thoughts on life, the provincial budget and WWII stories

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It finally feels like summer here. The kids and I are spending hours outside. We’ve been out and about on errands a little more than normal this past few days, so the kids have done some of their schoolwork in the car. I try to grab the little moments when we’re waiting to play talking games or drill them in spelling rules or math questions – sometimes to the amusement of random people walking past. Today we had some eyebrows raised when my eight year old said the math questions were too easy and he wanted to have to answer them in binary.

Besides the children and the sunshine, I am filled with gratitude right now for the wonderful inspiring people in my life and the sense of community I get from being with them. I am really learning to value community, and I feel blessed because I’m starting to know people who are generous with their time caring for one another. There are so many things that people need to be interconnected for, or that interconnection helps make easier. I think of people relying on help from friends and families moving, or babysitting, advocating for one another and just helping each other out.

Community is just a little challenging for me. I’m scared of being burnt out giving too much to others and scared of burning others out asking for too much from them. Yet to never ask and never give leaves one unconnected. There is something wonderful about being asked to help others, and I’m  learning my own limits (and thus when to say no) and at the same time get braver at asking others for help. On a simpler way  I love having the opportunity to give away perennials to others.

How much can community do, I wonder? There’s been a story in the news lately about a woman who ‘abandoned’ her adult son with autism because she saw no other help available and he needed 24 hour one-on-one care. Could a community do that, I wonder,  or would it be impossible without someone paid? Could a community be self-sufficient in caring for its elderly, with the assistance of nursing homes when appropriate but with the extra care available for those who could stay at home if they had a bit more care? I’m not advocating that we take away any of the wonderful services available and I think there needs to be a lot more funding for such services, but I also wonder about the successes and failures of communities to step up to the plate and help out.

So community has been one of the things I’ve been thinking about, but there’s other things too. The Ontario provincial budget has been released with a token 1% raise for those on social assistance and $14 extra per month for single adults on Ontario Works. Poverty Free Ontario wants to celebrate that at least the poverty of single adults has gotten some attention, however minimal, though they acknowledge:

ODSP single adults, however, do not appear to be included in the $14/month top-up, the shocking rationale being that this will “begin to reduce the disparity in rates between ODSP and OW recipients.” (p. 91). This is an early signal that the potential future “harmonization” of the OW and ODSP caseloads would be more about reducing benefits to the lowest common denominator than moving all recipients in the direction of decent living standards.

One of the questions I always wonder is, do people on Ontario Disability (ODSP) get more because living with a disability is more expensive, or because they are seen as “worthy” whereas those on OW are seen as unworthy because it is presumed they could work? Either way, the government’s report Brighter Prospects argues that the difference between the groups diminished and those on disability should be expected to participate on “pathways to employment” whatever that means.

Fourteen dollars extra a month won’t go far. Not nearly far enough. Poverty Free Ontario says its good they could even get people talking about needing to raise social assistance rates, but I don’t think we have really got the measure through about how serious it is. Everyone seems to know someone on social assistance whose life they don’t approve of in some way – maybe the fact the person bought a flat screen tv, or went to a concert, or had too mamy children, or smokes, or watches daytime television or some crazy thing the people don’t approve of that justifies in their mind keeping social assistance levels low, to punish those who don’t work. Those little things are taken as proof that the situation isn’t all that bad. But even if a person on social assistance manages to aquire some of the ‘trappings of luxuries’ that doesn’t mean they’re not in need of a higher income.

I keep thinking of a conversation I had once where a pregnant mother on social assistance said something about wanting to be able to shop for some baby things rather than just rely on community resource centers for baby clothes. My gut reaction at that time was actually to think but not say “because you’re on social assistance” and yet afterwards I thought about the symbolic and emotional value of shopping, and the way in which is it participating in shaping the child’s surroundings. The baby’s physical needs for clothes could be satisified with donated goods, but what about the mother’s needs to participate in life? If social assistance is to be a security net for all people rather than simply a means of keeping people from dying on the streets, then we need to increase the rates enough that people on it can live, not just lives of poverty and shame, but lives.

Side note here: despite being able to afford to buy my own baby clothes for my children, I was delighted to accept second hand clothes from friends and friends-of-friends. Shopping is to me a tiresome chore and I would prefer to do as little as possible. Being given things, even second hand, leaves me feeling part of a community, though the sense of community might not have been there had the clothes come from a charity or organization rather than from people. I don’t know. I think partly if we feel as a nation we cannot afford to give everyone access to new things we need to work on changing the meanings attached to things like shopping, second hand clothing, etc.

So there’s the nice weather, and there’s the budget. What else is happpening in life? I tend to alternate between reading challenging academic books and less challenging books. The less challenging books aren’t always cheerful, they’re just easier to read. This week my easy reading choice was A Train in Winter. It tells the story of 230 French women resisters rounded up by the Gestapo during WWII and shipped to Auschwitz. The book is filled with little details a few of the survivors remembered. Some are horrifying stories of how friends and strangers were killed. Others are wonderfully encouraging stories. In a prison camp in France before being sent to Auschwitz, the women whose windows opened to the street all called out together “J’ai faim! J’ai faim!” (I’m hungry). Their coordinated efforts earned two of them a couple of days in solitary confinement with no food, but also led to the prison commandant tasting the food and increasing the quality of it. And the action inspired them. Much later when seven of them were sent to a factory they participated in small acts of sabotage, screwing parts in too tight or too loose, mixing salt in with grease and drilling the holes for the screws just a little too big. As a result “one month, seven out of ten completed motors burnt out before they left the factory.” (259) Somehow the stories of the resisters in WWII make an interesting background for my own thoughts. What can people do to change the world?

Propaganda features strongly in stories about WWII, and I can’t help thinking about propaganda as I hear about the Canadian government trying to take control over some public methods of communication. Somehow the Canadian Cabinet is now going to be having more say over the collective bargianing contracts of CBC. Will this change what is shown? Will this be another tactic in demolishing CBC, by making sure that no contracts can be negotiated? Then the House of Commons heritage commission wants to review how Canaidan history is taught, the “relevant standards and courses of study offered in primary and post-secondary institutions in each of the provinces and territories.” Education is a provincial matter, not a federal one, and I can’t help worrying that the government just wants to ensure its interpretation of history is taught.  Then there’s muzzling of scientists, the rebranding of weather Canada’s webpage and the use of taxpayer funded mailing priviledges to send anti-Trudeau attack ads. I can only hope that when the next party takes over they are willing to reverse policies and really distance themselves.

 

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One thought on “thoughts on life, the provincial budget and WWII stories

  1. I recently read A Train in Winter, too… Pretty powerful, wasn’t it? But it also gave you a feeling of what can be accomplished in the face of such horrors, if everyone does even the smallest bit.

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