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April 5, 2019

Envisioning the Elephant

Our Act sets out the Province’s own aspiration for human rights in a statement of the purpose. The purpose of the Act is to recognize the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family, to recognize that human rights must be protected by the rule of law, and to recognize that the government and all public agencies have the responsibility to ensure that every individual in the Province is afforded an equal opportunity to enjoy a full and productive life. These purposes have informed my decision. It may, however, cost tens of millions a year to fulfill these aspirations for the disabled. That is for the next phase of this proceeding, but I finish this first step with a caution; one should not be glib about what witness Wendy Lill described as the elephant in the room during the Roadmap discussions of services for the disabled - cost.
Walter Thompson, QC

So, oft in theologic wars
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean;
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!

Blind Men and the Elephant - John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887)
I'm no economist, but I have expectations that government, having read their own Human Rights Act, will take steps to ensure that every individual in the Province is afforded an equal opportunity to enjoy a full and productive life.  Government has no higher calling.  They have an obligation to examine the elephant from every angle.

One person can get rich by Chasing the Ace, but anyone can get comfortable by working hard, saving money and being thrifty.  In Nova Scotia, we live beyond our means and are prisoners of conventional thinking.  We see people with disabilities as a mystery and a liability, when they should be neighbours and assets.  It's easy to raise the specter of the elephant, but the elephant is a hallucination, a bogeyman, a creature of failed imagination, born from acceptance of inequality and intellectual laziness.

Let's examine costs - Thompson's elephant - through an accessibility lens, not accessibility through a cost lens.  Putting people to work, valuing them as part of the community, treating them as assets, not liabilities, fashioning a Nova Scotia solution to a Nova Scotia problem - that's where our priorities should be.  

Here are ten ways to rethink our approach  to disability: (ten year returns in red - rough guess)
  • Allow people to work
    • There are 7,243 Nova Scotians in the Disability Support program of the Department of Community Services.  That program costs $333 million.  Moving one person from dependence to employment means saving $46,021.  People with jobs pay taxes - even a minimum wage earner pays $894 provincial income tax, so getting a person a job saves the province $47,000/year.  Forever.
    • It's a tough problem.  DCS rules make it hard to become un-disabled.  We need to show a better way.
    • If DCS moved one percent of its "clients" into the workplace, taxpayers would save $3.4 million a year.
    • $34 million for 1% of "clients"
  • Help them get their RDSP
    • Many of those 7,243 people have not filed for their Registered Disability Savings Program.  These unclaimed federal grants easily top $50 million
    • $50 million + $50 mullion
  • Stop the Access-a-Bus approach
  • Stop institutionalizing people
    • As shown in the recent Emerald Hall Human Rights case, the province spends $180,000 per year to incarcerate people because it can't find $60,000 to house them in the community.
    • $1.2 million/person 
  • Count people properly.  
    • Both the province and Dalhousie take a census of employees through a self identification process fraught with perverse incentives and subtle judgements:
      • For the purposes of this survey, persons with a disability are people who have a long term or recurring physical, sensory, mental, psychiatric or learning impairment and includes people whose functional limitations due to their impairment have been accommodated in their current job or workplace (e.g., by the use of technical aids, changes to equipment or other working arrangements) - 
      • Dalhousie
    • Impairment is is a nasty word - a judgement.  Many people think their conditions are gifts.  Condition is a better word.  But conditions only become disabilities when they meet obstacles.  Disabilities reside in the environment, not in the person.  Disabilities are outputs, not inputs.  
    • Dal's numbers show an improbable increase of 254% in the number of disabled employees from 2010 to 2017.  377% in students.   They say 8% of law students are disabled.  That would be 40 students, when the number 2 is reliably reported.  This report is an exercise in how to lie with statistics.
    • no payoff, just injecting a little truth
  • Paper
    • Government has at least seven forms, each requiring a medical practitioner's signature, to demonstrate the need for transportation, parking. tax credits, loans, housing and accommodations.  
    • 10,000 forms * $50 *10 = $5 million
  • Grants and incentives are money makers
    • When structured imaginatively, they produce revenue, affect the labour market,  enhance communities and provide other benefits.  Conventionally, they are giveaways for pigs at the trough.
    • zero cost
  • Pay attention to tourists
    • We live next door to a huge concentration of tourists with disabilities, yet our facilities are primitive and spotty.
    • unknown, huge potential
  • A living wage
    • Don't discriminate against people with intellectual disabilities by paying sub-minimum wage.  It's human trafficking all dressed up.
    • the right thing
  • Creative use of CEDIFs
    • We must allow people with disabilities to participate in the economic life of the province.  Problems such as affordable housing, transportation, and end of life care should be made better by encouraging savings and ownership.  CEDIFs may be the vehicle.
So 75 job placements, one less incarceration, support for a faltering taxi industry and a single form nets $164 million over ten years.  Just a drop in the bucket, but a seismic shift in approach.  People become investments, not burdens.  Government is an enabler, not a caretaker.  Individuals are independent and self-reliant.  That shift in priorities will benefit all Nova Scotians and lead to a more prosperous and equal province.

Gus Reed

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