# A Submission to the Government of Canada on the Reduction of Poverty. Louis Shalako.

by Louis Shalako,

No one is more qualified than I am to consult with this government on the subject of poverty reduction. A good poverty-reduction plan demands good information.

It’s a good thing I’m on your side, eh?

I’ve been on ODSP, a provincial disability pension, for roughly twenty-two years. Last year, I received $13,332.00 in provincial disability benefits. (T-5007) According to the landlord’s annual statement, in 2016 I paid$9,441.00 in rent. That is 70.1 % of my disability income, rounded off to the tenth. I do operate a small business, and I do work part-time. This income is minimal, and falls well below the federal basic personal exemption, and social assistance isn’t taxable. In Ontario, if you earn above $200.00 a month, on ODSP, they’re clawing back fifty cents on the dollar. Clients can claim$0.18 per kilometre for mileage/deduction from income when staff are getting more like $0.50 per kilometre. (This has changed since the time of original writing. The Ontario Disability Support Program has increased the mileage rate to$0.40/kilometre, and $0.41/kilometre for clients in the north and northeastern part of the province…so maybe someone is listening after all.) * All of this might be considered a disincentive to work, but it also represents a pretty big unofficial tax rate, one far higher than that paid by many Canadians at much higher income levels. Bear in mind that ODSP guidelines for business and employment don’t necessarily recognize the same business or employment deductions as the Canada Revenue Agency accepts as a matter of course. Simply put, it is difficult to increase one’s income on this particular provincial disability pension. I reckon that’s on purpose. This government’s own figures and other industry experts would suggest that anyone paying much over one-third or 33 % of their income in housing costs is essentially paying too much for their housing. I know the members will be reading my submission with great interest, and I’m sure the 12.6 % of Canadians who suffer from some form of disability will thank you for listening. You have to understand, ladies and gentlemen, that the disabled get a raise of one or one and a half percent a year, and the landlord jacks the rent two percent, which eats into a pension which is steadily being eroded by an inflation rate which is always higher than two percent. Official figures for inflation leave out food and fuel, which are considered ‘volatile’. After food and fuel, what do low-income Canadians actually buy? They pay rent or other housing costs. This is when a raise is not really a raise, isn’t it. Trust me, we can do the math. At some point, the landlord eats up all your cheque and prices you out of the market, which ultimately is not in their interest either. As long as the landlord is allowed to keep chipping away at those pensions, they’ll keep doing it. I pay the rent, and line up at food banks. It’s been months since I did a laundry. I brush my teeth with baking soda. I cut my own hair—I never go anywhere, but the landlord always gets their money. The disabled, the mentally ill, retired Canadians, find it difficult to move on short notice, now that the Province of Ontario has done away with the Moving Benefit. We are hostages to the profitability of our landlords and we don’t seem to get much respect for it. They got us between a rock and a hard place, ladies and gentlemen. Landlords don’t run for election, but this government has little choice but to do so. Seven years ago I started my publishing business under the Business and Employment guidelines of the Ontario Disability Support Program. I asked for the Work-Related benefit at that time. I was told different things, mostly that I had to earn over$100.00 a month for twelve months before I qualified.

The fact is that I have never qualified. What’s really funny is that the social worker never mentioned that I did qualify for the Business Start-Up benefit of $500.00. Yet she did say I was operating a business and not employed by someone else. She clearly knew the facts. It was only seven years later that I finally got the Business Start-Up benefit. Now that I am also working part-time for someone else, what are the odds that I will receive the Work-Related benefit? None. None whatsoever. That’s because ODSP clients are the lowest of the low. Yet the lady next door got it from day one of her part-time employment. Your social worker is your biggest enemy. They lie, they cheat, they steal, they defraud you in every conceivable way, in order to deny you the lawful benefits for which you qualify and are entitled to by law…always, always, blaming the victim. The mental health workers aren’t much better. They see no connection between living 35 to 45 % below the poverty line with no hope of things ever getting better, and chronic depression. It also causes untold social problems, including mental health, addiction and issues of petty crime, including domestic disputes. If you point out the obvious, they conclude that you are ‘paranoid and delusional, dangerous and out of control’, prescribe Larazepam for the long-term, a drug which was never meant for anything other than temporary use and which causes psychotic side effects. The longer the period of use, the greater the damage to the psyche. These are your workers, working hard to help you never improve yourself or your lot in life. It’s also extremely hard to wean oneself off of them. Withdrawal took three and a half years in my experience. It was like my skin was crawling the whole time…perhaps it was trying to escape. We have no civil and human rights. We are outlaws in the classic sense, in that any man may raise a hand against us without fear of the law or punishment. That’s how it was possible, even desirable from the official point of view, for a couple of neighbours to harass me for four long years, ultimately driving me from my home. In that sense, it’s a lot like the days of Robin Hood. The only difference is that these days, we’re robbing the poor of their futures, just to save the middle class a bit of money. Oh, and speaking of the federal government, it’s been six months since I last saw the Trillium Benefit, a provincial benefit administered by the Canada Revenue Agency. I’ve phoned them twice, filled out the OnBen form twice, sent them letters twice, in which I asked what the problem was and if I had filled out the form correctly. In response, I have a form letter from the Commissioner of Revenue. It’s not signed by an employee, and there is no employee number, which is vital for accountability. Apparently it’s being ‘processed’ although there is no answer to my question. When that money, six months of benefits, is not in my bank account on Mar. 10, it will be one more nail in the coffin of citizen’s rights and institutional respect for the client. It’s roughly four or five percent of my income, incidentally—losing that was and is, a real hardship. Whenever someone around here jumps off the Bluewater Bridge, robs a bank or a pharmacy, my first question is always the same: “How long have they been on ODSP?” The fact that we have food banks excuses a lot of the sins of the bourgeoisie. Because no one is going to starve to death if we do not act. (My own personal opinion is that nothing will ever change, and things will only get worse, never better. This is based on experience and not just rhetoric.) Naturally, I understand that this concept might be of some inconvenience to a few folks who have built$50-million dollar companies on the strength of packing their lower-income level buildings with the disabled, the mentally ill, single moms and the elderly.

Anyone with a government cheque rolling in makes a good tenant, and a lot of them really can’t articulate their needs, can they? They’re too shy, too demoralized. They’ve bought into the social stigma. Too many Canadians are prepared to let their betters do all the thinking.

Consider me obtuse if you will.

Hence my present duty.

Stuff like that.

Back to the landlord.

...and consequently, the little highly-esteemed ladies and gentlemen of the corporate bent, relying on all those government cheques rolling in, to build up their own wealth, each and every month, thereby taking 75 % of the income of a disabled person, for example. So this government, and the provincial government don’t have a problem helping people build up their wealth—as long as it’s the right sort of people…right? In other words rich people.

It’s pretty obvious that my disability pension isn’t going up six or seven hundred dollars a month anytime soon. That is a self-evident truth and there is no disputing it. Is that going to build up my wealth? Probably not, but it might alleviate some suffering.

No, ladies and gentlemen, it’s not going to build up my wealth, but every stinking penny would be going straight back into the local economy, where it might generate as much as $1.78 in further economic spin-off benefits. You know, like food stamps (SNAP) south of the border. This has been borne out by study after study. Studies are the most useless, and therefore one of the most lucrative things you can do. Not that anyone ever listens, but the market is apparently insatiable. Too bad no one ever listens, eh. That must be terribly disappointing, but you got your money so, oh, well. There are many middle-class Canadians whose entire working lives will be consumed in the work of studying of so very many things, studies which will never be used. Such futility is not unknown in the lives of the poor, either. One of my first suggestions in addressing the challenge (or opportunity) of low pensions and high rents would be a five-year moratorium on rent increases. This proposal includes those rent increases that fall below present thresholds, for example here in Ontario, any rent increase below two percent does not require review by any relevant body. The tendency here is for the typical corporate property management company to increase the rent every year, regardless of any true need, and in the absence of any major upgrades outside of regular, routine replacement programs due to wear and tear. This represents corporate welfare in its most insidious form, for it actually carries out the government’s own program—for a price, namely, relatively affordable housing for great numbers of low-income Canadians. All of this, without the added expense on the part of government of actually building and maintaining significant public housing resources, which have been neglected for decades following the federal government’s previous ‘downloading’ program. The private sector gets the profits, the government of the day gets the social, economic and political liabilities. The very fact that this government is consulting on issues of poverty and housing implies some interest or responsibility in this area. It’s an area of concern. *** I believe it was a previous government who purchased$250 Million in ‘bad debt’ in order to shore up Canadian banks—who allegedly, in front-page newspaper coverage, TV coverage, radio coverage, were never in any real danger of failure. A bad case of too big to fail. Interestingly, that particular web-page of the Bank of Canada is remarkably hard to find these days.

Perhaps we, the people, are too small to worry about, or even consider.

No one has any real desire or incentive to inquire into the moral implications of this long-standing arrangement. However, the service for regular Canadians might be improved.

If you really wanted to. If there was the will.

What’s really strange here at the provincial level is that my electricity is included in the rent—and for whatever reason, the provincial electricity rebate/subsidy doesn’t apply to me. I don’t fit into any category on the website where one applies for this provincial benefit, which theoretically would provide me with a monthly $30.00 to$50.00 in relief.

My big question here, is the landlord getting my electricity rebate, and if so, why? And my second question would be, why no reduction in my rent, in view of this subsidy to the landlord, a man who could afford to give $1.2 Million to the Sarnia Foundation. Here’s another good one: when the province reduced electricity bills by eight percent, how come my rent didn’t go down by some small proportion? And how come my rent won’t go down when they reduce it a further proposed 17 percent? (A philanthropist is someone who knows very well he didn’t pay enough in taxes.) Perhaps the federal government might discuss this unfortunate situation with the government of the Province of Ontario. When it comes to disability tax credits at the federal level, and there are all kinds of scab outfits claiming to help people get these benefits, for some kind of fee or percentage, a person can’t take advantage of the benefits if they don’t achieve a taxable income in the first place. Yet some of these tax credits sound pretty impressive, e.g., fifteen grand here and thirty grand there. Mostly, it’s feel-good propaganda, in other words horse-puckey. (http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/disability/ ) I’m sure this is all very useful for the average rich disabled person. Them guys are pretty thin on the ground around here, and everywhere else, too. There must be a few people who are born rich and disabled. There’s really not too many other ways to get there, is there? Or even to have a decent life, which is really all most Canadians can realistically hope for. This government might consider a renewed commitment to creating and maintaining, over the longer term, employment incentives for the employment of disabled people (whether in the form of cash or various tax incentives) for employers, (or maybe even the disabled employee), as well as for the clients of various federal and provincial social programs. With all due respect to this government, one more mental health/addictions outreach program, funded for six months and with short-term, contract labour doesn’t do much to address the problem of poverty amongst this segment of the population. When people on ODSP are living 35-45 % below the poverty line and single moms and infants on welfare far below that, there are better ways to address these inequities, and make a real impact on exactly the same issues. All it requires is a minor paradigm shift, to another way of thinking about the same problem. *** Here’s a funny thing. If a person on disability can pay$9,441.00 dollars in rent in a year, they can afford a small house, (in certain markets). The big hurdle is financing—some kind of credible down payment and then a mortgage, which is problematic when someone’s on ODSP at a rate of about $13,500 a year; including some small business and employment income. At least you’re building equity, and you don’t have someone on the other side of a very thin wall at both ends of the apartment. That’s not to say you won’t have a real dingbat as a neighbour because that is very likely to be the case. I calculated a$50,000 mortgage with ten percent down at around $228.00/month at the current rate, (a hundred grand, double it), which is at a historic low. Money is cheap, right now. What we need is a plan, one that is long term and not something to be done on impulse. Once certain resources are in place, it is possible to strike when the iron is hot. Otherwise it’s a big scramble, followed by the inevitable disappointment when you couldn’t move fast enough. ODSP clients can have up to$7,000.00 in the bank, which very few of us do. We can also receive fairly substantial gifts without penalty, which happens sometimes.

Unfortunately, we are not all created equal in terms of our parents, friends and relatives.

So, how do you save that seven grand...??? Or earn it.

Or convince someone to give it as a gift. The odds are, I will never own a home again.

Yet I had one at one time. It was a nice little house.

***

This applies to the smaller markets, where perhaps meaningful stimulus has been neglected due to lack of ideas as much as anything else. (Objectively speaking, my own home town of Sarnia seems to be doing pretty well in terms of funding for R & D.) The provincial government, incidentally, has been consulting on the subject of rural poverty.

The federal government might just want to tuck that into the back of its collective mind as homes in the smaller centres are far more affordable than the Toronto or Ottawa markets. Disabled people in those markets probably live in one-roomers.

Why not have another useless study and find out…???

Here’s another thing. One more nutritionist on the front page of the local paper, a big girl who likes to cook and only recently off of welfare or disability, on a six-month contract and a government grant, (and sometimes hubby’s not too good at paying the alimony and child support), telling poor people how to make better nutritional choices when they’re lining up at food banks and taking whatever salt-laden, prepared foods of dubious nutritional value, three years past the expiry date (whatever they can get, in other words), would appear to be a waste of public resources, although it does generate false optimism in the minds of anyone not familiar with the realities on the ground and on the front lines of social policy.

What would happen to the economy if this government simply reduced the HST (Harmonized Sales Tax), the combined rates of six and seven percent currently running at 13 % here in Ontario? All Canadians, at all income levels, would have a significant increase in discretionary spending dollars. Not everyone has the same need, but it is at least across the board, something which virtually everyone could and would support.

No one likes paying taxes, the funny thing is, the people in the best position to pay hate it the most, perhaps because they aren’t receiving the same perceived value from their contribution.

Poor people understand that taxation is essential, otherwise nothing ever gets done.

There are other considerations.

Increased income means increased demand, which means increased production—which implies that this government would have some control or input into the means of production, one of many sources of economic power, and perhaps the most legitimate.

Going back to the times of the Weimar Republic, it’s pretty obvious that excessive inflation wipes out public and corporate debt, destroys the savings of the middle class, and renders the mass of the people no more desperate than before.

In my opinion, this is an option of last resort as it requires great finesse to offset (in the positive sense), the usual, nominal cost-benefit analyses.

The Food Bank

Anyhow, I was at the food bank again today.

I got to the food bank at about twenty to eight and there were a couple of guys already there. One guy was saying his apartment is cold and he had to borrow an electric heater.

Every device in his apartment is on one circuit. He goes to make toast and the fuse blows, there are sparks everywhere. He calls the landlord and the guy never gets back to him.

The other guy was saying the person above him is a noisy, party animal sort of a guy, and the guy next door loses it and goes on some kind of psycho rant pretty often. The two guys are friends, and between the two of them, living there isn’t very good.

Yeah, I know all about it, Bud.

I just laughed.

By the time they open the doors at the food bank, the chill has gone right through you, and by that time the lower back was screaming...I fell from a scaffolding and broke my back in three places many years ago. It kind of affects you in some ways…yeah, it gives you a bad attitude and so then you just want to screw the system.

Guy #2 was on Ontario Works and lives in Geared to Income Housing, which sort of confirms my own fears: the place is a zoo, and once you’re in there, they reduce your benefit and it’s awful hard to ever escape that scene.

(It’s okay, ladies and gentlemen. I’m a highly-trained Canadian journalist and I’ve been embedded in the story for 20 + years.)

Guy # 1 says he heats the apartment with the electric oven, an all too familiar story.

You could learn a lot, hanging out in front of a Canadian food bank.

Here's what the local food bank and local radio aren't telling you about poverty in Canada, in Ontario, in your home town. In 1995, provincial welfare rates were slashed, from $663.00/month for a single adult down to$520.00/month for a single adult. Here's what a single adult receives in assistance now, 2017: $681.00 a month. That's twenty-two years later—twenty-two years of inflation that rarely runs much below three percent and sometimes a lot higher. Then there is the principle of compounding, something middle-class poverty enablers understand very well in their own savings or debt programs. “Each cut or each raise is compounded on top of the result upon which it is based.” The thing is, we're retarded children—mentally ill/addictions; none of us went past grade three and therefore we're not supposed to know that. Unfortunately, we can do the math. So, what's the average price of a one-bedroom apartment in this town? At a quick guess, about$681.00/month. But then, Landlordie McLandlordface can do the math just as well as you can—and he sees all them government cheques and food banks too.

Local food banks also have rent and utility banks. They can help in an emergency. But I'll be danged if I'm going to rent an apartment (or buy a house) that is way beyond my means, knowing that I can always go down there once a month, especially in winter, and throw myself on their mercy and their generosity in order to heat the place. The same goes double for home ownership, no matter how smart it would be to build up a bit of equity for my alleged retirement.

You can’t get that assistance if the heat and power are included in your astronomical rent, can you? At some point they must ask, ‘why don’t just you get a cheaper place…???’

And the landlord, and the government, know all that too. They know all about social intertia.

They know all about social pressure from one’s own peers, one’s own family, one’s own doctor…

Maybe you could rent a place for less than that—and there are one-roomers available for as little as $95.00/week. There’s one right downtown on Brock St., handily enough, a stone’s throw from the Canadian Mental Health Association. Have you ever wondered what that might look like? Let alone live in it. *** It's interesting to see that what used to be a pack of 12 wieners for$3.99 has miraculously become a pack of 10 wieners for $3.99. This is the same process by which a 454-g pound of bacon became a 375-g pound of bacon, with no real reduction in price. I’ve even got this crazy idea that the wieners are a bit smaller than they were before. So this is how your government, in collusion with Canada's grocers/scab employers, are working hard to keep prices down, at least at first glance, on paper, or rather, in the paper. And, yes, I have no doubt that this government’s plan to reduce poverty among the middle class will be very successful indeed. Other than that, I sure hope the members of this committee have a very nice day. Thank you for pretending to listen. End *according to the ODSP website, the new business or employment travel/mileage rate took effect February 9/17, which means my income and expense report for February are wrong and the mileage deduction total needs to be recalculated. Yet ODSP staff have said nothing, and I only found out about it indirectly—someone who travels for medical reasons told me about the rate increase. Let us hope the ODSP staff get around to telling people about it…eventually. Another interesting thing the province could do would be to change the guidelines for business, which presently state that an expense, no matter how large, can only be declared—and only applies, to the month in which it was accrued. Consider a$700.00 computer to be used by the business. It will last a few years. It’s hardware, to be used on a daily basis. Clearly this isn’t a consumable like stationery or toilet paper. This is sneaky, but then the guidelines were written by some very high-priced corporate lawyers, with the government’s best interests in mind rather than that of the disabled.

As things presently stand, I can earn $100.00 free and clear. On the second hundred dollars, I have what is called ‘an automatic business expense deduction’ of another hundred dollars. This probably saves man-hours in review for ODSP staff. But let’s say I go over that by one dollar. It’s not good enough to show a receipt for one dollar in order to avoid that pesky$0.50-per-dollar rate of claw-back on earnings over the limit. At this point, the client actually needs to show receipts for \$101.00, and this is the sort of thing you will never hear from your social worker. But the fact is, that ‘automatic’ business deduction is no longer in force, because the client went over the limit.

Again, more sneakiness.

The guidelines were written by corporate lawyers, who went to school for a very long time, for the instruction and amusement of political appointees and university graduates, to be employed in casework by social workers and the graduates of community colleges, for the benefit of people who persist in being treated as retarded children, mental health/addictions people, and of course there’s only one way that will ever turn out. The fact is, some them didn’t receive much benefit from the education system in this province and in this nation.

Many of them, oddly enough, can’t articulate their needs, let alone address the imbalances and inequities of the system.

The power imbalance here is considerable—hence my present duty, squared.

Okay, now it’s over.