Of the candidates campaigning to become leader of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party and our next premier, Jim Prentice happens to be the only one who makes sense on the issue of what’s to become of Michener Centre. He says he’s undecided.
When you think about it, until a judicial review is completed in November, any position on the government’s earlier decision to close the place is moot. But as the months have passed since last year’s announcement that the remaining severely handicapped residents (at first reported to be 125) would be moved to new homes, the situation becomes more of a fait accompli than a policy point.
Since then, in consultation with families and guardians, some residents have been moved to new homes. This week, at least one more resident was scheduled to move to a group home outside of Red Deer, to live closer to relatives.
Prentice says he wants to make a private tour of the remaining residences and talk to families affected by potential moves, and then determine what he’d do going forward, if he’s elected premier.
A good choice, even if not deciding is a sort of decision.
Let’s look at what happens when an unsupportable decision gets made.
Fellow leadership candidate Ric McIver said last week that he would cancel the plan to close Michener. More, he would give those who have already moved out the opportunity to return.
This, he says, fulfils a government promise made years ago that all residents whose families and guardians wished them to stay in their known and comfortable environments, could stay.
In every discussion we must note the people we are talking about are aging, frail and at risk of some level of personal trauma when big changes are made in their lives.
The second part of his promise makes no sense. The moves made so far were negotiated, planned and made at no small cost. They were agreed moves. What is gained by going through that process twice?
The first part is not supportable for the long term, either. No government can keep a 300-acre twin campus facility open indefinitely in the centre of a city, for 125 people. The buildings are generations old and must cost hundreds of thousands a year just to sit there. It’s not good stewardship of that land.
That sounds cruel. Perhaps it would be kinder to spend $10 million or $20 million to build new, proper housing consolidating these residents elsewhere, so the white elephant of the vast majority of the centre could be shut down. If that’s so, is it really different than moving people to existing care spaces, probably closer to families?
Candidate Thomas Lukaszuk would keep Michener as it is for current residents, and possibly even expand its scope as housing for people with disabilities, mental health issues and others.
Has this idea been considered and costed out? Yes, it has. That’s why the decision to close Michener was made in the first place. We don’t institutionalize people anymore. And if we did, it would be in better facilities than exist now at Michener Centre.
If Michener must close, Lukaszuk says current residents could stay, up to a reasonable point. Managers who Albertans pay six-figure salaries to decide that “reasonable point” have already done so.
That doesn’t mean the managers are automatically right. But someone has to study things and make recommendations. The work of these professionals should not be summarily dropped as part of an election campaign.
So, not deciding a policy point on Michener Centre’s future right now looks like a pretty good idea.
I don’t want to suggest the “reasonable point” at which housing these frail people in our care, on 300 acres of land in the city, is no longer reasonable. Is it 50? Or 20? Just one?
That’s why governments pay big dollars for professional managers.
In November, the courts will decide if the government was out of line in breaking a solemn promise to families of severely disabled people that their loved ones would be cared for at Michener for the rest of their lives.
Meanwhile, one at a time, some people are being moved to new quarters, with the agreement of their families and guardians.
However cold and uncaring things may seem to be now, sitting back and waiting for the passage of time to decide for us — is that really the best plan we’ve got?
Greg Neiman is a retired Advocate editor. Follow his blog at readersadvocate.blogspot.ca or email firstname.lastname@example.org.