Even Premier Doug Ford’s fiscally conservative nephew, Councillor Michael Ford, wants the province to reconsider its decision to cut $1 billion in social services by limiting eligibility for the Ontario Disability Support Program.
In a unanimous vote Wednesday, Toronto city council approved a motion by Beaches-area Councillor Brad Bradford urging the Ford government to reverse the cut and scrap a proposal to change the definition of disability for ODSP.
The motion also calls on the province to raise benefits and include people receiving social assistance in any review of the program.
Ford (Ward 1 Etobicoke North) was the lone vote against council motions earlier this year that called on the province to reverse $177 million in retroactive cuts to public health, child care and other programs. He did not return calls requesting comment Wednesday on his decision to oppose the province on ODSP cuts.
Toronto is the second municipality to pass a specific motion urging the province to walk back a year-old proposal to narrow the definition of disability to more closely match definitions used in federal programs. The City of Ottawa passed a similar motion Dec. 11.
The province remains unmoved on this issue despite last summer’s passage of the Accessible Canada Act and a Dec. 13 mandate letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calling on his minister for accessibility to review the federal definition of disability to better align with the new legislation’s broader scope.
Todd Smith, Ontario’s minister for children, community and social services, has said he is “continuing to review” social assistance and that a 50-per-cent increase in the number of ODSP recipients in the past decade “shows we need to do something.”
If Ontario adopts the current federal definition, thousands of Torontonians with intermittent or episodic disabilities such as cancer, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, mental illness or addictions would have no option but Ontario Works (OW), which pays just $733 a month for a single person, Bradford told reporters before the vote.
Maximum monthly benefits under ODSP for a single person are $1,169.
“I don’t think cuts should come on the backs of our most vulnerable residents,” he said, adding some 120,000 Toronto residents rely on ODSP. “We cannot afford as a community, or as a council, or as political leaders, to put those people at risk. We cannot afford it as a city.”
Bradford said he welcomes efforts to improve and modernize social assistance, but he objects to the way the province is proceeding.
“The silence from the province since these announcements were first announced in November 2018 have been very overwhelming,” he said. “It’s irresponsible. It’s almost inhumane to put so many lives at risk, put people on alert and then go radio-silent.”
Danielle Hyde, 32, and Claude Wittmann, 55, who have been struggling to survive on ODSP for several years, say their lives have been turned upside down by the uncertainty.
“More and more people with disabilities are seen by the province just as expenses to reduce, as objects that can be ‘put back on track’ — which track? — or even judged as putative fraudsters,” said Wittmann.
“Governments need to work together,” Hyde told a city hall news conference in advance of the vote.
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“We are talking about a lifeline that people depend on,” said Hyde, who has been living on ODSP since 2015, but officially diagnosed with a disability since 2007.
“I ask and I hope that all of Toronto and all of Ontario will come together and support these vulnerable (people),” she said, “because there really is no room for apologies on our tombstones.”