I spoke with Elaine, an elderly woman in West Kelowna who had invested her life savings after her husband died in a condominium in Vancouver – it turned out to be a “leaky condo”, and she lost her life savings. She had been a long-time worker for a subsidiary of Bell Canada which ended up as part of Nortel. When Nortel went bankrupt she lost her pension. Now she lives in a trailer park in West Kelowna, with a limited and fixed income. As she draws down her RRSPs, $90 a month in income taxes are deducted. And while she may get this back in a refund at tax time, her need for the cash every month causes her real hardship and anxiety.
Later in the day, Jodie came to our campaign office in her wheelchair. She had a disabling stroke when she was 30. She got disability pay from her employer for 15 weeks. She hadn’t worked long enough to earn a disability pension from Canada Pension Plan. She told me that her Social Assistance from the BC government has been at the same level, $900 per month, since 1994. She is way below the poverty line, living in a bachelor “suite” in subsidized housing, has no prospects for work, and gets fifteen minutes with a doctor who just prescribes increasing levels of her medications for depression and anxiety.
I met with a man who wants to volunteer on my campaign, as part of bringing his life back to normal after a prison term for some offence unknown to me, but, I hear in whispers, offensive to the community. I had to tell him that I could not accept his offer, that my campaign could not be part of his return to society.
No single Member of Parliament can fix all the elements of Canadian society that give people such profound disadvantages, modify laws and practices in provincial jurisdictions, or give to ex-convicts all the ways to rebuild their lives. But every Member of Parliament must feel in their hearts an enormous personal responsibility when they’re asked for assistance that they can’t give, and a sense of personal frustration when they meet people who are prepared to blame government for all the ills of society but choose not to participate.
It is truly humbling, and a necessary recognition of reality, to take into one’s heart the effects of the inequities in our society, to recognize that $30 billion for fighter jets is in a different universe than an elderly woman for whom a loss of $90 a month is a real hardship, to hear a disabled person talk about her total income of $900 a month in the context of cuts in taxes for the wealthiest corporations, to have to refuse assistance from a man whose past will forever cut him off from normal society in the context of $6 billion for new prisons. The voice of an individual Member of Parliament must be loud and clear, speaking where others can’t, and always on the side of equity and fairness. How could it be otherwise?