#NotMyCanada – the 2024 Federal Budget and the CDB

Hey. Politicians. The career ones in Canada, specifically, y’know, the ones up at the federal and provincial levels. Yes, I know, you’re busy trying to look busy, but I vote, you can take a minute.

Let’s do a little thought experiment.

Let’s pretend, just for a moment, that this is a democracy and you actually care what the people of Canada want and need. I know, I know, it’s a crazy idea. Anyone not hopelessly naive knows that politics is a game of tricking the population into voting for you and the winning team gets a chance to make money for themselves and their friends and pillage the country or province. But just for the sake of this experiment, let’s pretend that this “democracy” thing means that you are working for the people whose taxes are paying your salary at a level far beyond what any of them are ever likely to earn. Let’s pretend that in this “democracy” you actually need to pay attention to the peasants as something more than pawns.

Got it? Okay, good. Try your best to hold onto that.

Now, imagine that you’re one of those peasants. I know it’s a stretch, but stick with me, here.

You were born in a regular household, maybe with two adults struggling to pay the bills, maybe just one, the details could be anything. You grew up, went to school, got a job or started your own business, maybe started a family if that’s your thing. You’ve been working hard, which isn’t fun but it’s contributing to your plans for the future, and meanwhile, you can look forward to occasional little joys like taking a vacation and spending time with the people you love, doing whatever you most enjoy. You’ve managed to squirrel away a little in the bank for a rainy day, if you’re doing particularly well.

Then, with no warning, some part of your body just fails, like a computer part that one day just burns out and stops working, except that human bodies are infinitely more complex and there are only a few parts we have any hope of being able to just replace when they fail. It might be visible, or people might look at you and think you’re healthy. It might be physical, or it might be mental.

Maybe you get lucky, and you have supports in place to tide you over and it turns out to be something that can be treated, so after a few weeks, or months, or a couple of years, you can pick yourself back up and try to resume your life where you left off. Possibly you need to make a few adjustments, but for the most part, things go back to the way they were. Any money you had tucked away in the bank is long gone, if you had any at all which is not always possible, but at least you can start saving again.

Maybe the dice are less friendly and whatever went wrong is not something that can be fixed well enough. Even if you’re lucky enough to have a support system, you’re now struggling with a whole lot all at once. Possibly, with enough accommodations that you will have to fight for, you can still work, although possibly not at the same job and possibly no longer full-time, so quite likely you’ve lost some pay and, if you were lucky enough to have them, benefits. Possibly you can’t work at all anymore, and it’s either unclear whether you’ll eventually be able to or you have no realistic chance of it ever.

You have to change aspects of your life, sometimes in drastic ways, to accommodate this new complication. Sometimes those changes cost a lot, and oh yeah, your income has just dropped enormously. There are some organizations and services that help, but they all involve jumping through enormous numbers of hoops that are often confusing and exhausting, and most days, it’s a victory just to accomplish the bare basics like eating and looking after the pet that is giving you all the love most humans no longer will and maybe showering before falling into bed, so trying to access those services can feel like an impossible task. If it’s an invisible issue, then the people around you get impatient with you and demand that you pretend it’s not happening, because it’s inconvenient for them to have to deal with it emotionally or physically. If it’s a visible one, they start treating you differently, like being a wheelchair means something has gone wrong with your mind. There’s a disturbingly high chance that either way they even become abusive, physically or mentally. Possibly they leave because you’re now too much work. Anything you saved in the bank is gone in no time, and there is no way you’re building that back up. If you had any debts, then say hello to declaring bankruptcy, right after you scrounge up enough money to officially declare that you have no money, but your future is now so insecure that you’re not going to need a credit rating anymore anyway.

So you are now broke and isolated, at a time when you might need to depend more heavily on others to help you with essentials and you probably desperately want someone to just give you a hug and let you cry from all the fear and pain and stress and uncertainty. And all the time, you’re trying to cope with the fact that you have lost your occupation, which in our society defines you as a real person, and you have lost your future and any illusion of security. Maybe you have a few good days when your particular condition eases up for a while, but you learn fast never to count on those because your own body can no longer be trusted. You might be living with pain literally every day, or your mobility might be restricted, or you might be struggling with the constant drain of any kind of mental health issue. If you’re still working somehow, I guarantee that every hour is more tiring than it used to be, and requires more thought and planning and strategizing to get through.

And remember, you got launched into living like this with no reason to anticipate that it was going to happen. One day you were working, probably stressed but reasonably healthy, just going about your life. The next day that life turned into this.

If you’ve lost your previous home for any reason, you are going to have a very real, very serious problem finding anywhere to live. I really hope you don’t have accessibility issues, because trying to find an affordable accessible apartment is like finding a unicorn. But let’s say you either manage to keep your previous home, or you can move in with a friend, at a non-impossible rent. With what little is left of your monthly income, you get to survive. That means paying every month for food, hygiene necessities, utilities, phone and Internet, maybe the expenses for a pet who is keeping you sane even if they aren’t an official service animal.

It also means trying to budget for purchases like clothes including winter gear, and possibly the change in your health has had an impact on your weight and you have little or nothing that still fits. It means making sure that you have a working phone, which is obviously a necessity, and maybe even a low-end computer because possibly you find it hard to get out and most of your life is online. It means trying to figure out how to pay for anything medical that is not covered. And it may mean extra expenses because if you find it hard to get out, or you’re at high risk of complications from a virus, you might need to get more purchases delivered. You might need to take taxis instead of a bus or being able to walk even a limited distance. Cars are expensive, and your health issue might mean you can’t safely drive even if you could before. Your diet might have changed and you can’t live on cheap fatty carbs without dire consequences, so you get to choose between eating a reasonable volume of food that will make your health worse or eating food that is what you need but maybe only eating once a day – and if you have diabetes, say, neither is a viable choice. Food banks are massively overloaded and besides, cannot take restricted or special-needs diets into account.

Still with me on this little thought experiment?

Let’s imagine instead that you’re born with, or are diagnosed with, some sort of serious health condition when you’re very young. Maybe you’re lucky and your parents are well-off enough to make sure you have a good start anyway, but y’know, this can happen even in families that weren’t planning on another child and would have struggled even to keep up with a healthy one. Accidents happen. Before you even have a chance to try to build a life, you’re already looking at a future that will involve complications and needing accommodations that are just not always going to be there. You might be able to find a job, and that’s great, but unless it’s a good job that involves a decently comprehensive health care plan, you’re still going to be in need of some help from your government. If you ever lose that good job, possibly it just evaporates out from under you through no fault of yours, then you are definitely going to need help.

So. Still pretending that you are a disabled peasant who isn’t paying taxes anymore but still votes, imagine that the cost of living is climbing at a rate that is out of control. Rent is astronomical. You are not going to be able to afford even a tiny apartment on a provincial disability pension. Honestly, the odds of you and a friend finding a 2-bedroom unit you can afford are incredibly unlikely. What kind of joke is $556 as a rent allowance in a city where the average rent is well over $2000 for a 2-bedroom apartment? You’re living in terror of losing whatever home you have, and it can happen even if you are a model tenant.

You spend a lot of energy trying to figure out how to magically make not nearly enough money stretch to cover everything, and you keep having to decide which necessity is the least necessary because it literally just won’t cover. I do not mean which to drop out of twelve different online streaming services. I mean, if you happen to have a uterus, trying to decide between buying period supplies so you can go out in public or buying a couple of meals’ worth of food or doing one ordinary load of laundry at current prices. If you have kids, the choice might be whether to feed them or yourself.

And remember, six months, or six years, ago, you were a taxpaying person with a job and some hope of actually supporting yourself (not really, on current wages and with the current cost of living, but we’re using our imaginations, here). You had no reason to expect that this was what your life would look like. It just happened.

Now we’re all warmed up and we’re really going to stretch our imaginations hard. Ready?

Let’s pretend that politicians who are elected, or appointed by the people who are elected, actually at least act like they care at all about the wellbeing of the people who are, in a very real sense, their employers. Let’s pretend that there is some sense of responsibility, and dare we extend that to even traces of actual humanity and kindness? A recognition that the population of the country is made up of individuals who have needs, dreams, feelings, and the ability to suffer, along with the ability to vote, and who have the same right to a fulfilling life that politicians have?

What happens in this reality if your body fails?

Short-term supports that are easy and quick to access, to reduce the immediate impact, for one.

Long-term supports that are at an adequate level and acknowledge that just surviving is expensive, surviving with disabilities is more so, and that there is more to living with dignity than barely surviving. Supports that are not intimidating and exhausting to access, and that do not assume that every single person requesting help is doing so fraudulently. Supports that help people who have had a bad roll of the dice continue to contribute to their local economy and their local community in whatever way they can.

Supports that would banish the sickening echo of coverture (look it up), and acknowledge a disabled person as an independent adult entitled to their own income, regardless of whether they are single and would like to form a relationship without giving up all autonomy and becoming that person’s legal dependant, or are in a relationship but would like to have their own money instead of being forced to ask for an allowance from a partner or parent, or are trapped in a relationship that is abusive and they would quite like to leave it if they could just do so without ending up homeless.

All of this would mean, among other substantial benefits, a greatly reduced load on the healthcare system because people who are disabled can eat, exercise, and otherwise live in ways that are conducive to their physical and mental health. It would help local economies because more money circulating at a real-world level means more support for businesses which means more jobs. And it would just be a decent thing to do for vulnerable citizens of a country that at least used to pride itself on being kind and accepting as well as polite.

Bodies break. Minds malfunction. This is just a fact of life. Humanity has always known this. What varies is what we do with that knowledge. Imagine a Canada that leads the world in recognizing that fact and working with it to give the disabled the best chance possible of whatever employment they can reasonably do, and to still be part of their communities in other ways if they can’t work at all.

Back in the real world… you are this peasant whose life went absolutely to hell one day. You are watching things get worse and worse, and you are watching the politicians, who are being paid out of the taxes that you paid when you were able to, living comfortably and voting themselves raises that are more than you live on for a year, untouched by the growing crisis. How do you feel about that? Here’s a hint: it’s not that that is the way things should be. Then there’s a big debate about how we desperately need a disability benefit that will “lift the disabled population out of poverty,” and it goes through, and you think maybe, just maybe, politicians decided to actually care, just once. That the situation is so acute, so many of Canada’s disabled people are homeless or choosing medically-assisted suicide, that it’s starting to get through that something needs to be done.

Then you start hearing about the delays. Well, all you can do is try your best to hang in there. But there’s light at the end of the tunnel!

And then they finally release a budget, and it offers a minuscule amount of extra money, which they can’t even promise you’ll get free-and-clear without your provincial payments being reduced, and you will have to jump through hoops all over again to get it, although you might not be eligible at all depending on your living situation and relationships.

This is supposed to be compassion.

The appropriate response to this betrayal is rage. Despair is also understandable.

Surprise is not. The way COVID was handled made it abundantly clear that we shouldn’t really expect politicians to care if the disabled are safe.

Lots of disabled people are withdrawing their consent for organ donation. I’m one of them. I don’t know if it’s true that the market value of someone’s organs adds up to more than we’re being offered. I don’t care. If my life is worth so little, then I’m keeping control of anything I actually do own that has any value at all, and that includes my own body.

Listen, politicians. Let’s keep pretending. Let’s pretend, instead of self-interest, you vote based on science. In the Neolithic, people experienced severe health issues that they survived and recovered from, and that would not have happened without their communities supporting them while they did so. We have archaeological evidence of the fact that people thousands of years ago did better at caring for each other. Or let’s pretend you vote based on faith (you shouldn’t, this is not a theocracy, but whatever). There’s that little line from Jesus about what you do to the least of these, remember that one? And virtually every major religion has some version of the Golden Rule. Is what you just did to us really what you would like someone to do to you?

Do you really think that the many, many people in Canada who are disabled, over a million of us, and our allies, won’t remember this? We’re all used to lies. That’s the game, right? Push it as far as you can before people get fed up and start voting for the other major party, who then start their streak they can try to maintain.

This time, you dangled hope in front of over a million of us when we were desperate, and then you yanked it out of reach and laughed at us.

Here’s the thing. We all know that there is no federal or provincial politician who is going to take time out from their busy profitable wheeling-dealing days to read this. It’s just one more rant on the Internet. But I’m not talking to them anyway.

I’m talking to you. The person reading this. Who is disabled, or cares about someone who is, or recognizes the fact that you could be someday (have you looked at our healthcare system lately?), or cares about people generally, or just happens to be curious what I’m ranting about.

Imagine that world where the politicians realize that they do not have the Divine Right of Kings to treat us like interchangeable serfs. Where they cannot act on the assumption that like a medieval lord, they have power because God wants them to. And where they have to behave accordingly, otherwise there are real consequences.

They are not better than the rest of us. They are not divinely appointed. They are not superior bloodlines. They just have more money. When their bodies and minds fail, they have more resources to call on, so they never end up living in a tent while enduring chronic pain and never have to try to decide whether they can buy vegetables. They have absolutely no vested interest in any plan that makes life better for us. They care only about their own image. If the country collapses, that’s the problem of the next elected government, or the one after, not the problem of this one. If more and more of us are choosing death because life is nothing but unnecessary suffering with no end in sight, that doesn’t keep them up at night.

What do we do with this?

Damned if I know. This is just my scream of rage, that I’m expressing the best way I know how. I used to be a medical secretary, and I loved my job. I can’t do it any more. I spend my time now creating complex fantasy worlds where I can test out alternative ways of doing things and telling stories in them, in a desperate attempt to remind myself that there is still hope, and I give them away for free in hopes of offering a bit of distraction from the hellscape our world is turning into on every level. If I knew how to make changes happen, I’d be doing it.

I can tell you for sure, I won’t be voting for the Liberals ever again. I can’t. This was finally that step too far. The right winning terrifies me half to death, because they very definitely do not care at all about the overwhelming majority of us and despite their claims to Christian values, you’re not going to find any charity or compassion there. This is a terrible time to fracture the left, with the appalling threat coming from the right, but it’s not like the people who did this are going to be the ones who suffer for that, and at most they lose their turn for a round or two. I have doubts that I’ll be backing the federal NDP either, given their disappointing lack of response to something that should have them up in arms, so maybe I finally commit to the Greens. Whoever you decide to support, VOTE. Let the biggest voter turnout in Canadian history show them that we’re fed up and we’re done with this elitist abuse. (Maybe we can all write in “Jean Chr├ętien” – and if you want to see why I would say that or you’re too young to remember him, then go read his Wikipedia page.) Whatever we’ve got right now, this is #NotMyCanada.

The thing is, there are some very smart people out there who devote their whole lives to trying to shift the enormous weight of our catastrophically-broken system, and I don’t mean the conspiracy nuts. I mean the ones who are advocating for universal guaranteed income that will let absolutely everyone live with some security (and will boost the local economy because more money being spent, and ease the burden on the healthcare system because healthier population), and the ones who worked hard on the Canada Disability Benefit and are yelling that this is not at all what was discussed, and the people trying to achieve some protection of our environment even though it’s probably too late, and the ones who are working in a thousand different ways to try to get the freefall we’re currently in under some kind of control before we hit bottom. Maybe go and support them (I’ll put a couple of my favourite links below). If all you can realistically do is sign petitions, do that. If you can do more, then do it. Because we’re heading fast for that landing, and it’s going to be a bad one. If we do what humanity has done from the very start of the species and look after each other, maybe we’ll survive it like we always have so far. If greed and hate and all the rest win, Canada is screwed right along with the rest of the world.

Except for the very small minority of very rich people who are getting richer by making the decisions about how hard and fast we fall.

Never forget that.

Among many others:

Disability Without Poverty – Nothing about us without us
UBIWorks – Universal Basic Income advocacy and information

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