Since Premier Doug Ford and his PC Party swept into power last June, they’ve proclaimed themselves as the “Government for the People.”
Some residents of Ontario will argue the validity of this claim, but earlier during the week, the Ford government did indeed listen to a certain section of the population after months of, at best, respectful dialogue and at worst, protests on their doorstep at Queen’s Park.
In February, the province announced sweeping changes to the Ontario Autism Program (OAP) in hopes of wiping out an alleged waiting list of 23,000 children.
The original plan would see funding caps of $20,000 for children under six, and $5,000 for children over six, with a lifetime cap of $140,000.These measures were swiftly denounced by parents of autistic children and advocacy groups across the province who were calling for a needs-based model.
While the province was almost doubling the budget for the program, those in opposition argued while more children would get services, those who needed it the most would see their treatment decline significantly.
The government reopened the conversation and appointed an advisory panel to complete consultations with the autism community.
Later, a report from one of the PC’s own, MPP Roman Baber, revealed the government’s estimations on the number of children waiting for services was likely wrong.
On Monday, Minister of Children, Communities and Social Services Todd Smith admitted the government has taken a misstep and the OAP would shift towards a needs-based model, where funding is not tied to income levels or the age of children.
The voice of the autism community has been heard but the full details of the program won’t be released until the fall.
As well, the budget for the OAP remains at $600 million, which likely means any aspirations the government had of eliminating the waitlist, however large it is, will go by the wayside.
Considering the province’s financial woes, it is implausible, at this point, for the government to fully fund services for every autistic child in Ontario.
But the PCs have a few months to piece together a program that will truly help those in need, and hopefully will continue to show a more open-minded approach to the issue.