Throughout the fight against Covid-19 we’ve had many surprises, most of them unpleasant ones. But there have been some good surprises, things many of us might not expected due to past history and actions. The work of Ontario Premier Doug Ford is probably the prime example in that category, having won some round praise for his work to date.

After a rough start where he told everyone to go on Spring Break and not worry about Covid-19, Premier Ford has pulled an amazing 180 and grown a great deal in becoming one of the best examples of rising to the moment. It’s a sign of the strange times that we find ourselves in I can say this, but it’s the truth of the matter. He’s done a good job to date and deserves credit for that. But yesterday some news came out about a decision taken by his government that will surely take some of the shine off the Ontario Conservatives work to date, a decision that seems particularly cold and tone deaf in this moment:

Kudos to Ontario NDP MPP Lisa Gretzky for raising this issue and pointing out the problem. As she pointed out in her press release yesterday, Ontario Conservative Minister for Children, Community and Social Services Todd Smith confirmed that “for any $1 a household receives from the federal CERB benefit — because a member of the household has lost their job due to COVID-19 — the Ford government will take away either 50-cents or $1 from the household, if someone in that household is receiving social assistance benefits.” To be clear what this means, any household that received the Canadian Emergency Relief Benefit (CERB), that amount will be clawed back from any other member of the house whose receiving social assistance benefits.

That means that lets say in a household of 4, one partner gets laid off for their job and signs up for the CERB to help them through the had time. The other partner is on Ontario Disability Supports (ODSP), because of a disability that has kept them from working. According to this policy, which is clearly posted on their website, the money from the CERB received to replace that lost income from the Feds, will be clawed back from the other partner by Ontario. That is just ugly, kicking families that are already struggling while their down because most households that are receiving any social assistance benefits in Ontario are typically already struggling or, as in the case of someone on ODSP, can’t work because of health conditions. It’s actively making families that are already struggling poorer, punishing them for things that are completely beyond their control and all for what gain exactly? So Ontario can basically get their hands-on funds that the Feds are giving to those in need. It’s ugly stuff, tone deaf and reeks of the kind of thing the Ford Government would have done without a second thought over a month ago before this new Doug Ford arrived.

What makes this all the worse is that the Federal government thought that this could be an issue and had enough foresight to see this possibility. According to the press release from Mrs. Gretzky, the federal government specifically asked all provinces to exempt CERB benefits from any claw backs. The NDP government of British Columbia heeded that request and they have exempted these benefits, ensuring that residents of that province aren’t punished in this moment of need for simply being in need. But Ontario’s Conservative government? Clearly not the case and this raises a lot of legitimate questions about what in the Hell that they are thinking right now.

You’d think that it would be clearly understood that right now people need more support during this difficult time, not less. You’d also think that the optics from taking money from disabled people because their loved ones at home also fell on hard times and needed to get support would be seen as particularly heartless right now. But yet here we are, this has happened, and those clear things didn’t seem to matter in the decision. There is still time for the Ford Conservatives to change course here and reverse this decision. It’s not too late to do the right thing but the longer this current situation is allowed to stand, the more pain will be caused. To his credit Premier Ford has risen to the challenge of Covid-19 but this move is a big test of that growth. If he’s truly gotten the needs of the people in this moment, he will change course and follow BC’s lead on this matter. If he doesn’t, it will tarnish what’s happened to date and maybe mark the moment when the Doug Ford of old started to return. What happens next is in his hand and Premier, it’s your call.

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