Saturday, December 17, 2005

Ontario Cabinet Minister Challenged

Yesterday, ten members of the Hunger Clinic Organizing Committee (HCOC) confronted Ontario MPP and cabinet minister Rick Bartolucci over his support for policies which force constituents to go hungry. Bartolucci was visiting Laurentian University to announce a major project related to mining engineering. The HCOC members protested outside the hall with signs and noise makers, leafletting attendees and members of the media. When Bartolucci entered he was met with raucous chants of "We won't be quiet 'til we get our special diet!"

In October, the Liberal government gutted the Special Dietary Supplement provision of the Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support programs. Previously, healthcare provider recognition of the ways in which inadequate social assistance rates result in ill-health could enable recipients to receive up to an extra $250 per month. Anti-poverty advocates and healthcare providers across the province actually using the provision in a significant way prompted the Liberals to drastically change the regulation so that only specific conditions pre-approved by provincial bureaucrats are now eligible for the Special Dietary Supplement, while the scientifically documented negative health consequences of inadequate amounts and quality of food for people who do not fit in the pre-approved diagnoses are treated as acceptable by the system.

As previously reported, the association of Ontario's Medical Officers of Health have determined that OW and ODSP do not provide for adequate nutrition after housing costs are taken into account. In Toronto, the Board of Health has passed a resolution calling upon the provincial government to raise social assistance rates by 40% and to assume full responsibility for funding Ontario's social assistance programs.

Ontario Common Front groups like HCOC have been challenging cabinet ministers and demonstrating to show the government that starving social assistance recipients is not acceptable. A group of medical professionals has also launched a legal challenge based on privacy issues because the new regulations require that patients' medical details be disclosed to people other than their healthcare providers, an issue historically of particular concern to people living with HIV and AIDS.

On a personal note, it was L's most enthusiastic participation in political activity to date -- the shouting on Bartolucci's arrival unnerved him a little, but he took great delight in shaking a maraca the rest of the time.

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