A Submission to
the Government of Canada on the Subject of Poverty Reduction
Copyright 2017 Louis
Shalako and Long Cool One Books
Design: J. Thornton
following is a work of non-fiction. Any resemblance to any person
living or deceased, or to any places or events, is purely
coincidental. Names have been withheld. Facts and incidents are the
product of the author’s research.
A Submission to
the Government of Canada on the Subject of Poverty Reduction
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
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.
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 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
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
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 cut my
own hair—I never go anywhere, but the landlord always gets
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.
run for election, but this government has little choice but to do so.
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.)
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
all the thinking.
Consider me obtuse
if you will.
Hence my present
Stuff like that.
Back to the
the little buggers, relying on all those government cheques rolling
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?
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 fucking 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,
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
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
regardless of any true need, and in the absence of any major upgrades
outside of regular, routine replacement programs due to wear and
corporate welfare in its most insidious form, for it actually carries
out the government’s own program—for
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
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.
What happened there,
eh? You’re pretty good about helping
the fucking 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.
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
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.
(A philanthropist is
knows damn 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
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 bullshit. (http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/disability/
) I’m sure this is all very useful for the average rich
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
which is really all most Canadians can realistically hope for.
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
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 35-40 %
below the poverty line and single moms and infants on
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
Here’s a funny
If a person on
fucking 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 an
asshole 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.
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
which happens sometimes.
are not all created equal in terms of our parents, friends and
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
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.
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
damned study and find out…???
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
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.
understand that taxation is essential, otherwise nothing ever gets
There are other
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.
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.
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.
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.
I know all about it, Bud.
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…
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.
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
You could learn a
lot, hanging out in front of a Canadian food bank.
Other than that, I
sure hope the members of this committee have a very nice day.
Thank you for
pretending to listen.
Louis Shalako is the
founder of Long Cool One Books and the author of twenty-one novels,
numerous novellas and other short stories. Louis studied Radio,
Television and Journalism Arts at Lambton College of Applied Arts and
Technology, later going on to study fine art. He began writing for
community newspapers and industrial magazines over thirty years ago.
His stories appear in publications including Perihelion
Science Fiction, Bewildering Stories, Aurora Wolf, Ennea, Wonderwaan,
Algernon, Nova Fantasia, and
He lives in southern Ontario and writes full time. Louis enjoys
cycling, swimming and good books.