Vote Monday, May 2nd–Others are Dying To

We have more than a unique opportunity to influence the future of  our country and the welfare of its people. We have a responsibility to do so, and in some countries, there is a penalty if one does not vote. In other countries there is a total farce when it comes to voting, and in not just a few countries the whole experience of voting is fought with fraud, deception  and the illusion of democracy.  So, as imperfect as our system of government may be, as tired as you might be from too many federal elections in too few years, do get up, get out and vote!

Neither I personally nor March of Dimes will advise on which party you should support or which individual to favour. It is only important in the life of a free country, that citizens cherish their freedom and exercise their vote. No people’s freedom came without a struggle and only vigilance, participation and a commitment to this freedom, will keep us free. An informed ,  active voter is one who can honestly claim to be defending our liberty.  We take too much forgranted, but when you look at the struggles of the hundreds of thousands, even millions in Asia, Africa and the Middle East who are not only fighting, but are dying for their belief in freedom, their right to democracy, their desire to Vote, one has to think carefully as to why one would not vote. Is it cynicism, ignorance or just laziness? None is a good excuse.

What issues matter to you? Some party or candidate is talking about those issues. What values do you want to see upheld? At least one party will identify with your values. What future do you want for this country, your family, yourself?  Thoughtful questioning  will lead you to the person or party with a shared vision. No one is perfect. No party has al lthe answers and in my view, no party is all worthy or all wrong. The great thing about this great society, is that the diverse views all matter and the parties do share a lot. I remain very influenced by Dalton Camp, former head of the Conservative party of Canada, who spoke at an academic meeting I attended on social policy over 30 years ago. He said, ” The closer one gets to power in Canada, the more the parties are the same.” I really do believe that. I think any party elected knows it has to serve all the people, not just the segment from which it drew the most votes.  All the parties have to work within the strictures of existing laws and institutions so can’ t always deliver on their platforms. It might take years before they can change things they perceive to improve life in Canada, but in the meantime, they will learn what works, what doesn’t and maybe even come to new conclusions. It is ever  thus. I have seen Liberals with significant social justice agendas, bring in conservative fiscal policies, Conservatives with  reductionist fiscal agendas, spend more than prior Liberal regimes on government expansion. No party is all red, blue or green.

All our rights were hard won. Defend them. Women did not always have the vote.People with disabilities did not always have legal protection.  Figure out what is important to you and take a stand for it. Count your blessings on May 2nd, and then VOTE.

For an analysis on the caregiver commitments of the 3 major parties, see MODC website at

http://www.marchofdimes.ca/EN/advocacy/2011elections/Pages/ElectionPlatforms.aspx

Ethnicity, Race, Religion–and Other Taboo Topics

This year 2011, is not only the 60th anniversary of March of Dimes in Canada, and the 30th anniversary of my being at the helm of March of Dimes, but also the International Year of People of African Descent, as proclaimed by the United Nations. Have you heard of it?

I had not, until a thoughtful employee sent me the information, gained from another community agency. So, I have been thinking about what that means to me, to my organization and to the society at large. Why was this year designated as such?

The reality is that people of African descent and people of colour in our society, and all over the world, have experienced racism, discrimination, colonialism, bigotry, and slavery, and according to UN data, are still too often represented in poverty statistics, unemployment, under housing, under education etc. This has huge implications for all of us, service providers, citizens, caregivers.

Fortunately, Canada is one of the most multicultural nations and Toronto is the most ethnically and racially diverse cities in the world, and we both benefit from this and attempt to meet the challenges that this reality creates. As a not for profit organization, we must ensure that our employees and volunteers reflect the community, that we can reach out to the broader community with services that are appropriate and culturally sensitive, while meeting all of the requirements and expectations of Canadian society. We face challenges related to language and culture. As a charity serving the disability community, we must demonstrate our commitment to the inclusion of people with disabilities.

March of Dimes takes pride in being an employment equity employer, and has tracked the backgrounds of employees for almost three decades. Our policies, training and code of conduct specifically address issues of bilingualism, multiculturalism, anti-racism and anti-harassment, dating back to the early 1980s. Our employees represent the diverse community whether by gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and disability. At our head office in Toronto, over 40 languages are spoken. Organization-wide, we undoubtedly have a far greater capacity to reach out to the diversity of communities.

A visit to any of our programs shows all Canadians, those long established in the country and new immigrants, old and young, accessing our services. I look forward to celebrating this International Year in the Canadian spirit of equality and humanity for all people.

Canada 2011 – election, democracy and disability

The federal election campaigning is well underway and all parties are jockeying for position with the Canadian electorate. Most Canadians will see the current national environment as rather “ho hum” with one pundit stating the only issue seems to be whether or not you are in favour of their being an election.

Democracy cannot be taken lightly so it is in everyone’s interest to participate and be informed. People are literally dying in North Africa and the Middle East for the right to have a democracy and a free vote. Some of us forget that our forebears also fought and died for democracy. It is a fragile state of affairs at the best of times and fraught with problems most of the time. But it is, in my view, better than most alternatives.

Voting in and of itself does not make for a democracy. Remember that well informed and educated people have voted in communism, fascism, statism, socialism, imperialism, colonialism, and supported sexism, racism, and other manifestations of barbarism (my term.) So, being an informed electorate is work. Being an engaged citizen is work. Being involved in the democratic process, such that one supports an open, equitable system for all citizens, does require one to be informed and engaged. That all citizens don’t have equal access to information, to services, to the polls is a concern of March of Dimes Canada.

We want to hear about issues that affect our most vulnerable citizens, people with disabilities, frail elderly people, those living below the poverty line (which is over % of people with disabilities.) Here are some of the positive measures that were announced in the federal budget that failed to get approval in the federal parliament:

  • Family tax credit of $2,000 to commence 2012
  • Medical expense tax credit to be increased
  • Top up of GIS for low income seniors

Are these policies that you support? What other policies would you like to see in the next budget? What are the policies that you would ask the candidates to address. Staff at March of Dimes will sort through your comments and share the feedback and over the next few weeks we will elaborate on issues that we think are of prime importance to our constituency.

Happy 60th Anniversary March of Dimes Canada!

The year 2011 presents another unique and wonderful opportunity to celebrate the success of our organization over many years, and most importantly, the accomplishments of people with disabilities and their pursuit of equity, opportunity and justice.

For 60 years March of Dimes has operated in Canada, first to end the scourge of polio, and then to provide rehabilitative programs for those with severe disabilities. Then in the 60s, we helped organize civil rights advocacy initiatives with people with disabilities. Through the 70s we developed many programs at the grassroots level and by the 80s we expanded our service offerings, funded local advocacy initiatives, trained leaders from the “consumer movement,” and transformed into a regionally organized, but still provincial organization. In 2001, we linked with other organizations across Canada to celebrate our 50th anniversary, and by 2004, we were incorporated as a national charity offering programs outside of Ontario.

Since 2006, Ontario March of Dimes has been in the process of rebranding as March of Dimes Canada and we are very excited that now, in 2011, we have rebranded many of our activities and all of our fundraising. Our corporate board is working on a governance model that will facilitate a shift from being a provincial agency to a national one, but from this month forward, our work will be as one entity, March of Dimes Canada.

So, celebrate many aspects of our history and our future, as the lead community-based rehabilitation organization, strong on advocacy, service and innovative programs. Visit our website frequently for updates on all our activities and allow me to speak with you regularly also.

Best wishes,
Andria Spindel,
President and CEO March of Dimes Canada