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"We don't need this old-school type of poor bashing"

Comments by Minister Joanne Bernard worry community workers

by Robert Devet

 Earlier this week Community Services Minister Joanne Bernard told a CTV reporter that too many people are on social assistance for too long. That has community workers worried.
Earlier this week Community Services Minister Joanne Bernard told a CTV reporter that too many people are on social assistance for too long. That has community workers worried.

KJIPUKTUK (HALIFAX) - Comments by Community Services Minister Joanne Bernard earlier this week have community workers upset.

In a CTV report the minister is quoted as saying that there is an “extraordinarily high” number of people who stay on income assistance longer than they should.

Those comments sure smell like poor bashing, say community workers. They worry about what it means in terms of the Department's secretive welfare reform strategy.

So what is the excitement all about?

"Roughly a third (of Income Assistance recipients) are job-ready, another third needs more professional development or literacy upgrades, and another third with mental health issues, addictions or disabilities will never get out of the system,” the Minister told CTV.

“I was on income assistance for nine years, but during that time I was able to meet the goals I had set for myself and move off,” she said.

'Why can't you be like me?', the minister seems to suggest.

Fiona Traynor, who has worked with social assistance recipients in one shape or another for fifteen years, was taken aback when she saw the Minister's assertions.

“Income Assistance recipients are already stigmatized by some parts of the general public,” says Traynor. “There are so many myths. These people are lazy, just sitting around and they are cheating the system. It's simply not true.”

The last thing Traynor wants to see is a Minister who seems to confirm such myths and speaks in such regressive and punitive terms.

“We don't need this old-school type of poor bashing, which is what this is,” she says.

Who in their right mind would want to be on social assistance, she counters. Support provided by social assistance falls far short of what is required to live a dignified life, in a decent shelter, and with sufficient food.

“They're not buying steak and caviar,” says Traynor.

The Halifax Media Co-op asked Community Services for evidence backing up Bernard's assertion that “roughly a third” of social assistance recipients are job-ready.

We also asked what in the Department's view was stopping those job-ready people from getting off social assistance.

We did not really get a straight answer.

“Based on the information we have now, what we see is clients falling into three categories as Minister Bernard described. We never know a person’s true potential until we start to work with them on an individualized plan,” writes Lori Errington, spokesperson for the Department.

“The comments were the Minister’s reflection on a system in need of repair, and they were not aimed in any way at clients receiving ESIA supports.”

None of this puts Traynor's concerns to rest.

What makes the Minister's comments particularly troublesome is that the Department is busy restructuring and reforming social assistance, says Traynor.

Yet it is doing so in secret and without consultation with social assistance recipients or community workers.

This is worrisome, especially in the context of the current austerity climate overall, and signs that the Department is getting tougher on people who receive social assistance.

Traynor wonders whether Bernard's statements are paving the way for an orchestrated effort to push people off the welfare rolls.

“I don't know what would make (Bernard) say this, but we do know that there are some sweeping changes set to happen in this program,” Traynor tells the Halifax Media Co-op.

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Topics: Poverty
553 words


She does not care about people who are on income assitance!

I remember when Joanne Benard first got elected, then became Minsiter of Community Services, she made all these promsis that she was going to make the system better. I also rememberd her saying that she was going to get everyone who lost thier special needs under the pervouis goverment, back. What happened? - Nothing.

Furthermore - for two years in a row we did not get an increase in our personial allowences.

Question - Now what is Joanne Benard doing?

Answer - poor bashing!

I think Joanne Benard should have a look back at when she said when she first got elected and became Minister of Community Services. She is also the MLA for Dartmouth North, a community full of people who are on income assitance. She should kow better then any other MLA about the day to life of these people.

Reguarding her saying that a thrid of them are on it because they want to be on income assitance. She has to understand when she says this that they are on it because they have to be on it. I think Joanne Benard should go out in her own Dartmouth North Community and pay attention to what is actually going.She should talk to the people in her own community and gain knowledge of the people of the people her community serves. If she takes interest in doing just that, she will find she is poor bashing alot of her own consitutients. 

Well she will learn her lesson when the next proviencial election comes and she gets voted out by people on income assitance. She has got two years left. Hopefulley she will smarten up within thoese next two years.


Kendall Worth

Poor Bashing.

Gandhi said, "The worst form of violence is poverty."  Those words carry the knowledge that poverty isn't because of what the poor do to themselves.  It's what is done to them by the economic system we all slave under.

It's been observed that "Nice guys finish last."  Correctly today, "Nice people finish last."  Look at the very rich.  Can a person work hard enough to make several billion dollars in one lifetime.  No way.  They make their money by taking the profits from many people who work for them.  They say unemployed people are lazy and deserve to be poor.  They worry about them taking money out of the system and putting nothing back in.  But it's easy to tell who has taken more out of the system than they put back. Just look to see how much they have left over!

I'm writing a book on this right now and I'm not sure when it'll be ready.  I don't know how well it'll be received, but it's desperately needed in these times, so I'll get a move on and see what I can make of it.  This is what I can do for the world and it's what we need.

I've been rich, and I've been poor.  I was rich when I was working for the arms industry and they were throwing all kinds of money at me.  I decided they were crooks and left.  I didn't want to dedicate my life to teaching computers more efficient ways of killing people.  Since then any jobs I've had were of my own making and I've also been poor enough that I would have to miss meals at the end of the month.  They don't need to blacklist you.  When a company finds out that you have a conscience and are willing to act on it, they don't want anything to do with you.  "Nice people finish last."  I've never regretted my decision for a moment, even when going hungry while on community assistance.  That dept has always treated the people it's supposed to be helping as though they were criminals. Every chance they get to stomp on you, they do.  They treated me like scum and I remember that. Now I'm on pension and at least I'll eat alright.  I'll remember what they do to the poor however.  It's the worst form of violence.

Reply to Fred Williams comment!


I agree with your comment. Being poor is being poor. However thieir is a differences between the types of being of poor. Thier is the working poor, thoese on disaiblitie penisons, and income assitance clients. I believe what you need to understand that thoese of us who are on income assitance, are also the group of people who are being abused by the system they live on.

For Joanne Benard to understand this factor is where she needs to wake up and smell reality. I can't beleive she, two years in a row did not get thoese of us wh oare on income assitnace an increase in our allowences.


Kendall Worth



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