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Victorian-era workhouses still thrive in modern Alberta

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Journal ? Opinion

Thursday 30 August 2001

Isabelle Foord

I would like to respond to Fred McMahon’s suggestion that the poor belong in the workhouse. (“Cure for poverty is to end welfare,” Journal, Aug, 11)

My son, who is a quadriplegic spastic, has already been in the workhouse.

He worked for seven years in a government-sanctioned program doing real work for 45 cents an hour.

He was subjected to a brutal regime of behavior modification to make him more “employable.”

He did data entry on a computer, stuffed envelopes, sold raffle tickets in the mall and helped out in a record library among other things.

In the beginning he was forced to get out of bed at 6 a.m. in order to get to work on time.

When he started coming home so tired he was falling asleep over supper, I demanded a change in his hours. It took months of hassling with bureaucrats to effect this change.

He was not allowed to go to the bathroom while at work because it was too much trouble for the staff.

A few years ago he started crying and couldn’t stop. He refused to get out of bed.

We finally figured out he was burned out from work.

When I informed the Office of the Public Guardian about his decision, I was told that his funding would be in jeopardy unless he stayed in the program.

You can imagine my response.

My son didn’t get any EI, so McMahon should be satisfied. As soon as my son recovered from his breakdown, he immediately went back to volunteer work in the community.

In Alberta, McMahon’s Victorian-era fantasy is a lot more real than many people care to think.

Isabelle Foord,


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