With cancellation in the federal budget of funding for the Community Access Program comes concerns that the cut will widen the gap between rich and poor.
In Salmon Arm, CAP funds go to Salmon Arm Partners in Community Leadership for computer terminals in the Salmon Arm Savings and Credit Union Downtown Activity Centre. They also go to the OkanaganRegional Library to help fund Internet access in its branches.
At the downtown activity centre, executive director Kim Sinclair says, financially, the impact of losing CAP funding of $3,800 is not large, but the effect on young people and others who don’t have computer access may be considerable.
People use the two public computers for things such as applying for jobs, child-care subsidies and income assistance, for doing job searches, for building resumés and more, he says. Although the centre will do its best to provide what access it can, it will become more difficult.
“It starts to cut out access for those people who don’t have those resources available to them, especially young people who don’t have access to technology.”
He notes that while there is more and more push for people to do tasks online, technology and Internet connections can be expensive.
“For young people we deal with in a variety of ways, their primary technology is texting… It’s the cheapest form of communication…”
He points out that they don’t have the more expensive phones and phone plans with Internet capabilities – just texting.
“For us it impacts young people, but there are whole sections of the population who don’t have access to technology and Internet connections.It’s not cheap.”
Sinclair said he thinks people see the cut as part of a larger trend.
“My sense is that people are feeling that we’re just creating a bigger divide for people that have and have not. That’s really the scary part of it,” he says, explaining that the more the need for computer access grows, the harder it is for people without that access to keep up.
Okanagan-Shuswap MP Colin Mayes doesn’t see it that way.
“First of all, the program started in 1995. Technology then was a lot different than it is in 2012. You can access the Internet on a cell phone now. There’s a lot of accessibility out there in the market. It’snot that expensive.”
He said he doesn’t think the funding cancellation is a dig at the poor.
“There has to be a sunset on some of these programs. I don’t think this is going to be really detrimental to people accessing the Internet – there are other ways they can access the Internet other than these access centres.”
Asked about those people who can’t afford the technology, he said: “Life is about priorities and you have to set those priorities and decide what’s important to you. People always find the resources to find what’s high on their priorities, whether they’re poor or not. Those are the decisions you have to make in life, whether you’re poor or not.”
Mayes said he and his colleagues are elected to look at priorities and delivery of services. He says “foundational infrastructure” – health care, education and social services – are top priorities. He said he was surprised the budget wasn’t a bit tougher and thinks the finance minister balanced the priorities well.
“We always have to answer to the ones who get hurt,” he noted.
At the Okanagan Regional Library, executive director Lesley Dieno said the library receives about $86,000 or $4,000 per branch of CAP funding to pay part of their communications bills. She expects the library board will juggle its budget in order to compensate for the loss and still provide Internet access – but the cut will be felt somewhere.
“The main reason we offer it is because our job is to provide information, culture and entertainment to people. A good 50 or 70 per cent of allthat stuff comes over the Internet these days…”
While she doesn’t expect the funding cut to immediately impact computer access in ORL branches like Salmon Arm or Sicamous, she thinks it will hurt the unaffiliated libraries.
“It’s the little stand-alone places – like Radium Hot Springs, Midway or Grand Forks.”