Disability debate focuses on funding

The Child Development Centre has 100 children on its waitlist. And many end up waiting for more than a year, said its executive director Alayne Squair.

The Child Development Centre has 100 children on its waitlist.

And many end up waiting for more than a year, said its executive director Alayne Squair.

“This goes against everything we know about early childhood intervention.”

The Child Development Centre was one of seven organizations represented at Tuesday’s pre-election disability debate at the Gold Rush Inn.

And Squair wanted to know what the parties would do to cut wait times for children in need.

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“The research is clear – early intervention is a child’s best chance and money spent on the early years equates to an enormous savings in the future,” she said.

Riverdale South Liberal candidate Dan Curtis was the first to respond.

He sits on the Child Development’s Centre’s board and was familiar with the lengthy waitlist.

“The Liberals have promised to address the unacceptable wait time,” he said.

Lake Laberge Yukon Party candidate Brad Cathers also promised to increase the centre’s funding so it can expand its services.

Riverdale South NDP candidate Jan Stick wasn’t so clear.

“Every child deserves an education that would speak to their needs,” she said. “The NDP would start discussions to strengthen these goals.”

Green Party candidate Kristina Calhoun has a child at the centre and stressed what a difference these services have made.

Following the Child Development Centre, Autism Yukon, Learning Disabilities Association Yukon, People First, the Association of Yukon Communities, the Yukon Child Care Association and the Yukon Council on Disability each posed a question to the candidates.

The candidates got the questions in advance, which didn’t make for very lively debate.

In fact, the four candidates rarely took the opportunity allowed them for rebuttal.

And they usually agreed with one another.

Most of the questions revolved around funding issues.

Cathers pledged more money to every organization that asked, including Autism Yukon, the Yukon Child Care Association and Learning Disabilities Association of Yukon.

Curtis saw Cather’s bet and raised him one, promising not only to give the organizations more money, but also to ensure they had multi-year funding.

“This would cut down the red tape,” he said. “Because, right now, much-needed resources are being devoted to annual funding applications.”

Cathers and Calhoun agreed.

Stick didn’t comment.

Recognizing she was repeating herself, Stick continued to stress the need for government to work collaboratively with NGOs.

Curtis agreed, but also recognized more funding is needed.

“Bringing everyone together into one room like this is the beginning,” he said.

“But more has to be done.”

The night ended with several questions from the public.

One man wanted to know if the government would spend as much money on disabilities as it plans to spend on homelessness.

“To spend money, we need a strong economy,” said Cathers.

Stick wanted to see a range of housing options that would take everyone into account, while Curtis promised the Liberals’ housing platform was inclusive of everyone, including people with disabilities.

Another question centred on the need for services for youth struggling with mental health issues.

The Liberals will fund more training for mental health specialists, as part of their mental health platform, said Curtis.

Calhoun wants to see more addictions courses offered at the college, while the NDP promised to work with experts and community groups.

Cathers promised to expand the early childhood psychosis program.

Things wrapped up with a question from Nicole Beaudry, a Whitehorse mother struggling to keep her special needs child in daycare.

It costs more to send special needs children to daycare, said Beaudry. But the Yukon’s child-care subsidy doesn’t account for that.

Working with childcare operators so parents with special needs children don’t pay more is part of the Liberal platform, said Curtis. “We have made that commitment to you.”

Calhoun wanted to see daycares get multi-year funding, while Cathers promised to address the direct operating grant for daycares.

“But this doesn’t change how much I pay,” said Beaudry.

“I don’t think Brad (Cathers) gets it.”

Stick couldn’t remember her party’s platform on this subject.

“I am drawing a blank,” she said.

“I will take your name and number and get back to you.”

One bystander commented that the debate wouldn’t change much.

“Still, it was nice to see everyone together, here,” he said.

The Child Development Centre hopes more money comes through.

“Both Dan and Brad committed to increase funding,” said centre board member Shanna Epp, following the debate.

“Putting kids ahead will save money in the long run,” added centre physiotherapist Brook McKenzie.

It’s a sentiment that was echoed by Curtis during the debate.

“If we don’t pay now, we’re going to end up paying a lot more later,” he said.

Contact Genesee Keevil at