The Ford government needs to stop its bully tactics

Posted on February 15, 2019 in Governance Debates – Opinion/Editorials
Feb. 14, 2019.   By

There’s always been some art to drumming up support for a government’s policies.

That’s especially true when it comes to changes that have a direct impact on an easily identifiable group of people or produce clear winners and losers. The Ford government’s revamped autism program hits both those buttons.

According to an increasing number of accounts, though, Children’s Minister Lisa MacLeod swept aside the usual practice of artful negotiation with affected groups in favour of the sledge-hammer approach.

One group says it was threatened by MacLeod with “four long years” if it didn’t provide a supportive quote — without even knowing what the government was going to announce last week.

Another group says the government falsely claimed it supported and was involved in the controversial overhaul of autism services.

And a third group that went public with its criticism of the changes was dismissed by the government as nothing more than “professional protesters.”

This was all done in an attempt to claim there is broad support for the government’s overhaul of Ontario’s autism program, which there is not. And for good reason.

The new program spreads existing provincial funding far too thinly in an effort to clear the wait-list for services. So while parents whose children are waiting may receive some funds sooner, it comes at the expense of kids receiving better-funded and necessary services now, and into the future.

The warnings that this new policy will be a disaster, particularly for children on the high-needs end of the autism spectrum who need the most expensive therapy, haven’t swayed MacLeod.

That broad support for this policy doesn’t exist also doesn’t seem to faze her — so long as she can put out news releases and Tweets claiming that she’s getting broad support.

Indeed, one person with the Ontario Association for Behaviour Analysts — the group that says it was threatened — characterized dealing with MacLeod as “more akin to meeting with a mob boss than an elected official.”

A government that has genuinely and openly consulted with affected groups, ahead of making changes, and believes its new policy can stand up to fair public scrutiny doesn’t run around demanding unknowing and unconditional support.

Now, it’s possible that the lack of effective push-back on this government’s other policy shifts and program changes, which have taken Ontario backwards rather than forward, emboldened MacLeod to act so brazenly with the autism crowd.

Certainly it can be difficult for people and vulnerable groups that rely heavily on provincial policies or funding to speak out against the government of the day. But this government’s bully tactics seem to have pushed them into doing just that.

Last week, Bruce McIntosh resigned from his political staff job with MacLeod’s parliamentary assistant over this issue.

This week, Autism Ontario said it “neither proposed nor endorsed” the government’s plan. The behaviour analysts went public about the government’s pressure tactics. And the calls for MacLeod to resign have started.

Premier Doug Ford, not surprisingly, has no time for that. “She’s an absolute all-star,” Ford told reporters. “She’s done an incredible job.”

Why would he think any differently? MacLeod is just following his my-way-or-the-highway lead.

This all stems from Ford’s style of governing.

He decides the outcome he wants — anything from a smaller Toronto council, to a different provincial deficit number. He ignores any evidence that doesn’t support that outcome. He changes whatever rules are necessary to make it happen. And then he declares it a done deal that’s supported by the people.

Well, the autism community has pushed back.

And, as any kid in a schoolyard knows, once the first person challenges the bully it’s easier for the next one.

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