MLAs hear of challenges facing northwest residents

The legislature’s Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services stopped in Terrace as part of a provincial tour

  • Oct. 20, 2014 7:00 p.m.

Members of the provincial legislature learned of several difficulties facing northwestern residents when they held a session here recently.

The 11 Members of the Legislative Assembly make up the legislature’s Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services and their stop here was part of a provincial tour gathering ideas of how the province can best spend taxpayers’ money in the next budget year.

Northern Brain Injury Association director Cynthia Hyslop told the committee there is a lack of services for brain-injured people in the north and there are weather and geography present difficulties in getting around.

Often money comes in the form of small grants which is gratefully appreciated, but it’s often too little to make long-term plans and groups often have to re-apply for grants every six months or so, she said.

The association is asking the government to provide enough money so the association can disperse it to the groups involved so they can plan for the long-term.

Hyslop said in the province every year, there are 22,000 new cases of brain injury and that the current population of brain-injured people is 180,000.

The highest injury risk is for males age 16 to 24, seniors have the second highest risk and brain injuries account for the highest fatality rate of people age 45 and under, she said.

A brain injury can be costly as it can lead to health and social issues. For example, 53 per cent of homeless people are brain injured and 77 per cent of those were injured prior to becoming homeless, Hyslop added.

In addition, people are 77 per cent more likely to develop mental illness after a brain injury, she said.

“Statistics will show brain injury is a much larger issue than first thought,” said Hyslop.

Brain injuries occur at a rate 100 times that of spinal cord injuries, 30 times more often than breast cancer and 400 times more often than HIV/AIDS, and more people suffer brain injuries than multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury, HIV/AIDS and breast cancer combined, she added.

The provincial government beginning in 1998 cut the amount of money going to help with brain injuries, Hyslop said.

“The lack of money only served to increase government costs,” said Hyslop.

When asked, Hyslop said that the travel challenges here are enormous with the roads not being driveable for all 12 months of the year due to weather.

Another challenge are the lack of specialists in the north.

If a person can make it to a larger centre to see a specialist, which few can afford, often that person is alone or has minimal family nearby and often has to find his or her own way back home, said Hyslop.

Northwest Community College senior officials Denis Caron and Cathay Sousa told the committee of roadblocks facing students wanting a higher education and skills training.

Although the college has received government and corporate grants to modernize its industrial training equipment, students have difficulties in coming to Terrace.

Issues include students needing driver’s licences, having difficulty finding housing and tuition costs.

“Our dorm or student housing is at capacity,” said Caron.

“We had to cancel the heavy equipment program as students had nowhere to stay.”

The delay in training also delays industry from getting the people they need, he added.

The college has made moves to compensate by holding training sessions in smaller communities.

Student union organizer Mikael Jensen called for lower tuition rates.

He noted that more and more students are completing programs but have accumulated ever increasing debt totals.