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At $625 a month, the car allowance for a cabinet minister is two-thirds of the total monthly living allowance for a person with disabilities.

Those we elect to lead us profess to be mystified by the ingratitude of people with disabilities who fail to appreciate government’s largesse in ending a five-year freeze in benefits and boosting them to $906 a month.

When people showed up at the legislature in wheelchairs to protest the clawback of $52 of the province’s generous $77-a-month increase (it simultaneously cancelled a $45 transit pass) cabinet ministers seemed taken aback.

The decision was then framed — you have to love the Liberals’ spin machine in all its callous splendour — as the province just being fair, evening out the benefits field for all those people with disabilities who might not be able, need or want to use transit to improve their quality of life.

See, fairness dictates that for those who don’t need transit, it’s important to take the perk away from those who do need it. Then it’s all square.

Well, actually, it’s not all square. However it may be spun, it is mean-spirited and shows our representatives to be entitled and utterly insensitive to the daily struggles of blameless people at the low end of the income scale.

Let’s see, our lowest-profile backbencher from the riding of South Dingbat-Miser’s Roost takes home more in per diems for fine dining in the legislature’s subsidized restaurant over a 20-day sitting than your neediest person with disabilities receives to pay for the basic necessities of life for a month.

At $625 a month, the car allowance for a cabinet minister is two-thirds of the total monthly living allowance for a person with disabilities.

That’s right, your struggling cabinet minister gets more in monthly car perks than your person with disabilities gets in housing assistance in, say, Metro Vancouver, where the current monthly shortfall between the shelter allowance and the average rent for a bottom-end bachelor suite is $575.

With the average basic bachelor going for $950 a month — top end is around $1,750, I’m told — stiffing people who can’t do anything about it with an additional $624 a year for a bus pass is not a trivial imposition on discretionary spending.

Just to put all this in context, in the past 15 years, monthly provincial assistance for people with disabilities has increased by $120.

Over the last 10 years, the premier’s monthly remuneration — just counting base pay, not housing allowances, meal per diems, car allowances, entertainment and travel expenses and so on — has increased by $5,696 — if you like percentages, that’s about 4,646 per cent more per month than was so grudgingly bestowed upon people with disabilities.

Since 2001, a period in which the cost of living increased by more than 30 per cent, the province increased income and shelter assistance for people with disabilities by a miserly 15 per cent. Yet the premier’s salary was increased by 54 per cent.

Yep, while flintily holding the line on assistance for people with disabilities, our elected champions of stinginess were enthusiastically jacking their own salaries into the top echelon of remuneration for premiers and MLAs across the country.

In 2005, when the province increased monthly assistance by $70, B.C. ranked second in Canada in terms of support for people with disabilities. Today, B.C. ranks among the lowest. By 2010, in comparison to our immediate neighbours in Alberta, the Northwest Territories and Yukon, we looked cruelly cheap. Alberta provided 75 per cent more than B.C.; Yukon, 87 per cent more; N.W.T., 89 per cent more.

At the other end of the ledger, at $195,468 a year, Premier Christy Clark now ranks second in Canada for compensation among the six wealthiest provinces. Only Kathleen Wynne, the premier of Ontario, earns more at $198,521. Rachel Notley in Alberta, by comparison, takes home $159,450.

People with disabilities deserve more from a prosperous province in which members of the legislature have propelled themselves into the stratosphere of incomes, at least that’s how most British Columbians would likely describe membership in the top five per cent of incomes in Canada.

Instead of wagging sanctimonious, parsimonious fingers at our most vulnerable citizens, our exceptionally well-rewarded legislators should do the right thing. Reinstate the transit pass, double assistance rates for people with disabilities, and then do for them what you’ve done for yourselves. Tie future increases to the cost of living index so they may enjoy stable, predictable incomes and decent, comfortable, productive lives.

shume@islandnet.com

Published in Integra Newsfeed

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