Heather Smith has an invitation for party leaders.
“Come look in my pantry and fridge, and then I will show you my bank account and my expenses.”
The 60-year-old Sussex resident wants politicians to know how difficult it is for some people to get by.
She and her husband are both on disability pensions after many years of trying to keep working while dealing with serious health issues.
Combined, they receive $1,765 per month. Their mortgage is $400, utilities are another $400, phone and internet are $250. After car, house and life insurance, the Smiths are left with $430 a month for food, gas and other living expenses.
There’s nothing set aside for savings, repairs or emergencies.
“We can’t even go out to a meal,” said Timothy Smith, 60.
They said they budget very carefully and are still in poverty. They worry they might lose their home if unable to pay their mortgage — and they’re always one unforeseen car or house repair away from that.
The adjectives pile up like the bills.
“Deflating … hopeless … frustrating … depressing.”
“The worst of it is once you get labelled that you’re disabled, there’s nothing out there for you,” said Timothy.
“You’re useless to everyone,” adds Heather.
Looking for a party with a plan
The Smiths have been paying attention to the federal election campaign and what the leaders have been saying about Canadians living in poverty. They’ve been eagerly looking for a party with a plan.
So far, they’ve been very disappointed.
Heather says they remain undecided because none of the parties have addressed the issue to their satisfaction.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh got their attention when he talked about treating people with respect and dignity, but the Smiths say he didn’t follow-up with a solid plan on how to take care of seniors and low-income Canadians.
It could happen to anyone
“People say, ‘Oh, that won’t happen to me.’ You’re wrong. You are wrong. You will be lucky if something doesn’t happen to you,” said Heather.
“We’re not at fault for our situation. We’re not.”
Timothy developed lung disease in 1992 as a result of his welding job. After medical treatment and two years on disability, he remained employed through a series of jobs and business attempts. He even went to college to retrain.
“I never stopped working,” he said.
But eventually a series of health conditions, including diabetes and kidney failure, sidelined him in 2015, and he went on disability.
In 2000, Heather was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.
“I was in a wheelchair. I couldn’t function with my hands at all — hold a pencil, fork, feed myself, dress myself. I couldn’t do anything.”
With the help of medication, Smith was back to work within a few months, and continued to work until 2019, when she, too, went on disability.
“Neither one of us asked for disabilities,” said Heather. “We’d both still be working, if we could — if we were of any good to anyone.”
They’re not asking for much.
Heather said she’d like to regain a better “quality of life.” Timothy said, “I would like to have a little dignity back.” He said a citizen of Canada shouldn’t have to ask for food.
“And I don’t believe that there should have to be a choice between paying the rent and paying the hydro bill, or buying food,” he said.
Heather tries to be a little more creative in addressing unforeseen expenses — a “robbing Peter to pay Paul” approach, Timothy calls it.
She’ll pay most of the hydro bill or the phone bill — hoping to pay just enough of it not to get cut off this month. But it’s getting harder and harder as the cost of everything continues going up.
Timothy said it’s difficult to accept the chasm between those at the bottom and those at the top. He said it’s particularly maddening to know that the country’s former governor general is entitled to an annual pension of nearly $150,000, after little more than three years in the position.
And she’s also entitled to claim up to $206,000 a year — for life and even six months after — to cover expenses incurred as a result of ongoing responsibilities related to her former office.
“There has to be greater accountability,” he said.
The federal Department of Employment and Social Development was asked for statistics on the number of Canadians on disability pensions, but did not provide those by publication time.