I am writing in response to the announcement by the Alberta government to close Michener Centre and to publicly thank Premier Alison Redford and Minister Frank Oberle for their courageous and moral leadership.
Discussions to close Michener Centre and enable individuals to move to the community shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. The evolution of services from institutional care to supports being provided in the community has been taking place since the early 1970s.
The move away from institutional care in Alberta began with the release of the Blair Report in 1969. The Blair Report called on the government of the day to develop services at the community level and no longer centralize or institutionalize services.
In response to the Blair Report, the Lougheed government began working with local communities to establish the vast array of community services, which today support approximately 10,000 people with developmental disabilities.
Michener at one time accommodated over 2,200 people. Today, there are just over 200 people residing at the centre. The decrease in the number of people living at Michener Centre is in direct correlation to the development of community services across the province.
This is not a decision where government should seek out consensus on the views from the majority of Albertans; it is about protection of the rights of a minority of citizens to live and participate as equally valued citizens of this province.
I find it appalling that the City of Red Deer and the Red Deer Public School district board would pass motions supporting Michener Centre to stay open. In essence, they are saying people with developmental disabilities should not be included as equal members of our society. Their motions say people with developmental disabilities are not worthy to live in the community and should not be part of the mainstream of the Red Deer community.
Numerous detailed studies have been carried out across North America that examined what happens to people when they leave large congregate centres such as Michener. All of these studies tell a consistent story. People with disabilities, including people with serve and multiple disabilities, show increase in independence, fewer problem behaviours, increase in choice making, and an increase in relationships with people without disabilities. In addition, these studies show increases in participation in community activities. Also, neighbours develop positive attitudes about their neighbours with disabilities. Closing Michener Centre is consistent with the latest research and best practice.
The decision to close Michener is also in keeping with the federal and provincial governments’ commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. The decision to close Michener is consistent with what other provinces and other countries are doing. In Canada, British Columbia, Ontario, New Brunswick, Newfoundland/Lab have all closed their large institutions. Saskatchewan is in the process of closing its institution in Moose Jaw and Manitoba is committed to supporting people to move from its institution in Portage La Prairie. In all of these provinces, the decision to close their institutions was supported by all political parties.
The government’s Social Policy Framework “defines who we are as a people and communities, one that reflects our aspirations as a province that offers all Albertans the opportunity to reach their potential and to benefit from the highest possible quality of life.”
People with developmental disabilities deserve to be provided with supports that are consistent with Alberta’s Social Policy Framework.
Thank you to the premier for believing people with developmental disabilities are part of the fabric that makes our communities strong and diverse; thank you for believing people with developmental disabilities are entitled to live in the community and that all individuals whether they have a disability or not have something wonderful to contribute to our families, our communities and our world.