If a decision to charge people with disabilities $52 per month for transit passes isn’t reversed, Craig Muirhead says he’ll be forced “to scrape and think about my next meal.”
“If it doesn’t change… I won’t be able to go to work,” Muirhead, a custodial engineer at South Surrey’s Semiahmoo House Society, told Peace Arch News from Victoria, following a rally protesting the move that was held Wednesday outside the B.C. legislature.
“It’s just going to make it so difficult for us.”
Semiahmoo House provides support for people with developmental disabilities.
Muirhead, 45, was among hundreds to gather in Victoria for the noon-hour ‘Raise the rates, leave our bus passes alone’ event. Fellow Self-Advocates of Semiahmoo members Victoria Drake and John Barlow also participated, alongside SAS adviser Jill Glennie.
Glennie said word that the transportation cost would be clawed back from a $77-per-month increase to disability-assistance payments – the first boost since 2007 – came about two weeks ago. It was accompanied by news that the annual bus-pass program – costing people with disabilities just $45 per year – was being cancelled.
“It was just really, really sneaky,” Glennie said.
While Glennie said the protest was not an attack on the ministry of social development as a whole, Minister Michelle Stilwell faced angry opposition in the legislature after the rally. She again refused to reverse the decision to charge for bus passes, noting 45,000 people on disability assistance could not use a bus pass, and the change makes the rate fair for everyone.
Muirhead, however, said it will do irreparable damage.
He decided to participate in the rally in the hopes Premier Christy Clark takes note.
“If we rise up and have our voice heard, maybe she’ll look at this and go, ‘maybe it’s a silly move’,” he said.
MLAs who Muirhead spoke with at the rally “were on board” with reversing the decision, he added –“They’re in our corner.”
Faith Bodnar, executive director of the advocacy organization Inclusion BC, told the rally her online petition opposing the change grew quickly to 100,000 people. She argued that bus pass or not, disability assistance rates remain too low.
“Government, all you did was equalize the poverty for people with disabilities in B.C.” she said.
Stilwell said the rate increase – which takes effect Sept. 1 – will cost $170 million over the next three years, and that adding the bus pass funding to that would cost another $20 million. She and Finance Minister Mike de Jong have insisted they will not retain a system that helps some people more than others.
De Jong said the government is aware of some people taking the free bus passes available to disabled people and selling them on the street for whatever cash they can get. Those people will have the option of taking the entire $77 a month increase instead.
– with files from Tom Fletcher