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Jody Paterson: Fight back

these cuts do lasting harm

I've kept a rough list of the B.C. programs and services lost as a result of government cuts this fall. Maybe there's still nothing on the list that affects your family, but the odds are getting slimmer all the time.

A remarkably broad swath of British Columbians will be affected by the funding cuts being carried out by the provincial government and its five health authorities right now.

The cuts are coming fast and furious in all directions, with neither a plan nor an understanding at any level of what it's all going to mean when the dust settles. Without a word of public discussion, vital social programs and supports that British Columbians have counted on for years are vanishing.

Our province will end up wearing the scars of these cuts for decades. We need to shake ourselves out of our respective silos and make it stop.

Whatever your political stripe, I'm sure we can all agree that we're against bad decision-making. That's what is going on in B.C. right now. Government and health authorities are so consumed with hitting their financial targets that they're selling out the future health and well-being of British Columbia for poorly conceived, clumsily executed cuts that benefit no one.

It's still hard for many of us to accept that tax dollars are well-spent on supports to strangers who need help in their lives. That's why our governments generally assume they can shred social services with little fear of a voter backlash.

But this isn't about votes. This is about what we're giving up as a society. This is about services that are costing us a little money right now, but are preventing much, much higher costs down the road.

Take a look at this sampling of recent cuts and think about the vulnerable people who will be cast to the wolves as the government and health authorities withdraw their support:

- School lunch programs

- Community mental health and addiction services

- School sports

- Intensive behavioural therapy for young autistic children

- Support for programs preventing fetal-alcohol damage in children

- Help for people raising their grandchildren

- Reading centres

- Treatment for children who witness abuse

- Outreach for victims of domestic violence (reinstated this week after public outcry)

- Help for problem gamblers

- Elimination of B.C.'s only prosecutor specializing in domestic violence

- Support for sports for people with mental handicaps

And none of that includes the cuts to gaming grants for the social sector still to come later this fall. Or the much deeper cuts coming in the March 2010 budget and again the year after that.

Those familiar with government understand that whatever is lost in the next couple years is at risk of being lost for good. Government is writing off decades of experience, evidence and social infrastructure in its ill-informed rush to make up cost overruns on the backs of struggling families. We will not soon see these programs back if we let them go now.

Billings Learned Hand, a U.S. judge and philosopher from the early 1900s, once talked about change occurring only when things reach a point that "cries out loudly enough to force upon us a choice between the comforts of inertia and the irksomeness of action."

Are we there yet? We must be close. Thousands of people and communities are affected by the cuts, but I sense they haven't yet realized their cumulative power to do something. It's tough to go it alone against government, but so many people will feel these cuts that, together, they could exercise considerable political clout.

Look only to recent headlines to verify that. Just this week, the government reinstated $440,000 that had been cut from services addressing domestic violence, all because the public went nuts. Cuts to camping programs for children with disabilities were also abandoned earlier this year after the public made its considerable displeasure known.

Fight, people. Be the squeaky wheel that haunts government's dreams. Give government some of that "blowback" that Housing Minister Rich Coleman talked about a couple weeks ago, because they need a big blast of it to snap them out of these dangerously short-sighted, mean-spirited cuts.

- - -

As always, the poorest of the poor will feel all of B.C.'s cuts the hardest. I'm back organizing Project Connect for another year on behalf of the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness and want to thank the community for the generous donations to date that will help us put on another really successful day for hundreds of people living in deep poverty and homelessness.

We've got one more drop-off day to collect things like new socks, new and gently used gloves, scarves and toques and travel-size grooming products like hand sanitizer to fill the 700 or so backpacks we expect to be handing out at the all-day service fair for the street community on Oct. 14 at Our Place. If you've got a backpack to donate, that would be great too.

Can you help? Bring donations to Our Place, 919 Pandora, on the morning of Oct. 6. Contact me at the email on this column to donate time or money to Project Connect.

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