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N.S. election: parties won't meet goals of 10-year plan for people with disabilities

'I feel I've been duped,' says Vicky Levack with the Disability Rights Coalition
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HALIFAX — Vicky Levack with the Disability Rights Coalition in Nova Scotia says she feels deceived after learning no political party can commit to the targets of a 10-year plan to transform housing and care for people with intellectual disabilities.

"They had six years before the pandemic hit," Levack, who has cerebral palsy and lives in a nursing home, said in an interview Thursday.

"I feel I've been duped. We all have been."

The landmark 2013 report, referred to as "The Roadmap," called for phasing out institutional facilities and replacing them with small options homes by 2023. Small options homes are defined by the province as homes in residential neighbourhoods for up to four people with disabilities, where they receive care and other support.

When asked about the report on the campaign trail, none of the three main party leaders committed to achieving the Roadmap's goals on time; however, the NDP's Gary Burrill said his party would do so within a four-year mandate.

"It's sad, it's really sad," Beth MacLean said in an interview Thursday. The 49-year-old woman with intellectual disabilities won a landmark human rights case in 2019 that ordered the province to provide her with a small options home.

The Roadmap was created under the former NDP government, amid front-page stories of abuse in institutional settings documented by The Canadian Press. In 2010, staff confirmed an autistic man had been locked in a room at a special-care home in Cape Breton for 15 days, sometimes urinating in the corner when nobody knew he needed to use the washroom.

The plan for reform was accepted by the former Liberal government of Stephen McNeil, who extended its timeline to improve housing and care for disabled people from five years to 10.

But when The Canadian Press recently asked Liberal Leader Iain Rankin if the Roadmap's recommendations would be completed in the next two years, he said, "It's very challenging."

"We need to bring on more small option homes," Rankin said during a news conference. "But we need to be very cautious and not move people into the community unless they have all the supports they require. That presents a challenge for us. We'll continue to work on it."

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston told reporters earlier this week he "hoped" the goals of the Roadmap report — which called for "transition of individuals to supported living in the community" — would be achieved within his mandate if he's elected.

"The reality is the Liberals have put us in a bad spot," he said. "They ran the clock out."

"So we'll be focused on doing what we can to honour those commitments, but I don't know that we can do it in two years because of the spot they put us in. But we're focused on meeting those."

The NDP is the sole party committing to fully implementing the report within one electoral mandate — should they transform their five seats into a majority government in the Aug. 17 election.

"We would make up for this time squandered by the Liberal Party and meet the goals of the Roadmap by the end of a four-year mandate," Leader Gary Burrill told reporters this week.

Wendy Lill, chairwoman of the Community Homes Action Group, said news of further delays is a hard blow to people with intellectual and physical disabilities, and their families, who are waiting for housing in the community.

"The consequences are quite simply an ongoing tragedy — hundreds of young people living with aging, often ill and declining parents, are in limbo and on wait lists to start living independent lives in their communities and hundreds more in institutions, in may cases far removed from their families and home communities," she said in an email.

The Disability Rights Coalition recently said the 2013 report's targets were not being met.

"The government's pledge of transformation of their social assistance programs for people with disabilities, including closing institutions, addressing the excessive delays in accessing vital community-based supports … and enacting the necessary legislation and policy to support inclusive communities … remains unrealized," the advocacy group said in a July 19 report.

In February, a legislature committee heard testimony from the Department of Community Services indicating 1,698 people were on a waiting list, either to begin receiving care or to be transferred to a more suitable living arrangement. The committee also heard that about 525 people out of roughly 5,000 receiving housing are in larger, so-called “congregate care” facilities.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 6, 2021.

Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

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