It's a relief funding for the CAP sites isn't ending now, but what happens after 2010?
Islanders who thought they were losing their Community Access Program sites because of federal funding cuts must have felt they were waking up from an unpleasant dream this week. According to federal Industry Minister Tony Clement, it won't happen after all, and the initial news that the CAP sites were getting the axe was simply the result of poor communication.
We can all rest easy, if the latest word from Ottawa is to be believed. For one thing, it spares the 10 full-time jobs associated with the operation of the Island's 38 CAP sites, as well as the 52 students who work part-time. For another, the cuts would have specifically hurt rural areas where many depend on the services at these sites, especially access to computer and Internet for those who aren't connected themselves. How many would that have affected? In the 2009-2010 fiscal year, more than 84,000 logged on at a CAP site in the province. While many of these may have been repeat users, the relevant point here is that the services are well used, and are obviously filling a need.
No wonder reaction was negative when word came earlier this week that the CAP sites would be closed because of new arrangements in federal funding. Workers themselves spoke out, the opposition and some senators all spoke up for the need to retain the sites – only to be told the next day by Mr. Clement himself that the sites would remain open, that funding was never in jeopardy, and that it would continue throughout 2010. The reason for the confusion, he explained in an interview with The Guardian, is that there's been a change in funding arrangements, and that all the information about the funding changes wasn't communicated. The bottom line, he stressed, is that the sites will continue to be funded throughout 2010.
But what will happen after that? The minister wouldn't say. And Islanders should take note of that. Obviously it's a relief that the sites have been spared – for this year. But what about subsequent years? The fact that the minister seems noncommittal about their future is reason to remain vigilant. And while the minister attributes the recent confusion to poor communication, it was communication that seemed to be shared by a lot of people who should have been in the know – senior officials in Egmont MP Gail Shea's office, senators and Opposition MPs. Poor communication obviously travels fast.
Not surprisingly, opposition MPs insist that government's initial intention was to cut the services, and that it pulled back in the face of negative reaction.
Whether that's the case or not, the fact is, the minister has been unable to guarantee the program will continue past 2010. Islanders should consider this incident a heads-up not to become complacent. They should make their feelings known to their MPs and send the message to Ottawa that cutting the sites would have a dramatic impact on rural Prince Edward Island.
The sites are invaluable to people who don't have computer or Internet access at home. Students use them. So do people looking for employment. Closing these sites would be a regressive move by any government. The $595,000 the federal government contributes to the program is a worthwhile investment. Between now and the end of 2010, the province should make a point of persuading Ottawa of this and work to ensure that the CAP sites remain open.