“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”

– Benjamin Disraeli

“There are three kinds of liars: liars, damned liars and politicians”
– anonymous statistician

By Stephen Pate – Disraeli made his jab at statistics more than 100 years ago. The statistician who turned it back on politicians remains nameless, probably hiding from the very masters he sought to jab.

The New World Dictionary definition of a “lie” is – “1. a) to make a statement one knows to be false, esp. with the intent to deceive…”

The recent cutbacks in the PEI Disability Support Program may be a lesson in political truth. How long will it take for the Government of PEI to admit the money was cut back?

In the PEI Legislature on November 30, 2006, the Member from Kings-Square (Liberal), asked if $600,000 had been cut from the DSP budget. MLA Chester Gillan (Conservative), the Minister of Social Services and Seniors replied, “Mr. Speaker, certainly not.” (Hansard, 132) That seems unequivocal but appearances deceive.

In a CBC TV interview about the DSP cutbacks on December 6, 2006, the Minister was less emphatic. He admitted the reduction to reporter Laura Meader. “We’re saying that the management was not as good of the programs of the DSP as they can be. We think that savings are inherent in bits and pieces here and there.”

This admission must have made the Minister uneasy since on December 12, the Member from Glen Stewart-Bellevue (Conservative) lobbed a softball question at the same Minister: “… the advocacy group, the PEI Disability Alert indicated that the government has cut funding to the disability support program. Could the minister indicate to the House if this is so?” (Hansard, 237)

“We cannot provide all equipment for all people”

What was the answer from the Minister? Again, simply no:

“Mr. Speaker, the quick response to that is no. There is no cut from a budget year, from last budget year to this budget year.” (Hansard)

So, twice in the Legislature the Minister denied there were cuts to the DSP and once on TV he admitted there were cuts. Whom should we believe: a) the Minister in the Legislature where he has immunity or b) the Minister on TV where he has no immunity from his statements? Both, apparently.

Technically, the Minister is correct though misleading in his statement in the Legislature. The December 12 question referred to the cut in “funding,” which had been $8.7 million in the government year ending March 31, 2006. Funding for the current year (April 2006 to March 2007) has been reduced to $8.1 million.

The Minister was playing word games with Budget Estimate, the government’s guess at spending, and Budget Forecast, which is the almost final number for the year. The Forecast represents the actual demand on the DSP. That is the number the government wants to reduce.

Why did they spend $651,000 more last year on Islanders with disabilities? Simply because there was more demand for the program than anticipated. Islanders with disabilities are not getting rich, lining their pockets or going on European vacations with DSP assistance. Simply, they are people with disabilities who are in serious need of assistance.

So while the Minister talks in circles, the Disability Support Program is being cut. Eligible Islanders are being denied the help they need. In 2003, the Baker Consulting report identified the “corporate culture of cost containment/cost avoidance” at the DSP. Since then, the Government has worked steadily to reduce its commitment to Islanders.

Analysis of budgets under this Minister’s purview shows that other departments were given healthy increases year over year, all except the DSP. Does this show a callous disregard for people who have disabilities? One would hope not.

Now is the time to expand the program to provide for the genuine needs of all Islanders with disabilities.