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Stephen Harper, please respond!- 2007-03-22

Apparently I've been trying to get Steve Harper's attention the wrong way. Over the last few months or so I've sending emails to Steve and his boys asking a simple question and have only received one reply, from Jim Flaherty which didn't even come close to answering the question asked.

I thought it was a simple question. The question was: "Would the government look at creating a program for disabled Canadians, who are unable to work due to illness and have no secondary source of income, which would supplement CPP-Disability and provide these Canadians with an income which would be comparable to what our Seniors get on CPP plus their Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement?"

As of today I've had no response to this question from Harper or Solberg, who is responsible for the CPP and other social programs. This lack of response would indicate either they don't understand the question and don't want to ask for clarification or they don't care about disabled Canadians who are expected to live on less than $11,000 per year. I guess because we can't work, and don't make up a large organized voting block we're not worthy of government attention.

To be fair, Mr. Dion, who I actually like, didn't respond either to the same question. Jack Layton, actually responded to my question personally within a week or two. And Elizabeth May had one of her staff respond almost immediately.

So I guess I'll to try again in crayon and have a nine year old compose the question in order to get a response from this government. I feel badly now that I insisted my child finish high school to get a decent job when he could have quit and become a Conservative MP.

Part 2

Following my writing this letter to our local newspapers and CCing Steven Harper and Monte Solberg I received this response in just 2 days:

Dear Mr. Stewart:

On behalf of the Honourable Monte Solberg, Minister of Human Resources and Social Development, I am pleased to respond to your email correspondences of January 19, and March 5, 2007, in which you describe the financial difficulties faced by people who rely on Canada Pension Plan - Disability benefits as their sole source of income. A copy of your email was forwarded to Minister Solberg by the Office of the Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Stephen Harper. Minister Solberg has asked that I respond. I regret the delay in responding.

In our ongoing efforts to develop policies and programs for people with disabilities and their families, we appreciate opportunities to better understand the realities they face.

Concerning your comment on Canada Pension Plan Disability being taxable, I understand that the Honourable Jim Flaherty's letter of February 5, 2007, addresses this concern. Regarding your other concerns, I am mindful of the circumstances facing many people with disabilities and their families, and do recognize that many live on low and modest incomes. The Canada Pension Plan was designed to provide a basic level of earnings replacement in the event of the retirement, disability or death of a contributor. The Canada Pension Plan - Disability formula for the payment of a benefit is specified in legislation. It consists of a flat rate ($405.96/month in 2007) and an earnings-related portion (up to $647.81/month in 2007) which is based on the level and duration of Canada Pension Plan contributions made during an individual's working life up to the onset of disability. The maximum benefit payable in 2007 is $1053.77/month. In 2006, the average monthly benefit paid was about $760.00. There is also a benefit payable to children under the age of 18, and if at school full-time, for children between the ages of 18 and 25. In 2007, the Disabled Contributor's Child's Benefit is $204.68 per month, per child.

You also inquired as to whether the Government of Canada is considering supplementing the income of people who have no secondary source of income beyond their Canada Pension Plan - Disability benefits. The Government of Canada and provincial finance ministers are the joint stewards of the Canada Pension Plan and together they review the Canada Pension Plan every three years. A supplement, as you suggest, would likely require a substantial increase in the contribution rate that Canadian employees, employers and the self-employed would have to pay. Such a significant change would require the approval of Parliament, as well as that of two-thirds of the provinces with at least two-thirds of the Canadian population. As you may be aware, the Canada Pension Plan is now financially sustainable for current and future generations of Canadians. The Government of Canada and the provinces, who are joint stewards of the Plan, are not considering any changes that might affect its long-term sustainability.

Meeting the needs of people with disabilities is a shared responsibility between the Government of Canada and provincial/territorial governments. The Canada Pension Plan Disability benefit is one component of a broader system of earnings-replacement plans for people with disabilities that include provincial social assistance programs, Worker's Compensation programs and private long-term disability insurance plans. The Constitution gives provinces and territories primary responsibility for providing income support and delivering disability supports to people with disabilities, while the Government of Canada provides indirect financial support to the provinces through the Canada Social Transfer. For 2006-07, the Canada Social Transfer was $15.7 billion.

A number of programs and services for people with disabilities, their families and caregivers have been developed and are outlined in a guide entitled Services for People with Disabilities. It is available in a number of alternative formats and includes a section that tells you how to contact your provincial government for information about its programs and services for people with disabilities.
The website is: http://www.pwdonline.ca/pwdcontent.jsp?&lang=en&fontsize=0&contentid=28 In addition to these programs, there are tax credits available to people with disabilities which may assist in reducing tax payable. For more information on these tax measures, you may wish to contact the Canada Revenue Agency at the following telephone number, free of charge: 1-800-959-8281.

Thank you for taking the time to write and I hope this information is helpful to you.

Sincerely, Caroline Weber
Director General
Office for Disability Issues

Part 3

Yesterday, in response to this reply from Ms. Weber, I replied to Ms. Weber with copies to Steve & Monte with this response:

Dear Ms. Weber,

Thank you for responding to my letters. I find it interesting that it takes a snarky letter to the local papers with a copy forwarded to this government to get a response, but I'll hold our elected officials to blame for that, not you.

As to the issue of CPP-D being taxable, I understand the theory behind it, but find it amazing the government would collect income tax from someone who receives less the $11,000.00 per year in income. It is amazing to me that when one middle income person buys a $40,000.00 vehicle, they will save $400.00 due to the government's GST reduction. That $400.00 isn't going to make a bit of difference to the person buying that vehicle but it would totally cancel the income tax paid by two low income Canadians receiving only CPP-D Benefits.
The Ontario government has just raised the minimum wage to over $10.00 per hour based on the fact that a person needs to earn at least $400.00 per week to survive and the Federal NDP are saying the same thing. This doesn't seem to be disputed by anyone, and many are saying it's still not enough, yet the federal government seems to feel that $200.00 per week is sufficient for persons with disabilities.

As to supplementing those who rely solely on CPP-D, who says this supplement needs to be funded through the existing CPP program and paid for by employees and employers? If there are that many Canadians living on CPP-D solely, that to provide them with a livable benefit would be a hardship on the government's resources, this is a much bigger problem than even I realise. The Federal government has given people with kids under six $100.00 per month, per child which they are calling a childcare program, for no apparent good reason other than getting re-elected in the future, so to suggest a supplement to the disabled would be a financial hardship is ludicrous.

The Provincial governments may indeed share some responsibility for supporting the needs of the disabled, but in Ontario a single person living on CPP-D has too high an income to be considered for Provincial assistance. I realise this not a federal problem but that is another battle and the federal government can not wash it's hands of the problem by blaming it on the provinces not pulling their weight. The government has the means, if not the desire, to correct this situation by simply enacting a law which would require the Provincial governments to provide some sort of supplement above and beyond CPP-D by making it a condition of the transfer payments they receive.

I visited the web site you suggested and found nothing new or of benefit there. There seems to be a lot of help for people who have visible disabilities, but I belong to a group of people who has a non-visible disability. People who are blind, mute, deaf, use a wheelchair etc., are for the most part, able to work and with assistance can get work. Those of us who are disabled due to disease which doesn't have any outward manifestations or obvious symptoms and cannot work, are for the most part, ignored.

As for the Federal tax credit for people who are disabled, I can walk, talk, hear, dress myself, feed myself and use a bathroom without assistance, only spend one day a week in hospital for "life maintaining therapy" and occasionally one day a month in hospital for blood transfusions, I don't qualify for the disabled tax deduction. Again we come across a situation where if I suffered from a visible disability and could work, I would receive this tax deduction where as because I don't fit into this narrowly defined group of conditions and cannot work, I don't qualify. I do have chronic kidney disease caused by long term suffering and drug therapy for Crohn's disease which is my primary condition. Should I deteriorate to the point where I'll need dialysis three times a week, I'll then qualify for this deduction. One can only hope.

In addition to the issues you've commented on, the Employment Insurance program for the disabled also needs some revamping. People who get pregnant, choose occupations which are seasonal or just aren't good enough workers can receive EI benefits for up to 1 year, however if someone becomes disabled due to disease or accident the EI System only provides benefits for 14 weeks.

I find it very frustrating to see that despite the huge surpluses this government has, thanks to the 13 years it took the Liberal government to repair the mess left by the last Conservative government, these funds are only being used only when it is of benefit to Harper and his party. These funds could be put to so much better use by doing what needs to be done rather than furthering the Conservative agenda. Who knows, maybe if the Conservatives were to use these funds responsibly rather than for partisan political purposes they would receive more respect and support from the Canadian public.

Again, I thank you for responding to my letter and realise you probably don't have the ability or authority to correct any of the deficiencies in the treatment and support of the disabled by the government of Canada. I was actually hoping to get a commitment, or even a refusal, by someone who had the authority to make the changes needed in this government's policies in respect to the disabled.