The Government of Ontario’s 2017 Budget, A Stronger, Healthier Ontario, is poised to bring new investments to health care and education sectors, and some measures will directly benefit people who have an intellectual disability, but last week’s budget announcement was very disappointing to Peter Sproul, Chair of Community Living Ontario’s Provincial Executive Directors Coordinating Committee.
“I know a lot of organizations were hoping to see some relief in the budget for pressures that have been mounting for a long time now. The pressures are on organizations in the form of services and in the form of infrastructure,” said Sproul, who is also the Executive Director of Community Living Kingston and District.
Aside from a $180 million investment over three years for workforce stabilization funding, which was announced in the 2014 Budget, support organizations in the Developmental Services sector have seen little else to address financial pressures many face, including infrastructure costs and pay equity obligations.
As a result, Sproul says organizations have had to become increasingly creative to manage rising costs, while at the same time having more and more demands placed on them with respect to reporting, accountability and technological needs.
“It’s a dangerous formula when you have rising costs and no funding to meet those costs and, at some point, something has to give. A lot of those organizations are fast approaching that point or have already reached that point, and they’re having to cut back and it hurts all stakeholders. It hurts staff members, it hurts community partners, the people we support and their families.”
Community Living Kingston and District does not have the pressures associated with meeting pay equity obligations, as Sproul’s organization used proportional value as part of its assessment and achieved pay equity 20 years ago. Still, when positions become vacant at his organization, they go unfilled and responsibilities are reassigned to other staff members.
“We try to use every ounce of creativity we have to figure out where we can save money, but that can only go on for so long and there are consequences for that. If you keep heaping more on people’s plates, in terms of workload and responsibility, there’s a real danger in that. So, we have to be careful. We have worked very closely with our regional office and we’ve managed, I think, relatively well compared to other organizations that I hear about and talk to.”
Sproul’s organization recently signed a new three-year collective agreement with its direct support professionals. He said Community Living Kingston and District should be able to manage going forward.
“These are very, very modest increases for staff [members] that work so hard. The increases that we agreed to with our staff bargaining unit don’t even match the cost of living. As an executive director, I take no glee in this. It’s embarrassing to offer our employees one per cent over three years. We should be embarrassed, and I am, that we can’t do better than that. The reason we can’t do better than that is because, even that one per cent, we’ve got to find it on our own. We’re getting no funding help for [it].”
As part of its pre-budget submission, Community Living Ontario joined the call by its partners in the Provincial Network on Developmental Services in recommending that investments be made for support organizations’ operating budgets. Specifically, the Provincial Network had called for a 2.5 per cent increase in base funding per year, for three years, or $150 million.
Sproul says the Provincial Executive Directors Coordinating Committee is still very much in favour of the proposal made by the Provincial Network, and he would like to see it go forward.
“That’s a strategy and a formula we still believe needs to be pushed forward. I guess we need to push harder, because it went nowhere in this provincial budget,” and he stressed that a solution needs to be found in collaboration with the Ministry of Community and Social Services.
“We look to our partners at the Provincial Network table to work with the Ministry, because it’s a relationship we value and we know they heard us. I don’t want to claim that our argument hasn’t been heard or that they’re not concerned about the issues and the consequences as well. I know they are and I know it’s not an easy task for them to take our position forward to the politicians that are in competition with other ministries to look at how we can get some relief.”
He also has high praise for his colleagues and all the stakeholders in the Community Living Movement for continuing to progress and continuing to think about quality outcomes and building communities and family engagement, despite the circumstances before them.
“I think that’s a credit to so many people who continue to do that, despite a real financial dark cloud hanging over their heads.”
Ron Laroche, Community Living Ontario