The recent provincial Budget’s plan for implementing the HST is getting a lot of attention and discussion. Certainly, tax changes that affect all Islanders are serious and important to consider. But what concerns us most is how government chooses to use the taxes it collects. This spring’s budget in many ways shortchanges the most vulnerable Islanders.
Despite some positive measures such as student loans with no interest, changes to prescription drug programs, incentives to entrepreneurs, and HST exemptions on some necessities, the budget is not helpful to impoverished or vulnerable Islanders, many of whom are women.
The budget has cut three or more percent to many community-based organizations (NGOs) that provide services in the community to people with disabilities, people with intellectual challenges, and people who have experienced sexual assault and abuse, among many others.
These organizations already operate on many hours of volunteer work. They often devote most of their meagre budgets to staff salaries, mostly for front-line workers with specialized skills to work in direct service with people who often have special needs or have experienced trauma. Most of these workers are already underpaid for this vital work. Most are unprotected by unions. Each day, these workers sit down face to face with Islanders in trouble and offer the best they can.
An example of a letter that an NGO received from Community Services about funding cuts states that government is “confident that your organization will rise to the challenge and determine innovative initiatives that will allow your organization to provide the same level of service as you do today.” It is galling that government cynically counts on these groups’ goodwill.
Government relies on the passion and compassion of these community-based organizations to make up the lost funding with what will be unpaid and underpaid work, so that services remain undiminished.
Most of the community-based organizations we know will indeed continue to provide as much service as they can with diminished resources. They are much more likely to give 3% more of their time for no return than to turn away 3% of people in need.
They will not sit across from Islanders in need and say that there is nothing they can do. They will do this hard work on behalf of our whole community.
It is often said that too many Islanders are one paycheque away from poverty. When more than 60% of Islanders earn less than $30,000 a year, that is clearly true. And yet, despite its promises government appears to have abandoned real steps towards preventing and reducing poverty.
Many Islanders are also one assault, one divorce, one accident, one illness, or one diagnosis away from becoming vulnerable. What are impoverished and vulnerable people in our society vulnerable to? They are vulnerable to illness, hunger, homelessness, violence, victimization, abuse, destitution, despair, dependence, and exclusion from the public life and public services of our community.
As Islanders, we pay our taxes in a compact with the government. We contribute part of what we earn and part of what we spend in exchange for public services. We want these public services to include healthcare and education for all – and to include services for those who struggle to overcome barriers our society creates for them. HST or no HST, this spring’s budget breaks that compact by trading public services for private investment and asking more of those who are already giving the most to maintain our community’s compassion and dignity.
Diane Kays, Chairperson, and Jane Ledwell, Policy Analyst
PEI Advisory Council on the Status of Women