"So many dreams at first seem impossible. And then they seem improbable. And then when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable."
~ Christopher Reeve

Thursday, January 8, 2009

New Year's Mish Mash ~ Warning: Long Post

A few items came across my desk in the last few days that, at first glance, might appear unrelated. Or are they?

Anyone recall a previous discussion about Nova Scotia implementing a 211 system?
211 is personal telephone access to information about the full range of social services offered in a local community. It is especially valuable to seniors, newcomers and persons with disabilities trying to navigate the maze of services delivered by multiple levels of government and private providers.

Today residents in large cities like Toronto, Edmonton and Calgary, as well as smaller cities such as Windsor, Niagara Falls and Simcoe have access to 211, 24-7. Callers always talk to people and never a machine. Three more 211 initiatives will launch in 2008 in Ottawa, Thunder Bay and Quebec City. The premier of British Columbia has recently announced the commitment to the first provincewide 211 service in the throne speech.

Well, apparently the push is on again. So just how is that going?

Ms. Woodman estimates it would cost $400,000 to get the system started, then about $900,000 a year to operate it.

She said Aliant has agreed to be a sponsor, and there are talks with other potential sponsors. She said the United Way’s current proposal is to pay half the startup cost, with the province paying the other half and most of the annual operating costs.

Service Nova Scotia Minister Jamie Muir said he needs to see more money from proponents on the table. He doesn’t want the province going it alone on the operating costs.

"Clearly, this enterprise is going to have to include more than just government if it’s going to work," he said.

Ms. Woodman said there have been talks with Citizenship and Immigration Canada, which provides money to other 211 systems because they help newcomers to the country.
Despite his reservations, Mr. Muir said 211 will get a fair shake in the current round of budget talks. After which he pointed out money will be particularly tight next year.

But as an interesting aside in this, the opposition parties want the government to fund the project rather than further burden the United Way.
"What I’m just seeing really is the government is avoiding its responsibility and trying to download again to the non-profit sector, which I think takes dollars then away from so many of the other services that they’d be trying to provide," Liberal MLA Diana Whalen said.

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Which ties in with an article in yesterday's Chronicle Herald, which I cannot for the life of me, seem to find an electronic version to link to. Anyway, it can be found on Page A7 of the January 7th edition of the Chronicle and is entitled "Meeting Basic Needs: Case for Charity or Human Rights Issue?".

The piece was written by Vince Calderhead, a Nova Scotia Legal Aid lawyer, who has been fighting poverty issues for years. In fact, he was one of the professors in my Poverty Law class way back in ... well, maybe both his sake and mine, we won't say how long ago that was. Just many years ago.

Vince notes that government is continuing to push more and more responsibility for basic rights onto the private sector.

Don't think so?

Consider this: in a recent compliance report with the United Nations on protecting the right to food, Nova Scotia stated:

Grants are provided by the provincial government to assist in the operation of food banks. As well, there are community organizations an churches that provide meals to people who are homeless and have low income.
In Vince's words:
So, there we have it. Having recognized the inadequacy of its own social assistance payments to people whom it has determined are in need, the province reports to the United Nations that it supplements its disastrous social assistance programs by way of government donations to food banks in the hope that they might be able to get the job done.
In 1998, the UN singled out Nova Scotia for its manifestly inadequate social assistance rates. While the National Council of Welfare reports that social assistance rates in Nova Scotia for single people, people with disabilities and single mothers continue to fall well below the low income cut-off and are, in fact, a fraction of social assistance rates provided 20 years ago.

And thus, we are being forced to face some fundamental questions. For example, is there a fundamental human right to food?

Vince argues, thus:
In the same way that we no longer tolerate poor people being forced to grovel in order to obtain necessary medical care - and respect everyone's right to medical care - so we should call upon our province to do the right ting and fulfill its obligation to ensure that everyone in Nova Scotia enjoys the right adequate food and shelter.
Quite frankly, I am not sure how far, I, personally, can travel down that road. Would I make the right to food a basic human right in Nova Scotia and obligate the government to feed us all? Of that, I am not so sure. Although I sure as heck would make a lot of other changes. And that's a promise.

But putting that question aside, the issue of the inadequacy of social assistance rates in this Province (which I fail to see how anyone could argue against) does highlight the issue of why vehicles like the Henson Trust and the RDSP are so important for individuals with disabilities in this Province.

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And raises the question of why it is so hard for people, in general, and governments, in particular, to change their way of doing things.

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Speaking of which ... did anyone else notice the two-step three-step shuffle?

Looks to me like just another example of the more things change ... well, you know the rest. Karen Casey moves from the Minister of Education to Minister of Health. Former teacher Judy Streatch moves from Minister of Community Services to Minister of Education. And Chris d'Entremont moves from Minister of Health to Minister of Community Services.

Funny how, with all the commentary, no one bothers to speculate on what it might mean for our community. Perhaps that because the answer is all too painfully obvious ... absolutely nothing?

Oh yeah .... nearly forgot!

HAPPY NEW YEAR


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