by Councillor Theresa Kavanagh
The Hunger Games is a science fiction dystopia that sets off poverty-stricken districts against each other. It’s a theme of those who are half starved will be forced to fight with others in the same situation. In our present scenario the provincial government has taken funds from multiple programs that help the poor to be left scrambling with a reduced envelope of funding to help the poorest of the poor, whether it be legal services, childcare or public health services. These services should not need to compete with other programs to have funding to help our most vulnerable residents.
Recently the Ottawa Public Health Board received a reprieve from the provincial government in making immediate financial cuts in the middle of a budget year. However, their long-term plan remains in place to reduce 35 Public Health Units across the province to 10 units. Strange how we are supposed to consider this good news as the dismantling of a well-run department is postponed for a year as we grapple with how to set up a public health unit that would cover a massive geographic area with less funds.
Public health is about protecting the entire general population, but it is particularly important to the low-income community who benefit from services such dental and visual screenings and other health advice. It is essential to our general health that public health continue to stay strong.
In other updates the funding cuts to land ambulance and childcare services were also spared for the moment. I don’t know anyone who would say that we have enough ambulance and paramedic services and we should cut them back. Child care availability and valuable subsidized spaces are already in a deficit position as families continue to scramble for scarce childcare spots. One of the best things you can do for gender equity is provide quality childcare to allow both parents an opportunity to earn a living.
While Public Health, child care and paramedic services have dodged a bullet for now, provincial budget cuts to legal-aid services have already begun and have created a loss of legal-aid to persons from all walks of life. The province is cutting well-run clinics that provide essential legal advice across the City of Ottawa. This will have a profound effect on our most vulnerable population.
The Community Legal Services of Ottawa supports those who need basic things such as how to apply to programs like Ontario Disability Support Program and Canada Pension Plan. It helps resolve landlord and tenant issues which keeps vulnerable persons housed, and provides support for new Canadians (some of whom are refugees). Ultimately these needs for basic legal services do not go away and the City of Ottawa will be left with longer lists for social services and affordable housing.
We need to understand the value of all these programs that help those in need whether it be to help someone keep a roof over their head, get a steady income, or get help with an infectious disease – these are all important. It should not be a hunger games of what services can get funding now and what does not. The more we invest in preventive programs such as public health, child care and legal services the more we help those in need to become productive members of our community rather than forgotten members of society. And these programs help keep them out of the emergency rooms, the court houses and the homeless shelters, which are costly.
Creating an environment that we must select between which ones get to keep their funding this year and which ones don’t is not only unproductive but dysfunctional. Let’s continue to support positive community service that prevents costly damage in the future. Cutting funds to these programs that are proven to save and enhance lives is a misguided financial decision.