To find out about the RDSP, whether you qualify, and where you can sign up, visit www.rdsp.com .

Guest post by Al Etmanski, President and Co-Founder of Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network (PLAN)

And Now there are Two!

Only when difference has its home, when the need for belonging in all its murderous intensity has been assuaged, can our common identity begin to find its voice. –   Michael Ignatieff – The Needs of Strangers

Canadians with disabilities and their families now have two political champions, Jim Flaherty and Michael Ignatieff. On the surface they are unlikely allies but in practice they share a profound understanding that Canada is strengthened when everyone participates, when everyone contributes, when everyone belongs. 

We have been well served by Finance Minister Flaherty’s lived experience of the issues – he has a son with a disability. I have written elsewhere about the profound impact his masterpiece, the RDSP will have on the financial and social well being of people with disabilities and the peace of mind it brings to their families (see article).

I had personal experience of Minister Flaherty’s intuitive grasp of our issues at a recent global conference on Social Role Valorization the current expression of the philosophy of normalization.  As I escorted him into the plenary session he asked what the conference was really about.  I mentioned that normalization thinking had sparked a transformation in how we treat and support people with disabilities.  How it had revealed the devastating effects of segregation and led to the integration, inclusion and acceptance of our sons and daughters.  He nodded in deep recognition and proceeded to speak without notes for 10 minutes, revealing his grasp of how inspiration and new ways of thinking propel and inform change.  He spoke from the heart, expressing gratitude for the audience’s role in creating a coherent framework for a more caring community focused on our common identity.  His written speech, which is pretty good, Minister Flaherty Address.  His actual speech was stirring and touched the audience’s heart. 

Now the Canadian disability community has another champion – Michael Ignatieff, the new leader of the Opposition Liberal Party. I was introduced to Ignatieff through his first book, The Needs of Strangers  (see excerpt).  It remains a clarion call for rethinking how we care for each other.  With passion and insight he sets a framework for our responsibility to the other, particularly the ‘strangers’ who live among us and for setting the conditions of ‘human flourishing’ for everyone.  This wasn’t rhetoric – it was an impassioned exploration of the language of the good with the intention of returning philosophy to its proper place as a guide to being human.

I devoured his Booker nominated novel Scar Tissue about a mother in the final stages of dementia being cared for by her adult son.  It contains eloquent and impassioned reflections on the essence of being human, what constitutes personhood, and about our deep connection with others– even when consciousness, awareness and capability may be in question. 

In 2001 Sam Sullivan, former Mayor of Vancouver introduced me to him.  Sam and I along with others had created a global dialogue on citizenship as seen through the experiences of people with disabilities (www.philia.ca ).  Ignatieff proceeded to use some of our thinking in his Massey lecture series and its companion book, The Rights Revolution (see here).  By then he was teaching at Harvard, so we invited him to a Dialogue on Citizenship and noted human rights activist, Catherine Frazee and an audience of five hundred at Ryerson (view here).  I was impressed by his immersion in the topic, his preparation, his generosity (no speakers fee) and his curiosity.  My lasting image is of him sitting cross-legged on the floor of  a room at the Delta Chelsea after the event, among wheelchairs, guide dogs and an impressive cross section of disability leaders.

Jim Flaherty and Michael Ignatieff are not as different as we might expect. They may not describe it similarly but they both recognize our human fragility and seek to transform both our attitudes and our practices of caring. Perhaps it is through the doorway of disability where their and our political differences, in fact all our differences, will have their home – the place where we acknowledge our boundaries and then surpass them.

by Al Etmanski, President and Co-Founder of Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network (PLAN)

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