Government had good reasons for decision on YCOD funding

Doug Graham, MLA for Porter Creek North

Letter to the Editor – Whitehorse Star, as submitted on Friday, March 6th, 2015
by Doug Graham, Minister of Education

I read with interest your editorial of February 20, 2015 regarding the contract for funding the provision of employment services for Yukoners with disabilities with the Yukon Council on DisABILITY (YCOD).

In your editorial, you have overlooked the fact that the ‘modest’ funding of $248,000 per year was actually a contract with YCOD to provide employment services for persons with disabilities, specifically to assist them in finding, gaining and maintaining employment. The funding is part of the Canada-Yukon Labour Market Development Agreement, which provided approximately $3.5 million for 2013/14 to support YCOD and other Employment Assistance Providers such as Employment Central, l’AFY, YUWIN, Klondike Outreach and Watson Lake Outreach, and programs such as Self-Employment, Skills Development and Apprenticeship Seats, none of which have failed to meet the terms of their agreements to provide services to persons with disabilities.

You have also not acknowledged the fact that the Government of Yukon has a responsibility to provide justification to Canada, in the form of statistical and other information, as part of the transfer of this funding. It is very difficult to meet this requirement if the information is not provided by the non-governmental organization (NGO). Yukon government’s “strict adherence to program formulas”, as you put it, is how this funding is justified, and if the requirement is ignored as you suggest, the funding for other, very responsible NGOs may be put in jeopardy.

Government also has a responsibility to ensure that taxpayers’ dollars are spent appropriately. In the same manner that government is audited by the Auditor General, we must also ensure that the funding Yukon government provides to other organizations is used to deliver the services that were intended. In this case, my department felt that the employment assistance services were not being provided effectively by YCOD, and several of the key milestone tasks were not being performed as required by our agreement. Advanced Education staff met with the YCOD Board on a number of occasions over the past year in an effort to address the performance issues. Although some progress was being made, the decision to begin recruiting an organization to deliver employment services to persons with disabilities was made when the application submitted by YCOD on January 30, 2015 did not appear to address any of the issues identified by the department and discussed with the YCOD board in previous meetings.

The lack of fact-checking on the NGO scene in the territory is also evident in your statement that “the council is one of an extremely limited number of sources of living assistance, mediation and job-search support for Yukoners with disabilities”. In fact, there are a very large number of NGOs that provide support, living accommodations, advocacy and employment services to persons with a wide variety of disabilities. Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking at the opening of the Yukon Association for Community Living’s “Ready, Willing and Able” presentation to Yukon employers on the benefits of hiring persons with disabilities. It was an excellent presentation, yet I noted the lack of news media in attendance.

Thanks for your friendly advice on how to run the territory; perhaps I can return the favour. In response to your “friendly” advice for me, I would like to address your claim that government failed to respond on this issue. Don’t expect hurried telephone responses to all of your inquiries, as I like to be sure of the facts and I refuse to be rushed into providing an answer that I may later regret because I did not do my homework before giving an interview. I also don’t ask my department staff to provide answers to the news media when I am responsible for making the final decision. So, please understand that answers will be forthcoming on my schedule, not yours. On one issue though, I do agree – the public has a right to know all of the facts, and I’d suggest you have neglected to do so by failing to update your commentary when new information was provided to you. I draw your attention to the information that YCOD sent you after your published editorial.

My government is committed to assisting persons with disabilities, not only in seeking employment but also in assisting them to participate in Yukon society in a full and meaningful manner. The decision to tender the contract for employment services for persons with disabilities was not done to penalize YCOD; it was done to ensure that these Yukoners are receiving the best possible services that we can provide.