Social assistance recipients met with locked doors and police officer at MPP's office

The group boarded a bus in downtown Hamilton and headed up to MPP Donna Skelly's constituency office to express their fears and uncertainty about potential cuts to welfare following the government's 100-day review of the current Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program system.

'They're always loud, but they're always peaceful,' says officer called to demonstration

A staff member from Flamborough-Glanbrook MPP Donna Skelly's office asks social assistance recipients protesting outside to leave the property on Nov. 9, 2018. (Dan Taekema/CBC News)

About two dozen anxious social assistance recipients who gathered outside MPP Donna Skelly's office Friday were met with locked doors, pulled blinds and a police officer.

The group boarded a bus in downtown Hamilton and headed up to the Flamborough-Glanbrook MPP's constituency office to express their fears and uncertainty about potential changes to welfare following the government's 100-day review of the current Ontario Works (OW) and Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) system.

The review deadline came and went Thursday. Now Community Services Minister Lisa MacLeod says those much-anticipated changes will be revealed on Nov. 22.

Meanwhile, stress and worry continues to build among OW and ODSP recipients.

"If welfare goes down any more I'll be homeless, out on the street and more sick than I am now," said Elizabeth Ellis, an OW recipient.

Elizabeth Ellis, 50, says she'll be homeless if the Ontario Works program is cut. (Dan Taekema/CBC News)

The 50-year-old said she receives $765 a month to live on.

That money has to cover rent and hydro, typically leaving her with just $20-25 a month for groceries.

"My idea is let these people live on what we get for six months," she said, pointing at Skelly's office. "They'll be changing their attitudes. That's why I'm here, to help them realize we are people too and we matter."

Terry Williton uses a walker and is on ODSP now, but said he and his wife scraped by on OW for years before she died.

Terry Williton, 64, uses a walker and is currently on ODSP. He says supporting social assistance will help cut costs in the long run. (Dan Taekema/CBC News)

He said the government needs to realize helping people is actually cheaper in the long run than quick cuts to service programs.

"They have no heart, no sense of decency about them at all. They have no idea that if they helped people there would be less stress on the healthcare system, a lot less mental health problems."

The protest was organized by Hamilton ACORN and participants bearing posters shouted "Shame on Donna Skelly, Shame on the PC government" while demonstrating outside the office in the rain.

ACORN chair Mike Wood said the interior office doors were locked when the group arrived. The blinds were pulled after demonstrators shouting slogans using a megaphone called out staff inside for "laughing, smiling and making jokes," he added.

"I think it's disgusting," he said. "The government shouldn't close the door on people. They say they're here to listen but they're not."

Demonstrators taped posters to the windows of the office and held their signs above the blinds after staff locked the doors and pulled the shades. (Dan Taekema/CBC News)

Wood explained the main message the group wanted to get across is that the government needs to stop cuts and raise the rates.

"We want to make sure they sit down and talk to the individuals that are going through this and hurts the most. If they're not willing to do that, what kind of government do we have?"

Undeterred by the covered windows, people taped their posters to the front doors and held signs up where staff inside could see them.

Then a police officer arrived.

Sgt. Mark Mayner said he was called because of the demonstration but noted "this is a peaceful protest and it's your right."

He headed inside the office and came back out with a male staff member who asked everyone gathered to leave the property before peeling two signs off the doors and heading inside.

The protesters headed off to the sidewalk where they completed a lap of the property before boarding the bus and leaving.

Sgt. Mark Mayner speaks with the protesters after they were asked to leave the property. (Dan Taekema/CBC News)

"They're always loud, but they're always peaceful," said Maynard.

CBC News asked staff inside the office about the protest, but they declined to comment beyond saying the MPP had been there in the morning, but headed out to a planned speaking engagement before the demonstrators arrived.