Nova Scotia

N.S. budget doesn't go far enough to support people with disabilities: lawyer

Dalhousie Legal Aid Lawyer Claire McNeil, who has represented the Disability Rights Coalition, is pleased to see a commitment to moving more people into the community, but she said there's no money set aside to close institutions.

Claire McNeil hoped to see more commitment to closing institutions

Claire McNeil, a lawyer with Dalhousie Legal Aid, said the money set aside for Nova Scotians with disabilities is long overdue, but it doesn't go far enough. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

A lawyer who represented the Disability Rights Coalition says the Houston government's first budget doesn't go far enough in guaranteeing that all Nova Scotians with disabilities are supported and can live in communities. 

The budget, released Tuesday, includes $54.2-million for programs that support people with disabilities, and $3.5 million to help young people move out of long-term care settings and into community placements where they can live with people closer to their own age.

While lawyer Claire McNeil of Dalhousie Legal Aid said she is pleased to see a commitment to moving more people into the community, she said there was no money set aside to close the institutions themselves. 

"Our government admits that institutionalization is bad for people, but we're looking for that kind of action to resolve the problem, because in the meantime, lots of money is being spent on institutions," she told CBC Radio's Information Morning on Wednesday. 

Listen to lawyer Claire McNeil's full interview with Information Morning:

Nova Scotia is one of the only places in Canada where people with disabilities are still forced to live in institutions. McNeil said there are nine large institutions and 21 other institutions across the province. 

"The last three years we've heard the government announce that they're closing a single institution down in Yarmouth," McNeil said. "It still hasn't closed and there's no plans to close any of the others."

Removing the cap on programs

The $54 million in the budget will go toward the province's disability support program, the independent living support program, the direct family support for children program and the disability support flex program.

There's also an additional $8.8 million to remove the cap on the independent living support program.

McNeil said there are hundreds of Nova Scotians who remain on lengthy wait-lists to access programs and supports. Removing the cap on one program is "a baby step," she said, but it won't help most people who are stuck on wait-lists.

For example, McNeil said there are about 800 people waiting to get into a small options home, or another place in the community.

"Really, the government's commitment through this budget will do nothing for those people in terms of providing them with hope of getting access to that service so it is a real problem," she said. 

Discrimination needs to stop, says McNeil

Last year, a landmark decision by the country's top court found that the province's failure to offer people with disabilities "meaningful" access to housing and care was a form of systemic discrimination.

Community Services Minister Karla MacFarlane later said that the Appeal Court's decision raised questions about how other social programs could be affected, and lawyers for the provincial government are now seeking to overturn it.

McNeil said Nova Scotia still has a very long way to go to supporting people with disabilities so they can live their best lives.

"The Court of Appeal has spoken. It's spoken very clearly about the nature of the discriminatory conduct," she said.

"It's not at the doorstep of the Houston government — it's been going on for years and decades in this province — but it's something that really needs to stop and it really needs that political will to make that happen." 

With files from CBC Radio's Information Morning Halifax