The Ministerial Advisory Committee started in 2004 with a great deal of fanfare and promise as a result of the Baker Report and 2003 Election campaign. The purpose was to provide the Minister responsible for the Disability Support Program a consumer ear, as it were. That is, real people with real disabilities to let the Minister know what needed to be done. It is a tragic disappointment that the Committee has failed to provide any benefit to Islanders with disabilities due to the conniving of the Minister.
Right off the bat the Committee was crippled by a lack of direction and guidance from the Minister. A year or more was wasted on such trivial tasks as a media communications plan. The Minister also insisted on air-tight non-disclosure agreements that would befit state or nuclear secrets. They were called an ‘oath of confidentiality’ but in reality they amounted to a gag order on the committee members. They were some of the tightest one’s I’d seen. The only beneficiary was the Minister who had now gagged 12 people who were potential activists in the disability community.
The result is obvious in Twilah Stone’s letter. The Committee, faced with a cutback of monster proportions, feels they are compelled to do nothing and say nothing. They do issue reports to the public but they are perfunctory and not reflective of real issues in the disability community. The last annual report is 20 pages long: only 1 ½ pages in the Appendix mention some possible concerns with the DSP. They are worded in code so they don’t reflect what Islanders with Disabilities are talking about. The Committee has slip streamed into the bureaucracy.
For example, one of the committee members is part of the group that had their Human Rights Hearing about DSP abuses. Where does the committee stand on this obvious injustice? Silent.
They absent themselves in their own terms of reference
To be an advisory body to the Minister Responsible for People With Disabilities that does not duplicate the role of community advocates. The advisory committee is expected to engage in a broader reflection on issues and develop some consensus regarding public policy advice relating to people with disabilities. Committee members therefore need to be not only cognizant of issues and concerns of the disability community, but also need to be able to apply this understanding within a public policy context.
Monks in a monastery couldn’t have less connection with the real world. If life were only so easily compartmentalized it would be an ideal world: the Committee on the inside advising the Minister; advocates on the outside calling for necessary changes. The sad truth is the Minister uses the Committee as a patsy to justify his draconian policies.
On several occasions in meetings the Minister and his Deputy they have touted the Committee as agents of change and as providing good advice to him. The conversation last spring must have gone like:
So, guys and gals what do you think about a $1 million cutback in the DSP?
Sounds good to us Boss.
Through annual grants the Minister has muzzled the external advocates until there is virtually no one standing up for the actual disabled. It’s a brilliant strategy if you want to keep the natives quiet.
Having been on the committee, I wish them well. They are all well intentioned people investing their time in trying to make PEI a better place for Islanders with disabilities. Unfortunately Chester Gillan and his Deputy have a vested interest in keeping them off-balance and largely irrelevant.
After a year on the Committee, I realized Chester Gillan had put us in a small boat in Charlottetown harbour with no motor or oars. Every once in awhile he would call from shore: ‘how’s it going? Keep up the good work’ or some other asinine platitude. The Committee will, however, not be the source of any relief in the near future for Islanders with disabilities.