News from the Park – Christmas Break

Readers of a particular age may recognize the lyrics, “Time keeps on slippin’, slippin, slippin’, into the future,” from the late 70’s song Fly Like an Eagleby the Steve Miller Band. As soon as the Legislature rose for the Christmas Break, upon stepping outside I felt kind of out of step with time –suddenly realizing that the Holiday Season is already upon us. It’s been a challenging year in so many ways for so many Ontarians. The good news is we are still standing and resiliently moving forward.

You’ll note that I say “resiliently moving forward” because each day many thousands of Ontarians face incredible challenges that they have long hoped would be resolved by caring and compassionate leaders. They have long hoped, sometimes for years on end, that their situation will improve. In my travels across the riding some constituents liken their experience to that of following a carrot on a stick. They are given promise after promise that things will improve, only to see the prize moved just out of reach time and time again.

A perfect example of this torment would be the experiences of families of children who fall within the Autism Spectrum. The Ford Government has been putting such families through hell over the last year by denying access to the services their children so desperately need. Because of his cuts, autism workers have been fired and services are almost impossible to access for so many families – especially those in northern and rural communities. To their credit, such families and their loyal service workers have stood up firmly and supported one another in pushing the Government to do better. They are given promise after promise that things will be so much better just over the horizon. But time after time Doug Ford has dashed their hopes.

Families of children with Autism have been expecting news that funding reform would take effect in April of this coming year. Instead, just days ago, Children and Community Services Minister Todd Smith announced that the overhaul of Ontario’s Autism Program will not be complete until sometime in 2021. All of a sudden the family’s’ carrot was pulled just out of reach with Smith explaining the Ministry just wants to make sure that they get it right…this time.  Laura Kirby-McIntosh, head of the Ontario Autism Coalition stated, “I understand the need to get it right, but how many times are we supposed to give him extra time to get it right?”

Originally the Conservative Government formulated plans to create a budget that was based on a family’s income as well as on a child’s age – on needs. But that plan was challenged by massive protests and eventually walked back. Promises were made to go back to the drawing board and revamp the misguided original plan. Once again Doug Ford is letting Ontarians down. Is providing funding that is not needs based really what Doug Ford calls ‘looking out for the Little Guy?’ Ford’s plans are a day late and a dollar short to be sure.

Interim funding that’s not needs based just doesn’t cut it, especially when it’s harder than ever to find services. Any further delay in implementing needs-based autism programming is completely unacceptable and could irreparably damage the development potential of so many children.  We need to start rebuilding capacity immediately. Children need access to services now, not at some unspecified date in the future.

The good news is that Ontarians are strong and prepared to stand up for what is right. This means that there is hope for our future if we stand together and stand firm. We have to remember there is so much more to life. No matter what is going on around us, historically mankind has turned to other avenues for strength, encouragement and hope. One of the most essential avenues is the Arts.

The arts have the ability to strengthen and nourish the very roots of our culture and society. Actor Robert Redford once said, “The country is so wounded, bleeding, and hurt right now. The country needs to be healed—it’s not going to be healed from the top, politically. How are we going to heal? Art is the healing force.”

It is with this thought in mind the news of recently passed NDP legislation in Queen’s Park lifted the spirits of many in the NDP Caucus.  Several times NDP MPP Percy Hatfield has introduced a bill to create a Poet Laureate of Ontario. Percy’s bill proposed to make the positon official and honour the memory of the late frontman of the Tragically Hip, Gord Downie.

Ontario’s Poet Laureate will act as Ontario’s literacy ambassador, traveling the province to bring attention to Ontario’s great poets and works of poetry. It will demonstrate the beauty and value of poetry in our society. The Poet Laureate will also conduct workshops, take part in poetry readings and encourage students to engage with poetry at school.

The Arts are an essential component necessary for both societal and personal health and growth. No matter what is going on all around us, the Arts help give us hope and the strength to move on. French author Andre Maurois wrote, “Art is an effort to create, beside the real world, a more humane world.” What better way to honour the life, talents and contributions of one of Ontario’s greatest singers, songwriters and poets.

As this year comes to a close, on behalf of my office team, we wish all of you great happiness in this Holiday Season and the very best in the coming New Year.

As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues, or any other provincial matters. You can reach my constituency office by email at [email protected] or by phone at 705-461-9710 or Toll free 1-800-831-1899.

Mike Mantha