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October 17, 2018

Advocating for Paul and Protecting Peter

As we ease towards winter and a full up-and-running provincial government, what can we expect?   Make no mistake; Ontario is fast becoming a defensive environment for people with lived experience in Ontario.  Just look at some of the symbolic action steps that the Progressive Conservatives have touted in its recent legislative session that happened this summer.

Directly impacting those PWLE are consumer/survivors who rely on social assistance.  The fall increases for Ontario Works and ODSP recipients have been cut in half to 1.5%.  As well, the Children, Social and Community Services Minister announced the cancellation of the Basic Income Pilot Project.  More ominously, that same press release talks up “the cycle of poverty”, that the province is headed in the wrong direction, and that “getting people back on track” is the “right thing to do”.

Those of us following the Liberals’ Anti-Poverty Strategy have been mostly supportive of the slow but steady progress in the last few years to first acknowledge the importance of the social determinants of health, and then to begin acting on it.  Openly acknowledging the importance of social assistance and housing, as well as experimenting with a Basic Income research project to see if giving people more net income and fewer rules could spur self-determination were positive signs.  For persons who were working on their recovery journeys, hope was growing.

Now is a time of renewed vigilance and skepticism.  With an administration that claims to be “for the people” watching for tax dollars, the mixed message of increased mental health and addictions investments must not be taken at face value, because it may well be that only more cuts to the social determinants of health can pay for those new ledger entries.   Moreover, through the grapevine, we understand that the wholesale reform of social welfare in 100 days as promised is happening without the formal stakeholder consultation as in the past.

What could this mean?  It may be that the cheery message of new mental health and addictions investments that service organizations usually herald as breakthroughs and positive solutions to wait lists will be muted.  Against a backdrop of the struggle to survive with fixed incomes that is insufficient to deal with rising shelter, food and transportation costs, let along budget for discretionary expenses with an eye for a hopeful future, people are only going to be stressed out, waiting in uncertainty.

That is why it is essential that the mental health and addictions sector must speak and work together in a unified voice on behalf of the people it serves, not just employs.  It would be nothing less than cynical to accept ‘’new funding” in good faith if it came out of the pockets of those who had little to begin with.  Robbing Peter (PWLE) to make Paul (the community mental health sector) a little better off does us no good.  The Ontario Legislature has resumed its work; let’s take this message to all politicians and share it far and wide.


This narrative is written by Raymond Cheng, a staff member of OPDI.  It is an opinion piece and does not necessarily represent the voice of the Board, staff, or members of the organization, nor of the funder, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.  It is written for public awareness of issues and to create discussion amongst our membership.

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