05/31/2013 09:52 EDT | Updated 07/31/2013 05:12 EDT

Developmentally Disabled Cuts In Alberta: Hundreds Protest At Legislature, Outside Redford's Office (PHOTOS)

EDMONTON - In a day of provincewide protest, 1,000 demonstrators rallied on the steps of the Alberta legislature to demand Premier Alison Redford reverse $42 million in reductions to certain programs for the developmentally disabled.

"Stop the cuts! Stop the cuts!" they chanted Friday under sunny afternoon skies in front of the legislature wading pool.

They held up homemade signs, many calling the cuts: "Too big, too fast, too soon!"

Some were more personal. "Heartless Tory Scum" read one sign, designed with handcut orange letters on a blue background.

"There is no carefully crafted message, no misinformation, and no backroom deal that can justify the decision made by this PC government to take $40 million away from Albertans with disabilities," NDP house leader Rachel Notley said to cheers from the crowd.

"This decision is simply wrong," she added before leading the crowd in a sing-song chant of: "PDD cuts are mean and cruel. Stop the cuts, you PC fools."

There were similar demonstrations across the province. In Calgary, close to 300 people rallied outside Redford's constituency office.

The cuts are the result of changes to the government's program for people with developmental disabilities, or PDD.

Overall PDD funding actually rose in the March budget by $5 million to $691 million.

However, the government is restructuring how the money is allocated to focus more on clients and less on the agencies that serve them in order to better integrate the clients into the community and workforce.

As part of that plan, the $96 million allocated for community access programs has been slashed by $42 million.

Both agencies and the PDD clients say the cuts will drastically hurt their standard of care, and say the problem is compounded because the cuts take effect in a month, on July 1.

Marie Renaud, who delivers services at the Lotseca Foundation, said there is a lot of confusion and concern.

"This is frightening. It's frightening for everyone," said Renaud, who helped organize the Edmonton rally.

"We're not fear-mongering. We're afraid."

Danielle Smith, leader of the Wildrose party, and Liberal Leader Raj Sherman also attended the Edmonton rally.

Smith said the PDD file is another case of the Tories cutting first and asking questions later.

"They have to slow down the cuts, do the consultation, identify places where they can find more funding so that they can maintain the programs — but they can't do this to Alberta's most vulnerable citizens," said Smith.

Human Services Minister Dave Hancock and Frank Oberle, the associate minister directly responsible for the PDD program, did not attend the protests, although Oberle has been touring the province to discuss the program changes with those affected.

At one of the those events in Edmonton earlier this week, the police tactical team was called because of reports of a man with a knife.

Hancock told reporters Friday that the government's PDD reorganization is being done to provide better care, not less care.

"This is not a funding issue. It's a transformation issue," Hancock said on a conference call.

"We will ensure that we have the funds that are necessary to meet the clients' needs."

Hancock said while July 1 is the day for the changes to kick in, it will not be a hard-and-fast cutoff date.

"If it (the changes) are not done by then, it should not impact a client," he said.

Liberal Leader Raj Sherman said PDD clients deserve better than assurances that everything will be OK.

"All that has been offered to families and caregivers is a personal promise from associate minister Frank Oberle, that if someone needs services, they’ll get services," said Sherman.

"Not good enough.

"A competent and trustworthy government is not run on the personal promises of an associate minister."

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