Michael J. Prince is a leading disability scholar and board chair of Community Living British Columbia (Photo: Chek News)
By Spencer van Vloten
August 15th, 2021
Michael J. Prince is one of Canada's leading disability scholars, and was recently appointed to his 2nd term as board chair of Community Living BC, a crown corporation that supports persons with intellectual disabilities across the province.
We talked with Michael about how he became a disability scholar, what he's focused on as CLBC Board Chair, and a lot more!
Why did you end up focusing much of your scholarship on disability issues?
Michael: Well, I can tell you that there was no specific plan to do so early in my career.
As a political scientist and social policy specialist, one of the first opportunities came 30 years ago. In 1991 I was invited to prepare a report on disability income systems in Canada for the then BC Premier's Advisory Council for Persons with Disabilities.
Further opportunities came to do work on disability policy issues for policy research institutes and think tanks, royal commissions, government departments and agencies, sit on community boards and advisory councils, and appear before parliamentary committees.
All this work greatly informed my 2009 book, Absent Citizens: Disability Politics and Policy in Canada. Through the years, I have worked with countless good people and learned so much from so many.
What are your goals for CLBC in your 2nd term as board chair?
Michael: A key goal of the board and executive at CLBC is to strengthen relationships with Indigenous communities and families across BC.
In this, we are guided by the province’s commitment to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to work in collaboration and consultation with Indigenous partners. I am honoured and humbled to have this role at this time to participate in reconciliation.
A key goal of the board and executive at CLBC is to strengthen relationships with Indigenous communities and families across BC
A related core goal is to review and update our strategic plan. In this process, we are involving CLBC staff across all the regions of the province, individuals and families were serve, service providers and others community agencies.
This is an opportunity to reflect on identifying lessons from the pandemic and on determining what a better future can look like for the citizens and communities we support.
Looking back on your 1st term, what do you consider the successes and areas for improvement?
Michael: Successes included an effective transformation of board membership; the recruitment of Ross Chilton as our new Chief Executive Officer – the single most important decision a governance board can make; and bolstering relationships between the board and the Provincial Advisory Committee and community councils.
I am proud of the dedication and impressed by the commitment members bring to our common work.
Michael says one of the highlights of his f1st term as CLBC board president was appointing CEO Ross Chilton, pictured on the right with self-advocate Tyler (Photo: CLBC)
An area where I thought we would have made more progress, until the COVID-19 pandemic happened, was visiting local communities and service providers throughout the province.
That had to be suspended of course; although, over the course of the pandemic last year and this year, CLBC staff have done a remarkable job in reaching out and in providing timely information to individuals and families, and service providers and home share providers.
Michael on CLBC board tours in Victoria and Powell River. The pandemic brought a halt to the tours, but he's pleased with how CLBC responded to help families. (photos: CLBC; Inclusion Powell River)
It looks like we’ll have a federal election later this year – are elections accessible these days for persons with disabilities?
Michael: General elections have become more accessible for persons with disabilities over the last decade or so, though there is always more that can be done to make election campaigns and voting opportunities available, approachable and welcoming.
Accessibility is a shared responsibility. Elections Canada plays a central role, of course, in ensuring accessibility for voters with disabilities.
But the federal political parties, local constituency offices, local candidate meetings, and the national and local media all have responsibilities too, I believe, in making campaigns as inclusive as possible.
How can the electoral and general political engagement of persons with disabilities be increased?
Michael: I appreciate that many Canadians express disenchantment and cynicism toward politics and politicians. In part, that is both inevitable and healthy in a democracy.
What I’ve seen among people with disabilities is a desire to remove historic barriers to engagement, to learn more about elections and the party platforms, and an aspiration to engage democratically as informed citizens.
To increase political engagement more generally, the principle of “nothing about us without us” needs to become a standard way of working by governments and public bodies at all levels.
Whether that work involves public consultations, policy development, service delivery or program research and evaluations.
You’ve authored reports that give recommendations to provincial and federal governments on how to improve the material conditions of persons with disabilities.
Do you see any progress on those fronts?
Michael: Happily, I do see progress. It usually comes here and there and over time. Persistence and patience are essential qualities, among others, when giving policy advice to governments!
Here are some examples: The introduction of accessibility legislation at the federal level and more recently here in BC. These laws have the potential to make some significant changes for the better over the coming years.
Persistence and patience are essential qualities, among others, when giving policy advice to governments!
The Canada Disability Child Benefit recently has been increased in value. The Registered Disability Savings Plan continues to be adjusted to improve access. The maximum duration of Employment Insurance sickness benefit is to be extended from 15 to 26 weeks.
The federal government is also committed to a new Canada Disability Benefit that will provide income support to many working-age people with significant disabilities.
Michael with Shane Simpson, former Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction. Michael believes increasing access to the Registered Disability Savings Plan is among the positive steps taken to financially empower persons with disabilities. (Photo: Michael Prince)
In our province, there have been notable improvements in recent years to the disability income assistance rates and to the earnings exemptions to allow people to work and retain more of their benefits.
In BC, what do you consider the most important things that need to happen to improve the lives of persons with disabilities?
Michael: As priorities, I would highlight continued progress on the adequacy of income security and availability of essential supports; affordable and inclusive housing choices; and, enhanced efforts at creating employment opportunities.
Looking back on your career as a scholar, what would you consider your most important work?
Most important? Perhaps the book co-edited with human rights lawyer and disability activist Yvonne Peters, called Disabling Poverty, Enabling Citizenship, published by the Council of Canadians with Disabilities in 2015.
It was a meaningful, six-year genuine partnership between university academics and disability community leaders and members. Moreover, it produced an ambitious agenda of policy and program recommendations directed at federal and provincial/territorial governments.
To find more from Michael, follow him on Twitter at PrincePolity.
Spencer van Vloten is the editor of BC Disability. To get in touch, send an email to email@example.com!