Posted July 12, 2019
Members of Ottawa’s disabled community demonstrated outside the Ontario Disability Support Program office on Preston Street on Thursday over concerns the provincial government might narrow the definition of who qualifies for support, potentially excluding people who need the income.
The demonstrators were mostly members of the Ottawa chapter of the lower-income advocacy organization ACORN.
Kathleen Fortin, Acorn’s Hintonburg and Mechanicsville chair, said narrowing the ODSP criteria would negatively impact people who face barriers in getting work.
“These are people’s lives you’re playing with, and it’s detrimental to people’s well-being and health,” she said.
The provincial government announced last fall that it would be bringing changes to ODSP, including realigning the program’s definition of disability more closely with a federal definition as part of larger reforms meant to make the program more sustainable and efficient.
The province also said it would be removing “red tape and rules that make it even harder for people to help themselves and to connect to the services they need.” A ministry statement said that once a new definition is adopted, “we anticipate that most people currently receiving ODSP will transition into the new program without having to undergo a reassessment.”
But demonstrators at Thursday’s rally said there is no single federal definition of a disability and that they fear the province will go with something similar to the Canada Revenue Agency’s narrow criteria.
The CRA criteria are complex but essentially require that a person to be inhibited from doing everyday tasks on a prolonged basis.
Acorn demonstrators said this would exclude those whose disabilities flair up or appear episodically, or those with debilitating forms of mental illness or conditions such as autism.
Ottawa-Centre MPP Joel Harden, the NDP critic for persons with disabilities, told demonstrators that cutting spending on disability payments will only end up costing the government more in the long run.
“If you make people poor, you force people to live in poverty. It ends up in health care, it ends up in interaction with the criminal justice system (and) first responders,” he said. “Nobody wants to live in poverty, but if you’re chronically disabled, we need to accommodate people. We need an enabling society.”
Blaine Cameron, Acorn’s citywide chair, complained that previous government discussions on the potential changes have been “invite-only,” and said he wants a more open consultation process.
“Details are still to be determined and we will provide more information as decisions are made,” the ministry statement said. “Changes will be implemented gradually with regular communications to help people understand and prepare.
Article by Jacob Hoytema for Ottawa Citizen