Tag Archives: government

How I Almost Became a Prostitute

prostitution, welfare, poverty, unemployment

Creative Commons: Diego3336 Flickr

The Occupy Movement has got me thinking about we, the little people, those who drudge out our days to pay the bills, with very little extra and sometimes having to choose if it will be getting a tooth fixed or getting tires on the car. How voiceless are we in how things run? Well, we vote in our representatives, if we vote, but many of us know that you can’t represent all of the people all of the time. In fact, most political systems break down after one-two hundred people. We have no true democracy and while we all have a vote we are definitely not heard nor represented equally.

One example of being the voiceless 99% was when I ran up against bureaucracy while trying to be trained in a presumably more lucrative position. I had a three-month full-time course in an apprenticeship program to be a script supervisor in the movie industry (that’s overall continuity and more). Apprenticeship programs were paid for by the government so I had no course costs. However, I couldn’t really work during that time. All of the other people in the course (around 16) had either a spouse to support them or they could get unemployment. I couldn’t because I’d been freelancing for years, where the federal government doesn’t let you pay into unemployment insurance. My freelance income just paid my monthly bills; hence why I was taking this course.

I had very little saved money but as a freelance copyeditor there were two publishers in New York for which I would edit one to two manuscripts a month for them. With one from each of them I would have just enough money to get by while I finished the course.

Three months doesn’t seem a long time but halfway through the first month, the first publisher changed their focus and went into videos. The second publisher went into receivership at the end of that month. Suddenly I had two months to go and no money. I scraped through the second month but December was coming and I had no way to pay rent, let alone buy much food. I instituted the end-of-the-world diet. I didn’t buy any food at all and used up the stores in my place. In a way it was interesting to see how long could I survive on fresh produce, then frozen foods, then canned and dried goods.

But I still couldn’t pay the rent. So I went to Welfare. Now I had once before in my early 20s been on welfare when the economy dived, I couldn’t find work and times were dire (and I had roommates). It was no fun whatsoever, and slim pickings. So here I went, down to the office, filling in forms galore to see if I could get $300 to pay my rent (my rent was more but that was what I needed to pay the rent). It turns out, because I had about $3,000 in retirement savings plans I was not allowed even $300 that I said I would repay. Instead, the brilliant of our government is to have you use up al of your retirement savings now so that when you hit old age, you can go live under a bridge, become ill and run up more costs for the government.

Not only is there no such thing as a free  lunch but there’s no help for the self-employed. I’d have to be a full-on welfare recipient, unable to work and possibly dealing with addictions to get the money. So what could I do? I had no money to pay my bills, my car payment, my rent or for food. I was trying to finish the course and not drop it. I was desperate and seriously thought of prostitution as the only way I could make ends meet. I had no job, no recourse. I determined where I could stand; I wasn’t far from the area where they stand, I could dress badly and where little. I could charge…something. Maybe I could be a call girl, have them pick me up, place an ad in the paper. I imagined scenarios in cars and back alleys. And…I just couldn’t do it.

Lucky for me I had good friends and family. Without ask, people sent me money and my landlords gave me a half month’s rent as a Christmas gift. I bought no one a present that year, but somehow I made it through. And no help to a bureaucratic government that sees everyone on welfare as a welfare bum and if they’re not, then they will be by the time they’re completely destitute and degraded.  It was humiliating.

I can see why the 99% (through really it’s probably 20%) are complaining about the 1%. Government and corporations, more than individuals, are the 1%. And we hear over and over again of the plights of the common people, denied this or that, dying in the streets, succumbing to illness, being humiliated because they just don’t have a voice made of money. Do I trust my government? No. And it’s too bad but I need to see more faith in helping humanity first. In the meantime I remain wary.

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Welfare: For Freeloaders or Desperados

The history of social welfare has been long and varied, being part of the Roman, Islamic and Jewish empires. It has covered different groups with different criteria but overall it was for the poor and needy, for the elderly, widows and people with disabilities.

Canada has had a welfare system since the Great Depression. Part of a social welfare system, in Canada’s case includes health care, education and supporting the underprivileged. It can vary from province to province as to what specific criteria are. There is also the specific welfare part of welfare, which is helping those who are unemployed or unemployable.

I have had the unfortunate experience of needing welfare firsthand. When I was in my 20s I hit a time of recession in the province and couldn’t get a job. Putting in over 50 applications a month landed me nothing. I had no choice but to go on welfare. As it turned out there was a period when my other two roommates were in the same situation. We would get a few tins of food from the food bank and limp celery and eked by. I had no savings, no car and was not even sure how to do more than I already was.

Eventually I ended up with a part-time job for two days a week. The business was good enough to pay me under the table. If they had taken deductions and given me a pay slip I would have had to report it to welfare. That amount I made would then be deducted from my welfare payments. Welfare at that time paid something like $300-400 a month, hardly enough to live on. I could lay around and get $400 or I could work part-time and get $400. There really wasn’t incentive to even work part-time. So the under the table arrangement helped me survive because who can survive on that amount when rent is $300?

I then got a second part-time job and worked under the table there for two days a week. That gave me four days at part-time. It made the welfare bearable but still hard to do much. At the same time both businesses offered me a full-time job and I went with the one that I thought would keep me interested longer. I got off of welfare with a huge sigh of relief. It was humiliating and belittling.

In Canada’s past, women and single mothers on welfare weren’t allowed to have boyfriends and their virtue and chastity were watched as much as their bank accounts. This attitude can perpetuate in our society. It’s one thing to be buying designer clothes but to have nice clothes and a haircut for applying for jobs is another thing. Yet people have been scrutinized and punished if they try to have any normal aspect of living. “Welfare bums” are relatively rare and those who are like that often have other underlying conditions that could do well with other government services. If a person is an alcoholic or drug addict or socially inept or unhygienic, which stops them getting a job, then the answer is not to leave them on welfare but to help them become another useful cog in society’s great machine.

Yes cogs. The cut and dryness, or the black and white world of welfare is denigrating and hard. Most people don’t choose to be there as it’s no way to live. My second brush with welfare was at a point when I was trying to move out of freelancing into another job. I was in school full-time for three months doing an apprenticeship program in script supervising. Unlike every other person in the course I had neither a spouse to support me through the program, nor was I able to get unemployment insurance because I was a freelancer. I did have two publishers in New York and on average received one manuscript a month from each. This was enough to get by on while finishing the program.

Unfortunately, both publishers went under or changed focus (one to movies) at the same time and I lost my source of income. I didn’t want to forego the course but what money I had got me through to the end of November and I still had December to go with no options. I went to welfare and said I only needed $300 to pay my rent and I could get by. ( I lived alone and had no roommates). At that time I had a grand whopping total of about $4,000 in RRSPs. RRSPs are heavily taxed if you take them out early. They are also taxed if you take them out when you’re older. But people get them as retirement income, a way to cushion one’s unemployed elder years.

Welfare would give me no money at all. Not even $5. Here I was, in school, going through training, with no options and they wanted me to cash in that $4,000, so that I could then depend on the state for longer when I was older, use medical services more because I was not living well, or more likely, end up living under a bridge. This was the government’s solution. Of course the rate of welfare isn’t much higher than it once was but I probably needed to be a drug addict to get any support. It was the only time in my life where I was seriously contemplated prostitution. I just couldn’t get up my nerve to do it, yet this is where my government wanted me to be.

So the next time you pass judgment on one of those welfare bums, trying walking and living a mile in their shoes. Welfare isn’t for the weak at heart and most people can’t even survive on it. There is no such thing as living a free and easy life while on it. Oh, and how did I get through that month? By the good graces of friends and family. My landlords only charged me a half a month’s rent. People sent me money and I gave out no Christmas gifts. I thank my lucky stars I had such generous people in my life.

http://www.canadiansocialresearch.net/bc_welfare_time_limits.htm

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Separtism vs Unity

I was going to write a book review today but this is more important. Thanks, Stephen Harper, for raising the hoary head of separatism yet again. Wasn’t it enough that it’s almost torn the country apart twice in the past?

Stephen Harper is like Gordon Campbell. They both have this smooth plasticky look that I’ve never trusted. And Gordon Campbell’s adamant voice this last week against a coalition partially formed of his party (albeit at a federal level) really cements that he is a Conservative in Liberal clothing. BC Liberals are the same as Alberta Conservatives.

Anyway, I wouldn’t trust either as far as I could throw them. But back to Harper who in his arrogance not just poked at the sleeping lion of separatism, but prodded it with a red hot poker. He has single handedly guaranteed that the Conservatives will not win in Quebec’s provincial election that’s coming up.

Although I do not like what the Bloc stands for and there is a huge problem in having a federal party that is only concerned with one geographic area (I don’t think it should be allowed at all but how do you word something like that?), they are a valid party in the current parameters and have to be respected in that aspect.

When Harper said, “The highest principle of Canadian democracy is that if one wants to be prime minister, one gets one’s mandate from the Canadian people and not from Quebec separatists,” he pried open the lid on the issue that will not die and now has another chance to suck the lifeblood from Canada. Somehow, he neglected to understand that Quebec is part of Canada.  He pitted anglophone Canada against francophone.

But of course, he isn’t the only one who sees Quebec as separate. Jacques Parizeau, a former Quebec premier, was quoted as saying, “The fact that the Bloc got Stéphane Dion to sign a political accord in which it is explicitly written that he undertakes  ‘to act in partnership with Canadians and the Québécois should bring a smile to the face of many sovereigntists.’ ” Here again we see Québécois as separate or other from Canadians when in fact they are Canadians.

The separatist (or soverignist if you want the word that muddies the connotations) movement has surged like a tide in the past. A good French-Canadian friend has told me that the provincial government often keeps the Québécois insulated from the rest of the goings on in Canada. We’re a bilingual country but truly it’s Quebec and New Brunswicks and some of the other areas in eastern Canada that speak French and that right is protected. Western Canada predominantly speaks English. There is a law that public signage has to be in both languages, especially official and government signs, yet in Montreal when I was there, there was a lack of English

The Québécois have received many rights protecting their culture, which is absolutely fine but they don’t always realize that they sometimes have more rights than the rest of Canada. And then on top of that, there are those who foment views that they’re hard done by, they’re picked on, they’re whatever. Canada is a large country with not an overly large population when you compare it to smaller countries. But Quebec is about a third of Canada’s population. There are unique areas and cultures throughout this country.

Any split of Quebec from Canada would sever Canada as a nation. We wouldn’t survive. You can’t take a chunk out of the middle and expect it to continue. Of course the Québécois wouldn’t want to take one-third of the deficit and other costs that have been spent to maintain the provinces. And the US would be waiting like a hungry shark to get the little provinces that couldn’t survive on their own. The maritimes may be the first to go. BC and Alberta (especially) would most likely survive as their own little nations.

But more than the geo-political aspects, there are those of nationality, of identity. I very much feel that I’m Canadian, so much so that when I thought of moving to Seattle to work I just couldn’t do it. Only love could make me move. I love my country in a way that’s not stand-up-and-wave-the-flag, hand-on-my-heart patriotic. But it is a deep and visceral love of this land and way of life.

It makes me furious whenever someone stirs the pot and makes people think they’re disenfranchised. Stephen Harper gave in to base prejudices and let his arrogance get the better of him. He’s been accused of showing little respect and it is damaging the nation, just as the Bloc would if they ran this country for it wouldn’t be a country for long. But saying that a government can’t work with the Bloc is thumbing one’s nose in their faces. We have a government and it is made up of several parties, including the Bloc. The governing includes all parties coming to decisions.

Unfortunately people often vote with their hearts and not their heads. I just hope that the Quebec people realize that there are many people in Canada and that we’re not all Stephen Harper. I’ve been to Montreal and it is beautiful and intriquing and full of artistic life and unique culturer. I don’t want it to be somewhere else. I want it part of Canada. Just as I want all the idiosyncratic pieces and cultures and diversity.

And I just wish that we could see more effort in the political parties (all of them) at working together and finding solutions, rather than finding the flaws in each other and name calling. I’d rather see a party saying what they’re going to do and do it, than pointing fingers at others and saying what they’re doing. Some integrity in politics again would really be nice. So let’s stay united.

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Coalition Calamity?

Well, yes, it was inevitable that I might have an opinion on the proposed coalition of the opposition parties in an overthrow of Canada’s minority government.

Minority governments always walk a tightrope. Stephen Harper tried to set the stage for the best time to hold our election. But that’s not unusual. Politicians and all people really try to work things to their advantage. But it didn’t work quite the way the Conservatives hoped. Yet again, another minority government.

This is not a good time for anyone moving into a position of government. Obama has his work cut out for him, picking up George Bush’s mess and the plummeting economy. But it’s the same here. Economy has moved to the forefront and Harper, with a minority government has a had lot. Yet, he has come across already as totalitarian and keeping such a tight leash on his MPs that they’re often crippled in making their decisions.

Then the new budget came, the tightening of the belt and the Conservatives seem to have made a fatal mistake. Many donations by companies to political parties have been severely limited. It makes sense because these factors could unfairly influence (bribe) a party in power to consider their wishes. When the Conservatives said they would cut public funding to the parties, it seemed the last straw. Here are the pertinent bits about funding from the Elections Canada website: http://www.elections.ca/content

The legislation was rooted in the belief that the primary source for contributions to political parties and candidates should be individuals giving relatively small amounts, as opposed to larger donations. The new regulations, therefore, stipulated that each elector could contribute up to a total of $5,000 a year to the electoral district associations, nomination contestants and candidates of a registered political party, while donations to these entities from corporations and trade unions were limited to $1,000. Furthermore, while individuals could contribute directly to the registered party, corporations and unions could not. To police the new rules, the act also stipulated that candidates and parties should disclose contribution information within a set period of time after an election, and leadership contestants should do so during and after a leadership contest.

As a counterbalance to the new contribution limits, however, Bill C-24 also introduced significant ongoing public financing for political parties. These provisions entitled any party receiving a minimum percentage of the popular vote in a general election to an annual public allowance proportional to its share of votes. The concept was not new – both the Barbeau Committee in 1966 and the Lortie Commission in 1992 acknowledged that funding for political parties through direct public subsidies was a good idea. Bill C-24 introduced annual allowances, recognizing that parties should be compensated for the loss of their customary funding stream from large corporate and union donations – and that the political party is arguably the focal point of a vibrant and viable democratic system.

Oops, the parties really didn’t like that. But there was some fast backtracking by the Conservatives and they said they would not lower public funding. But since the Liberals and NDP have tossed in their lot, they’re now steaming ahead saying there wasn’t a good economic package. And we’re off to the races.

Now the Bloc has thrown in with the Liberals and NDP to form a coalition government. But compare the Bloc to Judas or any other turncoat. They’re in it for themselves, not for the good of Canada. It’s the one biggest flaw in the coalition package. I think there should be a bill against allowing a party to run that has no federal or countrywide interests because the Bloc doesn’t care about any province but Quebec and they’re happy to use everything to their own advantage. Splitting up Canada doesn’t bother them because they think it will make Quebec stronger, not seeing the big shark that waits south of the border to gobble up the pieces of a dismembered nation.

They can be trusted to support a coalition as long as it serves them. Harper and the Conservatives are now taking out ads saying the other parties are conniving, stealing the leadership of the country, undermining our democracy. Though these moves are far from common, there is room in our constitution for such a coalition. I’m willing to see what happens. After all, Italy has had to function this way quite a few times. What I’m not for is public tax dollars going to any campaign for or against the coalition. The ads coming out that I couldn’t care less about better not be using public money but then if the parties are publicly funded, I guess it is, one way or the other.

The one thing all the political parties know is that if we went to another election we would make two records, The most federal elections in the shortest number of years, and the lowest voter turnout in Canada’s history. I for one don’t want to see more campaigning. I’m sick of it and campaigning for/against the coalition is not going to endear me to any party.

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Politicians: Good or Evil?

My brother is in town visiting. We always get into interesting discussions about many things and often poltics. You see, he was a politician in Alberta for fifteen years. He told me that when he began they would spend at least 25% of their meetings looking at long-term solutions and problems. When he finished, no time was spent on the long term.

As a member of the population I often rale against the government for being so short sighted, not looking to our future and planning properly. Like many people, I have less faith in politicians. I don’t believe they’ll do what they say they will. I do believe that they will take on a cause, not for it being right, but because it will garner them votes.

My brother blames the media for the change; for making all politicians look corrupt, for changing the attitude of the population and therefore the government’s to short-term vision, for being biased. He does have a point. After all, most politicians are not caught in scandals; my brother wasn’t corrupt. But I believe the blame can be shared three ways: by the politicians, the media, the people.

The media is a very powerful tool. The best way to take over a country is to control the media. Writers/journalists get imprisoned all the time, proving that the pen is more feared than the sword to those in power. The media can make or break a career, a scandal, the outcome of an election. Over the years, we know, good news is no news. Much better to report on the disasters, the murders, the scandals. It won’t sell if it’s sweet and good and positive. No, we must always always delve to the deepest darkest depths of even the most innocuous thing.

What then happens is that an even is blown out of proportion. The molehill does become the mountain. M. Bernier leaves a dossier in his girlfrend’s place and no one knows till she seeks revenge after the break up. I’m no fan of the current Conservatives but in perspective, almost every single politician takes work home with them. Those that are married probably have it where their spouses, children or even friends of the family might happen upon it, especially if they want to. Those who have boyfriend/girlfriends have the same situation. Truly it’s done all the time.

My brother said that England has a closer check and balance. Politicians still take their work home but it’s delivered in a locked box and they must enter a code. It’s then returned the same way. But if a politician forgets something somewhere, hopefully it’s not of highest state security and most likely they made a mistake. They are human. But one hopes they’e not lackadaisical and not purposefully sabotaging their office or the people.

Yet polliticians will pick up a cause when it’s newsworthy and will keep them in the best light. Look at Tony Blair announcing that the environment was in dire trouble from pollution. Duh! I knew this when I was 18 but the government of Canada suddenly jumps on the bandwagon that Blair provided and makes it sound like they’re the first to notice and that they will be innovative in what they’re fixing. (Let’s not mention the rebate that they’re getting rid of this year for buying smaller, gas-efficient cars).

So, they make a big hullabaloo and everyone goes, oh aren’t they wonderful. And in the meantime, everyone forgets that the government is running slipshod over the medical system, because the media is waving the flags and the government is singing the party line and the shortsighted population only thinks for the moment.

Worst of all is that politicians say what they think people want them to hear. They do their dire worst in the first two years of their governing, then pull out the cake and champagne and the fickle voters forget everything. I still remember Bill VanderZalm, premier of BC, offering to lower the price of beer because it was a working man’s drink and they needed to be able to buy it. Of course he never did lower the price. It wasn’t really his jurisdiction and who remembered?

So, are politicians good or evil? Considering that most do try to do their best, aren’t corrupt and are human, able to make mistakes and great strides, most aren’t evil. Some are definitely self-serving. Others are two-faced. David Emerson stands out in that crowd. But politics is not pretty, by its very nature.

The voters, they’re not good or evil either, but they are fickle and shortsighted so the politicians cater to that. The media, well, it might be the most insidious evil or the greatest good. The media can certainly develop a hive mentality and chew something past the marrow in the bone.

And of course, nothing is absolute. Not all of any of these groups is one thing. There are those of us who work for the benefit of others, and those who do for themselves. There is good, evil, mismanagement and ineptitude. There is the flow of favoritism. I like to think that I want a long-sighted government that doesn’t ignore the short-term needs. Perhaps one day everything will swing back again. After all, the government even acknowledging that the environment is in danger speaks of looking to the future. Now if they would only come up with some real long-range solutions.

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Carbon Tax: Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

The latest craze that even the government on all levels has realized brings popularity and kudos, is to go green. From civic to federal governments, this last year we’ve seen such buzz words as “eco, green, carbon tax and environment.”

Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan has been championing his “eco-density” movement as we move closer to an election campaign. For the busy, unthinking or easily duped they hear the word “eco” and will go, Oh it must be good for us and the environment, so I’ll vote Sam. What does it really mean? It’s another word for condo, high-rise and sardine city. Eco-density, like the use of collateral damage to mean dead people, is just disguising the continual downgrading of our living spaces to smaller and smaller areas for higher prices. Oh, but they’ll put a little greenspace outside so that when you’re pressed up against the glass and staring down five stories, you can dream of a previous era where people gamboled in the grass.

The BC government, so good at tearing up contracts and firing hospital workers to the tune of saving money, cleanliness issues and losing lives, who started singing the song of saving our environment has just instituted the carbon tax, to take place July 1. Because, they parrot, it will make people use gas less and think of greener alternatives. Supposedly it will affect every use of fuel, including those who have to heat their homes this way. It will include gas, diesel and natural gas. Much better to let those little old people with their thinly insulated skin shudder away and wrap up in old blankets. Then the government can say, well look at them; aren’t they doing a great job.

The carbon tax makes no sense. It’s like saying, oh people are buying too much food, so we’ll raise the price of food. The rich will just pay more and the poor people will eat less and starve. It wouldn’t be so bad if there were cheap, viable and environmental alternatives. But there aren’t. A hybrid car is already more expensive than a gas-powered car. But the federal government was giving a $1000 rebate should you buy one. The price was still more than a cheaper gas car and the government decided it sends a better message to get rid of this rebate.

Bus/SkyTrain transportation is so expensive that it was still cheaper for me to take my car to New Westminster from Vancouver than to take the bus and its requisite hassles (not reliable, not always on time, strange, sometimes dangerous street people). I’ll have to check again but the green alternatives aren’t there. Those buses still spew gas. Electric or hydrogen buses would be better. Vancouver has been testing one fuel cell bus that I know of.

Alternative fuels or making the gas and oil companies change the composition in the fuels could help. There is ethanol for one, though it has its own issues. Putting better systems into new cars for fuel and emissions also could help but I don’t know how much can be done there or how much research has been done. I’d like to hear about it though and the government isn’t chatting about all the green alternatives they’re offering or looking into.

Perhaps the government thinks it’s a frivolous option for people to go to work. There are many smaller areas and farm communities where people must drive to go anywhere. It really doesn’t help them and punishes them. Not to mention, the truck drivers that haul goods and food across the country are doing us a service. Perhaps they should stop driving too. Oh no, of course not; the price of everything will just go up. And try to sell a car right now so that you can go green: you can’t.

Should I even mention that this does nothing for the existent problem of pollution and greenhouse gases and it’s the least effective (energetic) way of implementing change. I’d like to know what the tax money will go to except lining government coffers. Bringing in better mass transportation and alternatives would make the carbon tax more feasible if it was actually applied to the big users. If even the little people, the poor people and those who have no choice are punished, it just means that in the end as always, the poor will get poorer and the rich will just continue to pay more to consume the same amount. And the government will sit back like a fat cat and lick its chops.

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