EDMONTON- Hundreds of people gathered on the steps of the legislature Friday afternoon, protesting cuts to the Persons with Developmental Disabilities (PDD) program in our province.
A similar protest was held in Calgary, as people will disabilities and their supporters continue to rally against a $42 million cut to the community access category of the PDD program.
Twyla Leboeuf was among the protesters at the legislature Friday, holding brightly coloured signs, chanting “stop the cuts.” Leboeuf has schizophrenia and says her service provider helps her “not be so afraid in the community.”
She worries the funding cut may result in her being hospitalized.
“I’m afraid because of all this, my mental illness is acting up now and I’m having a hard time fighting it.”
Patients aren’t the only ones who have been affected by this process.
“It is affecting me. It is affecting my clients. Every day I walk into my program my individuals ask me one question; what is happening to us?” said Tajmin Khan, who works for an independent counselling agency. “‘What did the government decide? Are we going to keep the staff? Are we going to be living here? Are we moving? Are we going to be locked up?’ These are the questions that my individuals ask me every day.”
“It’s affecting my personal life. It’s a very, very stressful situation and I’m not doing this, and I’m not protesting because I want to keep my job, it’s more than that. These people can’t speak for themselves and someone needs to advocate for them,” added Jackie Pearson, a Human Resources manager with the Lo-Se-Ca Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides supports to adults with developmental disabilities.
These service providers say they understand changes to the program are needed, but say the way the government has gone about implementing them has been all wrong.
“We are not being involved in this process and we’re not getting definite numbers,” Pearson said. “We’re not afraid of change, as service providers, but we want to be involved in that change.”
“The majority of families agree that this is the move in the right direction. It’s the way that they’ve done it without consultation, without planning, and without properly communicating what that vision is from the start,” added Jeff Wilson, Wildrose Human Services critic.
Families did receive some clarification earlier this week, though. A letter from Human Services Minister Dave Hancock and Associate Minister of Services for Persons with Disabilities Frank Oberle was sent to families and service providers on Wednesday. In it, the ministers stated the July 1st deadline for new contracts isn’t firm.
“It will take some time to work out what the exact program for each individual will be and are. Some will remain exactly the same. Some of them will have the opportunity to do different services that will provide better inclusion in the community. Those will be worked out with service providers and families over the period of time,” Hancock said Friday.
Hancock maintains the changes aren’t about budget, but about implementing a new system that will better serve clients. However, he did admit the lines of communication with those affected by the changes have not been very good.
“So we’ll need to fix that. The communication has been such that people are actually talking about- people who will not be affected at all- are talking about change in their lives. So the feedback is very important.”
Those at the legislature Friday, though, said they plan to continue protesting until the $42 million is reinstated.
With files from Laurel Clark, Global News.