featured Poverty

Kendall Worth: People on income assistance remember Joanne Bernard

Joanne Bernard wants to be the new premier of Nova Scotia.

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Readers of the Nova Scotia Advocate may remember that between 2013 and 2017 Joanne Bernard was the MLA for Dartmouth North.

Many people on income assistance, including myself, lost respect for her within weeks of her getting appointed as the Minister of Community Services.

See also: All I want from minister Joanne Bernard for Christmas is $2 million

Joanne Bernard is now considering taking a run at becoming the leader of the Nova Scotia Liberal Party.

Since this came out on CBC news, I have spoken with people who live in Dartmouth North who told me “Joanne better be prepared that people in her former Dartmouth North riding are not going to re-elect her. 

These people have said to me, “Kendall, in the days of Joanne Bernard being our MLA she has given us reason not to trust her.”

Within the past couple of days I met with a group of income assistance recipients who do not want to talk on the record. 

I should mention with COVID-19 still being around this meeting took place sitting outside in a park and with practising social distancing. 

Anyway, they told me they lost all respect for her as well during her time as minister of Community Services. Many income assistance recipients were offended by comments she made during that period of time that showed her true colours.

Specific comments that was made to me were as follows:

“Kendall, Joanne Bernard was on welfare herself at one time, but she sure did not behave like she was at one time on welfare while serving as Minister of Community Services.”

“We saw she was not in favour of increasing the allowances and she moved as slow as cold molasses in changing the policies.”

“Also, Joanne Bernard made media comments that offended income assistance recipients.”

Then this group raised the question: “How can Joanne Benard be the leader of the Liberal party and the premier when she has shown she cannot be a good minister of Community Services? Where will Joanne Benard stand on other issues such as health and wellness if she becomes the leader?”

See also: Joanne Bernard’s refusal to raise welfare rates hurts kids

When you are an MLA, you are supposed to help people and Joanne Bernard has shown no interest in helping.

It is the belief of myself and others in the community that Joanne Bernard should just stick to private life. The current MLA for Dartmouth North is doing a great job in her community and with helping people.

If Joanne Bernard becomes the next leader of the liberals and the premier some people believe that the province will even be in worse shape then the whole time Stephen McNeil was premier.

So let’s hope that someone other than Joanne Bernard becomes the new leader of the provincial liberal party.

Kendall Worth is an award-winning anti-poverty activist who lives with disabilities and tries to make ends meet on income assistance.

With a special thanks to our generous donors who make publication of the Nova Scotia Advocate possible.

Subscribe to the Nova Scotia Advocate weekly digest and never miss an article again. It’s free!



  1. Joanne Bernard presumed because she was on welfare for a time and managed to get off the system that everyone could – they just had to pull up their boot straps and work hard like her. I recall this interview after Bernard was elected and I couldn’t believe my ears. Bernard had limited education and experience, understanding and compassion then and now in my view, so I am wondering why anyone would think she had clout to run again. As Minister of Community Services she made no progress in reform. The rent in Halifax is on average is $1100 + light for a one bedroom apartment. Community Services believes allowcating $570.00 for rent is proper and suitable. This is half the money needed to rent an apartment in Halifax Metro. These shameful inequities needed reform 20 years ago. Politicians – once in power do not care – they care about getting reelected and their continued paycheck.

  2. Joanne Bernard is an offensive person. It would be a disaster for her to be the Premier. She refused to do anything substantial to improve the lives of those on income assistance. When I first learned she had been on assistance herself one time, I thought this was great but instead, I believe, it made it worse. She was not on assistance because she had physical or medical problems that prevented her from working. She was only on it for a short period of time and because she was physically healthy, it was not that difficult for her to get her life back on track. Also, it was in a time period when the cost of living was far less than it is now so the tiny cheque she would have gotten would have been more manageable than it is now. If she were seriously ill or in a wheelchair and trying to get by on only a slightly higher amount now, she would have a very different view of the situation facing the majority of ESIA recipients. Joanne Bernard could never relate to those of us on assistance as most of us are not just temporarily out of work and healthy but dealing with overwhelming medical problems and/or mobility issues that mean we are on the system our whole lives.

    The comments I found most offensive was that people on welfare just need to get their act together and get back to work. How could she be the Minister of Community Services and not have a clue that that 70% of those on ESIA are unable to work? When you are completely ignoring the majority of ESIA recipients, there is no hope of change and indeed, nothing changed while she was in charge.

    The Department of Community Services does not pay for wheelchairs so I have to wait at least a year for Easter Seals to pay for a new wheelchair while my current one is literally falling apart. I was sickened to learn that she is the CEO of Easter Seals. I can only imagine what her salary is.

  3. Good write up (cousin)Kendall. You point out why it is important to not pick one issue candidates for political office. Some of the names being bandied about for replacement of our present leader are questionable for the times in which we find ourselves.

  4. I have nothing good to say about Joanne Bernard , being a former minister of community services she put a freeze on our income assistance for 3 years while cost of living was rising … I’m not a liberal fan and wish all liberals to resign .. my message to liberal government is “Get Out “. Liberal party will never get my vote

  5. Joanne Bernard Is Useless !! Remember when she was the minister of community services she put a freeze on our income assistance for 3 years … she wants to win brownie points to fulfill her pockets , Please don’t vote her in ..Liberal government will destroy like they have with our health care & no mental health care , no family doctors , no affordable housing , no rent control , homelessness on the rise Canada wide …

  6. Great opinion piece. So glad I’m not alone in my opinion of this failed MLA and former Minister of Community Services. She really seems to have learned nothing from her very brief experience as an elected official.

    She lacked the compassion necessary to represent her constituents effectively, something McNeil-era liberals brought out in one another. Austerity programmes have always put money myths ahead of the needs of the people. She was front and centre in the many battles waged on public service workers and people in need and completely blinded by her own personal aspirations and fantastical ambition.

    As Nova Scotians, we must not let the outcome of the power vacuum left by McNeil be the ascension of someone of Joanne Bernard’s calibre. We have real choices here and after everything we’ve gone through, and all the trials and tribulations to come, can we all agree that we deserve a Premier so much better than her?

  7. Indeed, Kendall! Indeed, my fellow writers.
    I hate to jump in when others have so eloquently spoken to the question in a dignified a “pile on,” but in the case of Ms. Bernard, I’ll make an exception. In addition to all that others have thus far written, I would point out that, while Minister of Community Services, her word became suspect in certain circles. It was made all the worse because it felt like a betrayal. Many individuals at the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum felt relief, and faint hope, when Ms. Bernard was tapped for the Community Services portfolio. Some sighed a great sigh, saying (I paraphrase), “Ah, at last! Someone who *really* gets it!” I became rather disillusioned with politics after that.
    She made promises that weren’t kept. Promises to some of the most poor–in material terms–, vulnerable and disenfranchised people in the province. Something that continues today with that Department and Ministry. For example, while in office, Ms. Bernard promised to restore so-called special needs funding that had been cut: “Community Services Minister Joanne Bernard said she will reinstate the special needs allowances in the next fiscal year. “Those decisions were not well thought out and they will be reversed,” she said.” (The Chronicle Herald, December 12, 2013.) She did not. Things, generally, got worse for those in receipt of income assistance. And that is but one example.
    Now, I gather that she had done good in other areas, such as establishing the Marguerite Centre, and leading Alice Housing, before taking a seat at the cabinet table. Which is to be lauded, on balance. But, nevertheless, “people on income assistance [and their supporters and advocates do indeed] remember Joanne Bernard.”

Comments are closed.