NDP MLAs mingle with protesters at rally against changes to disability assistance payments at the B.C. legislature March 2.

BC VIEWS: Why so cheap with the poor?

Despite their frequent demands for more, no one should understand them better than the B.C. NDP

We hear a lot here at the B.C. legislature about hard-hearted government treatment of the poor.

It’s a serious problem, and one often obscured by the partisan Punch-and-Judy show that passes for political debate in this province.

As things stand, Premier Christy Clark’s government is heading into an election year with a basic income assistance rate for single employable adults at $610 a month, unchanged since the last miserly increase in 2007. Couples on assistance get up to $877.22, or up to $1,101.06 if they have two children.

If those children are aged three or more, parents are required to look for work and file monthly reports that show they still need income assistance.

The B.C. Liberals’ February budget left the basic rates and rules the same, with new applicants required to look for work for five weeks before getting a first cheque. There are sound reasons for this hard line, and despite their frequent demands for more, no one should understand them better than the B.C. NDP.

Mike Harcourt’s NDP government raised rates in 1991, and also eased eligibility rules to let people stay on assistance longer. Within two years, B.C.’s welfare rolls were nearly 10 per cent of the working-age population and climbing.

Harcourt famously denounced the “cheats, deadbeats and varmints” gaming the system, rolled the single employable rate back to $500 a month and imposed some of the harsh eligibility and job search rules that remain today. The caseload of single employable recipients declined by a third.

The current B.C. Liberal government did approve a $77 increase to the $906 disability income assistance rate, to take effect this September. Mostly what they got was protests about implementing a $52 monthly charge for transit passes.

Social Development Minister Michelle Stilwell rejected opposition claims that transit passes are being cancelled. There are 45,000 disability clients who don’t have access to transit, and they receive nothing for their transportation costs. If those who can use them want to continue, the cost comes out of their rate increase.

A protest was organized for the legislature lawn March 2, featuring disability activists and NDP politicians. As I arrived, Hospital Employees’ Union members were posing for pictures with New Westminster MLA Judy Darcy, a former HEU business manager. Others in HEU T-shirts were leading developmentally disabled people up to the small crowd.

All typical B.C. political theatre, with the union’s role omitted from news reports as usual. But I had to wonder about the NDP demand for taxpayers to top up the $170 million disability assistance budget increase with another $35 million a year, to provide bus passes to those lucky enough to be able to use them.

Most people on disability assistance aren’t commuting to work daily. If they were, they would likely no longer be eligible. If they are able to use transit, it’s mainly for shopping, medical appointments and social activities.

When the change takes effect this fall, I intend to find out how many people decide to take the $77 increase and pay for transit only when they need it. I suspect there will be many.

Faith Bodnar of the activist group Inclusion BC summed it up well when she spoke to the rally.

“Government, all you did was equalize poverty for people with disabilities in B.C.,” she said.

Note that Bodnar wasn’t calling for the NDP position of a further increase that only urban people could use. She was saying the rate still isn’t high enough.

That’s the real issue.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca Twitter: @tomfletcherbc


Just Posted

Prince Rupert’s “pulse” Nelson Kinney passes away

Kinney served on council for 16 years and was an advocate for seniors, youth and industry

MVP of the Week: Finding inspiration on the ice

Samantha Wiley met legends of the women’s game and played in the Global Girl’s Game on March 11

Halibut quota down 15 per cent in B.C. with more restrictions coming

Recreational fishers on the North Coast face challenges to avoid another early halibut closure

Lax Kw’alaams takes the federal and provincial governments to court

The civil suit opposes the Oil Moratorium Act and the establishment of the Great Bear Rainforest

Prince Rupert Tribesmen win 2018 Junior All Native Basketball Tournament

The Tribesmen remained undefeated throughout the tournament

Heart of Our City: Nicholls and dimes

Accountant Bill Nicholls helps Rupert organizations get back on track

How to keep local news visible in your Facebook feed

Facebook has changed the news feed to emphasize personal connections. You might see less news.

Canadian cities hold March for our Lives events in wake of Florida shooting

Hundreds of people support the massive March for Our Lives event in Washington, D.C.

Health officials called after acid spill near B.C.-Alberta border leaks into creek

Tanker truck crashed south of Dawson Creek, spilling 17,000 litres of hydrochloric acid

Embattled band Hedley plays last show in B.C. before hiatus

About 3,000 tickets had sold for final performance at Kelowna’s Prospera Place

Trudeau to exonerate B.C. First Nations chiefs hanged in 1860s

Prime Minister to absolve Tsilhqot’in chiefs in relation to deaths of 14 construction workers

Canucks sing the Blues as they fall to St. Louis 4-1

Berglund nets two, including the game-winner, to lift St. Louis over Vancouver

Calving season brings hope for Cariboo ranchers

Still a lot of work ahead to recover from the wildfires

Canada’s Kaetlyn Osmond wins figure skating world title

The 22-year-old fwon the women’s singles crown with her Black Swan routine

Most Read