Since the legislature resumed its work a month ago, I’ve been brining Kootenay values and voices to Victoria. One value that is important to all of us is the inclusion of people with disabilities in our communities. The days of institutions and segregation of people with disabilities need to be kept in the past, and we need to continually seek out paths of inclusion.
However, Premier Christy Clark’s 2016 budget has found a way to systemically exclude people with disabilities from participating in an active community life, and when I pointed it out to them, they dug in and refused to make changes that reflect modern values.
Specifically, the Liberals committed to a $77 per month increase to Persons with Disabilities (PWD) social assistance rates. Right now, a single person receiving PWD lives hundreds of dollars below the poverty line at $906 per month. After nine years of frozen rates, this $77 per month increase is far overdue and welcome. But here’s the catch: If you need a bus pass, you now have to pay an extra cost each month. What the government gave with one hand, they are taking with the other.
In our region, people with disabilities will no longer be able to get a bus pass for $45 per year; they will have to pay $50 each month instead. This is a $600 annual increase and eats up most of the promised increase.
If you live in a rural area with limited bus coverage or you can’t take the bus, you have been able to apply and receive a specialized transportation subsidy that would cover car insurance, gas or other transportation costs. Now, the Liberal government will claw back $66 off your check each month, leaving you with $11 of the promised increased.
If you choose not to get a bus pass or transportation subsidy, you can keep the full $77 increase. For 55,000 people with disabilities, they now have to choose between buying healthy food (food banks and soup kitchens don’t meet demand) or being a part of their community. One single mom told me that $77 would help feed her young children, but she needs a bus pass to get them to the doctor. She doesn’t know what to do and is wondering why she can’t keep the $45 per year annual bus pass.
Low-cost or free bus passes and transportation subsidies for people with disabilities were identified as valuable long ago. They remove barriers to getting involved with the community, having a job, grocery shopping, getting to a doctor and visiting family. It allows for independence while removing segregation. We are all better off for something as simple as a low-cost bus pass for people with disabilities.
But here we are, having to fight again for inclusion, for bus passes and equitable treatment. While Social Development and Social Innovation Minister Michelle Stillwell and Christy Clark assert that people with disabilities have choice and they all get the same under this proposal, they fail to recognize the real life choices people have and that having the same doesn’t result in equal rights. When I share real life stories and choices people with disabilities now face because of BC Liberal policies, they dismiss, ignore, heckle and sneer. That is unacceptable and you can watch it all on my YouTube channel.
Medical Service Plan premiums are also going up and into the newly created Prosperity Fund — a fund that was supposed to result from LNG revenue. But there is no LNG revenue. Schools aren’t getting the funds they need, and hospital beds are closing. Millionaires are getting $1 billion in tax breaks over four years and BC Liberal donors are getting plum contracts while jobs in our community are cut. All of this is part of Christy Clark’s 2016 budget. Like you, I know we deserve better.
Michelle Mungall is the member of the legislative assembly for the Nelson-Creston provincial riding, and is the Opposition critic for social development.