in a frustrating situation being out of work and trying to get by on a shoestring and you go to approach a government department which is supposed to be helping you and they just heap a bunch of aggravation on top of it and it is kind of unconscionable. I find that I can do much better without approaching that building at all. I turn in income statements and provided I remain eligible then a benefits cheque goes into the bank and as far as I am concerned, all of those people
don't need to be there at all. All you have got is kind of a banking structure where okay, you meet eligibility so you have an entitlement and here you go and just sort of forget the rest of it.
I don't want to just sit here and vent frustrations but, in fact, to me, the biggest hurdle that I have encountered over the last year and one-half in finding employment are the hurdles that are presented to me by the Department of Community Services. Willingly or otherwise, the impression that I get is if we can keep those clients from coming in here our lives will be easier and if they want to come in here well let's just dismiss them quickly because they are all kind of hopeless cases anyway. I would suggest that nothing could be further from the truth. I would suggest that even myself, I am probably more qualified than any of the individuals working down there. I would like to see changes effected in that regard. To me it looks like it is a self-serving and self-sustaining organization running on public funds and pitching the stigma onto the unemployed but in fact, happily enjoying reaping the lion's share of what monies are spent.
MADAM CHAIR: We have heard a fair number of people who are equally as frustrated I would say so we have been toughened up a little bit, we can take it. I realize that you still have another part in your presentation but I am going to draw it to a close because we have used almost an hour. I would like to ask members of the committee if they have any brief questions because we still have three substantial presentations here tonight? Mr. Muir.
MR. MUIR: I have one question. I guess it was Mr. Neil MacDonald who spoke of voluntarism and that is the second time that came up tonight. I take it that if you volunteer then your time is being used so that you cannot actively engage in a job search, is that what the problem with that is?
MR. NEIL MACDONALD: Correct.
MR. MUIR: Okay, thank you.
MR. PYE: Excuse me Mr. Boyle, when you speak about the MacDonald Building are you speaking of a building on what street, where at?
MR. BOYLE: Gottingen Street, the Donald MacDonald Building.
MR. PYE: The Donald MacDonald Building and that is on Gottingen Street? Oh, that is the new building, is it?
MADAM CHAIR: It was the Federal Building.
MR. BOYLE: That seems to be sort of the central office. Certainly, that is where the employment resources and so on are housed there.
MADAM CHAIR: Mike, I don't mean to cut you off. I want to give you a few minutes to sum up as well, and if there are any additional questions or comments from the committee.
MR. BURKE: Okay. Well, just going to the last page, we do have some recommendations that the Department of Community Services must allow consultation and real input from the people the department is designed to serve. We appreciate this forum but we certainly think the Department of Community Services should also be getting real input from the people that it is affecting. Also that the department should put on hold any reform of the welfare system until they can get this input because we are also all very afraid that the word reform usually means cut.
People should be treated with dignity and respect. People must be given real work incentives and the removal of disincentives. The present assistance rates should be evaluated in light of both housing and transportation costs. The Department of Community Services should include independent research into the causes of poverty in the reform process. It is very difficult to solve a problem that you haven't totally articulated. Thank you very much.
MADAM CHAIR: Okay, members of the committee, is there anything further, any other comments or questions? Thank you. It was a very thorough presentation. (Applause)
Our next presentation is from the Nova Scotia Association for Community Living, Dick vander Baaren.
MR. DICK VANDER BAAREN: Madam Chair, I make this presentation on behalf of the Nova Scotia Association for Community Living. A written presentation has been forwarded to you a couple of weeks ago and I see you have it in front of you. Because of the size of the presentation, I will not go into detail and try to explain it. I will restrict myself to making some other remarks which are relevant to this presentation.
Although, on one hand, NSACL, that is the Nova Scotia Association for Community Living, is pleased to be able to address your committee, on the other hand, they ask themselves the question, what is the use? Is this perhaps just another exercise to give the public the impression that their opinions are important, to make them feel that they are participants in the process of reformulating social policy in Nova Scotia?
Within the last few years, NSACL has made several presentations to the Department of Community Services. In February 1995, the department released two discussion papers, one on unlicensed services for adults and a second one on moving toward deinstitutionalization. NSACL submitted their responses to those papers. The department followed up with province-wide hearings, like you are hearing nowadays, and again NSACL
made presentations to those hearings. The expectations of NSACL and the promise of the department was that these submissions would be followed by discussion groups. The only response we received from the department to all the presentations, was a document, Report of Stakeholders Input On Community Residential Services. No discussions ever followed with any of the stakeholder group, as far as we know.
In the spring of 1996, the then deputy minister of Community Services, indicated to NSACL that it was sometimes difficult to deal with the large variety of opinions on the different issues. Of course, that is understandable. So NSACL suggested to the deputy minister that they would be able and willing to bring together a cross-section of organizations and individuals to come to a consensus on some of the most important issues, and with the blessing of the deputy minister, NSACL arranged discussion groups in four different areas of Nova Scotia. The participants in those groups are very knowledgeable people. There is wide experience in the field of disabilities. The result, after at least 10 person hours free of charge to the taxpayer, we released a document called A Consensus for Community Living Arrangements which was presented to the department in December 1962. A copy of this discussion document is in our written submission for your use. One would expect that this effort would have been appreciated and could become and would become the basis of further discussions, especially since it was initiated with the encouragement of the deputy minister and had input of such a variety of expertise.
Nothing is further from the truth. It took repeated requests from NSACL to the department to even get something that showed that somebody had read the document, so you may understand the reluctance of NSACL to give it another try and make another submission. We hope that this submission will be dealt with in a different way.
The fact of the matter is that in the area dealing with required policy for services to persons with disabilities, there are enough submissions on the shelf somewhere that it should be unnecessary to ask for any more submissions. This is the reason why NSACL did not submit too much new material. Instead, we are drawing the attention of your committee to some very helpful documents which have been published recently and which we, as an association, wholeheartedly support. Specifically, some of these documents, it is encouraging to note that at a level of government, it is known what needs to be done. This specifically becomes evident from a paper - which is included again in our submission - called In Unison which was published, I think it was 1998, by the federal, provincial and territorial ministers responsible for social services. This paper shows clearly a change in societal attitude towards persons with disability and an increasing understanding of what needs to be done to improve their lives. What we need to do in Nova Scotia and in the rest of Canada is to change those wonderful visions into action and into legislation, to create a service system that makes those visions a reality. There is nothing really that we need to know except the practicality of creating operational systems to implement it.
I want to draw to your attention, a few issues that NSACL considered especially important. One is that persons with disabilities should not be deprived of their freedom to take charge of their own lives, even if they need support to do so. One simple example: persons with disabilities should be able to decide where they want to live and with whom they want to live. It is a very simple request, a request we all want for ourselves. Of course, within the constraints we are all subject to, be it financial or otherwise. The present system certainly does not recognize this sufficiently. People are still placed with other people, not asked where they want to live, but placed. Placed is a very common word in social services. They are placed with people, they do not choose and in areas which are sometimes far removed from where their basic community is. Even if preferable options and other options are available at equal cost, the system simply does not allow it to do so.
One of the constraints on the present system, which is absolutely ridiculous and should be able to solve that, is that when, for instance, a person's needs are recognized and a budget is attached to it, the person may not have the opportunity to follow their preferred choice because in that specific pot, there is not enough money. However, there is another pot which allows them to go to a licensed home, a more institutional setting. Money is there but cannot be transferred from one pot to the other pot. Our present system has divided things in little pots and if you don't fit that pot, you are out of luck, if you need it or not. There is absolutely no reason that you cannot change it because it is all taxpayers' money. We have to overcome the administrative difficulties - administrative difficulties should not drain the life of people who need it.
It is ironic that in this time of deinstitutionalization, which the government really tries to enforce, people are still being transferred to institutions by simply administrative rules and regulations. They still have it. There are hopeful changes and I am working regularly with people with disabilities and I am working directly with the caseworkers and there is very much goodwill at the level of the caseworkers, although the caseworkers, to a large part, are also restricted by the system they have to work for. But innovations are made and I can testify to that and we are grateful that it is possible. However, things are not embedded in legislation. They are done out of goodwill, they are done because of the initiative and the willpower of the volunteers and cooperation with a lot of caseworkers, but good things are happening.
For instance, I refer back to that document, In Unison, and I have been in the field 30 years, 30 years ago, such a document would have been unbelievable. It would have been called heresy. Now that document, at least, is adopted by the Minister of Community Services. We have to go to the next step and implement those things.
I also want to draw your attention to one specific part of our written presentation which partly answers one of the questions your committee had a couple of months ago when it asked the deputy minister, I think - one of you, I have forgotten who - the question what the regulations were with respect to insurance money. Wasn't it one of you who asked that - for accident insurance when somebody got for suffering insurance payments? I read it in the
minutes. One of you asked it. We addressed, among others, that issue in our document which is a presentation we created on supplementary income for people with a disability.
I want to point out to you, and it is written in the document - and I hope you have time to read it - that a lot of parents and family members supplement the income of their disabled people. It is absolutely necessary because it is very hard to live on $111 for food per month. So a lot of the families put the money in or give extra food. The irony of that is you can do that. Officially there is a limit but nobody will question your limit. They are smart enough not to question that. Officially, you cannot, on a regular basis, give $25 a month, it will deduct it, dollar for dollar, from their income, but unofficially, nobody questions it. That is a good thing. There are good things happening but they are not embedded in legislation.
The thing is, if I, as a father, die, in order for me to continue that ability to supplement, I would have to leave my son or daughter a certain amount of money and under the present legislation, that money is considered an asset and if the asset is over the $3,000, you have to finish the asset, you are all familiar with that rule. What we suggest is that family, parents, friends, should be able to leave a certain amount of money to supplement the basic income for their disabled children, their disabled friends, without that being considered an asset. That is the basis of the document we have submitted to you and we have also submitted to the Department of Community Services. That, we think, is a contribution of our association that needs your thorough attention and I hope it will have your attention.
We submitted similar proposals a number of years ago but the excuse of Community Services was, at that time, we cannot act because there is the Canada Assistance Act that prevents us from doing so, although that was an erroneous statement in itself because other provinces did it. We have now resubmitted similar and changed proposals and we hope you will consider it and help us push that through because there is no Canada Assistance Act to hide behind. They have to face it and it makes a lot of sense that we should give the people with disabilities an opportunity to live a more dignified life because of the financial contributions from the family.
As I said, I do not think there is any point to go to anything of the written presentation because it is too complicated. It will take days of discussion to really get through it. However, I will be very pleased to answer any of your questions. Thank you very much.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you very much. Mr. Pye.
MR. PYE: Madam Chair, with respect to the bequest assets that are left to disabled persons, I want to tell you that I have experienced one of those very such issues where, in fact, a disabled person was receiving assistance from his mother for a period of time. She had passed away and there was a lump sum of money bequeathed into his account for him to look after his needs. The department had cut him off and told him that he must spend those dollars for a period of what they had anticipated was revenue for a period of two years. He then had
to spend that money for a period of two years before he was able to reapply for social assistance. So I want to thank you very much for that recommendation. I think it is a very real, important recommendation and the individual explained to me the kind of difficulties that they had encountered as a result of not having that supplemental income coming through to them. For that very reason, your presence here tonight was, in fact, a tremendous asset because I think that is a recommendation far too often overlooked. That is just a general statement.
MADAM CHAIR: Are there any other questions or comments for this presenter? I have one thing, because it has come up before. At the beginning of your presentation, you raised the question of what is the use of doing public hearings or consultations and where are they going and what will they result in. I think that it is fair to say that there is a lot of scepticism in the public because public consultation processes have been in place and haven't resulted in any action, quite often. So I understand the question and your frustration and what lies beneath it.
I think for ourselves, as members of this committee, we thought it was really important to have a process, first of all, that would generate some public discussion of social assistance reform as it was going on and we were concerned that there was an absence of that kind of discussion and we saw this committee as an opportunity to at least make some space for public discussion of the issues. I think that I speak for all members of the committee. We are all new MLAs here. It gives us an opportunity to become educated about the issues and to get information. It has been quite incredible to have presentations from groups all over Nova Scotia with very different perspectives and vantage points. So it has been very educational.
Ultimately, it is our hope that we will have a report, it will have recommendations and that we, as a committee, will work together where we can in our respective caucuses to see some change, that there will be some social policy change that will better meet the needs of people in Nova Scotia that we have heard from and maybe people we haven't heard from. I understand your scepticism but that is sort of our idealism at this stage anyway in our political careers.
MR. VANDER BAAREN: I would like to make one remark on that consultation process as seen by the present Department of Community Services. That consultation process is indeed, if you look in the dictionary it fits the definition of consultation but it lacks one other definition of consultation and that is that it is mutual discussion. They have never, in the years that I have been involved and I refer to the last four years not the 30 years, they have never discussed. They have never really said, well, this is our input, can you change that, what do you think. They have asked for presentations and spent a lot of money. The minister was around and shaking hands with people and they went all over Nova Scotia but as I said, the only response to those kinds of presentations was simply a summary of what was presented, discussions have never taken place. I am sure you have heard that complaint before because that had been all over the place. It is the definition of discussion which needs to be clarified
to the department and maybe it should be in legislation that if you discuss, you discuss and go back and forth. We don't know if our ideas were accepted, not accepted, what was wrong, why it cannot operate, it was an absolute waste of time in many respects.
In that consensus document, which I hope you will take the time to read, if you see the front list there are a number of knowledgeable people. It is split between parents, professionals and things like that. They spent on their own time many, many hours for eight months. In the beginning we met weekly and later on we at least met monthly, producing a document and at full expectations at the promise of the deputy minister. I explained that those things are unacceptable, they are insulting and they discourage knowledgeable volunteers to give their contribution. I think that is a very, very serious matter and it should be changed and it can be different.
Because of my age, I go back at least 30 years working with the Department of Community Services. I remember the time when the deinstitutionalization process started. We, as stakeholders, parents, were involved in formulating legislation. It is possible, it worked well and they didn't feel threatened. The present civil servants feel threatened, I feel, that volunteers are involved. The government feels threatened because there is only one thing on their minds, budget deficit and they are afraid that by involving the public, that the public will grab money and spend money. They do not realize that there are people in the public that have deep insights into how a good system can work which does not necessarily cost more money at this time, they simply don't want to take the chance.
The government should be instructed by the taxpayers that they have to take that chance and I think the last election was probably a little step toward that, although, frankly, I am not quite sure that when the next government comes in they wouldn't do the same thing. But it is up to us as individuals to prevent them from doing that. These last four or five years have been years of secrecy, years of not being involved with the government and paying lip- service and that has to change if you want good legislation because they are now going to make legislation and have made legislation that has not been put before the consumers of that legislation saying, can you live with that and what is wrong or how could we change it so you can better live with that. It is not only for the people with a disability, I heard at least some presentations here tonight who pointed to the same thing. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: How long ago did you make these recommendations to the . . .
MR. VANDER BAAREN: Which ones, please?
MADAM CHAIR: Specifically, I am thinking about the one around family members being able to leave a legacy?
MR. VANDER BAAREN: That is a recent one and to be quite frank, I am hopeful they will respond to that. I am hopeful and certainly if some pressure comes from the political level, I think they will respond to that because it is not new. Three provinces have similar legislation already so that part, I am hopeful, will come about.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you, very much.
MR. VANDER BAAREN: Thank you. (Applause)
MADAM CHAIR: Our next presenter is Carol Isenor with the Canadian Mental Health Association.
MS. CAROL ISENOR: Actually I am not here by myself this evening, I have with me, Helen McFadyen, who is the President of our Board of Directors of the Halifax branch. Helen also sits on the Nova Scotia Division Executive of the Canadian Mental Health Association.
What you have been handed does not contain all of what we are saying this evening. We thought that if we gave you everything you might read it all and we really want you to listen. The presentation we are going to make this evening is called, Most People Don't Think Twice. Helen and I will begin by trying to paint you a picture, a true picture of individuals in our programs and those in the community who seek our support. This picture will include the past, the present and what could hopefully be a future.
The people I am about to describe are all real people and come from the reality that we work in on a daily basis and at one time, they didn't think twice. These people are now living on assistance but might introduce themselves by talking about the way things used to be. Introduction No. 1: A male, age 52 with a Bachelor of Commerce, had a full-time job up until about five years ago. Introduction No. 2: A male, age 52, married with children, running his own contracting business. Introduction No. 3: A woman, age 36, had a full-time job at a university. Introduction No. 4: A woman, age 46, a university degree in music, voice training, used to take part in provincial competitions. Introduction No. 5: A man, age 55, studying electrical engineering at York University prior to becoming ill. Introduction No. 6: A man, age 41, he was the manager in a convenience store. Introduction No. 7: A man, age 41, had served in the navy, transferred to the army and was a clerk in the army for 10 years. Introduction No. 8: A woman, age 60, had a career as a registered nurse. Introduction No. 9: A woman in her early 30's, who was an officer in the military. Introduction No. 10: A woman, age 55, a university education with a BA, worked for many years with Revenue Canada. Introduction No. 11: A man, age 46, married with family, employed as a manager in a retail outlet.
MS. HELEN MCFADYEN: I am going to try to paint a real picture for you. I didn't think twice, I was 27 years old and living high. I was working as chief cook and steward aboard foreign freighters and tankers. I was making money hand over fist with all of my
expenses taken care of. I had friends all over the world, though I rarely stayed in one place long enough to develop committed relationships. I travelled the world every which way, visiting every continent then living the fast life when ashore. I owned a fast car and kept it in Ottawa for when I needed to amuse myself in Canada. I had several thousand dollars worth of photography equipment and a high-tech stereo. I had nice clothes and I bought myself all the books I wanted. I loved my job and I excelled at it. I was respected by my peers, subordinates and superiors alike. I created delicious meals for my crews and learned how to manoeuvre the system so that the shipping companies I worked for would pay thousands of dollars for delicacies they weren't aware my crews were enjoying.
Yet something was wrong. I felt oddly tormented when sober, so I made sure I was intoxicated most of the time, on inexpensive duty-free booze. Yes, my demons had found me and they had no name. My behaviour became unpredictable and bizarre. I would go for days without sleep and continue to drink, not until I was falling down drunk, just numbed. I hopscotched the world in a frenzy and found no solace. Eventually I abandoned my job.
One day I decided to return to university in my hometown of Montreal. I have little recollection of those four months at McGill. I kept a straight A average, but my behaviour was so bizarre that my family was summoned to the Dean's office. I was asked to leave school and get help. I went to a doctor, and maintained a facade for weeks. Then with the help of 100 pills, I found myself in a coma at the hospital. I woke up three weeks later, and I thought twice.
Eventually I navigated the mental health care system and got onto a regime of medication and therapy. I moved to Halifax and applied for social assistance. I thought twice. I used to think that people on assistance were lazy and losers. Oh, I had compassion for the physically disabled, but I had little use for others, given that my father was mentally ill and we had a rocky relationship. I used to feel superior to people on assistance, as though I had some special powers they did not. I snivelled at workers' compensation claimants and thought EI and assistance was a paid holiday for the lesser-abled.
Assistance seemed so mysterious. All I had heard about it was negative. When I got the forms and sat down with my doctor to fill them out, it really came home. This was going to be a new way of life for me. Soon that small cheque would come, and I would have to deal with life on a shoestring.
MS. ISENOR: Dr. Stan Kucher, the Director of Psychiatry at Dalhousie University, recently commented, during a talk on depression that the simplest explanation he could give for the onset of depression is that somehow the switch gets turned on. So, what has happened to the individuals I mentioned a few moments ago since that switch went off? These individuals live with the daily realization that their lives have changed, that the hopes and
dreams of the future being what they thought it would be are gone, but the new reality doesn't wipe out the past. Remembering what life used to be like is always present.
Not too long ago, most of the individuals that we work with would have spent much time in an institution, but health care reform has changed that. Individuals are now living in communities and to a large degree, communities means living in poverty. In the past, the individuals I mentioned earlier didn't think twice about obtaining adequate shelter or decent clothing and nutritious food. Most of the time, like the rest of us, they did not worry about running out of money halfway through the month, nor did they have to struggle to get out of bed in the morning due to the effects of medication that controls systems, but in many ways makes everyday functioning difficult.
Most of us don't worry about the side effects of medications that make their users appear out of place in society, or have to enhance an identity of being disabled, crazy or less than human to maintain minimal social assistance. Current policy clearly targets the person as the problem, and funding is allocated to fix the problem.
MS. MCFADYEN: After I applied for family benefits and that small cheque arrived, it meant that things were going to be very different from then on. The end of the month comes, and so does the cheque. Once the bills and the rent are paid, I pay a small amount towards a long-standing debt, not a good situation; I have little enough to play with. Then I buy $80 worth of groceries, unless it is an odd month and I need to pay a power bill, in which case it is $60 for the month's supplies. Shopping for groceries is intense. I only do it once a month. I am as cautious as a cougar. I crunch the numbers in my head as I scour the store for buys. It has to work out at the checkout. I sweat bullets as I load my cart. I pick the inevitable cabbage and turnip. Vegetables are just too expensive. At one time there used to be a supplement for diabetics like myself on family benefits, but it is gone. My blood sugars are all over the place because I do not eat the right food at the right time. I am amazed by the odd shopper who strolls along flinging all manner of products in their baskets, regardless of brand and prices. I cannot imagine doing that now. Things like cleansers and toiletries have to come out of the food budget, too. A buck can only go so far. Birthdays and Christmas come and go. There is no money for gifts or cards for loved ones, not even the smallest item. You tend to distance yourself from your family and friends at holidays, at least I do. It is just easier and less depressing.
I am grateful for the Pharmacare component of assistance. That is $350 a month I don't have to come up with magically to pay for medication. But you know what the scariest thing is? It is being one glitch away from receiving or not receiving that cheque and being on the street. One review, one computer error, one postal or bank error.
Clothes come from the clothes depot at the hospital or the Salvation Army. If I had to go for a job interview, even if I felt I could, I don't know what I would wear. Where would I get the extra money for a haircut? It comes out of groceries over a period of two months.
I cannot buy that new best-seller so my name goes on a long list at the library. I hate having to count out how many coffees I am going to be able to afford when I am going out doing stuff or waiting for doctors' appointments. I cannot afford to buy the newspapers so I hang around where I can find an abandoned one. I go to the movies maybe twice a year. My television and stereo are 14 years old. When they go, I will be without home entertainment. It goes on and on, the constant thinking one has to do about things one can afford or things one has to do without.
MS. ISENOR: Our organization made a presentation on the discussion paper, or submission, rather, to the Department of Community Services. I would just like to highlight some of those things; some we have included in the handout for you. I think that the things that occurred to us most were those things that were not even mentioned in the discussion paper. There was no mention, no acknowledgement, of the fact that the current social assistance is totally inadequate in financial, educational and social supports to meet the needs of people. People live in extreme poverty as a result of the present social assistance policy. There is no mention of poverty, why it exists or how or why it has increased or how government cutbacks have contributed to its spread and increase. There is no mention of the persistent critique by many grass-roots organizations and community-based agencies over the past 30 years, pointing out the deficiencies in the social assistance system, including the many studies done by disability groups and other community groups. The major focus is attached to the labour force for all categories of people on social assistance with no mention of meaningful training or work.
In rebuilding the system we have some of the following concerns. The emphasis on equity and fairness does not guarantee accuracy. Our fear is that everyone will be reduced to social assistance rates. What will happen to people on family benefits when it is harmonized with social assistance? What will the new legislation for the single-tier system look like? The administrative system has already changed without a public debate or change in legislation. There must be a statement of principles in the new legislation as well as standards to ensure an adequate, fair and equitable system. The fundamental principles of social assistance must be to assist and support people to live fulfilling and meaningful lives. The standards must include the right to adequate assistance support, not punitive policies and services, equal access and the right to appeal. Duplication of services is a code word for cutbacks for community-based programs. We fear further slashing of these programs and services.
MS. MCFADYEN: Sometimes skills and education are not enough; the desire and will to work is not even enough. Medication works; it reduces the symptoms of the illness, and individuals start feeling better and are ready to return to work. They do return to work, but the stresses of a normal 40 hour week are just overwhelming and we often see a reoccurrence of the symptoms of the illness. This happens all the time.
The present system does not allow for re-entry into the workforce unless full time. Once out, reinstatement into the system is difficult and there are no guarantees that it will happen. There is no acknowledgement that most mental health consumers spend, on average, $300 per month for medication. A minimum wage job with no health plan is not an option. The stress of living in poverty certainly contributes to one's mental health and impacts on one's illness.
MS. ISENOR: When your disability is not as visible, it does not mean that it is not as real, but it does mean that you can be marginalized. What I am about to read may be an example of that. This is a letter from the Department of Community Services, the Halifax District Office. The date is November 3, 1998. It is titled, Notice of delay.
Our department from time to time reviews all files of people receiving family benefits because of a disability. We are currently assessing our family benefits eligibility. As part of this review, we require updated medical information. We are enclosing a medical report to be completed by a medical doctor of your choice. Your family benefits payment for the month of January 1999 and future months will be withheld until we have received the completed medical report.
You can appeal this decision within 30 days of receiving this notification by writing to the below address. Please state the reason for your appeal. If you have any questions or concerns, contact your caseworker listed above.
The individual who shared this letter with us said that if they had gotten this letter two years ago, it would have been enough to put them over the edge. Caseworkers need to be trained for what they do; they need to have an understanding of the impact a letter like this can have. They need a smaller caseload so they can meet and discuss this kind of review with the individuals rather than sending a letter and, do we really need to threaten people who receive very little by telling them to do what we ask or they will be cut off?
MS. MCFADYEN: Do you know that mental health problems affect more Canadians in a year than heart disease and cancer combined? People often avoid seeking help for mental health problems because of the stigma attached. Did you know that one in five Nova Scotians will suffer some form of mental illness in their lifetime? Let's see, there are five of you, so there's a good chance that at least one of you in your lifetime will suffer from a mental illness. What if you couldn't work? It could be you one day who is forced to think twice.
MS. ISENOR: Thank you very much. We are open to any questions that you may have.
MR. PYE: Madam Chair, I just first of all want to have some direction from you I guess. For the record, there was a personal letter read here and I am wondering if it is . . .
MADAM CHAIR: There was no identifying the person.
MR. PYE: There was no identification. I am wondering if, in fact, Madam Chair, the identification of the person can be erased from that letter and we can have copies?
MS. ISENOR: I have done that. Prior to bringing it, I erased all identification.
MR. PYE: Did you? Okay, very good. So I am wondering if we can have a copy of that letter. I would certainly, as a member of the standing committee, appreciate a copy of such a letter. I don't know about the other members, they can speak for themselves. I think it is important that we have access to that kind of information that's being dispensed at the present time.
The second concern that I have is in your presentation to us this evening, in Goal 1, and I want to go directly to the top where your written presentation states, "The single tier system will reduce everyone to the least common denominator of social assistance instead of raising everyone to Family Benefits rates and more flexible policies.".
You specifically imply that it "will reduce everyone". Do you have evidence to that effect? Have there been clients coming to you telling you that, in fact, they have been moved off family benefits to income assistance and so on?
MS. ISENOR: I have indications that it is very difficult to get on family benefits now. I don't think I can say that I have indications that people are being moved off family benefits, but I do know that people are being reviewed who are on community service - or not community services community care which, I believe, now is called community living for adults, which was one more tier up from family benefits. You got some special considerations if you were on community living for adults, one being . . .
MR. PYE: You had a comfort allowance and so on?
MS. ISENOR: A bus pass, that kind of thing.
MR. PYE: Bus passes, et cetera.
MS. ISENOR: I know that people are being removed from that program.
MR. PYE: So there is this real fear that, in fact, that is part of the welfare reform that you have a concern with?
MS. ISENOR: Exactly, yes.
MR. PYE: The final question that I have is on the last page and it is with respect to Goal 7. You say that you have a major concern with the administrative efficiency and the financial sustainability. I guess that's the two-tier system that you're talking about. It was moved or amalgamated from municipal social assistance through to now the provincial social assistance. I guess I am not getting clarity with respect to that issue that you're trying to bring forward to the committee. Can you elaborate more on that?
MS. ISENOR: I think that our concern there is that with creating the policy that will be implemented across the province, then there will be no opportunity for flexibility. People who are administering the policy will be told this is the policy and that's what you make your decisions by. We think that there needs to be room for flexibility, that cases need to be considered on an individual basis.
MR. PYE: So what you're saying in that statement is that the status quo will continue, because that's what's happening now, is it not?
MS. ISENOR: Well, to some degree, yes.
MR. PYE: Thank you.
MR. MUIR: Carol, just getting back to that letter for a minute, the one which Jerry referred to, was that sent to a number of people or was that part of a general pattern?
MS. ISENOR: It is the only person that's a member of any of our programs that has come to us with it, but I know that there have been letters received by others in the community.
MR. MUIR: Secondly, one of the points you've mentioned - I have heard you mention this before - was the idea of a Pharmacare card and the fact that, I think you said on the average the typical person who is receiving mental health services has a drug bill of about $300 a month . . .
MS. ISENOR: That's correct.
MR. MUIR: . . . therefore, I guess, Helen, if you were looking for employment, and you made the comment if you don't get one that has benefits, it is really not realistic and I . . .
MS. MCFADYEN: It is not realistic to go into a minimum wage job without benefits if you have a $300 a month medication bill to pay.
MS. ATWELL: You also mentioned that people who used to be in institutions are moved into the community and are living in poverty. Does the Mental Health Association assist people in finding proper housing or places where they can live or do you work with other organizations that can support people who are looking for decent places to live in the community?
MS. ISENOR: Our branch doesn't have a housing program. We certainly advocate for those looking for appropriate housing but we also work with other community agencies as well.
MS. ATWELL: Thank you.
MR. MONTGOMERY: I would just like to thank you for your presentation because you've hit on - underneath Goal 1: To Create a fair and equitable system you've listed many things. These are the kinds of things that we've heard and you've summarized it very well. To remove barriers to people wanting to go back to work and the dignity and the mainstreaming in our communities, the flexibility of the social worker having more empathy and that sort of thing. These are things that have hit home to us in all of the meetings we have held. I just would like to thank you for that.
MADAM CHAIR: My question is just a clarification. I can't remember if you said in your presentation whether or not you have already forwarded this to the department around the discussion paper document; have you done that?
MR. MONTGOMERY: Part of it has been I think anyway.
MS. ISENOR: It was different than our presentation and some of it was a part of the handout that you received.
MADAM CHAIR: Right. Thank you very much. It was an excellent presentation. Thanks Helen. (Applause)
Our next presentation is by Dawn MacNutt with the Social Assistance Appeal Board.
MS. DAWN MACNUTT: Thank you for this privilege. It felt like an opportunity to come at this time as I had an experience this past year which made me feel very uncomfortable being a member of the Social Assistance Appeal Board, and I have just resigned from that position because of some discomforts that I felt. Many of the feelings that I felt on behalf of clients coming forward were expressed earlier this evening. I think you have access to the report that I wanted to make and I have forwarded this also to the minister's office and to the Director of the Social Assistance Appeal Board when I resigned on September 29th.
Basically, the discomfort resulted in perhaps my own misunderstanding of the role of the Social Assistance Appeal Board when I joined it over a year ago. I felt when people came forward with their appeals that special circumstances could be alleviated by them coming before the appeal board. I learned that as it stands, the Social Assistance Appeal Board hasn't any discretionary powers to alleviate the special needs that people bring. My experience was that people coming forward with their appeals felt there would be an ability for the board to make special concessions. I was interested to hear the Legal Aid Society bring forward their concerns. I think that clients were better served when they had an advocate with them. I especially felt the anguish of the clients who came forward who did not have an advocate with them.
You may see attached some letters which I wrote to the minister when I was feeling inadequate as a member of the appeal board. One particular instance was of a young man who was totally frustrated by the regulations as they exist and he attached in his appeal - and he was as nervous as I am tonight, I can tell you - he took a photocopy of the operating principles and of the mission statement of the Department of Community Services and he brought them in because a couple of the elements of those papers indicates that the department will encourage and help people to become independent and achieve their full potential, and to develop and support programs that help people in need realize their capabilities and maintain their independence. He felt betrayed by the department because these needs of his were not being met.
I had a response from the minister indicating that, and of course the chairmen of the boards that I sat on also helped clarify that we were there to determine whether or not the officers in the department, the social workers in the department, were making correct decisions according to policy, as it exists.
From that point of view, most of them, indeed, were fulfilling their jobs adequately and, therefore, when people came with their appeals, the rules and regulations had been met, so they were denied. So the majority of cases that come before the Appeal Board are denied. I really feel that the system adds to the frustration, the anger and the hurt that clients are experiencing, being in a position of need.
I would, therefore, recommend two recommendations. Whether, they are simplistic or not, I would like them to be considered. One is that there be a dedicated examination or revision of the rules, regulations and budget policies governing the social assistance programs in order to be more realistic and more humane. Secondly, I feel that still doesn't look after the special needs circumstances, as was described here earlier. I heard cases where special diets, special creams are not covered under Pharmacare, they are not covered under the budgetary laws as they exist. I realize that the boards may not be given the power to change those or make changes in the amounts that are given, but I would recommend an Ombudsman within the department that would have a limited discretionary fund in order to respond to those special hardships that transcend the rules. That is, I think, all I have to say.
MADAM CHAIR: Are there any questions?
MR. PYE: Madam Chair, Dawn, I have had the pleasure of meeting you some time back. As a matter of fact, I don't know if many people on this standing committee realize that you, in fact, are an artist, a sculpture artist, as a matter of fact, I do believe. I do believe that some of your very fine work stands out in front of the Civic Centre in the City of Dartmouth.
Secondly, I don't know how long you have served on the board. Can I ask you how long you have served on the Appeal Board process?
MS. MACNUTT: Only one and one-half years, at this occasion. About 17 years ago, I served for one year. It didn't seem as though the crunch was as difficult for people at that time. I wasn't as aware of that, at any rate. I then worked for 16 years as a family counsellor within the Family Services Association. So it was a conflict of interest and I retired from the board at that time and had the luxury of being in a job where it was to help empower people. So it was really difficult to come and realize that my job on the Appeal Board was to make judgements. That is not my skill and I found it very difficult.
MR. PYE: I also have to tell you that, as a former member of city council, I acted as an advocate on a number of occasions before the Appeal Board of the Department of Community Services from time to time. I felt that, at that level, at least, that there was the opportunity for individuals to be heard and some very successful appeals have come out of that. But my understanding is, at the present time, that very few appeals are won by the clients. You are absolutely correct in that. Many of them come to me and say, what is the use of going. Even if I go with you, what are my chances of being successful? You are absolutely right that they work within the framework and the policies that are set out by the department and your board does not have the flexibility to deal with that. They have to see if, in fact, the caseworker has stepped out of that realm in order to challenge the board.
I have some concerns with your recommendation of an internal ombudsman in the Department of Community Services. Many people who do not have advocates and so on and feel that they have been mistreated by any level of government now approach the provincial Ombudsman. They have come to me, and the provincial Ombudsman, I guess, steps in on some occasions and even in the Department of Community Services. But they see that this is an ineffective way of doing something. If you can give me some assurances of how you envisage an internal ombudsman in the Department of Community Services, if you can make that clearer for me, maybe I would be open and more receptive to that. So if you can elaborate on that a bit, I would greatly appreciate it.
MS. MACNUTT: I would like to. I envisage that there are a number of people probably who have not only been through the system but are also professionals in the field. It feels to me as though one person or maybe a small staff at least, could address issues of special needs, people who fall between the cracks, in terms of an appeal system as it exists. I feel it would be the most effective or efficient use of a small amount of money if there was somebody who could hear the case of the special circumstances and in those cases of extreme need, make a discretionary expenditure that would alleviate a lot of extra expense if that person falls over the edge and needs become even greater.
MR. PYE: I have one final question, Madam Chair. In going throughout the province and listening to presenters, we have often heard presenters make reference to the board composition and that there should be members whom, in fact, are on social assistance or people who truly understand the need to be serving on that board. If, in fact, that board deals primarily with error in policy, what effectiveness would there be to have an individual who is a part of the system serving on that board?
MS. MACNUTT: I am not sure whether the Ombudsman would be part of the system. I almost see them as being independent of the department. But my understanding is that there is no area to consider people who have needs that extend beyond the regulations. The instances that I wrote of before I resigned were instances where, indeed, somebody had special dietary needs that weren't covered under the regulations.
MR. PYE: Yes, my question was, would it serve any useful purpose, as a composition of the board, to have someone who is a social assistance recipient or a person with special needs serving on that appeal board process? That is the question.
MS. MACNUTT: Always, I think that would be very useful.
MR. PYE: Thank you.
MS. ATWELL: Madam Chair, I have just one question. The appeal process, is that the final word, if you go through the appeal process and nothing happens? Is there no other avenue for these people to - I mean, can they appeal again?
MS. MACNUTT: They do come and appeal again. Yes, I should know the answer to that. I think probably they would have to bring new circumstances and time always does bring the opportunity to come back with another circumstance.
MS. ATWELL: Is there a long period of time between appeals? For example, if somebody appealed this month and they didn't get a satisfactory solution, how long would it take for them to appeal again?
MS. MACNUTT: It seems to me there is a long gap between their correspondence of appealing and us being called to come. We usually get about 10 days notice or maybe a week even and that is no problem. When we have the information on the appellant it would seem that they have actually applied for the appeal process sometimes a number of months before. I don't know what the problem is there.
MS. ATWELL: Just one final question. So during that time when you are waiting for the appeal - let's say it is two or three months - what happens to the people in the meantime, do they just go without?
MS. MACNUTT: The status quo.
MS. ATWELL: Okay, great, thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Are there any other questions or comments?
MR. MUIR: Just one to follow up Mr. Pye's question. The Appeal Board simply deals with what I will call a matter of law, it has no discretion, I believe, is what your frustration was when you resigned. I guess what Jerry's question was, therefore does it make any difference really if it is persons such as yourself or somebody who is on social assistance on that board because it simply is interpreting the law as opposed to any advocacy?
MS. MACNUTT: As it exists.
MR. MUIR: The other comment was, I think you are suggesting and I take it it happened mainly when we went to the provincial system on April 1st, is that the discretion - we have heard this from a number of places around the province - that was one time there seems to be minimized now, I guess as with anything else. That, I think, is your major concern.
MS. MACNUTT: It is.
MADAM CHAIR: Dawn, I think you have raised one of the more complicated technical aspects, I suppose in some way, around the appeal process. The National Council of Welfare has done many studies on single parents or children in poverty, whatever, over the years; actually it did a study on the social assistance appeal process in every province in Canada, a long time ago. I don't know if it was back in the late 1970's or early 1980's, but they looked at the social assistance appeal process as it was working, and they found that it wasn't working. They had a lot to say about why it wasn't working, and what needed to be done, maybe to make it a more effective process for people on social assistance.
I know myself, having worked in a legal aid setting and having done a fair number of social assistance appeals, how frustrating that whole process is for everybody involved, for members of the board, for appellants, for advocates, for people from the department. In fact, there was never any happy people leaving an appeal room. It is a really difficult process, but at the same time, there is such a need for due process when the stakes are so high in terms of whether or not people have an income or drug cards or those kinds of things. I think it is something that we really need to think about seriously. How do you build those checks and balances into the system so that there is transparency in the decision making, not only is the system fair, but it has to be seen to be fair and responsive, so people understand what went on here and how decisions were made. So, you have raised a really interesting but very complicated and difficult question for us and we will be looking at it, I am sure. Thank you. (Applause)
We have come to the end of list of people who have contacted us in advance, for presentations. However, if there are people here tonight who would like to take the opportunity to speak with us, we would be happy to hear from you, if you have a few brief comments to make. (Interruption) You need to come to the microphone. It has to be on the record.
MR. MUIR: It is recorded, it is like the House, that is the reason for that.
MR. BRUCE COYLE: My name is Bruce Coyle. One comment I have, I heard, should we have welfare recipients on the board? Listen to this, who is going to pay the cost of the welfare recipients' travel, meals and accommodation and will that amount be deducted from the next thousand years of cheques? Thank you. Is somebody going to answer me, please?
MADAM CHAIR: Well, it is something we will have to consider. You have raised it as a question, but it is something that we will discuss, and we will certainly consider.
MR. COYLE: Roberts rules here?
MADAM CHAIR: Rules of the House of Assembly? Yes, as a matter of fact.
MR. COYLE: Question?
MADAM CHAIR: Yes.
MR. COYLE: A person will only reluctantly make a decision when they cannot find enough people to form a committee. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you.
MR. ALFREDO ABDO: Hello.
MADAM CHAIR: Hello. Yes. Could you sit please? It will work better for our recorders. Thank you. Can you state your name?
MR. ABDO: My name is Alfredo Abdo. I am a totally blind person. I took a course about four years ago, here at the community college, Braille and computers. The problem with me, with not too many of our blind population who like to study, and who like to enjoy life and to be something in our lives, especially when we are young and we think we can be something. I have my masters degree in business administration. I lost my sight about eight years ago and I wanted to improve my life, taking a simple computer course, to be able to be in the computer program, because that is new in our lives in this year, 1999 and in the year 2000. Anyway, thanks to Community Services I got that computer class here at the community college. Thank you very much. They thought that by taking that year and a half computer course I could improve my life and maybe find a job. Two or three years ago when I finished that extensive course, I do not have the computer. I could find a computer easily in the flea market or with a friend or with any company around to donate it for me, but what about the speech? The computer speech that is very important for us to see what is on the screen when we have the little computer with the talking speech that you connect to the computer. Community Services think that CNIB pays for a talking watch or a talking computer or the talking speech for the computer, but it costs $1,500. It costs more than a computer. How can we improve our lives if they are wrong thinking that the CNIB, Canadian National Institute for the Blind, pay for things that we need, as a computer system or a talking watch or a talking calculator or many other things like that, special needs.
Three years passed. I almost have forgotten everything that I learned. I feel bad because the government lost money on me. Yes, I do not have the tools to work with. Community Services say to go to the CNIB, they are going to provide you with that. No, you are wrong. The CNIB provides counselling. They teach you Braille. They help you with mobility training and that is it. They could find the products for you, such as a talking computer or a talking watch or things, tools, that blind people need. Not everybody likes to improve their lives in our blind community, because most of the people, they are old and I respect them and they want to be in the corner and they do not want to go any longer to university or help improve their lives in the way young people do. I like to enjoy my life. I do not want to be ever in the system again. I want to be myself and to improve what I learned at university and to be part of the community, enjoying life and having fun. I think I deserve it as a member of the community and that is why I came tonight, to speak for me and for all those people who would like to improve their lives. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Don't run away. We will have a few questions and comments. Thank you very much for coming to talk with us.
MR. PYE: Madam Chair, once again, this is one of the technical aids that is required by persons with disabilities. I guess when you look at it, the Department of Community Services does not provide funding for a technical aid in your particular circumstance, a computer with the talking assistance that you need to continue on.
Alfredo, have you approached the Department of Community Services with a formal request asking them to assist you with the equipment that you need?
MR. ABDO: I asked my worker. He said, no, it is not there. I could do it.
MR. PYE: Can you have someone do that for you? Madam Chair, we will have this on record as one of the many more requests for technical aids and assistance for persons with disabilities, but if I can offer you some advice, it would be wise to do a formal request and then, if it is denied, appeal it and go through the appeal process. You have nothing to lose by doing that. That is only a recommendation from myself.
The other question is, I guess you lost your sight about some eight years ago. Can you just enlighten me as to how that came about?
MR. ABDO: I was mugged here in Halifax. I was 20/20 sighted. I was working for the Sheraton Hotel. One day I was 20/20, the next day I was totally blind, thanks to four stabs in my back and two stabs in my eyes.
MR. PYE: Was it an attempted robbery?
MR. ABDO: Yes, on the street. I didn't want to lose my job. I didn't want to lose my sight. I came to this country about 12 years ago. I am now a Canadian citizen and I enjoy very much living here in Nova Scotia.
MR. PYE: Thank you, Madam Chair.
MADAM CHAIR: Do you mind if I ask you where you live?
MR. ABDO: I live at 3045 Olivet Street, Apartment 15.
MADAM CHAIR: Have you ever spoken with your MLA, by any chance?
MR. ABDO: No. I should, I know.
MADAM CHAIR: We will make sure you do.
MR. ABDO: I should say that we are afraid sometimes to talk, but today I wanted to have enough guts to come to the microphone and say something for the people who are here, right. Sorry about that, but if I need to improve my life and I need to talk for all the people who were with me at the community college, ten people were there. They are losing their time and government is losing their money and we don't have the tools to work with. I am sorry, but I need it.
MADAM CHAIR: You have absolutely no reason to apologize. We are really glad you came forward and we will talk to you later when it is finished, so don't run away. Thank you very much.
MR. ABDO: Thank you very much. (Applause)
MADAM CHAIR: Is there anybody else who would like to speak?
MR. KEITH GILLIS: Good evening and thank you. This past summer, on July 23, 1998, I found myself in the unfortunate position of having no job, no place to live and no money. I have never been unemployed in 20 years, I never requested social assistance, I found myself turning to the Department of Community Services and other government funded agencies. What I was met with left me feeling degraded, humiliated and ashamed to be born and raised in Nova Scotia. From these agencies and employees of these agencies, I received insults, had my intelligence tested, my sanity questioned, accused of making bomb threats and harassing phone calls. What happened to the financial and employment assistance, the compassion and hope these agencies are there to provide?
As the long, hot summer days passed, my health was deteriorating and I had a medical assessment, keeping me off work until November 1, 1998. This medical assessment carried no weight in obtaining assistance. It was only with my own will and determination to survive, as well as the support of places like Hope Cottage, Brunswick Street United Church, and other community churches, that I was able to survive and arrive back on my feet. What date did the community churches start providing assistance that was once provided by the government? Today I am now a volunteer at Brunswick Street United Church breakfast program and at St. Andrew's United Church Sunday supper. I see and share every day the struggles of people on or in need of social assistance. My only hope and prayer is that this reform committee will make the changes necessary, that I and other people who find themselves in my situation will not have to go through it again. It can happen to anybody. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. Can you identify yourself for our records, please.
MR. GILLIS: Keith Gillis.
MADAM CHAIR: Thanks, Keith.
Are there any questions or comments for Keith?
MR. PYE: Madam Chair, I would just like to say to Keith Gillis, I know of your experience and I am very pleased to see that you made a presentation tonight. Thank you.
MR. MUIR: Just one question, Mr. Gillis. Are you now employed?
MR. GILLIS: Yes, I am.
MADAM CHAIR: Are there any further persons who would like to come?
Mr. Crowell. I knew we couldn't get out of here without hearing from Harold Crowell.
MR. HAROLD CROWELL: Yes, I am Harold Crowell. Madam Chair and committee members, it was not my intention to come here tonight to speak, but to listen, but there are things that really concern me and a couple of points I would like to make.
Number one, it seems to be long term if you are going to do anything about child poverty, you build on the child benefit or the child tax credit, rather than taking away from it. It seems to me this is the only equitable way that you can deal with the working poor and people on social assistance in some kind of an equal way. That really needs to be built on.
The other things that I think you need to look at are the disincentives that keep people on assistance. Certainly number one is the need to have a drug card once you go off assistance. I think it would save money if you allowed that because many single parents will not venture into taking a job if they know that they are in real trouble if their child gets sick and they cannot pay for the drugs that are required. I think one of the recommendations must be that there will be a continuation of the drug card for at least a year, until they get some kind of a drug plan.
The other thing, and I think it has come up before, is the matter of the man in the house. Some time ago, when I was working with the City of Halifax, we did some joint research on what were the reasons that people went off assistance. If you look at family benefits, the reason a lot of single parents go off assistance is because a second income comes into the picture. You would think you would reinforce that instead of saying, if you are caught with a man staying in your home that you will be cut off assistance. It means that it makes people cheat or not conform to policy or not to admit to the policy. When the municipalities in this area were administering assistance we recognized that there would be a man in the house at times and the person was included in the budget but he was also expected to be looking for a job. When he got a job the family would come off assistance. So there are savings and it does not make people be sneaky. I think that policy needs to be looked at and
as I understand it, it is against the Charter anyway and in Ontario they have gone to court on that.
The other thing is that since the province has taken over, shelter costs for a single person have been cut by approximately $150. Dartmouth and Halifax were not able to be overly abundant but that was the minimum amount. It seems to me that it needs to be recognized that while $225 may be all right out in a rural area, it won't pay the rent in the metropolitan area so with the uniformity there needs to be the flexibility in those programs.
The other big thing that I think Dawn MacNutt has brought up is the fact that there are no special needs. I don't know that there is a need for an ombudsman if the policy is right so that the worker in the field can make the decision. If someone needs glasses it is not much different than giving the person a drug card, it is just as important. There were policies in the metropolitan area where a worker could give items of special need, certainly up to a certain amount. If the amount was for a wheelchair, which was more than that, then it was discussed with the director of social assistance. With that kind of clarification and accountability, those things could be granted so I think that there are many modifications that could be made to the program.
There is just one more thing I would like to stress is that, I think there are ways of offering help to many single parents. It is a known fact that Nova Scotia has an above average rate of depression and according to The Globe and Mail today, twice as many women suffer from depression as males and most of those are single parents who suffer from isolation. It is the isolation that is the contributing factor and the fact that they are living in poverty. One of the best programs, I think, around is provided by SOS where mothers on family benefits who have done a good job of raising children are hired to work with other families on social assistance and provides some relief so that the mother can get out once in a while. So I think this could be done, it provides a wage, it gives them a sense of self-esteem to all the parties involved.
The other thing that has bothered me is the fact that we had a milk and orange juice program in the city that research showed that it added to the birth weight of children being born to mothers on social assistance. I think what most people failed to do is link the importance of social assistance to the health field, to the education field and to the Justice Department. If people on social assistance live in limited housing and their children don't have access to recreation programs, they are the ones that need it the most and these things should be looked at in terms of ways to save money not expending more. I am sorry if I have taken up your time when it is very late in the evening but I just couldn't resist making those comments.
MADAM CHAIR: Okay, don't run away. There are probably some comments here.
MR. PYE: Madam Chair, I just want to say to Harold Crowell that is one of the difficulties I face as becoming an MLA versus a municipal politician is that since the Department of Community Services has taken over social assistance, rigidity has set in, there seems to be very little flexibility. I could go to the director of social assistance at the municipal level and I could talk to them about special needs, arrange with organizations in the community and see if we all could sit down and cost-share those special needs and in fact, there was this flexibility. Now I do recognize that rigidity that has set in but I guess that that rigidity has set in with respect to policy that is now being formulated within the department and I guess how do you address that, is my question. I guess what you are saying is that you are making this presentation to us tonight as a recommendation but I guess in the interim, how can we address and create some flexibility within that? Do you have an answer to that?
MR. CROWELL: I guess I would probably make it known to the deputy minister of the department that there are some things that you are concerned about and I know that he is probably limited but that somewhere there has to be some give in order to make savings. Otherwise, you just increase the number of people that are going to fall back on the health care field. The children are going to drop out of school and somewhere, I think you can almost make it on a financial basis. There are two sides to the ledger as far as social assistance is concerned. You either pay on this side or you pay a lot more on the other.
MR. PYE: Finally, my other question is with respect to once they go off social assistance, they continue to have this drug card. How do you view a universal Pharmacare card?
MR. CROWELL: I think you have to stack it up against the other priorities for expenditures but I think that a lot of people have that. If you're in certain work situations, if you are a civil servant, you have that. If you are over 65, you tend to have that and I think that it is certainly one of the things that national and provincial governments have to consider because there is no question in my mind that this is one of the biggest deterrents to single parents going off welfare.
MR. PYE: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Thanks, Harold. It was good seeing you. (Applause) Is there a further presenter? Hearing none, I would like to thank everybody. We will adjourn but reconvene next Tuesday evening. We will be here again for more presentations and we will also be here next Thursday for more presentations. We have two additional days that have not been scheduled yet because the response to the standing committee has been extremely good in this area. So stay tuned. We are not done yet. Thank you. Good night.
[The committee adjourned at 10:03 p.m.]