Obfuscation, shameless louts and trickery

Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister Qualtrough take part in the National Youth Forum on an Accessible Canada in Ottawa (Photo credit: PMO Photo by Adam Scotti, 2016)

There is a game that is played in Ottawa. It’s called obfuscation and it is a technique used by clever politicians, politicos and bureaucrats when they want to pull one over on the public or screw someone over while pretending they are not responsible for the consequences of their actions. Practitioners of obfuscation are generally weak or meek people who are afraid to take responsibility for their actions. The most vulnerable people in society are those with disabilities. They face incredible hurdles every day. Acceptance is always a challenge. People often refuse to recognize the many abilities of the disabled. They are vulnerable yet have much to offer.

The disabled community in Canada were rightly concerned when the Trudeau government passed the medical assistance in dying law along with assisted suicide in June 2016 under the guise of ending the suffering of terminally ill adults. I still don’t know if I agree with it or not. It is a difficult topic that has many layers. The people most opposed to the legislation were disabled Canadians who fear that the new law leaves them vulnerable. Citizens with severe physical or developmental disabilities are often under the care and control of others. That brings risk, especially if that other person suggests to a medical professional that it may be in the interest of the disabled person to end their life. This is a real fear.

For many people with developmental disabilities, the joy in their lives often comes with small gestures, hugs, friendship, kindness, being appreciated, having others taking time to speak with them, and love.

Adults with developmental disabilities often find themselves living together in group homes. Many will remain living with loving parents who are obviously older and tired, or siblings. Offering compassion, respect and dignity towards these citizens is critical to their health and well-being.    

Sadly, there are many in society who will at times willingly, and at other times through pure ignorance, harm vulnerable people with cowardly actions. Worse, the perpetrators will then look you straight in the eye and deny they are doing it. These are the obfuscators. They represent the worst type of people in government.

One of these obfuscators is the Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility, Carla Qualtrough. Please note the word ACCESSIBILITY is actually in the title of her job. She obviously missed it!

With the full knowledge, support and approval of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Qualtrough’s office announced that she was cutting a National Archives program that employs 34 people with developmental disabilities who are paid minimum wage to sort government papers before they are destroyed. (Ironically Qualtrough been visually impaired since birth and even competed in swimming at the 1988 and 1992 Paralympic Games).

For almost four decades these vulnerable people had been paid an honorarium of $1.15 an hour for their contributions. In 2017, former Ontario Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne brought in provincial legislation that took away the ability to collect an honorarium for work and essentially mandated pay at a required $14.00-hour minimum wage. To be clear, the minimum wage was imposed on these vulnerable people as a result of changes in Wynne's labour legislation. Instead of helping them, it laid the groundwork to destroy their security and dignity.

The Ottawa-Carleton Association of Persons with Developmental Disabilities (OCAPDD), an organization working with these employees, estimated that the new Wynne labour legislation and $14.00 hour minimum wage rate would start costing cost the federal government between $400,000 and $500,000 a year. Qualtrough and her minions balked at paying it and decided to cut the program. OCAPDD Executive Director David Ferguson told CTV news that “currently there's an initiative underway to hire people with disabilities across the federal government and while we applaud that, we don’t understand the contradiction that this program is being closed and it employees, people with a disability, some of whom have been there for 38 years; that flies in the face of the other initiative.”

What Wynne, Qualtrough and Trudeau all fail to grasp is that for these very vulnerable people, working at the National Archives provided them with dignity, purpose, pride and a sense of community in their lives.

Ottawa Life Magazine contacted Qualtrough’s office for clarification. (To be honest, I couldn’t get my head around this story or even fathom that it could possibly be true with all the pious meanderings about values and diversity and equality that emanates from this government. I wanted to believe it was not true).

That is when Qualtrough’s obfuscation act went into overdrive. Through a spokesperson, she told Ottawa Life Magazine that, “Our government is taking action to help ensure that all people, including persons with disabilities, can fully participate and be included in society and the Canadian economy through inclusive work opportunities. The existing contract with the OCAPDD has been extended while we work to find other employment opportunities within the federal government for these employees. We have worked with the OCAPDD for over a year to prepare for this transition, as the changes in the recycled paper market and advances in technology mean that the current employment situation no longer provides an opportunity to contribute to government operations. We are intent on finding an arrangement that offers this opportunity to employees.”

We asked her for clarification on her remarks – specifically if she meant that none of the OCAPDD employees will be out of work or lose their jobs because she is finding them positions in other areas in the government. Her spokesperson, Marielle Hossack responded: The Government of Canada extended the program contract for one last year to support the transition to other federal departments. The contract will end in 2020.” So, we asked, what happens to them after one year when the contract ends-are they laid off at that time? Hossack replied that, “As stated, the government has been working with the OCAPDD for over a year to prepare for this transition to other employment opportunities and will continue to do so until 2020.”

Translated into real speak, transition to other employment opportunities means that they are moving these vulnerable people to other departments now. The line “will continue to do so until 2020” means these vulnerable people will be fired or laid off at the end of the year. So, first they will be split up and moved to the other departments (splitting them up reduces the strength in numbers problem!). The meaning of her line “the government has been working with the OCAPDD for over a year to prepare for this transition” in real speak is a cowardly tool used by bureaucrats to justify their actions by saying they have been “working on something.” Bureaucrats don’t measure outcomes; it’s process that matters. In this case, they have been “working” for a year on how to throw 34 severely developmentally challenged people out of work without admitting to it. Their solution is to say these people are “transitioning” to other departments (where they will then be laid off or fired in 2020).

Ottawa Life Magazine asked Qualtrough if she had considered putting a motion forward in the House of Commons requesting unanimous consent of all MPs to allow these employees to continue working for the honorarium they had been getting for almost four decades. Qualtrough would not respond to the question.  She would also not comment on her own expense account as a Minister which were the highest in cabinet last year at over $80,000 dollars.

That Qualtrough and Trudeau cast these developmentally challenged people aside like a discarded muffin wrapper is shameful. That they won't own up to it is cowardly. Consider that Prime Minister Trudeau personally intervened and awarded $10.5 million taxpayers dollars to Omar Khadr and has spent millions of taxpayers dollars over the past four years taking his   family on taxpayer-funded trips, including one to the Aga Khan's resort in the Caribbean that cost taxpayers $250,000.  Trudeau was sanctioned for that trip by the Ethics Commissioner but has yet to reimburse taxpayers for the money. His government gave the Aga Khan foundation a $38 million grant after that trip. Then there is the disastrous and embarrassing taxpayer-funded trip to India, taxpayer-funded trips to Florida, to go surfing in Tofino, to travel to the posh Fogo Island Inn in Newfoundland and numerous other places.

Then there is the matter of the same bureaucrats at Public Works who coldly cut the National Archives developmental disability program, who had no problem budgeting and fast tracking the spending of $1.1 million taxpayers dollars to "renovate the office" of Patty Hadju, the Minister for the Status of Women. Hajdu signed off on the renovation despite being advised her current offices were perfectly fine and that by proceeding with a lavish renovation she would likely come under greater public scrutiny. Too bad she didn’t think to redirect those taxpayer dollars to the developmentally disabled program her government is now shutting down. But at least she has a nice office.

The real rub of Trudeau, Qualtrough and Hadju is the doublespeak and genuine insincerity of it all. In her statement, Qualtrough takes no responsibility for cutting a successful program for the developmentally challenged that will have long term, life-changing, negative consequences for those affected. Instead, she puts out what can only be described as the penultimate bureaucratese speak – a fictitious zinger of a quote about how she is somehow helping the very people she just canned:

“We know that persons with disabilities continue to remain under-represented in Canada’s labour force. That’s why we’re taking action on many fronts to ensure all Canadians can fully participate and be included in society; this includes meaningful employment. Between the investments our government is making in accessibility and the tabling of the proposed Accessible Canada Act, we have done more to support persons with disabilities than any other government.”

Interestingly, 4 years ago former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s then-Conservative government were going to cut the program but after some blow-back reinstated it. Pierre Poilievre, the local MP for Carleton and former Conservative Employment Minister under Harper reversed the decision to shut it down in 2015. This week he questioned the government’s decision to shut it down this time. “I think it's an unwise decision that is costly for taxpayers and harmful for these very inspiring workers,” said Poilievre.

Yesterday, Poilievre and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer visited the affected developmentally challenged employees from the National Archives Program. They promised the program would be reinstated if the Conservatives form the government this fall. There was no obfuscation.