Ontarians are Resilient

In my view, Ontarians, in general, are pretty resilient people. I take great pride in saying this is particularly true of Northern Ontarians. Ontarians can work with just about any situation that comes our way. Here in the North, sometimes we just don’t have easy access to every product or service we need. Be that as it may, if Northerners don’t have something they need, we tend to go out and find what we need or create our own. We can work with just about anything.

The same sentiment can be said of how Ontarians function socially and politically. Our version of democracy is by no means perfect, but in many ways it is still preferable to other democratic systems in other countries. Strangely, sometimes a government is handed a majority even though opposition parties garnered the overall popular vote. None the less, Ontarians can learn to live with such situations as long as they have reasonable confidence in a government’s plans, leadership, transparency and integrity.

Last spring Ontarians chose to change gears and elect a Conservative Government. As the leader, Doug Ford promised to form a government that would be based on transparency and integrity. He even boldly proclaimed he would always be there for the “little guy” and declared his government was the “First ever government for the people.” As of late, however, the people of Ontario have had cause to question whether Ford is delivering on these promises. There have been so many reports of secret meetings, backroom deals, cronyism, and veiled reports and accountability that the protests are growing from rumbles to roars.

One particularly sad situation directly affects some of our youngest and most vulnerable citizens – our youth who fall within the Autistic spectrum.  Ontario currently has over 30,000 children and families who are floundering desperately on painfully long lists, waiting to access the services they need. We are constantly hearing from families across Ontario about the financial hardship and daily stress because their family is not getting the critical services they need right now.

It is important to understand that the needs of individuals with Autism vary from mild to high. Many people would be surprised to learn that intensive therapies cost up to $70,000 a year per child. Recently Premier Ford and his Minister of Children, Community and Social Services, Lisa MacLeod, announced that they were proposing changes that they hope would end the long wait lists. The changes would see essential funded services ripped away from some high needs individuals while others with lesser but still significant needs individuals will have their services cut back. Doug Ford’s plan will see average funding of just $8,750 per year for children that start receiving funding at two years old. This will mean that every child gets less funding and that the funding available will rely on their age and family income rather than their actual clinical needs. New Democrats believe funding should be based on need, not spreading an underfunded pot thinly so that everyone gets the same amount. It should be just like our health care support which is not based on equal spending – it’s based on need.

It’s shameful that the Liberals spent 15 years letting the waits get longer and longer. Now, parents are worried that the changes from the Doug Ford government will mean artificially taking people off the wait lists by cutting the services people receive. Parents and caregivers may not have the financial ability to pay out of pocket for the services needed. So what do they do – quit their jobs and stay home to care for their dependents with autism? This will just add more stress to a difficult situation. This is looking out for the little guy?

Just days ago the Government tried to reassure these families that their worries were simply baseless and are mere attempts by the NDP to strike fear into their hearts. As proof, the PCs shared endorsements for the proposed changes from some prominent leaders of programs that provide assessments and services for individuals with autism and their families. However, immediately after these endorsements were released, the Toronto Star reported that the Ontario Association for Behavioural Analysts (OABA) claimed that Minister MacLeod and her staff exerted pressure on the Association to support the changes. The Star indicated that OABA’s failure to endorse the government changes, “would result in ‘four long years’ for the organization.” Further, the article stated that the minister also wrote that, “if a quote of support was not forthcoming, a communication that behaviour analysts are ‘self-interested’ would be released from her office.” [Toronto Star, Feb. 14, 2019] It is also important to note that the OABA took a stand and refused to provide such endorsement.

Clearly taking away necessary funding for the highest needs individuals and redistributing it to all families who have children diagnosed on the Autistic Spectrum would have devastating effects on the most vulnerable. That’s bad enough. But for any government to try to strong-arm professionals, trying to cause them to knuckle down and prevent them from providing their honest professional opinion on the government’s changes – that’s truly despicable.

As Ontario’s Minister of Children, Community and Social Services, Lisa MacLeod is supposed to be a voice for children and parents at the Cabinet table. Her job is to work with parents and advocate voice their concerns and deliver results for them. Instead, she’s threatened them.

I will go out on a limb here and say that I don’t think that such conduct by any government would meet any Ontarian’s definition of being transparent or integrous. And it certainly does not meet the mark for “Ontario’s first government for the people.”

Mike Mantha