Even if you're not from Ontario (or not from Canada), you can pretty much guess the major issues around which this election revolves: jobs, taxes, transit and transportation, energy, education, social services, and health care. Here's a cheat sheet on the major issues and the major parties' position on each, for those so inclined.
Developmental Services and "End The Wait"
One of the issues that's getting only minimal press is the state of developmental services in the province. Community Living Ontario has been trying to bring attention to the situation during the election through its "End The Wait" campaign.
I knew when I stopped working in social services that things had been teetering on "crisis" when it came to supports for intellectually disabled in the province for probably longer than I wanted to admit, and that it seemed like it was getting worse instead of better. I knew that say, if an individual was living at home with family and things to got a crisis point where the person couldn't stay, finding an emergency placement was next to impossible. I knew that young people with high support needs were finding themselves in nursing homes, which aren't even overseen by the same Ministry that looks after social services, because there were no spots in group homes. I'd spent the last year filling out applications with individuals and families for funding like Special Services at Home and Passports, saying even we filled out the forms, "You should know that you shouldn't get your hopes up for this, at least not right now. The funding is frozen, and there's a wait list. But you never know when they'll unfreeze it, and it's good for families to apply because it shows that there's a need in the sector."
Sometimes I felt like I could hear their hearts breaking.
Why "End The Wait"?
That was nearly 3 years ago. According to "End The Wait", this is the current breakdown on where supports for intellectually disabled people stand in Ontario:
- 25 000 intellectually disabled children and adults are on wait lists for supports
- 7000 intellectually disabled people are on wait lists for supports that would allow them to live in a home of their own.
- Support agencies haven't had their budgets raised in four years.
The 2014 budget promised $810 million to the developmental services sector over the next 3 years to deal with the wait lists and provide needed infrastructure for expanded services and innovative service provision, with funding made available over the next 12 months for individuals in crisis situations. The incoming government needs to commit that they'll follow through on that promise, though. "End the Wait" asked the candidates for the Liberal, Progressive Conservative, and New Democratic Parties if they planned to follow through on this commitment.
The responses from the candidates to queries from "End the Wait" are posted on Community Living Ontario's website. Obviously the Liberals have given this the most thought (or at least done the most work to make themselves sound educated about the issues.) The NDP committed to the funding, and typed a few words that said very little about their "plan" for developmental services. The Green Party kept it very short and sweet, but also committed to providing the funding as promised. The Progressive Conservatives didn't bother to answer the query from "End the Wait". Take from that what you will.
Where Does That Put The Voters?
In an election that, for me, is very much about trying to determine who is least among several evils, you'd think that the Liberal party's knowledge of the issues and their attempt to talk a bit in their letter to Community Living about how they'd make use of the $810 million would move them up a step for me. The Liberals promised a significant amount of money before, dispersed over 4 years, but a requirement for agencies to provide more supports with the same amount of money in 2009 coupled with an outright pulling of the 2010 funding means that agencies really got half of what they should have (Read more here. The report is interesting, even if I don't agree with their assessment of direct funding and its implications). I'm just suspicious of the Liberals in Ontario in general right now. And I'm a member of the Liberal Party of Canada!
So, if you're in Ontario and you started reading this hoping that I'd have some words of wisdom about which party is best going to best represent the issues for disabled people in Ontario, and intellectually disabled people in particular, I'm afraid that I couldn't tell you. I can tell you who won't do it, though (my opinion only..."End the Wait" and Community Living Ontario haven't endorsed anyone): The Progressive Conservatives. Not just because of Tim Hudak's failure to respond to "End The Wait" and its concern, but because of hid commitment to merge ODSP and Ontario Works (programs with two very different mandates), and the similarities in his platform to that of Mike Harris in the 1990s. I may have only been a teenager, but I lived with a teacher. I remember. The "Common Sense Revolution" wasn't kind to vulnerable people or the people that worked hard to support them, and the developmental services sector won't see a penny of that $820 million if he gets in.
Give this one some thought, Ontario, and be sure that you vote on June 12th. And sign a petition to go the politicians. End The Wait.