By Sue-Ann Levy, Toronto Sun
First posted: Sunday, May 08, 2016
In Kathleen Wynne’s Ontario, it has become abundantly clear some groups and special interests are far more important than others.
In recent weeks following the devastating news to parents of severely autistic kids namely that highly effective Intensive Behavioral Therapy (IBI) would no longer be funded past the age of five the province continued to heap largesse at a variety of causes, some well beyond Ontario’s jurisdiction.
Just a week ago, the premier released a statement indicating the province was giving $500,000 towards relief efforts following the earthquake in Ecuador even though such assistance really is a federal responsibility.
“Since the tragic earthquake on April 1, our thoughts and prayers have been with the people of Ecuador … it has been devastating to watch the number of dead and wounded rise,” she said.
Not to take away from the earthquake, but I heard the word “devastating” expressed more than once at a Queen’s Park rally last Thursday by parents of autistic kids who feel they’ve been completely betrayed by the Wynne government.
Since April 14 alone, Wynne’s Liberals enjoyed their third mission to China in 1 1/2 years this one taken by Deputy Premier Deb Matthews and International Trade Minister Michael Chan “to build on the success of the premier’s two recent business missions to China.”
Wynne’s first mission to China in late October of 2014 cost $800,000. The full tally of her 2015 trip has not yet been made available.
Allison Buchan-Terrell, press secretary to Matthews, said the expenses of this most recent junket, “once final” will be “publicly posted in detail.”
In the weeks since the IBI therapy cuts, the Wynne government has also tossed $20 million at new electric vehicle charging stations (to fight climate change); $12 million at homelessness; $14 million on grants for music groups and more than $2 million on cycling infrastructure.
All told, the $52 million given out in the last few weeks alone, could have purchased two years of IBI therapy (at $5,000 a month) for more than 400 severely autistic kids.
Meanwhile, parents say they’ve been left on tenterhooks since the recent announcement that despite being on waiting lists for two and three years, their severely autistic kids would no longer be eligible for IBI therapy once they turn five. Instead more spots would be made available for the less intense Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy although that could take two or three years and they would be given $8,000 in one-time funding to transition to other services.
Marguerite Schabas and her husband Steven Sherwood noted their son, Peter, is still four and they’re hopeful he’ll get a “little bit of service” from Toronto’s Surrey Place where he’s been on the waiting list for nearly two years.
But as Sherwood said, there has been very little communication from the government and the regional service providers as to what happens next.
“It’s a disaster, it’s a mess … We’re learning new things every day of how mismanaged it is,” added Schabas. “No one knows from the top to bottom what’s going on.”
Brianne Brown, mom of four-year-old Chase, said it has been up to her to contact her service provider and when she did they didn’t know what enhanced ABA was all about.
She does know that if her son gets even six months of IBI therapy before he turns five, she won’t see the $8,000.
Aly Vitunski, spokesman for Tracy MacCharles, the minister of children and youth services, said as of May 1, there were 900 children who will be taken off the waiting list for IBI therapy and be eligible for the $8,000 payout.
She said that funding will be available “shortly” and each family will meet with their service provider to consult individually about their “needs” and the “services available to them.”
Vitunski emphasized that while the service providers will offer “support and guidance,” parents will decide on how to spend the $8,000.
She added that the ministry’s investment of $333-million over the next five years will create an additional 16,000 ABA spaces.
St. Catherines mom Vendette Gerden, whose son James Purcell just turned five and is no longer eligible for IBI therapy, says the service providers all have the “same answers” and keep saying “it’s all coming” that they will have immediate service even though there aren’t enough ABA spaces.
“We haven’t seen the $8,000 hush money … Our kids aren’t in service and won’t get that service for another year (at least),” she said during the Queen’s Park rally.
“Until the day I die I will never vote Liberal … They can’t come back from this.”
A sample of grants given out and junkets taken by the Liberal government in the same month IBI therapy cut off to kids over the age of five:
- Earthquake relief for Ecuador: $500,000 (May 1)
- Third mission to China (April 25-May 4) conducted by Deputy Premier Deb Matthews and International Trade Minister Michael Chan (Kathleen Wynne already went twice in 2014 and 2015): Cost TBD (First mission in 2014 cost $800,000).
- Annual Wine Country Travel Guide promoting world-class VQA wines: $2.2 million (May2) as part of the $75-million Ontario Wine and Grape Strategy
- 500 more electric vehicle charging stations (April 28): $20 million (as part of the $325-million Green Investment Fund and cap and trade program)
- Ontario music fund grants to 151 music groups(April 20): $14-million fund made permanent in 2015 budget
- Cycling infrastructure for Hamilton (April 19): $295,000 (part of a $10-million program)
- Cycling infrastructure for Niagara-area (April 18): $662,000
- Cycling infrastructure for southwestern Ontario (April 15): $1.9 million
- Research on Sexual violence against indigenous women (April 18): $250,000 (part of a $41-million sexual violence and harassment action plan)
- Second round of local poverty reduction fund (April 14): $10 million for homeless projects and $2 million for projects by indigenous-led organizations ($50 million over six years for poverty projects).