When Wendy Tremblay received a seemingly innocuous call from her brother-in-law George, telling her they needed to buy bread, she was floored.
"A year ago, George didn't know how to dial a phone. To me that was mind blowing," she said.
George Tremblay, who has an intellectual disability, is one of many people who receive help from the Burnaby Association for Community Inclusion. He's been connected to the organization for two decades, he's learned some basic life skills - how to use a phone, for instance - and he's employed in a work program where he earns some money. To Wendy and her husband Dan, the support BACI offers people like George is invaluable, and local families are upset and worried those resources are under threat, thanks to a funding shortfall resulting from what Burnaby MLAs describe as a case provincial government bargaining in bad faith.
But the Tremblays aren't the only family with serious concerns about BACI and whether the group is receiving proper funding to help what they describe as the most vulnerable people in society.
At least five families with loved ones connected to BACI have formed an ad hoc group called All Families First, and they are upset at what they see as chronic underfunding on behalf of the government.
Burnaby resident Sonya Wachowski is also part of All Families First. Sonya has a sister, Moordryd, who has learned to independently navigate the public transit system, thanks to BACI. Sonya wants a full life for Moordryd, where she can work and share her gifts with society. But with continual underfunding, Sonya has serious concerns about BACI's staffing.
"I'm worried that with these continued cuts, the staff are going to be so demoralized, good people are going to be lost, ... good people that care about my sister are going to leave this profession, ... and what are we going to be left with? The worst case scenario is groups like BACI end up disappearing."
BACI's latest funding issue is connected to confusion around the bargaining table with the provincial government. Social service groups like BACI were under the impression that the provincial government would fund a three per cent wage increase for their employees. But after the contract was signed, the organizations learned they would have to find savings out of their own budget, without cutting services, to cover the wage increase they negotiated with their own employees.
The way the government tells it, there was never any intention to fund the wage increase.
For people like Wendy and Sonya, it's just more erosion of an already underfunded resource they rely on to help their loved ones.
While the group is still in its infancy, the members are determined to reach out to other families and approach government, once the provincial legislature is back in session. On Monday, All Families First approached Burnaby New Democrat MLAs Jane Shin, Kathy Corrigan and Raj Chouhan.
Chouhan said groups like BACI agreed to the contract was because they thought the provincial government would fund the wage increase.
"I don't think it's a communication problem, it's a classic case of bad-faith bargaining," he told the NOW. "That's the only reason BACI and other organizations were able to sign this agreement. ... There are hundreds of other organizations impacted by this. It's impacting families in a devastating way."
Richard Faucher, one of BACI's executive directors, told the NOW that the organization made cuts to administration only so services were not impacted. According to Faucher, BACI had to lay off a manager and combine two positions into one, and the association didn't replace a manager on maternity leave.
"We're supposed to look at reducing without touching services, which we did, so the families are not angry that services are cut. They are angry that their sons and daughters are not worth the investment of government," he said. "This is not the first time over the past 15 years this has happened. It feels like every so often, when the agenda of the day is to balance the budget, ... they feel like their families are perceived as less-than, in terms of citizenship. ... They are getting fed up."
The funding shortfall leaves BACI between a rock and hard place, as there is very little left to cut, according to Faucher.
"The impact on our agency here is our ability to monitor the quality of service. If you cut the support system that's there to monitor, to evaluate, suddenly you have no one left to do that," he said.
Members of All Families First are frustrated over the bargaining mishap.
"(It's a) slap in the face," Wendy said.
"These are the most vulnerable people," Sonya added. "It's insulting."
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