Jim Flaherty, poverty fighter

Today, Jim Flaherty, Canada’s former Minister of Finance is bring honoured with a state funeral. Even his critics acknowledge his commitment to people with disabilities and their families. They point to the Registered Disability Savings Plan as the highlight.

My commentary, Thanks to Jim Flaherty Canadians with Disabilities can Fulfill Their Dreams has been published by the Globe and Mail. Aside from the tangible benefits of the RDSP to people with disabilities it is also disrupting the existing disability ‘welfare’ system.

Here is an excerpt from my article:
Jim Flaherty understood what poverty activists around the world understand – the path out of poverty begins when you can accumulate assets. Unfortunately, government funded disability programs and benefits prohibit asset accumulation, thus perpetuating a vicious cycle of dependency.

If you look ‘under the hood’ of the RDSP you will notice three spanners in the works of the disability welfare system: One, it removes the asset limits, which determine eligibility for welfare; two, it eliminates claw-back and all the disincentives to earning your way out of poverty; and three, it challenges provincial and territorial governments to eliminate the costs of administering the disability welfare system. This last point bears further reflection

The existing disability assistance programs are at odds with the practice and intent of the RDSP. It may take 5 to 10 years but I can imagine two down the road benefits:

  1. a Guaranteed Annual Income for people with disabilities
  2. direct payments to people with disabilities for program supports rather than to agencies

This is not well understood neither by disability activists nor poverty activists. Public policy is all about shifts in momentum. We can’t get from here to there immediately. The road to self determination, inclusion and contributing citizenship starts with the RDSP.

I had many conversations with Mr. Flaherty about poverty.  He knew the precedents he was setting. Here’s another excerpt from my article:

This is a sad time for Canadians with disabilities and their families. We’ve lost one of our own. Jim Flaherty was a shining example that whatever your talent, it is always enlightened by love.

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