Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Raise The Rates Action

Here is an OCAP report of a cool action that took place a few days ago in Toronto as part of their campaign to raise social assistance rates and get the special dietary supplement provision of the welfare rules reinstated:

On Tuesday Nov 29th, an OCAP delegation of women including those about to be cut off the Special Diet and a representative of Healthcare Providers Against Poverty confronted the Minister of Community and Family Services, Sandra Pupatello, who is responsible for slashing the special diet supplement, over the inadequacy of welfare and ODSP rates.

The women arrived at the Hotel Marriott as Pupatello was speaking to a conference on the issue of domestic violence. It was ironic that just as the Minister was speaking on the topic of violence towards women several large and burly security guards forcibly, and using excessive violence, prevented the delegation from addressing the Minister. A half hour struggle ensured as security attempted to literally push the delegation back up the stairs and we stood our ground. Our delegation caused a major ruckus, speaking to media, chanting throughout and disrupting Pupatello's speech continuously

Once informed of the reasons for wanting to meet with Pupatello, conference participants were incredibly supportive and attempted to negotiate to have the Minister meet with the delegation. More and more conference delegates left Pupatello's speech in protest and came to support us, distributing OCAP leaflets and bringing us a seemingly never-ending supply of snacks. Several delegates negotiated with Pupatello demanding that she meet with us. In true politician fashion, the Minister refused to meet. Claiming security concerns, Pupatello instead hustled out of the conference like a dog with her tail between her legs. Her feel-good B.S. speech about the Liberals' great work on women's issues didn't quite leave the desired impression that day as women from the conference floor held up "Raise The Rates" signs and intervened.

Conference delegates negotiated to have OCAP address the entire conference of about 1000 delegates from across the province and explain to them the implications of policies made by Sandra Pupatello and the Liberal government. This resulted in a peculiar situation as OCAP and the Raise The Rates fight took center stage at a conference sponsored by 3 police associations and filled with a combination of extremely supportive women from Rape Crises Centers and uncharacteristically silent cop delegates.

Women spoke about how, for the first time, they were able to feed their children fresh food, buy them the things the needed and deserved, and, most importantly were able to relax a little bit about having enough money to last the whole month. Getting the special diet money had relieved some of the stress and anxiety associated with not being able to afford enough food that had been present in their lives for far too long. The conference was reminded that many women don't leave situations of domestic violence precisely because they fear being placed in a position of extreme poverty, which they would inevitably face on welfare.

At the end of OCAP's address, amidst a standing ovation, a challenge was issued to agency workers and supporters of marginalized and oppressed people to address, verbally and in writing, through rallies and public speaking engagements, the inadequacies of social assistance programs in Ontario and to demand that the government immediately raise welfare and ODSP rates by the 40% that has been lost since the Harris government slashed rates in 1995. Participants were encouraged to attend the Raise the Rates Town Hall Meeting being held Dec 15th at St Michael's Hospital Auditorium at 7pm.

OCAP's call for an escort out of the building was enthusiastically answered by a crowd of hundreds of spirited and encouraging people who recognized the urgency and legitimacy of this demand and the need to fight for an increase in welfare and ODSP rates, leaving the conference and lining the hotel corridor cheering the delegation as it left.

Later in the day, delegates collected $700 from the conference floor and donated it to the Raise The Rates campaign. They also issued a press release in support of the demands and secured a promise from Ontario Women's Directorate representatives that Pupatello would be calling the
OCAP office today. We don't think we will be waiting by the phone. We'll be organizing our next hit against the Liberals instead.

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