KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – I am still getting used to the idea that Joanne Bernard is now the former Minister of Community Services, soundly beaten in Dartmouth North by NDP candidate Susan Leblanc. Her awful record on welfare issues played a large part in her defeat. So for poor people and their allies, what’s next in the fight for a life in dignity?
I am not shedding any tears for Bernard. Lives on welfare are hard lives, and Joanne Bernard the minister did next to nothing to change things for the better.
Of course, whoever replaces Bernard will be Liberal politician as well, so expect a couple of superficial changes, and maybe even a bit of a honeymoon, but in the long run it will be the same old punitive austerity.
Even had another party won the election, departments have ways to execute their own agendas. Ministers come and go, while civil servants stick around.
It is no coincidence that the cruel cuts to bus passes and other special needs allowances began under the previous NDP regime. We complained about departmental secrecy under Bernard, but Community Services has never operated otherwise. Old habits die hard.
What is exciting about Bernard’s loss is that to some extent she lost because of her record as the minister of Community Services. There were other reasons as well, but the hard work of anti-poverty advocates, their rallies and campaigns, were a major factor. Not just during the election, but over the years. We haven’t seen that in Nova Scotia for a while.
So as we gain momentum, we need to continue to push the envelope. People on welfare need to continue to speak out, which- never forget – takes a lot of courage. We need to support ACORN Nova Scotia, the Benefits Reform Action Group, the Community Advocates Network and whatever other organizations are out there. Right now these groups are very much on their own, they could use some help.
We need to defeat the next Bernard, and the next one after that, until politicians get the message, take charge of Community Services, and make some real changes.
Meanwhile, it’s job security for the Nova Scotia Advocate.
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