Alberta Tories respond to protests by disabled citizens with instinctive diversionary attack

An Albertan protests the Redford Government’s cuts to “persons with developmental disabilities” at the Legislature in Edmonton on Friday. Below: Associate Minister of Services for Persons with Disabilities Frank Oberle.

The optics of a government like Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives cutting $42 million from programs designed to help the province’s most vulnerable citizens become more employable are pretty horrible.

What’s astonishing, though, is that it seems to have come to a huge surprise to the government of Premier Alison Redford that large numbers of the province’s “persons with developmental disabilities” would vigourously protest the cuts – and that such heart-rending demonstrations by vulnerable people would attract both media attention and public sympathy.

Less astonishing was the government’s swift reaction – somewhere in the Tory political lizard brain is an instinct to mount a diversionary attack when something goes awry. After all, a good noisy scrap with a third party means voters are less likely to concentrate too much on a government’s obvious deficiencies.

This government was faced with the spectacle of increasingly anguished protests by obviously disabled and vulnerable people, at one of which last Wednesday the police tactical squad was called to a packed town hall meeting in Edmonton to take down a distraught disabled man. Someone said the man had threatened Frank Oberle, the associate minister of services for persons with disabilities, who was trying make the government’s case at the meeting.

Perhaps sensing that men in black armed with automatic rifles in the lobby was not the best way to project the image of a government anxious to have “a conversation” with voters, as the PCs like to put it nowadays, the government quickly tried to turn embarrassment into a brawl with the non-profits that currently provide many of the services.

So the Natural Governing Party is now busy pushing the idea it’s not cutting anything, just reorganizing the way services to the disabled are delivered, and spinning the notion the protests are all about greedy businesses upset that bigger and more efficient companies will get the work after the cuts go into effect on July 1.

Last Friday in Calgary, for example, Ms. Redford suggested the fight was really about whether the money would go to businesses or the individuals who need it. “It is not our commitment to ensure that we keep funding service providers, which are essentially, even as not-for-profits, businesses,” said the premier.

As an addendum, she rather glibly observed that “people are nervous because change is always difficult.”

In a backhanded way, the government has a point, if only because the shell game it’s been playing with support for the disabled in the March 2013 provincial budget.

It’s been moving supports for people with other disabilities into the so-called PDD budget envelope, changing funds available for contracts with service providers, not communicating what it’s doing with anyone, bragging it’s cutting the budget to fight the deficit, insisting the changes have nothing to do with cutting the budget and generally making it extremely hard for anyone to have a clear picture of what’s really going on.

It’s difficult to believe this level of confusion isn’t intentional, although we should never rule out the possibility that what we suspect is malice is really merely incompetence.

It’s hard to forget that in 2011 when Ms. Redford was running from behind for the leadership of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party, she successfully and popularly positioned herself as the candidate who believed “a healthy society looks after its most vulnerable.”

She vowed to increase Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped, the monthly payments made to people with permanent disabilities who are unable to work, and she delivered on that promise.

In the government’s pre-Bitumen-Bubble 2012 budget, AISH payments grew by $400 a month to $1,588. The monthly employment exemption threshold for AISH recipients also doubled to $800 for single clients and to $1,950 for families. News reports at the time suggested this change cost the government an additional $271 million.

Now, in its post-Bitumen-Bubble 2013 budget, the same government is hacking $42 million from services that help people with disabilities learn work skills.

According to various news reports, about 40,000 Albertans receive AISH, while about 10,000 benefit from the services that are being cut.

Surely in many cases they’re the same people. So while one hates to use this phrase, it sure sounds as if despite its leadership change in 2011 this is still a government with no plan – other than, maybe, building a pipeline to somewhere.

The government’s shock at last week’s protests and its diversionary attack on the service providers who will soon be replaced by bigger and better-connected contractors both suggest just how arrogant and disconnected this nearly 42-year-old conservative dynasty has become.

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7 Comments on "Alberta Tories respond to protests by disabled citizens with instinctive diversionary attack"

  1. Rene says:

    It would appear Alberta’s Progressive Conservative government has an ongoing problem with its handling of the AISH program, particularly with recipients protesting cuts.

    According to the Calgary Herald’s obituary piece on Ralph Klein in March 2013:

    “Klein’s last election arrived in the fall of 2004. Lacking few major issues or even a platform, the campaign was soon dubbed “Kleinfeld” – the campaign about nothing.”

    “But he still managed to make news when he accused some disabled Albertans of cheating AISH, an income replacement program for handicapped people.”

    “Speaking to a crowd of Calgary supporters at his re-election headquarters, Klein told an anecdote about two women who were smoking cigarettes and “yipping” at him about boosting AISH payments.”

    ” ‘They didn’t look severely handicapped to me,’ he said.”

    “The comments unleashed a storm of criticism and helped contribute to the Tories losing upwards of 200,000 votes compared to the previous election.”

  2. Ken Chapman says:

    The service providers are the heros in this tragedy and doing the work of the government at 2/3 the pay of unionized GOA workers who are likewise engaged. The GOA should not be tatgeting the service provider but rather the governance structure of regiopnal PDD boards and the CEOs who run them. The GOA is not well advised nor well served by this political buffer mechanism. As a result the clients get short-changed and the service providers get squeezed by these largely political appointed boards. Good to see tht GOA taking more active role but the administration and the policy makers have to check the facts and advice they receive from the PDD Boards and the operational management at that level if they want to find the source of their problems.

  3. Citizen News Report @ YouTube – Too Big, Too Fast, Too Soon cuts to programs for persons with disabilities –

  4. Melanie says:

    My husband works for one of the service agencies. I’m not allowed to say which one online as he will catch flack from his bosses. He’s been working in the field for 20 years. The money has always gone straight to the people that apply for it (or their guardian), not to the companies that serve them. He was at the Wednesday meeting. The upshot of it all? The government is taking the money and spreading it over more people, so each one gets less, but the same amount of money is in the budget. His part of the company is facing a 62% cutback. This means a 2/3 cut in staff and clients. He works with behaviourally challenged people, ones who cannot work without a staff member or 4 in case they have a behaviour incident. These people will be left at home, bored, with less staff to interest them in activities. Boredom, as any parent knows, leads to inappropriate behaviours. With the clients my husband works with, behaviours that equal damage and injury to property, staff, clients or the general public.

  5. Pogo says:

    PDD, addictions and mental health, and home care should be explained regularly and thanks to the internet in great and abiding (heh!) detail by our journalists. Trouble is what’s left of them don’t have the background or energy or *shhh* courage to do the job. Your column is excellent on the politics of it but people need to understand so much when it comes to health policy for example; Ponoka, Alberta Hospital, and Michener Centre, share a similar background in terms of PC policy efforts promising renewal and then betraying public interest. Try buying town sized estates and then building power generation and other infrastructure let alone getting approval to house “those kind of” people. We should be renewing those sites not selling them to the ticky tacky township developer for votes!
    Using less vendors for homecare and PDD can sound good but again who and why are we creating basket men to hold all our eggs? They should be named and the criteria that they’re expected to deliver for the ubiquitous “savings” should be well understood by all. If reporters in are so pathetic they can’t synthesize that without copping out into the cheap obfuscations of our fair government then we’re screwed I guess.

  6. badkowalik says:

    I am really worried about what is happening. Even though my son is fine as his disability has been covered by an insurance claim, my husband’s stroke is not. What are we, who are trapped in the middle supposed to do?

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