Developmental Services workers, represented by CUPE, held a press conference at Queen’s Park to mark the International Day of Persons with Disabilities and the tenth anniversary of Ontario’s transition from institution-based developmental services to a community living model. They warned the Ford government that chronic underfunding and cuts to services are leaving people with developmental disabilities isolated from their communities - just like when they were confined to institutions.
In the 1970s people with developmental disabilities and their families advocated for a shift from institutionalization to community living. The aim of community living was to provide the services and support that would empower people with developmental disabilities to participate in their own communities. The last institutions in Ontario closed in 2009.
Front-line developmental service worker Joanne Smithers, a 20-year Direct Support Professional at Community Living Guelph Wellington, was joined by CUPE Ontario President Fred Hahn, Queen’s University Professor Rob Hickey, and Opposition Critic for Community and Social Services Lisa Gretzky, to discuss the legacy of developmental services institutions and the failed promise of the community living model due to chronic underfunding.
“In 2014, I participated in the government’s Select Committee on Developmental Services. I told them about the problems I saw with retention for employers, budgets not increasing for many years despite the rising costs of food, hydro and gas, an aging population and a growing waitlist,” said Smithers, who serves as the chair of CUPE’s Developmental Services Workers Coordinating Committee. “I told the committee then, that if they did not fix the problems and increase funding, the only thing they did by closing the institutions was change the room the person was sitting in. Unfortunately, nothing has changed since 2014, and this government is exploring options to make life even harder for people with developmental disabilities, and their families.”
The Ford Government has recently announced that they will spend $1 million on a private contractor to help find ways to cut costs in the developmental services sector. This is a move that NDP MPP Lisa Gretzky claims, “will only take us from bad to worse in a system that is in crisis. It will only further isolate people with developmental services from their communities.”
“In communities across this province people are speaking out against the harmful cuts that the Ford Conservative government are making to the services we rely on,” said Fred Hahn, President of CUPE Ontario. “For the people of Ontario with developmental disabilities and their families, the previous Liberals government provided years of underfunding that hurt services. Now the Conservatives under Doug Ford have decided to pay $1 million to one of his consultant friends to give him recommendations for more cuts. It’s shameful. We need to invest in services that support people living with developmental disabilities and empower them to be active members of our communities.”
Smithers concluded her remarks with a warning to the government. “We can’t survive more cuts,” she said, “we are drowning and instead of a life preserver the government is going to hand us a concrete block.”