Is Ford’s Sudden Reversal on Cuts to Autism Program a Case of Crass Political Expediency?

One of the countless signs Ontario residents have held up over the past year in protest of Ford government cuts to autism program

Reversal may be bid to help Tory ally Andrew Scheer win seats in Ontario in coming federal election

A News Commentary by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper

Posted July 29th, 2019 on Niagara At Large

Of all of the cold and callous cuts Ontario’s Ford government has made to public services over its first year in power, few have done more to show how low this government will go with cuts that impact the most vulnerable among us than those to services for assisting families with loved ones diagnosed with autism.

For the better part of a year now, the Ontario Autism Coalition, a non-profit organization representing families with children struggling with this disorder, have been begging the Ford government to reverse cuts it is making to services for assisting these families – all in the name of balancing the province’s books.

Yet month after month after month after month, Ontario Premier Doug Ford, along with every single member of his Tory caucus, including Niagara West MPP Sam Oosterhoff, either defended the cuts, denied them, or remained complicit to the harm they are doing to families dealing with autism through their silence.

Now, with a federal election just a few months away – an election Ford obviously wants his partisan friend and ally, federal Tory leader Andrew Scheer, to win so he can better move his far-right agenda forward – his government is at least making some motions to reverse the autism program cuts through something it is calling “needs-based support.”

“Over the past months, I have heard from many constituents advocating for a needs-based approach,” said Ford Tory member and Niagara West MPP Sam Oosterhoff in a media release this July 29th. “I am pleased to that our government has listened and is now taking the necessary steps to ensure a sustainable needs-based program.”

If the Ford government was doing such a good job of consulting with families of loved ones diagnosed with autism, how come so many were out on the street protesting the government’s actions?

That is a fairly innocuous way Oosterhoff has chosen to define the raging protests of the past several months, isn’t it?

What I thought I heard from people with loved ones diagnosed with autism is that they desperately need the program the Ford government has been cutting, and they want the therapy services that have been targets of cuts back.

In response to this July 29th’s announcement by Ford’s Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Todd Smith (the recent replacement for the ever so unpopular Lisa MacLeod) that the government will now move to fund services based on the needs of each child, Ontario Autism Coalition president Laura Kirby-Mcintosh framed her response this way –

“On the one hand, this is welcome news,” she was quoted saying in The Globe and Mail. “On the other hand, it didn’t have to be like this. We have just lost a year and families have gone through an incredible amount of pain and anxiety and suffering.”

Put this way, what Oosterhoff attempts to pass off as another case of government consulting with people before determining how best to respond to their needs, Kirby-Mcintosh’s summation of what transpired over the past several months is hardly amounts to anything approaching a ringing endorsement.

For the same reason Ford may have decided early this June to adjourn the Ontario legislature until October 28th – seven days after all the votes are cast and counted in this October’s federal election – Ford is trying to put out at least one of the fires that has contributed to record-low popularity ratings for him and his party that could rub off on Scheer and his federal Tories who pretty well need the support of a majority of Ontario voters to win.

In other words, putting a damper on this fire for Scheer as he hussles for Ontario votes is the political equivalent of a line I heard in an old ‘Godfather’ movie, and I paraphrase’ “Get this stone out of my shoe.”

Imagine where we go with services people need if Federal Tory leader Andrew Scheer (right) becomes Canada’s next prime minister, and his political friend and ally Doug Ford is working with him in Ontario?

Whether this and a number of other fires it’s looking like Ford and company are trying to tamp down for Scheer and his federal Tories works to secure a Scheer victory this October remains to be seen.

And if it does work – if enough mostly older Ontario voters help Scheer win the seats he needs to form the next federal government – be worried, and I mean plenty worried about funding for autism and for many other programs in this province for a whole range of issues from health care and education to environmental protection because there will be little or nothing left to stop Ford from wielding his axe at that point.

Indeed, anyone out there who thinks that Ford and his Tories may have had a change of heart with its announcement this July 29th on autism program funding is, I would argue, being terribly naïve.

It is far more likely that when it comes to funding this program, Ford’s real heart remains in the place it was last year when he moved to make the cuts, then spent all of the months up to this July defending them.

In almost every case this long-time political watcher can recall, only crass expediency, fueled by fear for one’s political survival, can reverse a decision that is as baked in as this one was.

Now here are two news releases on the July 29th announcement on funding Ontario’s autism program, the first from Niagara West MPP and Ford Government member Sam Oosterhoff, and the second from Ontario’s Official Opposition/NDP Party.

Read them one after another and you will have a right to feel confused because they read like they were written on different planets.

Here is the one from the Constituency Office of Niagara West MPP Sam Oosterhoff –

Working Towards a New Needs-Based and Sustainable Autism Program in Niagara

Niagara West MPP and Ontario Ford government member Sam Oosterhoff

Ontario is continuing to listen to families of children with autism and the Autism Advisory Panel to support families in Niagara West with the goal of helping as many children as possible.

July 29, 2019

Pelham – Today, Todd Smith, Minister of Children, Community and Social Services, announced steps the government is taking to provide continuity of service while giving the necessary time to work on the new program. These steps include:

  •   *   Broadening the scope of the Autism Advisory Panel to develop recommendations for a new, needs-based and sustainable program. The panel is examining results from online surveys, telephone town halls and written submissions as well as considering relevant evidence, science and data to submit its advice for the end of summer. The ministry is aiming for implementation of a new program April 1, 2020.
  •   *   Continuing services for families with existing behaviour plans. Families will then be able to renew their plan for a second extension of up to six months, at their current level of intensity, or less where clinically appropriate.
  •   *   Continuing to issue childhood budgets as the government works toward its needs-based program.

As previously announced, Ontario is investing an additional $278 million in the province’s autism program, bringing the total amount of funding to $600 million annually.

“Over the past months, I have heard from many constituents advocating for a needs-based approach,” said Sam Oosterhoff, MPP for Niagara West. “I am pleased to that our government has listened and is now taking the necessary steps to ensure a sustainable needs-based program.”

“As a result of listening to families, service providers and advocates across Ontario in the past few weeks, it is clear we all share a goal to provide the best care and make a positive difference in the lives of children and families living with autism in Ontario,” said Todd Smith, Minister of Children, Community and Social Services.

“Our government is committed to ensuring that Ontario schools are safe and inclusive places for students with autism,” said Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education. “We will work tirelessly with Ontario families, educators and school boards to achieve seamless transition and enhance school-based supports.”

Finally, here is the news release from the Ontario NDP –

For kids with autism, wait is too long and budget cap is too restrictive

Ontario NDP responds to latest Ford statement on Ontario Autism Program

HAMILTON – The Ford government announced Monday (July 29th) it won’t increase the funding envelope for the Ontario Autism Program, and won’t have a long-awaited replacement program until fall.

“Families and children were devastated by Doug Ford’s callous cuts to the Ontario Autism Program,” said the NDP critic for Children and Youth, Monique Taylor. “Over a year later, they’re still waiting, while their children have week after week of critical developmental potential stolen away from them. Now, they’re waiting at least until the fall – and who knows if they’ll get the support they need, then.”

Minister Todd Smith said Monday the funding envelope will remain at $600 million – the same funding ceiling Minister Lisa MacLeod set.  In April, MacLeod said “We’ve heard from parents and we want to take the time to listen very carefully to their best advice on a needs-based system,” but, four months later, families are still waiting with no changes to the amount of care and support children can access.

“Doug Ford and almost every PC MPP spent months defending their cuts to the autism program, lying about the wait lists, and attacking those who didn’t agree with them. Their tone has changed a little, but can families trust them this time?” Taylor asked.

“Andrea Horwath and the NDP are going to keep fighting for a needs-based and evidence-backed program that doesn’t cut children off based on their age or arbitrary budget caps. Parents don’t give up on their kids – neither should we.

Advocates for suitable funding for autism program in Ontario held a news conference to express their concerns this past winter. Click on the screen below to watch –

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“A politician thinks of the next election. a leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders

One response to “Is Ford’s Sudden Reversal on Cuts to Autism Program a Case of Crass Political Expediency?

  1. And look at the wait time for these changes to the autism program…from yesterday’s Globe and Mail:
    “Mr. Smith’s spokeswoman, Christine Wood, said the government is working toward implementing the changes in the new fiscal year, which begins in April, 2020.
    Laura Kirby-McIntosh, president of the Ontario Autism Coalition and a member of the government’s autism advisory panel, said not having a program based on needs in place until next April is unacceptable.
    ‘I don’t think they understand the sense of urgency that’s out there in the community right now,’ she said. ‘How much longer are we expected to wait while they mess with our children’s lives?’ ”


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