© Guardian photo by Brian McInnis
Prince Edward Island premier Robert Ghiz and Valerie Docherty, minister of community services and seniors, walk to the legislature.
A reduction of close to $2 million from the social services budget was once again a topic of heated debate today, with Opposition Leader Steven Myers accusing government of redirecting this money into another department.
The P.E.I. government left $2.3 million unspent in social assistance and other support payments last year and cut its budget this year for social programs by close to $2 million.
Docherty says the number of social assistance clients has dropped by 200 over the last two years.
But Myers pointed to a $2 million special warrant issued to the department of Innovation for spending above and beyond its budget last year.
“This $2 million warrant that you got, is that where the social services money that the minister should have spent on Islanders that are in need went?”
Innovation Minister Allen Roach explained the money didn’t come from the social assistance budget. The money was needed to assist employers with job creation.
Premier Robert Ghiz then stood and accused Myers of simply trying to grab headlines with this line of questioning.
“People sit at home and watch the 10 second clip, if I was sitting at home and I watched the 10-second clip and I stood up and listened to the leader of the Opposition who said that $2 million was taken from one department, given to Innovation so that they can pay their friends, if you hear that for 10 seconds, that’s what’s going to happen,” Ghiz said.
“I ask him to take a responsible approach now.”
But Myers continued to raise concern over how difficult it is for Islanders in financial need to access social assistance.
He says many Islanders have told them they have been turned away because they do not meet the strict criteria.
Docherty said the criteria to access social assistance has not changed for the last 10 years.
“What we need to do is make changes in the rates that we’re providing to our vulnerable Islanders, and we are working on that and have been doing it,” she said.
“If people are turned away, it means they do not meet the criteria.”
But Myers says 10 years is too long to wait to review the rules by which Islanders are assessed for social assistance.
“Why are you hiding behind these outdated criteria to deprive Islanders when they need it the most?”
Docherty acknowledged there are likely a number of Islanders who are just outside the criteria, but says they are constantly reviewing their rules and policies.