‘Yada yada yada’ isn’t the problem. It’s Ford’s autism policy

Posted on in Governance Debates

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TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorials
Feb. 24, 2019.   By

The Ford government is certainly not the first to tie itself in knots over autism.

By any standard, though, they’ve hit a strange place very quickly.

So keen to attack the last Liberal government for having a program that didn’t meet all the needs of children with autism, they jumped in and actually made it worse.

And their desire to distract from that fact has led them to a place where saying “yada yada yada” is such a serious breach that one of their own MPPs was suspended for it, but a minister threatening a vulnerable group is apparently A-okay.

Last week, when the public galleries of the Ontario legislature were full of angry parents who had come to protest the government’s changes, Premier Doug Ford seemed to think that throwing Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston MPP Randy Hillier to the wolves might help.

As everyone was exiting the legislature, Hillier was heard to say “yada yada yada.” Ford quickly dispatched a news release announcing Hillier’s suspension from the PC caucus for his “disrespectful comments to parents of children with autism.”

For his part, Hillier says his comment was directed at a New Democrat MPP who was at that moment berating the government over its autism policy. That does seem rather more likely.

But either way, it’s far less disrespectful than what Ford himself said in 2014 when he was a Toronto city councillor. Ford said then that an Etobicoke home for teenagers with autism had “ruined the community,” and followed that up by telling a father who complained about him to “go to hell.”

“Yada yada yada” is also not as troubling as Children, Community and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod’s decision to threaten the Ontario Association for Behaviour Analysis with “four long years” if they didn’t publicly support her government’s autism overhaul.

But Ford rushed to defend MacLeod as an “absolute all-star” and ejected Hillier — pending a PC caucus meeting on Tuesday to decide his future.

Could that be because MacLeod is doing his bidding and Hillier, an outspoken backbencher, is not?

And that gets us back to what’s really “unacceptable” (to use Ford’s word for Hillier) — the government’s autism policy itself.

To be sure, this is tough to get right. The Liberals spent 15 years in power without ever meeting all the needs, which is why the wait-list for services is so long. But the PCs’ fix spreads $321 million in existing provincial funding far too thinly in an effort to clear that wait-list.

MacLeod can call this a “fair, equitable and sustainable” system all she wants, but that doesn’t make it a good one. Or a system that provides kids with autism, especially those on the high needs end of the spectrum, access and funding to services they desperately need.

But in the face of mounting evidence that this policy is deeply misguided and won’t achieve its stated outcomes, the Ford government has reacted the way it usually does — claiming victory anyway.

Ford and his ministers have done this on everything from climate change and Hydro One to cancelling sex education and minimum wage increases. But the government’s penchant for declaring victory where there is none and quickly moving on to the next file may finally have met its match.

As one parent, referring to the efforts they put in to make the previous government improve the province’s autism program, put it: “It took 96 days with the Liberals.”

“We’re not going away. These are our children.”

MacLeod claimed victory on Feb. 6 when she announced the government’s new program. Let’s call that day one.

By day nine, MacLeod found herself apologizing if her comments to the behaviour analysts “made anyone feel threatened or uncomfortable.”

By day 15, Hillier was suspended, seemingly in an effort to show how much the government cares.

The government keeps digging itself in deeper. It should stop digging and look again at the real problem: a policy that will make things worse, not better, for kids with autism and their desperate parents.

https://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/2019/02/24/yada-yada-yada-isnt-the-problem-its-fords-autism-policy.html

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