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Opinion

Why Pick on People with Disabilities?

They have been abused twice by BC government action, and inaction.

By Bill Tieleman 8 Dec 2009 | TheTyee.ca

Bill Tieleman is a regular Tyee contributor who writes a column on B.C. politics every Tuesday in 24 Hours newspaper. E-mail him at weststar@telus.net or visit his blog.

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Stuck at home, disempowered.

"Being disabled should not mean being disqualified from having access to every aspect of life." -- Actress Emma Thompson

This is a column that I should not have to write, but I do because people with disabilities in this province are being doubly abused by the B.C. provincial government.

First, HandyDART drivers who provide critical transportation for people with disabilities have been on strike since Oct. 26 because their new employer, American firm MVT Canadian Bus, demanded they give up their existing pension plan and make other major concessions.

That means the frustrated people who depend on HandyDART have been confined to home or to use expensive taxis on their very limited budgets, and while negotiations are scheduled for Thursday, no end is in sight.

Second, the B.C. Liberal government quietly passed legislation allowing it to fire all family members and disability advocates from the board of directors of Community Living B.C., the provincial body responsible for administrating programs for people with developmental disabilities.

In both cases, the province has completely abdicated its responsibilities to the disabled community, by inaction in one and regressive action in the other.

HandyDART: Why ruin a good thing?

TransLink is the government-owned and controlled body responsible for HandyDART, and it created the current mess by contracting out the service to the for-profit MVT without protecting the interests of drivers, who are long term employees with deep connections to their clients.

Now MVT is trying to take away the Municipal Pension Plan that almost all drivers either already had or were scheduled to join in April 2010 and replace it with a risky RRSP scheme. No one in their right mind would give up a good pension plan for an RRSP, nor should they be forced to.

The obvious solution is simple. Stop contracting out critical transportation services for people with disabilities and make it part of the regular TransLink structure that already includes buses, SkyTrain, SeaBus, roads and bridges.

And the province and TransLink should do that immediately and get service back to normal for people who do not deserve to lose HandyDART so a multinational corporation can increase its profit share on the backs of drivers.

Disempowered

The other issue is equally troubling.

The government suddenly amended sections of the Community Living Authority Act -- without consultation with or notice to individuals with development disabilities and their families -- so they are no longer guaranteed any seats on the board that administers their services.

The B.C. Association for Community Living, the non-profit group who represents them, is literally outraged.

"To say that it's not important to have people with disabilities or family members making decisions that affect their lives is to attack the core principles of community living," said BCACL president Rory Summers last month. "Government is removing power from the very people it is there to support."

The BCACL has started an online petition to demand the legislative changes be reversed, and is asking the public to write Premier Gordon Campbell and Housing and Social Development Minister Rich Coleman.

Picking on the disabled -- a new low for the B.C. Liberals.

Anti-HST update

Over 2,100 people have joined my Facebook protest group "Defeat the HST in Parliament" since it was created last week -- sign up to tell MPs you oppose passing the HST, which will likely come up for a final vote this week.  [Tyee]

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