Volume 94, Issue 43

Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2000


Editorial Board 2000-2001

Harris' plan has potential pitfalls

Editorial Cartoon

Harris' plan has potential pitfalls

Drug using welfare recipients across the province are preparing to roll up their sleeves to show the government their track marks in order to keep their spots in the welfare line. Still, the fact remains, not all welfare recipients are drug addicts.

Ontario's Ministry of Community and Social Services is currently discussing a new policy that will require all welfare users who test positive for drug use to comply with rehabilitative treatment if they wish to continue receiving government support.

The province admits it will cost millions to implement the new program, which they expect to have in place by early next year. Further, the government's spindoctors maintain the goal of the program is to save lives, estimating between three and 10 per cent of the province's welfare ranks are addicted to drugs.

Although this new scheme looks good on paper, one is naturally compelled to question its motivations. Since they first came to power in 1995, the Mike Harris Conservative government has been anxious to paint welfare recipients as lazy, unemployed bums who abuse the system. Now, Harris and Co. want to go one step further by forcing all welfare users to take mandatory and often dehumanizing drug tests.

If Harris is given the benefit of the doubt and we accept his new initiative is designed with the best intentions, certain questions still remain unanswered. Do the perils of poverty cause people to become addicted to drugs or does continued drug use force people into poverty?

The cost factor must also be considered. The government's representatives claim the program will cost "millions," which begs the question: Could this money not be put to better use? For instance, instead of introducing across-the-board drug tests, why not put the money directly into the pockets of those who need it most – the welfare recipients themselves.

Further, a program like this will only be successful if the people it is designed to help are willing to participate. If not, it is useless and it could even be dangerous.

What happens when the government discovers someone is a drug user? Are they removed from the welfare ranks? Penalized? Forbidden from re-applying? The Harris government seems to be cracking down on people at a time when those citizens need the government's help most.

Finally, what does the provincial government plan to do with the lists of proven drug users after they have forced them into rehab?

Despite appearing good in theory, Ontarians need to be cautious about celebrating Harris' new initiative.

Instead of helping people get off drugs, it may in fact be much more harmful to them.

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Copyright The Gazette 2000