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Comment: Minister should be doing more for the disabled

The Times Colonist’s Les Leyne labelled as cheap shots negative remarks made about Social Development Minister Michelle Stilwell’s gold medals at the Paralympics (“Cheap attacks aimed at Stilwell’s gold,” column, Sept. 13).

The Times Colonist’s Les Leyne labelled as cheap shots negative remarks made about Social Development Minister Michelle Stilwell’s gold medals at the Paralympics (“Cheap attacks aimed at Stilwell’s gold,” column, Sept. 13).

But those comments are motivated by years of extreme frustration at the inaction and lack of empathy from the B.C. Liberal government. Coupled with this is Stilwell’s arrogant, insensitive remark: “They have more money today than they did yesterday.”

Persons with disabilities (PWD) were given a $77 increase in their benefit, but were then told if they would have to pay $52 a month for a bus pass that previously cost them $45 a year. A person choosing to take the bus would have about 80 cents a day left over from the increase, the first increase in more than nine years.

Stilwell herself complained as far back as September 2013 that MLAs get only $1,000 per month allowance for renting in Victoria, and said it’s impossible for MLAs to find an apartment for that amount. Yet she and her government insist that those on the PWD benefit get only $375 per month for housing, regardless of where they live in the province. That is arrogance.

When asked how the disabled are going to find rentals for $375 a month, Stilwell said on CBC Radio: “They have to make some sacrifices and accommodation and figure things out for yourself.”

These remarks are insensitive, especially from a minister who claims to be an advocate for the disabled.

We recognize Stilwell’s achievements on the track, but when she appears on the world stage professing to be an advocate for the disabled, while keeping those with disabilities in B.C. in such deplorable and degrading conditions, she brings herself and her sporting endeavours into the fray she created, and blurs those lines.

In clawing back the disability bus pass, Stilwell has reinvented the wheel and made it square. She claims it is about equity, but how is it equitable when many British Columbians can buy a regular bus pass for less than what the government offers the disabled? This allows some to have more in their pockets, but penalizes those disabled who live in larger communities.

Had the minister given all disabled the full $77 increase and then addressed the rural disabled by giving them a similar amount for subsidized transportation allowance, she would have been further ahead. Instead, she chose to expend those dollars in manpower in dealing with all the issues that have risen as a result of the changes to the bus-pass program. She has expended resources on issuing new cards and opting out and in, and time and energy trying to defend a policy that so negatively affects the most vulnerable in B.C.

Many B.C. Special Olympians have said they need the full increase to cover their rental and food increases. Therefore, they have had to give up their bus passes and can no longer get to their sporting events. That effectively quashes their chances of going for gold medals, a direct result of Stilwell’s decision to change the disability bus-pass program.

What makes the B.C. government think Stilwell’s gold medals are more important than those of B.C.’s Special Olympians?

On June 17, 1998, then-MLA Christy Clark stood on the floor of the legislature challenging the NDP on clawbacks in the foster-care system. She said: “So I take it the minister’s message is: ‘Sorry we’re nickel-and-diming you; sorry we’re making your life difficult … Aren’t you lucky for all the things you don’t get promised?’

“I’m sorry, but that’s not a way to run a government. That’s not a convincing way to tell the public that you’re providing services they need. It’s a process of consulting and then listening and then making sure what you heard is reflected in the policies that come out at the end of the day from the government.”

Perhaps had Stilwell and now Premier Clark heeded those words, they wouldn’t be facing so much blowback for the unjust changes in the bus-pass program.

What people are hearing are by no means cheap shots, they are loud and profound expressions of deep and continual frustration at Stilwell, who takes to the world stage professing to be an advocate for the disabled while the disabled here in B.C. struggle daily because of her actions and inactions.

Delphine Charmley of Nanaimo is the mother of nine children, eight of whom are adopted and seven of whom have special needs, including two grown sons who rely on disability benefits.