The Port Alberni Friendship Centre could face staff layoffs and cuts to critical services over funding setbacks from the Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada(INAC).
There are two issues surrounding funding for Friendship Centres across the province: ongoing uncertainty over Community Capacity Support (CCS) program funding, and the fact that the core-funding pot of money—which used to fund Friendship Centres exclusively—will now be shared with multiple other organizations.
“The previous Conservative government amalgamated a number of pooled money for urban services and they put it under the Urban Aboriginal Strategy as one envelope and they created two streams of money,” said Carl Mashon, acting executive director of the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres.
The two streams of money are the CCS that provides operational funding to urban Aboriginal community organizations to help them deliver programs and services, and the Urban Partnership (UP) money which is project-specific money.
Mashon said there’s about $43 million for those two streams of money usually distributed among all Friendship Centres in the country.
However, INAC implemented new criteria and guidelines this year that opens up $23 million core-funding to other aboriginal organizations as well as friendship centres.
The friendship centre association says INAC is breaching the agreed terms and conditions and that the proposed changes will have negative impacts on their agencies’ capacity to deliver services.
“Last week we got a demand note from the department saying you now have to comply with new criteria and guidelines,” Mashon said.
The core-funding has been opened up to other aboriginal organizations, specifically political organizations, Mashon added.
“We’re a service delivery network. We’re not political and we’re there to provide community and family services…That’s a concern because they have not expanded the pool of money,” Mashon said.
The sudden change should not affect every Friendship Centre, Mashon said, because the larger facilities run on a larger budget. Therefore the funding they receive from CSS, although still important, may not be as critical to them than some of the smaller centres who rely significantly on the funding to keep running.
“Port Alberni is kind of a medium-size centre and they’re well managed but I know it’s a concern for them too,” Mashon said. “I think Port Alberni is in a better position than others but they will be concerned if this delay is several more months.”
Port Alberni Friendship Centre executive director Cyndi Stevens agrees.
“This will absolutely affect the way we do business,” she said.
“It will mean laying off staff, it will mean reduced ability to do things, to respond to proposals…it’s absolutely going to increase our workload.”
Stevens said core-funding dollars were already reduced by $30,000 about 20 years ago and now the further reductions will create even more difficulty in keeping services running and staff employed.
“They haven’t even put out the call for funding, I believe that’s going to affect a lot of centres.
“We’re going to be affected by some degree. I have no idea what the timeline is going to be and that doesn’t help us,” Stevens said.
Typically a call for proposals for funding is released in November each year and successful applicants are disclosed in mid- to late February. That has not happened in 2016.
“There should be an increase to core-funding, not a reduction,” Stevens said.
“We’re not saying other areas don’t deserve that funding as well, we believe they do, but they should be allocating new dollars to those, not taking away from organizations that are already suffering.”
Stevens said the last amount of funding they received from CSS was $170,000 and with the new changes the amount would decrease to $120,000.
“This is our 50th year and we’ve done very, very well but why do we have to continuously struggle and continually fight to keep providing services to a population that’s in need,” Stevens said.