In the three months since the Nova Scotia government tabled a budget that will be remembered mainly for cutbacks to the film industry, non-profit groups have started speaking out about lesser-known cuts they say are hurting the province's most vulnerable people.
Linda Quigley, executive director of Deafness Advocacy Association Nova Scotia, says her organization will cease to exist within a year because the province eliminated the group's $34,200 annual grant.
"The services that they cut are pretty essential to the province and they did it without really understanding the impact," says Quigley, whose organization has been around for 42 years. "We're done if we can't find funding in the next little while."
Quigley had to close her office and lay off a full-time co-ordinator two years ago when the United Way cut their funding by $43,000. Today, the organization is just Quigley working part-time out of her home.
For the 55,000 people in Nova Scotia dealing with hearing loss and deafness, Quigley's association provides a range of services aimed at helping them become productive, employable citizens.
Among other things, the association helps employers defray the cost of hiring interpreters to provide deaf employees with training in first aid, health and safety rules and working with hazardous materials.
"If I was to say anything to the premier, I would ask him to take a look at what is being lost and to have a better understanding of the impact on each of these organizations," Quigley says. "I don't think that government understands."
Complaints from groups like Quigley's have started to register with the government. Health Minister Leo Glavine recently confirmed he will be reviewing his department's cutbacks to non-profit groups this fall.
As examples, he cited Eating Disorders Nova Scotia, the Epilepsy Association of Nova Scotia and the Free Spirit Therapeutic Riding Association, which helps children with special needs.
Kathleen Flanagan, executive director of the Community Sector Council of Nova Scotia, says the cuts were made without any consultation.
Drain on the system
More importantly, she says, they will be counterproductive in the long run because more vulnerable people will become a drain on the system when they can't get the help they need.
"It's so short-sighted to cut the groups that actually help build the economy and build the assets that we need," says
Flanagan, whose group speaks for the volunteer and non-profit sector.
Flanagan says even though the Liberal government has committed to improving the province's sputtering economy by increasing immigration, its April budget reduced funding for the non-profit Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia.
"There's no real economic argument to support what is being done here," says Flanagan. "The motivation is simply that these are the places where we can cut ... These are organizations that are not rich and powerful."
Community Services Minister Joanne Bernard says the cuts in her department were necessary because some non-profit groups were not being held accountable for how they were spending public funds.
"They don't monitor their outcomes or they don't provide reporting mechanisms," she said in an interview. "It is in the
best interest of non-profits to know who they help and if it's making a difference ... Tough decisions had to be made."
'We didn't have much information'
Bernard stressed that the cutbacks affected only nine of the 70-plus organizations that receive Community Services funding, which included the Deafness Advocacy Association.
"We didn't have much information about what they did," Bernard says. "We don't know if the work that they were doing was working."
Jean Coleman, executive director of the Nova Scotia Association for Community Living, says the government cut $25,000 or one-third of the group's operating budget.
The non-profit group offers help to over 30,000 individuals with intellectual disabilities and their families, providing respite care, help with challenges at school, employment assistance and other services.
"It's a shame that some of the most vulnerable people in our province are being affected by these budget cuts," Coleman says.
"If we don't care for our most vulnerable people, it shows the type of province we are. Nova Scotia should be better than that."