BC Liberals’ disability double-dealing is disappointing

In politics, there is a time to admit a mistake before it is too costly. Then there is a time when it is just too late.

Let’s assume in this case we haven’t crossed the line – that we can make one last plea for decency and sanity before the point of no return.

In last February’s provincial budget, someone came up with a bright idea and someone came up with a few horrible ideas for people with disabilities.

The bright idea wasn’t even really that bright. It was overdue and not terribly generous; a $77 monthly increase starting this fall in their $906.42 benefits, the first increase in nine years.

Just for a moment, wherever you are reading this right now, think of that.

Let it settle in.

Nine years.

Almost all of those years involve economic growth in our province under Liberal stewardship, and yet no one at the cabinet table was successful in pushing the finance minister or the premier to increase the meagre support for those who face daily challenges beyond what most of us can comprehend.

Still, to be somewhat fair for a moment, better late than never.

Still, let’s end that fair moment right here, because the bright ideas – if you can call them that – ceased there.

There are 20,000 people who receive a $66 transportation subsidy. They’ll lose that. Their net gain is $11 monthly.

There are 35,000 who get a transit pass for $45 annually. They will now start paying $52 monthly for that pass.

Their net gain is seemingly $25 a month.

But wait. There’s also a lovely administration fee of $45 annually, taking their increase down to $21.25.

All told, the net transportation saving for the provincial treasury of these one-hand-giveth, one-hand-taketh-away activities: a whopping $3 million. For that princely sum, the Liberals risk the further alienation of those with disabilities and their families, for starters. As an able-bodied voter/supporter, I’m astonished and disappointed, too.

There is no small irony that this budgetary lunacy comes when we are at last developing some economic and social sophistication about the untapped potential workforce of people with disabilities.

Organizations like the Vancouver-based Open Door Group have helped firms identify, recruit and retain such talent.

There is no small hypocrisy that the province boasted that this budget – in the context of the best-performing economy in the country – held out more to those most vulnerable. Bringing the rate up to, say, Alberta’s would have cost the province about $30 million, a fraction of the $100 million prosperity fund the government created on budget day.

And there is even no small inconsistency, given that progress in recent years on this front has permitted easier access to support and better terms of eligibility. It’s as if the right hand doesn’t realize what the left hand has been doing.

In mid-May, Disability Alliance BC asked Premier Christy Clark to leave the transportation programs in place as the province raises the disability assistance rates. While the alliance has unsuccessfully fought for a more formidable rate – say, $1,200 a month, in line with what other provinces provide – it didn’t expect it would also have to double down and fight to keep the transport subsidies.

So far from Victoria, a response of radio silence.

By the way, most insulting in this: the absurd assertion that these measures provide choice, that now someone with a disability can choose to keep a few dollars or take the bus pass. I somehow doubt the public relations geniuses who sat in a room and conjured that talking point earn $906.42 a month.

Here we are in early June, and OK, let’s agree a mistake can be remedied by the October due date and perhaps forgotten by election time next May.

Wait too long, though, and it smacks of cynical pre-election posturing.

Has it come to that? Is this really the best we can do? •

Kirk LaPointe is Business in Vancouver’s vice-president of audience and business development.

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