MacLeod needs to build on past successes

Posted on February 20, 2019 in Governance Debates

Source: — Authors: – Opinion/Contributors
Feb. 19, 2019.   By

Lisa MacLeod is struggling. It’s in her face as she tries to respond to parents’ questions about their children’s needs. It’s in her voice as she tries to tough it through media questions in the face of protests by anxious, scared families of children with autism.

And it’s in the silence as she retreats from the glare of the camera to regroup, craft a new policy, or to wait until the storm passes, hoping that it will, but knowing in her heart that the parents who are standing in the cold are real parents with real children with real needs.

It’s not easy to be where Lisa MacLeod is right now. I know that from personal experience.

In an ideal world, MacLeod would sit down with the other politicians who have tried, or have half-succeeded in addressing the needs of children with autism. Their needs and the needs of their families are complex, treatments are evolving and no one has yet gotten it perfect.

There are lots of us who could weigh in. I’m sure that Elizabeth Witmer or Janet Ecker, former ministers of education, could share the Harris government’s struggle with waiting lists for treatment. Deb Matthews, Liz Sandals and I could talk about the need for better training and better integration of all providers, including schools and families in planning. And for sure, Michael Coteau, the last minister to work with parents and experts to develop a policy would be happy to talk about how he had to adjust a new policy and find more money, to strike a balance between agency-directed and family-directed therapy.

It may feel good in the moment to suggest that everything past was wrong but that kind of thinking does children a disservice and that is what should matter to us all. My experience, was that it was rarely the right answer to ignore past decisions. Rather, it was useful to look at the good and then try to fix the bad.

I also believe that government policies are not all created equal. It is one thing to write a policy for the price of a bottle of beer on the back of a napkin. That kind of initiative can be useful in a partisan fight. It can signal political style. Fair enough.

But that’s not going to work for children with autism. It’s not going to work for the relationship with Indigenous people. It’s not going to work for home-care for seniors and people with multiple conditions or even for the building and ownership of transit in Ontario.

Good policy takes time and should be based in evidence. No single minister or government gets everything right. I can already hear the partisan howls that I should just go quietly away and have nothing more to say. Well, maybe.

But I believe the challenges MacLeod faces belong to us all. If we don’t even try to build on what has been successful in the past, if we don’t even try to listen to each other and the people on the front line, in this case the parents, then we are bound to fail spectacularly.

Listening is consultation.

The minister is struggling because she has responsibility for one of the most challenging issues of our time facing children, parents, the medical and the education systems. She cannot find all the answers by herself and naturally, I don’t know who is giving her advice.

What I do know is that we live in a hyperpartisan world. We are training ourselves through social media especially, to disregard anything our opponents may say. I’m not naïve. I know the minister is not going to call a meeting of previous ministers of Education and Children and Youth Services.

I hope, though, that she is going to bring in those parents, children, therapists, teachers, education assistants and service agency leaders. I hope she is going to say to them, “Ok, now help me make this better.” They are in the very best position to give her feedback on what is working and what is not and help her fix what’s not working.

We should all hope that Lisa MacLeod will be allowed to get the help she needs.

Kathleen Wynne is the former premier of Ontario and the Liberal MPP for Don Valley West.

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