Nobody really knows the cost of cutting oversight agencies but without the proper information we run the risk of making serious problems even worse and, in the long term, that will cost all of us.
By James Clancy
National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE)
Ottawa (24 April 2012) - The recent Federal Budget has a number of unsettling and disturbing trends that will cost Canadians and Canada a lot more than we think. First of all the Conservatives have continued their war on information. This attack is not just short-sighted. It's just plain stupid. Wouldn't you want to have all the necessary background information before you made a decision? I guess not, if you are the Conservatives and have already decided that punishment is better than rehabilitation. And if you don't want to know the facts then just stop gathering the information.
This war started last year when they unveiled their position on the long-form census. They were determined to get rid of it regardless of what scientists, researchers, consumers or business groups said. They even ignored the advice of the head of Statistics Canada, who, to his credit, resigned rather than carry out their wrong-headed strategy. In this budget they continue the war by gutting many other agencies including Environment Canada and its information gathering arms because the Harper government has already decided they care more about oil and gas extraction than environmental concerns.
Other examples of information shutdowns include the National Council of Welfare which collects data on poverty, the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, the Auditor General (AG) and Elections Canada. Less oversight by the AG, less money for Elections Canada in the middle of the robocalls scandal and dramatic cuts to anybody else who might blow the whistle on wrong-doing. Nobody really knows the cost of cutting oversight agencies but without the proper information we run the risk of making serious problems even worse and, in the long term, that will cost all of us.
Something that will cost us immediately is the budget decision to stop funding research, policy development and information gathering on Aboriginal health. This includes the shutdown of NAHO, the Aboriginal research and information gathering agency. The Harper government has also removed all health related funding for the Native Women's Association of Canada and the Inuit women's organization, Pauktuutit, and 40% of the health care funding for the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK).
This decrease in funding is wrong on so many levels. First of all the vivid pictures from Attawapiskat were shocking but not much different from hundreds of other Aboriginal communities. These communities are already worse off than the rest of the Canadian population on suicide rates, alcohol-related deaths, drug use and abuse, domestic violence and sexual assaults. First Nations and Inuit are also the most likely in Canada to be undiagnosed or under-diagnosed for mental illness.
For Aboriginal women, the cuts run deeper and will result in the loss of programs and research addressing early childhood development, diabetes, HIV, FASD and suicide prevention. Statistics Canada reports that 36 per cent of Aboriginal women live in poverty, which is more than double the rate of poverty for their non-Aboriginal counterparts. They experience unacceptably high levels of violence and abuse. Aboriginal women are newly diagnosed with HIV at three times the rate and live on average almost six years less than non Aboriginal women.
This status quo, the one that we saw in Attawapiskat, will not only continue but get much worse. The Aboriginal organizations mentioned earlier have been working on health promotion, suicide prevention and helping their people heal from a history of residential schools, abuse from church and government officials, forced relocations and the denial of their language and culture.
They are trying to help Aboriginal individuals and communities recover from intergenerational trauma and they are making progress. Aboriginal people are regaining resiliency and healthy coping skills as well as reclaiming and strengthening their language and culture. They are doing this by combining traditional knowledge with modern methods, by getting people out onto the land to reconnect with nature, by working with their youth and Elders to become the new leaders of their communities. They are trying – but now the support they had been receiving has suddenly been cut.
If these cuts stand then we will not only stop the progress, we will send people and communities backwards. That is not how we want to treat Canada's largest growing demographic group. These cuts will result in more Inuit suicides. There were 11 suicides in Iqaluit last year. That rate would mean 1,500 suicides in Ottawa.
These cuts will result in more Aboriginal people ending up in jail. They currently have four per cent of the population but make up 20 per cent of the inmate population. More Aboriginal youth will end up in gangs. More will be born with FASD. More Aboriginal women will be beaten to death. More will end up addicted and on the street. And more will go missing, and be presumed dead.
Unless changes are made to the federal budget, the situation will and can only get worse. The facts, if the Harper government cared about gathering information, speak for themselves.
James Clancy is the National President of the 340,000-member National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE). NUPGE is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE