EDMONTON – Hundreds of people gathered at the Alberta Legislature Friday to protest budget cuts to the Persons with Developmental Disabilities program.
An estimated 700 protestors held signs and chanted outside the Legislature at noon. It’s one of several protests happening across the province Friday, including in Calgary, outside Premier Redford’s office, and outside several MLA constituency offices across Alberta.
“All of the confusing codes, numbers and buzz words from the government are only providing a smoke screen for the real issue which is that people with disabilities, families and staff are going to be put at great risk” said Rebecca McLeod, from the Lo-Se-Ca Foundation of St. Albert and Edmonton.
“On a personal level, we’re just worried about the precedent that this is setting for my son and the program we’ll be able to access,” says Francois Busque, whose son has developmental disabilities.
Busque took part in the rally in Edmonton.
“When he does become an adult in 13 years, I know professionally that he’ll need a big amount of funding and he’ll need staffing 24 hours a day, probably one-to-one staffing, because of the severity of his disabilities. So, we’re just worried that these cuts are going to not allow him to get out into the community to access all the things that he’s going to need.”
“Professionally, I know that these cuts are going to affect the programs I run.”
Busque also works for the Lo-Se-Ca Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides supports to adults with developmental disabilities.
“I run residential programs. We have 21 residential programs at our agency. These cuts are going to affect about 600 hours a week, that’s 15 fulltime staff.”
“We’re just refusing to do these cuts on a timeline which – they need a draft by today on how we’re going to do a 12 per cent cut and July 1st is when we need to implement those cuts,” says Busque.
“Our director has refused to do that, so we’re not doing it.”
Busque says the changes being implemented are going to significantly affect those who currently rely on the community access program to accomplish daily tasks.
“This would impact them immensely… People have the one-on-one program because they need to be able to access the community, the programs to do these things.”
Busque is hopeful the government will listen to the protestors’ concerns.
“As long as we’re heard, as long as they give us this opportunity, maybe people who understand what this field is like can maybe make the decisions on the cuts and changes.”
On Wednesday, about 500 people attended a meeting about the issue with Associate Minister of Human Services Frank Oberle in north Edmonton.
Attendees were there to ask the associate minister questions and voice concerns with the cuts they say will be devastating.
“We’re really concerned because it seems these things are going forward with not a lot of thought processes behind it,” said Linda Popowich, who has a 35-year-old son with developmental disabilities. “We were told last Wednesday that our budget is being cut by 26 per cent which would possibly mean that our service provider would no longer be able to provide services for us.”
“As an individual support provider, I have a lady who lives with me, her funding is being cut to almost nonexistent, which means I can no longer afford to support her in my home and I’m not going to do it for free,” added Cathy Cross.
While the government maintains the overall PDD budget has actually seen a net increase of about $3.5 million, the community access category of services has been reduced by about $42 million.
“The fact of the matter is, is major cuts have been communicated to service providers throughout Edmonton. People are going to lose their jobs, services are going to end, and people with disabilities are going to suffer,” said NDP MLA Rachel Notley.
Oberle maintains people who need services will still get them.
“We don’t want this to be a budget issue. It’s not about dollars. It’s about appropriate care to individuals who need it.”
Because Wednesday’s meeting was cut a bit short by the interruption, Oberle says another meeting will be scheduled.
Human Services Minister Dave Hancock and Frank Oberle, the associate minister directly responsible for the PDD program, did not attend the protests, although Oberle has been touring the province to discuss the program changes with those affected.
At one of the those events in Edmonton earlier this week, the police tactical team was called because of reports of a man with a knife.
Hancock told reporters Friday that the government’s PDD reorganization is being done to provide better care, not less care.
“This is not a funding issue. It’s a transformation issue,” Hancock said on a conference call.
“We will ensure that we have the funds that are necessary to meet the clients’ needs.”
Hancock said while July 1 is the day for the changes to kick in, it will not be a hard-and-fast cutoff date.
“If it (the changes) are not done by then, it should not impact a client,” he said.
With files from The Canadian Press