[Fwd: Premier Mike Harris & pregnant mothers/welfare]

Graeme Bacque (gbacque@arcos.org)
Fri, 17 Apr 1998 09:39:36 -0400


---------forwarded message---------

> Globe & Mail 4/17/98
>
> Beer gibe earns Harris a blast
>
> Ontario Premier says pregnancy nutrition allowance
> was scrapped so 'those dollars don't go to beer'
>
> By Margaret Philp and Richard Mackie
>
> TORONTO -- A $37-a-month allowance for pregnant women on welfare is bei=
ng
> scrapped to stop them from squandering the money on beer, Ontario Premi=
er
> Mike Harris said yesterday. "What we're doing, we're making sure that t=
hose
> dollars don't go to beer, don't go to something else, but in fact, if t=
here
> are requirements for the health of the mother, they'll get it from us,"=
 he
> told reporters at a pool and spa supply store in Markham where he was
> announcing a summer job program for students.
>
> "But it won't be a blanket cheque that can be spent on anything. It wil=
l be
> spent to the benefit of the child." The remark, made as his government =
puts
> the finishing touches on a long and contentious overhaul of the provinc=
e's
> welfare system, drew an angry response from antipoverty activists, oppo=
sition
> politicians and people working with poor pregnant women. "It's infuriat=
ing
> that he holds these attitudes," said Andy Mitchell, co-ordinator of
> Workfare Watch,
> a publication that tracks welfare reform in Ontario.
>
> "It's absolutely indicative of the attitudes pervading welfare reform a=
nd
> this government's approach to it, that people don't know what's in thei=
r
> own best interests and don't do what's in the best interests of their
> families. Mike Harris has got lots of opinions. Let's see some evidence=
."
> The allowance was supposed to pay for sometimes expensive groceries lik=
e
> fresh vegetables and dairy products, usually in the final six months of
> pregnancy. The move to dump the allowance came as a surprise in regulat=
ions
> released this week for the province's new welfare legislation, slated t=
o go
> into effect next month. Within three hours of his uttering the contenti=
ous
> remark, Mr. Harris's office was into damage control, issuing a statemen=
t
> from the Premier, who insisted his government had eliminated a
> program "wide open to abuse" and that his comments were aimed at the "m=
any,
> many cases" of people cheating the system "and not at pregnant welfare
> recipients.
> "In answering the question earlier today, I did not intend to suggest t=
hat
> all who were receiving the allowance were misusing the money," he said.=
 "If
> anyone has drawn that inference, I apologize."
>
> At the Parkdale Parent Primary Prevention Program, an agency that couns=
els
> poor pregnant women and new mothers in a low-income Toronto neighbourho=
od,
> co-ordinator Maureen McDonald said that in six years of dealing with
> pregnant women on welfare, she has never known an expectant mother to u=
se
> her social-assistance cheque to buy beer. Wow, I can't believe he said
> that. That's not even close to my experience," she said. "I've spoken t=
o a
> few women who receive that $37, and their first response was, 'How am I
> going to buy food?' If they have a few dollars extra, they go out and b=
uy
> outfits for their children."
>
> One of the women to lose the allowance will be Melanie Bunn, a 21-year-=
old
> single mother on social assistance whose daughter, Tiera, was born in
> February. She has collected only the first of six payments under the
> program. "It makes me so mad," she said. "I'm looking after my daughter=
 24
> hours a day. When do I have time to go out and buy beer?"
>
> Mr. Harris is not the only Canadian politician to grovel after letting =
slip
> denigrating remarks about people on the dole wasting their government
> cheques at the beer store.  In the days leading up to the federal
> government's overhaul of the Unemployment Insurance system, Prime Minis=
ter
> Jean Chr=E9tien was forced to apologize after suggesting that unemploye=
d
> people were "sitting at home drinking beer."
>
> At Queen's Park yesterday, Liberal Party Leader Dalton McGuinty said th=
e
> Premier's comment "lends us some real insights into the way his mind wo=
rks
> and the stereotypes he's got for poor people. It indicates a lack of
> compassion and a complete lack of understanding."  Mr. McGuinty added,
> "Mike doesn't understand that but for fate, we would be poor and they w=
ould
> be us."
>
> For his part, New Democratic Party Leader Howard Hampton said the beer
> remark "says that this is a Premier who thinks that you help people by
> punishing them, by beating up on them, by ridiculing them in public, by
> persecuting them."
>
> Sue Cox, executive director with the Daily Bread Food Bank in Toronto, =
said
> it was little wonder food drives have floundered in recent years when a
> high-profile political leader like Mr. Harris is so quick to reveal his
> contempt for poor people.  "There must be a significant percentage of t=
he
> population who takes their cue from those kinds of attitudes," she said.
> "I'm afraid Mr. Harris is out of touch with hunger."  Ms. Cox, who
> describes her current spring food drive as "going not too well," estima=
ted
> that about 4,000 pregnant women rely on Toronto food banks monthly.
>
> Across the province, about 8,000 pregnant women collect welfare -- abou=
t
> 1.5 per cent of the caseload.
>
> The new welfare regulations also grant police-like powers to welfare
> officials to inspect the homes of recipients suspected of fraud, and co=
mpel
> neighbours to disclose what information they may have regarding the
> person's financial affairs.
>
> "If you look at what the regulation says, the powers are unbelievable,"
> said Ian Morrison, co-chairman of the Ontario Social Safety NetWork. "I=
f
> you don't co-operate with them -- whether you're the neighbour, the mot=
her,
> the father, the employer, the therapist, whatever -- you can be charged
> with an offence."
> He said a conviction carries a maximum penalty of six months in prison =
or a
> $5,000 fine.



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