Politicians or Elitists? There is a Difference

Refuse to remain silent
Silence leads to the erosion of rights. pay attention and speak out!

I would like to thank Velvet Martin for the inspirational picture, I grabbed it off her Facebook wall.  Velvet has become very good at speaking out since having survived six years with a government imposed gag order following the death of her daughter.

I am passed the point of being angry with our current crop of politicians on all levels of government and I will speak out.  With that said I am also at the end of my rope with the electorate.  This apathy and the “I don’t really care” attitude has to stop before we face our own Ukraine dilemma.

People like Rob Ford are as entitled to run for political positions as anyone else but when their actions (and lack of insight) causes one of the largest cities in Canada to become the brunt of the international joke factory I really have to look at the electorate.  Whether people agree with it or or not political life is public life and anyone entering that field has to come to grips with that.  You run for a political position you forfeit a lot of rights to a private life.  This doesn’t mean you can’t have a personal life but get use to the fact that it will also be public.  That is the reality of politics, get over it.  And if you continue to vote for this kind of behaviour, which is your right, you run the risk of losing your democracy.

We have lost sight of what a politician is and we are to silent about it.  60% or less of electoral turn outs is a good indicator of just how silent we are becoming.  The electorate has to understand that WE the people put these politicians into positions of authority and that they work for US, not just their Party.  When their work for their Party becomes more important than their work for the people they are no longer politicians, they become elitists.  It is fighting this elitist attitude that brought the Ukrainian people out into the square in Kiev, that brought protesting Syrians out in the 100’s of thousands and violent protests in Venezuela.  These are just a few examples of where elected officials backed off of their election promises and moved into the arena of elitism.

When James Moore, the Canadian Industry Minister, can stand in front of the press and make a statement like “The government..is it my job to feed my neighbour’s child? I don’t think so.” that is elitism.  Yes he later apologized for it but it was the first thing out of his mouth and he was basically forced to apologize because enough people spoke out.

When Jason Kenney, the Employment Minister, can stand in front of an audience to praised income splitting as a benefit for what he called “stable family units,” he has exhibited an elitist attitude.  That comment denigrated every single parent family, every family living on poverty level wages and anyone else who isn’t making over $100,000 a year.  According to recent studies the average income in Canada for a two income family is under $76,000 per year.  When a government is developing policy that only benefits less than 20% of the population, I’m sorry, it is elitism!

When Shelly Glover, the Conservative MP for St. Boniface, Manitoba can demand the provincial government suspend the rights of Vince Li and his day passes that is elitism.  What happened with Mr. Li was a barbaric tragedy, I won’t argue that.  However the fact that he was in a deep psychosis at the time and we do have laws around “not criminally responsible” we have to respect those laws.  There is a lot of emotion attached to that case and would take a lot more time to get into than I have here but it is still an example of an elitist politician who wants to pick and choose who has rights.

If we go down the road Ms. Glover is suggesting then god help every parent out there who suffers from dementia.  We have just finished with a case here in BC regarding a 95 year old dementia patient who allegedly caused the death of a fellow patient.  Anyone who understands dementia realizes he was not responsible for his actions anymore than Vince Li was for his behaviour while in his psychotic state.  What Ms. Glover should be doing is demanding a national mental health strategy rather than pushing for double standards when it comes to individual rights.  Double standards is a tool of elitism.

When a government destroys hundreds of thousands of scientific reports and papers we are moving closer to elitism.  Personally I don’t want a bunch of ideological elitists making decisions for me.  As a person who grew up with a disability I have fought to hard for my rights and protections to see them eroded by a bunch of elitists masquerading as politicians.  It is time everybody started looking at the details of what is going on and speak out.  The first thing you can do is send your MP a note and speak out against this proposed Fair Elections Act.  That piece of legislation is not just a brick out of the wall of our democracy, it is the removal of a support beam.  Even Preston Manning spoke out against it at his annual think tank soiree and that is saying a lot.

So as the picture says “You are not alone, refuse to be silent”.  Be part of the electorate and get out to the polls to support democracy by getting elitism out of politics!

Just one man’s opinion.


Systems Come and Go but the Child is Always There

Full body braces 1955
1955 Winnipeg newspaper

I received a Christmas card last month that contained a few old newspaper articles with me in the early years of my polio.  As an early poster child they tended to take a lot of pictures of you for the local newspaper but I had no idea these ones existed.  It really brought home the advances that have been made in equipment and health care.  The braces I am wearing were made mainly from heavy leather trusses with metal inserts to provide the rigidity required.  They also weighted almost as much as I did at the time  If you look closely at the ankles you will notice a metal bar connecting the shoes together.  This created a swing through walking situation.  And that isn’t a belt but a leather hip band connected to the braces to hold me straight up when standing.

My family moved to Calgary in 1956 so I could receive treatment at the Alberta Crippled Children’s Hospital later to become the Alberta Children’s Hospital.  There was no socialized health care in those days so the hospital was structured as a non-profit organization and provided free service to polio survivors.  At any given time about 70% of the patient group were polio survivor’s and anyone who were there for less than six months were like ships passing in the night.  Six months would be a short stay.

I spend almost eight years in that hospital and usually spend my summers at home.  Orthopaedic surgery as a specialty was exploding in the fifties and sixties, in part, because of returning war vets from WW2 and the Korean War.  Polio kids were the ideal candidates to try new techniques on and there were lots of us.

Polio incident graph chart
Polio stats

Since my driving ambition was to get rid of the braces so I could wear tight jeans my orthopaedic surgeon loved me.  I was always willing to try something new if it meant getting to tight jeans.  Believe it or not but denim jeans were relatively new at the time and considered by many to be rebellious.  In fact many schools of the day outlawed jeans initially.

The Children’s Hospital was what you would call today a full service system.  School was provided in the hospital. I’m not even sure the word “inclusion” existed but I am damn sure as a concept it was no where to be found in the 50’s.  So it was quite common to be admitted late August for a variety of surgical procedures in order to attend school for the year.  We were more like kids at a boarding school where medical procedures went on.  The times were very different (parents could only visit twice a week, Wednesday 2:30 to 3:30 and Sunday’s 2 to 4 with no siblings).  Parents could come post surgery for about the first day or two after that it was back to daily hospital life.

It was not uncommon for a nurse to be on one side of the bed giving you a shot of Demerol while your math teacher to be on the other side of the bed going over your homework for that day.  By day three your bed was being pushed into the class room (there were six classroom divided into grades) or you were back in a wheelchair by then.  Either way life went on.

And like any hospital kids died.  By the time I was fifteen I had lost four roommates who had passed away in the bed next to me.  It wasn’t what I would call common but to be woken up occasionally in the middle of the night because they were bagging the body in the next bed did happen.  During the day we all knew because the nurses would go down the hallway closing all of the room doors while they moved the body off the unit.  There really was no equivalent to an ICU in those days so it wasn’t like a child could be secluded.

Although we were all aware we never really discussed why Peter or Sam weren’t there the next day.  There were no grief counsellors and seldom did you hear a nurse make reference to the passing of a child.  One thing you did hear whispered around the nursing desk was how unfortunate it was that many of these kids would not enjoy a long life.  As I have indicated before the average life span for someone with a physical disability back then was 25 to 30 years post disability.  It wasn’t so much the disability as an infection that would eventually get you.  Advances in antibiotics through the late fifties changes that drastically as I sit here thirty years past my initial “best before date”.

So as I indicated there were no big deals made over the passing of a fellow patient and these fellow patients were like family members.  The polio kids were my family.  The powers that be in those days didn’t publicize the deaths but they didn’t go out of their way to hide them either.  At least we didn’t think they did but it has become obvious now that they did.

The latest figures presented at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has shown us that.  With over 4000 deaths previously hidden away one has to question the wisdom of those days.  Oh excuse me did I say “those days”?  That makes it sound like history doesn’t it.  People today react with shock and dismay while patting themselves on the back over how their close minded attitude would never allow that kind of thing to happen in the modern open society.

Oh excuse me again but did I just say it couldn’t happen in todays society?  Wrong and wrong because so many people wall themselves off from some of the realities of the world.  These issues are happening in todays society, in part, because to many people prefer to adopt the attitude that as long as it doesn’t impact on my life it’s not happening.

The Alberta government has recently been caught with their pants down and under reporting the numbers of child deaths while in foster care.  It may not sound like a large number but there is a big difference between 56 deaths and 145 ACTUAL deaths.

When people like my friend Velvet Martin can lose her disabled daughter while in foster one needs to ask questions.  When that ability to question is taken away due to a government imposed gag order for over five years that prohibited her from discussing the 2006 death of her daughter one has to question motive.  Here is a mother who was convinced by a system that her daughter would get better medical care in the foster system than the parental then one needs to question.  Being the type of women Velvet is she has been able to take this tragedy and turn it partly into something positive by introducing Samantha’s Law.

So to those sanctimonious individuals that prefer denial I ask, were we better off in the day where a hospital was a home, school and community but parents were only allowed visit for three hours a week, where death was part of a natural process but your parents knew they would see you again?  Or do we want a system where unsuspecting parents are convinced to put their children with special needs under the care of the government in a strangers home and the truth gets swept under the rug?

Thursday Jan 9/14.  As of today the Alberta government has adjusted the numbers for children to die while in care has reached 596.  That is a big jump from the original 56 then 145 amended figures.

Just one man’s opinion.

Action or Attack?

The Alberta government named its 2013 Budget the “Responsible Change” budget.  Well it appears to me that the definition of “responsible” has changed drastically over the years because the definition I am familiar with is not reflected in that budget.  From what I’ve seen I would call it the “Lets Maintain the Old Boys Club” budget.  It continues to erode supports to the marginalized of this province while giving corporate Canada every imaginable benefit.  And this is done under the guise of “economic development”.  Have you looked at economic development in Alberta lately?

The national Report on Business recently released the 2012 top 1000 companies ranked by profit.  Excluding the banks, occupying six of the top ten spots, Alberta based resource companies dominates the top 20.  Companies like Suncor (#5), Imperial Oil (#6), Canadian Natural Resources (#11), Husky Energy (#14) and TransCanada Corporation (#20) are all in the top twenty and their positions are up considerably since the 2011 rankings.

Combine those profits and the fact that Alberta is third in the country tapping into the temporary foreign workers program (more than 70,000 behind only Ontario and BC) you start to realize these companies don’t need help creating jobs.  They have the money so why are we scaling back on education, health and services that every day Albertans dependent on.

And who gets hit the most with this new budget?  The ones most marginalized, those living with disabilities and aging.  When I look at profits like those reported above and then see a cut in our provincial budget of $42 million (a 45% cut) in community access funding for the disabled I really have to wonder what has happened to the compassionate and caring Canada of the past.  Does anybody know how many pensioners are living at home with their 55 year old handicapped child and are dependent on those programs?  I know a few but since the federal government did away with the Participations and Activities Study that accompanied the former long form census we will never know.  However what I am hearing is not only will the disabled be hurt but the pensioner (saving $9 million on the backs of seniors) will be driven into deeper destitute than what they already been dealing with due to seniors cuts.

However one act in itself does not an attack make, as many would tell me.  Well then lets throw a few other factors into the mix, after all this government depends on us living in silos.  With the Canadian government introducing new tariffs on 72 “graduating” countries, there will be an increase of $331 million to the federal coffers but does anyone have any idea what the increase to medical supplies will be?  Where I work, a medical supply house, we get a lot of parts and materials from those same countries.  Who will absorb those costs?  The provincial governments and the tax payers.

The repercussions of the cuts to advanced education have also dribbled down to the disabled.  With institutes like Mount Royal University cutting the disability studies program ( two year program designed to prepare people to work with the disabled) the supply of affordable but trained individuals will also dry up.  I don’t know many four year university graduates that will work for the type of money many of these community care aides receive.  $16 an hour is not a career, it’s a passing through job!

But lets not stop with funding or services, why not throw a bit of gas on the old stigma bandwagon as well.  The federal government has now introduced Bill C-54.  To toughen the laws for people declared “not criminally responsible (NCR)” spreads more fear regarding people suffering with a mental illness than serve justice.  To say an individual with a severe cognitive disorder should be subject to a different level of law than other types of disabilities is a bigger indictment on societies ability to take care of those most in need rather than protecting victims.  I fully support victims and their loved ones but I don’t believe we serve justice by removing the protections formally offered to NCR’s.

Put all of this together and you could weave a rug!  So I ask you, is a simple cut of 44% cut to one budget item an attack or are all of the factors mentioned above a result fo a combination of government policies being implemented without looking at all of the effects?

Just one mans opinion!

It’s Not That Simple

I had a phone call a couple of weeks ago from a producer (Brenda Finley) with Bell Media.  She had been referred to me by a social activist that I have a lot of respect for, Velvet Martin.  She asked me if I would be interested in joining a panel discussion on Alberta Prime Time to discuss the issues faced by a parent with a disability.

We spoke for about twenty minutes exchanging information and doing a cursory overview of her expectations for the panel discussion.  She was very interested in getting feedback from a parent with a disability regarding any types of support programs that may have been available for me to access if required.  She had indicated that there would be two or three other panel members and that she was also trying to get a government spokesperson.   What I was thinking as we talk was “What services” which I didn’t voice at the time but I did agree to participate.

Since the show was being broadcast from their Edmonton studio a cameraman came to my home with his equipment and a set of questions.  The filming would later be edited to make it appear that I was answering a few questions posed by the host.  The cameraman was at my place for just under two hours and we probably shot fifteen to twenty minutes of tape.  I knew the segment was only thirteen to fifteen minutes long and I wasn’t expecting a lot of face time.  I was more excited over some of the issues that were discussed on the phone.  The most importance was the acknowledgement of the intimidation factor many parents with disabilities face.  That was the issue I wanted to focus on.

Anybody who knows me personally knows I don’t intimidate easily.  However I do know many parents with disabilities that have had to face quiet intimidation when they have looked for some service that may help around the house.  For instances there is an Alberta program were some house keeping services can be made available (up to 12 hours per month) for those with the physical needs.  I have witnessed a government caseworker tell an individual requesting that service, “If it is too difficult to parent we could always look at foster care for your child”.  That one statement has kept more parents with disabilities from asking for any type of support than I care to admit.  That was not an isolated incidence otherwise I wouldn’t be getting as many requests for advocacy service as I get.

So this past Monday I sat down to watch this particular edition of Alberta Prime Time.  The minute I saw the make-up of the panel I knew the conversation was going to go in a very different direction.  Like any segment of society there is fragmentation among those with disabilities.  Bruce Uditsky, who has been the face of the Alberta Association for Community Living for over twenty years, was one of the panelists in the studio.  The Alberta Association for Community Living is primarily focused on developmental disabilities.  Comparing parenting supports for the developmentally disabled parent to that of a parent in a wheelchair is like trying to order Chinese food using a pizza menu.

Now this is not intended to denigrate anyone with a developmental or cognitive disability but there is a world of functioning difference between the needs of these groups.  Contrary to what many people in the general public think all disabilities cannot dealt with the same way.  Just because you put a ramp into the local library does not mean it is accessible.  Anybody with a visual impairment would have issues but based on policy (building code) the library is now accessible because they put in a ramp.  It is the overly simplistic approach that contributes to systemic barriers and those are the ones that need to change.

However that is the essence of most programming for members of the community with a disability.  Not only do different types of disabilities need to be dealt with differently, there also has to be some flexibility for the individual with the disability.  We don’t need to be challenged with support programs that are defined by policy statements designed for gatekeepers.  My prime example of when policy overrides common sense is the policy around the disabled parking placards.  I had polio in 1953 and the results of that are never going to leave me.  However every five years I have to go back to my doctor (taking up valuable health care time), get another letter from him stating I am disabled (at a cost of $50 for the non-medical matter related document) and then go get the parking placard renewed.  I have come to accept the fact that I will always live with the results of my polio so when will those supplying certain services come to accept it as well.   Anyway I realized the moment the program started that there just wouldn’t be enough time in a fifteen minute segment to do justice to the complicated nature of these issues.

After watching the show I came to the conclusion it had more to do with directing a bigger share of limited community resources to those parents with some form of developmental disability with some onsite effective parenting staffing resources.  Again that type of support is very different than me asking for some support in shoveling snow or paying someone to teach my child to skate, as examples.  After watching the show I was left with the feeling that all that was really demonstrated was how fragmented the disabled community is.

Just one man’s opinion.