Policy for the Masses or the Ideologues?

Moral obligation
A picture says it all!

I have noticed over the past twenty years or so a distinct change in how government policy is created.  When creating policy or programs government appears more focused on the rule breakers rather than the program users.  In other words rather than focusing on the needs of the end users they focus on that small percentage of people who will abuse the service.  This approach really disenfranchises the 90% or so that require the service.

A prime example of this happened at the turn of the century (god that sounds like so long ago but really only 14 years) when the Alberta government changed how they reimbursed families with special needs children.  This program helped cover the additional costs associated with the therapeutic needs of these children.

Families who opted to self manage the care of their child rather than use a community agency were given an agreed upon level of funding to pay the bills.  For some families this could be three to five thousand dollars a month.  By the time you add up speech therapy, physiotherapist services, occupational therapists, psychological counselling services and support staffing (people hired to help out at home with the child) these costs could add up.

And, yes, there were families that took advantage of these programs.  Quite often that “abuse” was as simple as hiring a family member to provide a respite service or to act as the community aide when it involved taking the child out into the community.  In my humble opinion not really abuse but something the rules specifically told families they could not do although they could hire their neighbour.

I fail to see the rational behind this kind of thinking but then logic is not always a government strength.  I know, when I worked as a policy analyst with government it was not uncommon to go to my boss and say this won’t work in the community.  The standard reply was “it’s our job to create policy, let the inspectors worry about the application”.  To me this represented the height of silo thinking but again I digress.

Back to government planning, there were cases of out and out abuse.  Funds going into alcohol or drugs.  Monies being used for a good time rather than channeled into the child’s needs.  Unfortunately there is and probably always will be a small percentage of the population that will do that.  Most of the studies I have read indicate this type of abuse is less than 5% of end users.  Now we have governments that develop programs and service that are focused on the system abusers which happens at the cost of the ones really in need.

Sometime around 2001 the Alberta government changed the way it paid families for the costs associated with their child’s treatment.  Rather than pay them at the beginning of each month they developed a process where the family would have to submit receipts at the end of each month and be reimbursed.  This may sound all well and good but when you look at it you see a completely different outcome.

Most of these professionals want their payment upon delivery of service, they have bills to pay as well.  Aides who work with the child at home or in the community want to be paid.  After all they are a staff person of the family.  That is a whole different area of concern, the family becomes a business because they are supplying payroll which comes with all of the related payroll costs and require a Revenue Canada employer number for tax purposes.  When a family opts to self manage their child’s services they become a business which is not always something they have been prepared for.

When a family income only has $800 (please understand these are all approximations) left over after the usual household bills are covered (food, rent/mortgage, utilities, gas/car expenses, etc) it is no where near the $3000 in extra expenses for their special needs child therapy.  With just $800 a month in left over household income and additional expenses of $3000 it doesn’t take a charter accountant to realize there will be a cash flow problem.  And this is something a bank will not help with.

Then to add insult to injury it would often take the Alberta government 30 to 90 days to reimburse the family even though they are carrying the same level of expense each month.  The child winds up losing out.  If a family can only afford to pay $800 of the $3000 monthly costs then they get reimbursed $800 and are told at contract renewal time “well you didn’t use up all of your allotted budget so you obviously don’t need that much”.  Again the child loses out.

I approached Alberta’s Family Services for Children with Disabilities at one point to ask about how much was spend in the Calgary area.  The response I received was they had “committed”  x amount of dollars to this program.  When I pushed for how much had ACTUALLY been paid out they were unable (or chose not to) to tell me.  Whatever “committed” money wasn’t used would be rolled back into the budget.  A nice way for governments to say one thing to the public while doing something completely different.

And this approach to program management or policy development doesn’t just affect community based services.  It appears to have permeated its way into all of our government planning.  The Fair Elections Act is a prime example and yes I am still very angry about this proposed piece of legislation.  Pierre Poilievre would have Canadians believe he is doing to this prevent “voter fraud”.  And yet the author of the report Mr. Poilievre keeps citing, Harry Neufeld, maintains the report was focused on voting “irregularities”.  That is a big difference from voter fraud.

Mr. Neufeld recently mused that he wasn’t sure Mr. Poilievre had even read the entire report.  Mr. Poilievre has used his own interpretation to create this Fair Elections Act and argues the need to protect Canadians against voter fraud.  An issue that wasn’t even stressed in the report.  It was an issue that MP Brad Butt raised in the House but two days later stood again to say he had “misspoken”, which based on House protocol isn’t considered a lie.

As Mr. Neufeld points out Mr. Poilievre made a huge “leap of logic” in his interpretation but that leap of logic will disenfranchise more voters rather than strengthening our democratic process.  This Fair Elections Act opens the door for more irregularities while suppressing the electorates ability to vote.

It’s time to get this type of mind set out of our government thinking.  In a democratic country there should be no room for policy developed on ideology which is exactly what the Fair Elections Act does.  It should all be based on good governance that meets the needs of those it is aimed at which is the exact opposite of the Fair Elections Act.  Contact your MP and find out if they are there for party ideology or for you, the voter!

Just one man’s opinion!


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