For the second time in a month about 200 people gathered in downtown Red Deer to protest the province’s plan to close Michener Centre next year.
Michener supporters, who stretched more than a block, chanted — keep Michener open — down Ross Street from Coronation Park to Red Deer North MLA Mary Anne Jablonski’s office located across from City Hall on Tuesday afternoon.
After gathering in front of Jablonski’s office, they continued marching and chanting around City Hall and Red Deer Remand where Alberta Union of Provincial Employees were picketing in support of a wildcat strike at Edmonton Remand Centre.
Bill Lough, president of Society of Parents and Friends of Michener Services, said he was “over the moon” by the show of support.
“I see a sea of blue. It’s not Conservative blue at all — it’s Michener blue,” said Lough to the crowd that spilled onto the street wearing blue T-shirts with the logo Respect Michener Families.
“We’re going to tunnel under the fortress of the (Progressive Conservatives) and look for the soft underbelly. We’re going to make them think and make them realize we are voters.
“We voted them in. We can vote them out,” he said to cheers that turned into chants of ‘people matter more.’
The province announced in March that the long-time centre for people with development disabilities will close and that 125 residents will be relocated starting in September. Fifty of them who are medically fragile are to be moved to seniors care facilities.
Another 105 residents who already live in Michener Hill group homes will be allowed to stay.
The announcement to close Michener was unexpected.
In 2008, the province promised that residents could remain at Michener until they die. The average age of Michener residents is 60.
Wildrose MLA Joe Anglin told the crowd to take back control from the PC government.
“You’re not here to ask to keep it open. You’re here to demand to keep it open. Make your demands known. Make them now. Let (Jablonski) hear you right now,” said the MLA for Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre and sparked another thunderous round of ‘keep Michener open.’
Wildrose Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA and seniors critic Kerry Towle said long-term care wasn’t equipped to care for her brother, who had Huntington’s disease, and she couldn’t imagine how the facilities could manage medically fragile Michener residents.
Deanna Kerik, of Bashaw, attended the march on behalf of her sister Audrey Miller, 77, a Michener resident.
“She’s been in there over 40 years. She’s known that home for a long time,” Kerik said at the protest organized by Michener supporters and AUPE.
Moving her is an “inhumane, cruel thing,” Kerik said.
“It’s an hour drive here as it is to visit her. They could ship her off to Athabasca or wherever. How often will I get to see her?”
Society of Parents and Friends of Michener Services has asked its members to boycott government meetings happening this week to discuss the transition of care.
“We felt we didn’t want to talk about transition right now. It’s too early. We have very strong support from the public and it’s just time to say no. We will stand united,” Lough said.
Before the march, NDP leader Brian Mason told the crowd he was pleased to see such solidarity.
“What you’re doing here is the right thing. You’re standing up for people who need our help, who need a quality life and the care that they deserve and we need to support the families as well,” Mason said.
“The government has allocated in this year’s budget $10 million not to keep (Michener) open, but to close it. They have announced that this is actually a budget decision. It’s not driven by improving care for the people in Michener.”