Pubdate: Thursday, May 20, 1999
Source: Toronto Star (Canada)
Copyright: 1999, The Toronto Star
Section: Letters Page A25
Author: Michael Girdlestone, Hamilton


After hearing Mike Harris' speech in Baden on May 10, it is clear to me
Tories are back to their old campaign tactic of attacking the poor,
especially those who are in the social service system.

Harris' latest idea, to give blood tests to welfare recipients, is
draconian and a clear violation of people's rights under both the Charter
and the Human Rights Code. Facts are more important than rhetoric, so allow
me to present some facts:

* Most social service clients do not defraud the system. Only about 4 per
cent of clients ever knowingly defraud the system.

* Few social service clients are substance abusers. Only 6 per cent of
clients have any problems relating to alcohol, and a mere 2 per cent have
any problem with illegal drug use. Few, if any, clients can afford to buy
alcohol or drugs with their only support being a government stipend.

* The total amount of welfare fraud in Ontario is only a drop in the bucket
compared to health-care fraud. Health-care user fraud is estimated to be
around $3.5 billion per year, while social service fraud/misuse is around
$17 million per year.

* Most social service clients are not lazy! This is the worst insinuation
of all. Most clients are only on the system because of financial, physical,
psychological or other misfortunes. It is obviously preferable to be on
government assistance than to commit crimes to live.

* Ontario Works (workfare) is not begrudged by most social service clients.
Rather, they relish the opportunity to participate in society, to advance
their employability, to get off the system. Yet, Ontario Works failed in
its goal to help clients.

For example: Few clients can find volunteer placements to meet the required
15 hours/week. I'm speaking from experience. While I am on a disability
pension (ODSP) and not required to participate in Ontario Works, I gave a
local job training program a try.

I completed the in-class portion of the program with flying colours, but I
was unable to find a voluntary co-op placement, and my case is the rule,
not the exception. There simply are not enough multi-hour, volunteer
positions available to meet the requirements of Ontario Works.

Some businesses have used Ontario Works to defray their own labour costs at
the expense of the government.

One business laid off its own workers earning $12 an hour and replaced them
with Ontario Works participants earning $12 a day.

Ontario Works has become nothing more than a bureaucratic headache and an
election ploy, a charade to make it appear that Harris is making progress
in the social service area.

The cost of operating Harris' planned drug testing program would be enormous.

An average visit to a general practitioner is around $60 and a normal blood
test is around $30, thus the program would be financially unsound.

Of course, the point is moot, for requiring social service clients to
undergo such tests is a clear violation of civil rights under both the
Charter and the Ontario Human Rights Code.

If most employers cannot demand a blood or urine test of their employees.
how can the government legally demand one from social service clients? It

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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart