On Monday, after announcing a $13 billion surplus, Prime Minister Stephen Harper cut more than $300,000 from Yukon literacy programs.
“This shows the Harper government really doesn’t care about those who are illiterate,” said Sierra Van der Meer, spokesperson for the Yukon Literacy Coalition.
All literacy coalition funding was cut, as well a $175,000 in funding available for grassroots literacy organizations, including L’Association franco-yukonnaise, Kwanlin Dun and Selkirk First Nations and Yukon Learn Society.
Across the country the Conservatives slashed $17 million in adult literacy programs — cuts federal Finance Minister James Flaherty referred to as “trimming the fat.”
But in a country where 42 per cent of the population can’t even read “trimming the fat,” the cuts have been controversial.
“By saying adults aren’t worth investing money in for literacy, I don’t think they understand the problem,” said Van der Meer on Thursday.
“Because if you have parents that can’t read, what hope do their children have?”
If adults have issues with literacy, their children tend to have issues with literacy, she said.
The literacy coalition will be out of cash by the end of December.
“We were hoping for this year’s funding to come in September,” said Van der Meer.
“But, unfortunately, our funding proposal was on the minister’s desk when these cuts were announced.
“Early in the new year, we’ll have nothing left.”
A community run organization, the literacy coalition has board members from across the territory and most of its programming is community based.
“We support practitioners; we do training; we do resource development; we gather information and send it out; we do research projects; we do family literacy initiatives, and we basically listen and respond to the literacy needs of the communities,” said Van der Meer.
The coalition was planning to hire literacy workers in three communities this fall, including Dawson City.
Now this won’t happen.
“The biggest impact is going to be on the communities,” said Van der Meer.
“A lot of our programming was based on trying to get community run and community owned literacy programming and that is where the bulk of these cuts is going to fall.”
A third of the territory’s population has low literacy skills, and it’s not evenly distributed across the territory, she said.
“There are proportionally more First Nations and rural Yukoners in that number, and, unfortunately, in rural communities where access to programming is low, we also see lower literacy rates.”
The literacy coalition is hoping the territorial government will offer bridge funding until the coalition secures other sources of money, she said.
After announcing cuts to literacy funding, Ottawa identified a shift in its priorities.
“So, we believe they will be opening up another round of proposals in January that will reflect their new priorities for literacy,” said Van der Meer.
“But, unfortunately, for an organization like us, if a call for proposals opens in January that means new funding won’t be available until April or May.
“And how do we stay alive and keep offering services until that new funding comes?”