Dispatches from the Swamp – the ‘it is not good enough’ edition

  • I had today off. Yay! I was clearly tired as I slept from midnight until 12:30 pm. I was up at 2:30 to use the washroom and then I slept straight through without waking up or moving for 10 more hours! I am clearly still having fatigue issues. I have been ok at work as long as I got to bed around 10 or 10:30 but maybe it is not enough. I am hoping it is just still the adjustment period and that my stamina will improve.
  • In other related news, all the weird pains have stopped. As of today, I am doing really well – no arm pain, no shoulder pain, and no wrist pain. My knee has a little pain but nothing major. I really hope this episode of my life is over. I have a theory about the arm pain but I am not sure if I am right.
  • The plea by Carrie Gelson, a teacher in Vancouver’s inner city, yesterday has resulted in some much-needed donations going to her children. However, this is not the solution. When you systematically defund social service programs like income assistance you have children in poverty. The average parent on welfare gets $84 a year for young children and $116 for children over 12 to start school. Most schools require at least $200 just for school supplies. There is no way they can afford to buy new clothes, boots, and shoes for the $100 a year clothing allowance per person. Even children who are in low-income working families, the problems are similar. There is just no way that everything can be covered when you are making minimum wage in this province. There is also no reason why kids should be going to school hungry, without appropriate clothing and school supplies. How are children supposed to learn when their needs are not being met? How can they participate in class when they are so hungry they cannot think? Or so tired they can barely stay awake? It is unbelievable that in a country as rich as Canada there is no reason we should have systemic poverty. We must pressure our politician to do better. Where is Christy Clark and her families first agenda? We must do better.
  • I have come to the conclusion that Piper is an orangutan. We took her in the car today and she was pulling like a freaking tank! We went into Bosley’s and she was pulling so hard that I couldn’t even gather up cans of cat food. I think she is even more bratty now than before her surgery!

Long Day

So, I had this whole great blog post planned about poverty and schools. However, I just don’t have the energy to write it after working all day and attending a meeting at work tonight. Maybe I will write it tomorrow. Feel free to check out the topic here.


I had a writing assignment to do for a leadership course I am taking and I pretty much put everything I had today into that project. In the meantime – check out this article about a poverty action group called Raise the Rates challenging provincial MLAs to live on welfare rates. This is not a new idea. What is really upsetting is the comments that have been left. Unreal.

The Invisible Homeless

Today when I arrived at work, I needed to go to London Drugs. As I was leaving, I noticed a man sleeping in the bus stop on the ground.[1] Using his bag for a pillow, he was curled up in the fetal position. I noticed that his skin was bright red like the sun had burned it. There also seemed to be something wrong with one of his hands – it looked like he had lost some fingers and it seemed like the arm was in a cast. I think he was First Nations.

When I left work, I glanced over at the same bus stop to see if one of our clients, who had just left, had gotten on the bus ok. As the buses pulled away, I noticed that the man was still there in the same position. I decided immediately to call 9-1-1. I was very impressed by the speed at which Fire and Rescue arrived. I drove by twice to see what happened and they tried to rouse him and he did not move. I fear that he was dead and that he lay there, on Hastings Street, for who knows how long. I know he was there for at least 5 ½ hours

How did no one notice him there? I would estimate that at least 6 buses per hour went by him on lying on the concrete. Plus all of the people who used that bus stop how is it that he left there. Why didn’t anyone try to see if he was ok or at least call emergency services.

This is the inherent problem with homelessness. Those of us who spend time in Vancouver or other large cities with homeless populations is that we get so used to seeing them that we cease to see them. In my work, I get to know people who are homeless on a personal level. What this has done for me is to attune me to homeless people.

We need to move on social housing. There needs to be federal-provincial plans in place to build more housing. We also need some second-stage supportive housing that will assist people with mental health and/or addiction issues to maintain a home. If we are to move on this issue, we must get the Conservatives and Stephen Harper out of Ottawa. We must start to invest in helping individuals secure housing.

[1] The bench in the shelter has been gone for a long time.

The Minimum Wage

Christy Clark is making good on her promise to raise BC’s minimum wage. The minimum wage has not been increased pretty much since the BC Liberals were elected. In a province with one of the highest costs of living, a minimum wage of $8 per hour is just not sustainable for those earning it. Factor in a single parent raising one or two children, even without needing childcare, they are living seriously below the poverty line. As prices for many goods and services have risen over the past 10 years, many of those working for those businesses have likely seen very little increase in their wage unless they work for a good employer. There are many employers who will only pay what the government says they have to pay.

Coalition of BC Businesses argues that a large increase in the will force small employers to hold off new hires and potentially reduce hours as a result of the increase. Another factor is that wage inflation will also ‘hit’ non-minimum wage earners in order to keep ratios between workers in place. I find the use of language interesting here. By using the phrase ‘wage inflation,’ the Coalition of BC Business is casting minimum wage increases in a negative way. After all when is inflation ever referred to as a good thing? Normally inflation is bad as it means we pay more for the necessities of life.

I remember a poster that they used to put up in income assistance offices. It was a poster designed to encourage people to take a minimum wage job as they would be better off than if they stayed on income assistance. While in theory this was true, if you factored in the costs of working (transportation, clothing, lunches etc) they would probably have a higher quality of living on income assistance. This would be especially true in the case of single parents. Even with a child care subsidy there is no way they could pay the parent portion and still feed the family.

The bottom line is that increasing the minimum wage puts more money into the economy. If a business cannot afford to pay a phased in higher minimum wage and survive then there is something seriously wrong with their business model. Paying people higher wages puts more money back into the economy, which, in turn, drives business.

The HST is also cited as having a seriously negative effect on business – especially restaurants and other hospitality industries. Perhaps the Coalition of BC Business would be better off trying to get a reduction in the amount of HST consumers are charged in restaurants. I am sure a couple of percent reduction would do far more to improve business than keeping wages so low employees have to make a choice between buying groceries and paying the heating bill.

I am disturbed that the province gave in when it comes to ‘gratuity workers’ or liquor services. While other industries will see the minimum wage rise to $10.25 an hour in the next year and a bit, those working in bars serving alcohol will top out at $9 an hour. The argument is that they actually have a higher standard of living slinging beer because they get tips. I suspect that the amount of tips varies wildly. I am sure those servers working at the No. 5 Orange on the Downtown Eastside would argue that they do not get enough tips to live on compared to others working in swankier places. I think the separation is ridiculous and all of them should be paid the same minimum wage.

The catch up to $10.25 per hour is just that – a catch up. It is still not a living wage for people in this province. If Christy Clark is to be truly visionary, she will build in an ongoing increase in the minimum wage on a yearly basis tied to the cost of living increase. The one good thing that came out of that announcement was that the abhorrent ‘training’ wage has been discontinued.

What would be truly progressive would be a living wage program or at least a minimum income for families with children. If we invest in families and children now, while the children are young, then they stand a good chance of being ready for school and succeeding. We all know that children who fall behind in school due to economic reasons are disadvantaged their entire lives due to fewer opportunities and lower overall health. I hope that Christy Clark’s ‘family first’ agenda means just what it says.

Dispatches from the Swamp – the ‘we ought to be ashamed’ edition

  • It is February and it is winter in Vancouver. Apparently, with the wind-chill tonight it is going down to -17 degrees Celsius. Now, you would think that city planners know the weather is going to cold and there will be a need to help people keep warm on the streets. When the temperature dips below zero here it is a brutal because it is so damp. Factor in the wind that has been ravaging us and this is literally killing weather for people on our streets. The police have said they are not going to force people into shelters – that is big of them. So as the CBC was announcing that authorities were asking for people to donate warm clothing and blankets for the homeless. Perhaps we should read that again: The City of Vancouver wants donations of warm clothing for people living on the streets. What is wrong with this situation? Where to begin? It begins with the off-loading of responsibilities by the federal government to the provinces. The provinces, in turn, have off-loaded on to the municipalities. Now the municipalities are off-loading on to us – the lowly tax payer, who, ironically funds all the levels of government. What exactly is it that our taxes pay for if not to ensure there are adequate supplies for the homeless? All of the shelters should be stocked with these items. Police cruisers should have emergency supplies like blankets, hats, scarves etc. Why can we not do this as a country? I am so ashamed.
  • Today I decided to try to manage my anxiety without medication. I was successful. I did not have a full on attack as I used some cognitive management skills. However, as soon as I got home my right shoulder muscle went into spasm and is killing me. So, while I can manage in this situation without help, the bottom line is my anxiety is rooted in reality and I need the assistance medication offers – at least in the short-term. I am hopeful this stress level will reduce.
  • Today my defensive and slightly paranoid driving style paid off. I am almost always aware of who is where around me. So today when a Sutton real estate sign became airborne as a result of the winds we are having, I was able to maneuver out of its path. It most definitely would have taken out my windshield.

Just Keep Your Head in the Sand

The BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) has done an investigation into how the RCMP treats people in northern BC. Apparently, there have been many issues and tensions growing between the RCMP and the population. Of course, anyone who pays attention to politics in BC could have predicted what they would find when they did a consultation. Reports of First Nations people and the homeless being subjected to illegal arrest, racial profiling and illegal search and seizure were some of the major concerns. The BCCLA published the complaints anonymously understandably to protect peoples’ privacy.

The RCMP was not invited to the party for whatever reason. I am sure we can speculate. Perhaps it was felt that if they were there they might have retaliated. If people were not guaranteed anonymity maybe they may not have come forward. Now, the RCMP say they are not going to investigate these abuses of power.

Clearly the RCMP has no intention of taking action on members who behave badly. You would think given all of the issues with the RCMP of late they would be more than willing to work with the BCCLA to make some positive change. Obviously the RCMP is very comfortable policing small town BC.

Maybe it is time to get rid of the RCMP as an answer to local policing for small communities. Obviously, small towns like Terrace are not going to be able to create their own forces. However, with some provincial leadership, there is no reason why a provincial police force cannot be created. This will take leadership, serious leadership. Perhaps the next step for the BCCLA is to talk to the various leadership candidates in both the BC Liberal Party and the BC NDP to see any leadership can be found. The citizens of BC deserve more fair policing.

It’s a Ranty Kind of Day!

At least 3 topics have crossed my mind for a rant today. The first and second topics would have been driving rants. However, there was something much more pressing today. Once again, this rant is courtesy of the CBC and its BC Almanac program.

At the top of the hour, Susan McNamee was interviewing Lembi Buchanan from the BC Coalition for Action on Alcohol Reform.[1] The coalition would like to see the price of 7% alcohol content coolers raised to reflect the alcohol content. The argument they are using is that it is generally young women who are drinking the coolers with the 7% alcohol content while their boyfriends are drinking 5% beer. Buchanan pointed out that women metabolize alcohol differently[2] and the increased alcohol content jeopardizes their safety. She argues that if the price was increased the amount of alcohol consumed by young people would decrease. She also believes that strategic price increases on easy to drink, sweet beverages will reduce binge drinking.

There are an incredible number of assumptions made by Buchanan and her coalition. The idea that young women have no idea that they are consuming more alcohol than their boyfriends is insulting. Does she seriously think they are that stupid?  Almost all of the callers completely disagreed with Buchanan. They cited teenage behavior, correctly pointing out, that teens will continue to drink regardless of the price. Teens continue to smoke no matter how much they cost.

After several callers had disagreed with her she pointed to a study that was done in Saskatchewan. It was at this point it appeared that the real reason for raising the price of the ciders and coolers was to reduce drunk and disorderly issues in low-income housing areas. Apparently, SK has introduced and they noticed, very quickly, that police did not attend as many times for alcohol related issues in low-income areas.

Personally, I find it very insulting that people who are less affluent should not have free access to alcohol. They were certainly not talking about raising the price on wines and spirits that ‘other’ people drink. It would seem that the whole argument about binge drinking and teenage girls was a ruse to further control the poor. Not having enough money in this society means that your power and choices are systematically eroded.

First there is the welfare system, which is incredibly punitive and intrusive. The very act of deciding if someone should receive money from the state involves a great deal of power. The civil servants making these decisions try to be unbiased however it is pretty much impossible.[3] Discrimination against the poor is pervasive in this country courtesy of the ‘Protestant Work Ethic’ upon which this country formed. Many people believe that the poor are not deserving of any kind of compassion and that they just need to ‘pull themselves up by the bootstraps.’ Enter the BC Coalition for Action on Alcohol Reform who now wants to try to prevent them from consuming inexpensive alcohol. Heaven forbid the poor be able to relax and enjoy a drink! Lembi Buchanan also regaled the CBC listeners with tales of her own alcohol assumption, which included frequent glasses of Jack Daniels and wine every night with dinner. I find it interesting that Buchanan consumes copious amounts of expensive alcohol while trying to restrict access to others in a presumably lower socio-economic class. Perhaps she believes that her alcohol consumption is civilized while downing several 7% alcohol vodka coolers.

The bottom line is that income status is irrelevant when it comes to alcohol abuse. Excessive drinking has the same consequences and effects on families regardless of socio-economic class. In fact, they may be worse in affluent families who are trying to avoid the stigma of alcohol related issues affecting their families.

If we, as a society, are to get serious about alcohol reform we need to look at a continuum of care. We need to focus on education and prevention. Children need to understand the effects of binge drinking and parents must ensure that their drinking is not adversely affecting their families. Finally, the government can do its part and raise the price of all alcohol. The money raised from the extra taxes can then be used to fund alcohol treatment programs and other services to assist families impacted by alcohol.

I am unclear what is motivating the BC Coalition for Action on Alcohol Reform. Their lack of website does not help in trying to figure out what they are trying to accomplish. I would also be very interested to find out what is motivating them, who funds them and what they want to accomplish besides controlling the poor. If the callers on BC Almanac are any indication, it seems that people are not buying what the BC Coalition for Action on Alcohol Reform is selling.

[1] I cannot seem to find a website for these people.

[2] She never says how women metabolize alcohol differently.

[3] I worked in a welfare office for 7 years.