Inclusion Alberta’s UCP Leadership Candidate Questions & Responses
Inclusion Alberta is a non-partisan organization and takes no position on the leadership of any political party. We provide this only as information.
We believe this information will be of interest to the general public and those who are UCP voting members to better understand the leadership candidates’ positions on matters of interest to individuals with developmental disabilities, their families and allies.
Responses from all candidates were sought. Three candidates responded and we appreciate their interest in taking the time to do so. In alphabetical order they are: Rajan Sawhney, Rebecca Schulz and Danielle Smith.
The below questions and responses have been edited only in terms of length but not in terms of meaning and only the candidate’s actual words are reported. We will provide the complete unabridged responses to anyone interested.
-Trish Bowman, Inclusion Alberta CEO
Dear UCP Leadership Candidates,
Inclusion Alberta is the largest and longest standing provincial organization representing the interests of tens of thousands of children and adults with developmental disabilities and their families. These Albertans very much need and want to know your position on the issues below. While Inclusion Alberta, as a non-partisan organization will not be endorsing any candidate, your responses will be shared to better inform all Albertans and assist UCP members in their decisions as to which candidate will better represent the interests of all Albertans.
On behalf of all Albertans with developmental disabilities we sincerely thank you for taking the time to share your responses so that Albertans with developmental disabilities and their families are informed and knowledgeable about your position on matters of importance to their very lives.
1. Will you commit to reindexing AISH and reducing AISH Claw Backs for those individuals with disabilities who are able to work?
With soaring inflation, Albertans with disabilities living on AISH are seeing their limited incomes shrink exponentially. The AISH program currently further penalizes individuals who have been employed and must contribute to EI by clawing back dollar for dollar their EI benefits should they lose employment, which in our view should be treated as earned income.
Rajan Sawhney – “In order to keep up with the cost of living and inflation, I definitively commit to indexing AISH and other benefits (like Income support and Senior’s benefits).” “I do believe a new formula needs to be in place to review the current clawbacks. I would engage with the Disability community to understand where the most impactful opportunities exist. And that does include looking at EI benefits.”
Rebecca Schulz – “A Rebecca Schulz government will look at re-indexing AISH. Rebecca has already committed to re-indexing personal income tax as part of her plan to address affordability. Included in that plan is the Alberta Activity Grant that will help individuals and families pay for sport and recreational activities.”
Danielle Smith – “Yes. We need to reindex AISH.” “You raise a good point about EI benefits and I agree they should be treated as earned income as cited above.” “I’d be interested in discussing with you if you think these clawbacks are set at the appropriate level.”
2. Will you work to ensure that Family Support for Children with Disabilities (FSCD) and PDD become responsive, supportive, and respectful to individuals and families, and to reduce wait lists for needed supports and funding?
While the UCP had superior platform commitments which it largely enacted, it unfortunately and regrettably, allowed the two most essential disability support programs to languish and deteriorate affecting the lives of tens of thousands of Albertans with developmental disabilities and their families. These programs, as revealed in two government reports, a current report of the Auditor General, government’s Open Data and our own research reveal that FSCD in particular, and PDD to a lesser degree, are failing families and individuals with development disabilities. Families either find themselves having their supports and funding arbitrarily reduced or are unable to access needed supports while waiting lists continue to grow. Government’s policies have grown increasingly distant if not entirely separate from governing legislation and regulation, in effect thwarting the will of the Legislature itself.
Rajan Sawhney – “Unfortunately, FSCD does not serve families as well as it used to. When I become leader, I will ensure that FSCD is reviewed and revamped to meet the ever-increasing needs of families with children with disabilities. I will also immediately address the wait lists with more funding.” “I added a number of Family Resource Centers to increase our efforts to assist families with disabilities. I would welcome further feedback from the Disability community on the effectiveness of these centers and how further supports can be offered or tailored within the fiscal framework. Ultimately, I am committed to improving waitlists.”
Rebecca Schulz – “A Rebecca Schulz government will commit to working with Inclusion Alberta and other relevant stakeholders to better understand funding issues associated with these programs. We also know families often times face confusion in navigating these programs and accessing support. Ultimately, we want all Albertans to be treated fairly and ensure they have access to the support they need to live a full life.”
Danielle Smith – “I have heard of problems of lack of integration between programs for many years. In my view there should be no delay in testing for someone with developmental disabilities or waiting lists for needed supports.” “I’d be interested in talking with you more about how to ensure a seamless approach to have those with the most severe needs covered from the moment of diagnosis all the way through to end of life care.”
3a) Will you commit to providing families with the right to choose a fully inclusive education as defined in Ministerial Order (015/2004)?
Obtaining access to a quality inclusive education for children with developmental disabilities in the regular education classroom with appropriate supports remains a constant school to school and teacher to teacher challenge for thousands of families. The previous UCP platform committed to updating, not diminishing, the 2004 Ministerial Order which supported inclusion in the regular classroom and parental choice. While the UCP increased the choice of some parents through the Choice in Education Act, it did not do so for parents of children with disabilities seeking inclusion in the regular education classroom.
Rajan Sawhney – “We need to be update our policies and regulations – and funding – to improve access to special education. As importantly, we must listen to families with disabilities, share our learnings, and bring them to the discussions with educational experts, teachers and school district. This way, we can ensure that children with disabilities and their families get what they need.”
Rebecca Schulz – “A Rebecca Schulz government would consult before any changes are made. I have committed to putting 3500 Educational Assistants in classrooms across the province and my door will be open to feedback to ensure no child is left behind.”
Danielle Smith – “We need to ensure there are enough education assistants in a classroom to fully support inclusion.” “We need to accommodate all parent choice.”
3b) Given the Alberta-Federal Child Care Agreement will you ensure all provincially funded childcare, early development programs and kindergartens are required to be inclusive of children with disabilities?
Inclusive early learning is the most cost-effective and beneficial approach to early childhood development for children with developmental disabilities providing substantial long-term benefits.
Rajan Sawhney – “Research tells us again and again that early intervention is vital to long-term success for children with disabilities and other challenges. We must prioritize and allocate sufficient funds to childcare, early development programs and kindergarten programs for children with disabilities.”
Rebecca Schulz – “Supporting inclusion and expanding this program is part of the agreement with the federal government. This year, the funding was doubled to train and expand inclusion training across the province and it will continue to be a priority moving forward.”
Danielle Smith – “I would have to consult with child care providers to understand the implications of what you are asking.” “In the meantime, I think it is important for the government to be proactive in identifying those child care facilities that are able to be inclusive immediately and make it a priority to help match clients with providers.”
3c) Will you develop an accountability framework with respect to the Standards for the Use of Seclusion and Physical Restraint in Alberta Schools (Ministerial Order #042/2019) in the interest of eliminating the use of seclusion rooms in Alberta Schools?
Children with disabilities in schools and their teachers require positive behavioural strategies and supports conducive to their learning and not archaic punishments that rob them of their dignity and threaten their well-being. The current Ministerial Order is insufficient in both the provision of public information and in ensuring accountability to minimize the use of seclusion rooms for children with disabilities for the purpose of eliminating their use entirely.
Rajan Sawhney – “This is a complex, sensitive and emotional topic. I would like to refrain from commenting on this until I do further engagement with the Disability community, because I want to get this right. And as Leader, I would initiate engagement on this immediately.”
Rebecca Schulz – “This Ministerial Order was put in place after consultation with a number of groups, including Inclusion Alberta, school divisions and parents. A Schulz government would commit to re-examining this, as well as the reporting methods for the use of seclusion rooms and consulting again moving forward.”
Danielle Smith – “If we have sufficient education assistants in classrooms there should be no need for these measures. We have to resolve the staffing issues.”
4) Will you work with First Nations and Indigenous Albertans to ensure ready access to FSCD and PDD regardless of where a First Nations or Indigenous child or adult with developmental disabilities or their family lives?
Currently PDD funding is not available to First Nations adults with developmental disabilities and their families residing on reserves. This means First Nations Albertans with developmental disabilities can only access needed supports and services by leaving their First Nations’ communities, homes, and families. If they choose to remain within their First Nation, they and their families sacrifice access to the supports and funding that could make an invaluable difference to their lives. If they are forced by circumstance to leave to obtain supports, they sacrifice culture, community, family, and friends.
Indigenous Albertans not living on reserves access FSCD and PDD at disproportionally lower rates than non-Indigenous Albertans. They encounter structural and cultural barriers in obtaining needed supports and funding that create injustice and inequity.
Rajan Sawhney – “Indigenous people, including members of First Nations living on their reserves, face similar challenges as other individuals and families with disabilities, perhaps with added challenges. They have the right to the same access and level of support available as others in Alberta with disabilities. The FSCD and PDD programs should be made available to them in equal proportions, and we must diligently navigate through the questions of jurisdiction, which make this complex to finalize.”
Rebecca Schulz – “Yes, a Rebecca Schulz government will commit to working with relevant partners in order to understand this issue better and provide solutions. Vulnerable Albertans need access to culturally-appropriate supports while staying connected to family and community. Specifically, whenever possible, we need to move ‘one window’ style supports, so that families don’t get lost in system navigation.”
Danielle Smith – “I would like to work with First Nations that have capacity to expand these services to smaller reserves. Treaty 6, 7 and 8 offices should be able to play a central role in ensuring reserves of all size have adequate and culturally appropriate care. The Alberta government should partner with them to ensure needed supports and services are equivalent to residing off reserve. If there is a funding shortfall, Alberta should pay the difference (Jordan’s Principle) and then work out a funding arrangement with the federal government.”
5) Will you commit to ensuring that disability support worker, upon which tens of thousands of children and adults with developmental disabilities and their families rely, have access to training and wages commensurate with their responsibilities?
Disability Supports Workers have not had a wage increase in 8 years, despite ever increasing costs of living, now compounded by soaring inflation. The value of the 2014 dollar is estimated to be 23% less in 2022. As a result, many have been forced to leave the sector or work multiple jobs simply to cover basics such as food and housing. This has resulted in a severe staffing shortage for both families and service providers, placing individuals with developmental disabilities and their families at risk.
Rajan Sawhney – “Disability support workers are play a key role, perhaps undervalued, in the care and support of our most vulnerable. Theirs is a demanding role, which takes great patience, understanding and skill.
Sometimes support workers have to go from client to client, and from agency to agency, to build a patchwork of full-time work. Their compensation is also less than sufficient. Finally, their wage levels have not risen to keep up with inflation and increasing costs of living. For these and many other reasons, we must consider recruitment of additional workers, support professional education, fuel their opportunities for advancement, and give them the credit they deserve.”
Rebecca Schulz – “A Rebecca Schulz government commits to sitting down with Inclusion Alberta and other relevant partners to understand this issue better. Alberta has a labour force pressure in many sectors that needs to be addressed.”
Danielle Smith – “I’d like to work with the Alberta Disability Workers Association and other groups to find out if there is a desire for a certification process that would allow for more recognition of training and experience, and therefore higher wages. I am not sure what the base level of wage is here compared to other jurisdictions, so I need more information on that before commenting further. But in principle, wages should reflect the cost to live in Alberta and cost of living increases on a regular basis.”