When we talk about the need to build public infrastructure in rural Saskatchewan, we are usually talking about roads, schools and hospitals.
But some of the most pressing needs that the Saskatchewan Party government has tried to address are far less tangible ... although, no less crucial.
The need to address those with intellectually disabilities is one such infrastructure need. And while Premier Brad Wall’s government may not have quite satisfied everyone, it’s made remarkably strides in this particular area.
Admittedly, the challenges facing intellectually disabled people in Saskatchewan is not an exclusively rural issue. City parents of adult children with intellectual disabilities struggle as well.
That said, a larger population base makes it slightly easier for urban parents to get support services or establish group homes. For those in smaller cities, towns and rural areas, these particular problems have always been a greater struggle.
Just five years ago, the Sask. Party government announced its Community Living Waitlist Initiative (better known as the 440 program) to address an identified 440 intellectual disabled people waiting for residential homes or day programming.
Add another 215 Community Living clients that were being served beyond those identified on the initial 440 waitlist and what Wall’s government was dealing with was a major challenge. In fact, it’s legitimate to ask how the waitlist got so long under the previous NDP government that prided itself on being more in tune to social needs.
What is clear, however, is that the Wall government decided to make this issue a priority, with the largest investment in Saskatchewan history in support of the intellectual disabled — a total of $62.5 million since 2008.
The money for the 440 program provided new or expanded services s in 41 communities throughout Saskatchewan, funding 500 staff positions for community-based organizations (CBOs). As suggested earlier, with 75 new group homes built since the 440 program started, this social programming commitment has gone well beyond the cities.
And what has emerged as a result of this major effort can best be described as a network of support services, involving the Saskatchewan Association of Rehabilitation Centres (SARC), Saskatchewan Approved Private Service Homes (APSH) Inc., Saskatchewan Housing Corporation, and many more individual CBOs.
“This is a milestone day for every one of the 440 people on the original wait list, and the rest of our province as well,” Wall said in a press release. “I am very pleased to announce that services are now in place, or in development, for every one of the people on the list.
“It is our government’s goal to make Saskatchewan the best place to live in Canada for people with disabilities, and this is another step toward that goal.”
Of course, not everyone has been completely enamoured with the government’s boasts.
The NDP said the government’s hubris in announcing that it had met the needs of everyone with intellectual disabilities in the province resulted in several calls to the Opposition caucus office of people that don’t feel their children’s needs have been met.
One such call came from Herbert resident Craig Bayliss. Bayliss said he traveled to the Premier’s Swift Current constituency office four times because he and his wife were desperate for help for their intellectually disabled 24-year-old son in need of constant care.
There are additional complexities in such a case, but perhaps the lesson for government is to never assume that the work is ever done.
That said, Wall — whose own 23-year-old nephew, Darren, is intellectually disabled and benefiting from similar programming in Alberta — should be given credit for addressing the overall issue with determination and compassion.
There are many needs in Saskatchewan, but few are as worthwhile as providing help and hope to those who are the least fortunate.
Murray Mandryk has been covering provincial politics for over 22 years.