Toronto

Feds announce $3M in support for autism programs, criticize Ford government

The Liberals' pre-election announcement comes after the uproar over the Ontario Progressive Conservative government's decision to revamp the province's autism funding model.

Federal government supporting 6 initiatives; Ford PCs say Trudeau Liberals playing politics

Oakville Liberal MP Pam Damoff, parliamentary secretary to the federal minister of health, made the announcement at a treatment centre on Monday. (CBC)

The federal government announced its support for new projects to support people with autism Monday — and used the opportunity to call out Doug Ford's government on how it has handled the autism file.

The Liberals did not commit any new money at the Oakville, Ont., news conference, but said $3 million of a $20-million autism fund budgeted in 2018 will go toward the six initiatives. It's part of the Trudeau government's "autism spectrum disorder strategic fund," which earmarks $9.1-million for community-based projects.

The pre-election announcement comes after the uproar over the Ontario Progressive Conservative government's decision to change the autism funding model to give families a fixed amount of money determined by their income and their child's age.  After months of protests and outcry, the province backed off from its plan in July, with the social services minister acknowledging the Ford government "didn't get the redesign right" and that they're reverting back to a "needs-based" program.

Oakville MP Pam Damoff decried the Ontario PCs at Monday's announcement, saying Premier Doug Ford and his ministers have displayed "callousness."

"We've all watched the Ford government play cynical, deceptive, political games with the services so many rely on," she said. "It's been painful to watch."

Damoff said families of people with autism have been treated with disregard, calling it "appalling."

Hundreds of parents turned out to the lawn of Queen's Park in Toronto earlier this year to protest against the Ford government's changes to the province's autism therapy policy. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Feds playing 'political games,' Ford government says

Responding to the federal announcement, a provincial spokesperson accused the Trudeau government of playing politics ahead of the general election in October.

"Instead of taking the opportunity to commit to a national autism strategy, the Trudeau government opted to play political games," said Christine Wood, spokesperson for the minister of children, community and social services.

"Today was not about providing services to families, but about scoring political points weeks ahead of a federal election."

Wood said the PCs have committed $600 million for a needs-based autism program.

"By comparison, today's announcement is equal to only 0.5 per cent of what our government will spend in Ontario alone," she said.

Ontario Social Services Minister Todd Smith announced a return to needs-based autism funding in late July, telling reporters that his government's attempted revamp this winter hadn't worked. (CBC)

Damoff said the federal government isn't in a position to deliver services for people living with autism — that's the province's job — but they can play a role at the federal level.

She said Ottawa isn't working on a national autism strategy, but is working on the "pillars" of such a plan, including information, affordability access, employment, housing and research.

Autism support projects based across country

The federally funded projects announced Monday are based across the country, said Damoff, and will support people with autism, as well as their caregivers and families. 

The projects address a broad range of issues, from mental health to sexuality to employment, said Damoff, who is parliamentary secretary to the federal minister of health, in a statement. 

Partner organizations are also giving $1.1 million for the people behind the announced initiatives, who had to apply for the government funding.

The projects support both children and adults with autism, Damoff said, with some of the initiatives focusing on the transition to adulthood.

Need for a national autism strategy, parent says

Bruce McIntosh, past president fo the Ontario Autism Coalition, called the federal announcement "underwhelming."

Bruce McIntosh, past president of the Ontario Autism Coalition, has two children with autism. (CBC)

He said the autism community has been asking for a national strategy on autism for 20 years. There needs to be national standards for treatment he said, as well as research and "real action," he added.

"This was less than a fulsome announcement," said McIntosh, who has two children with autism.

In her response from the PCs, Woods also said Justin Trudeau "said no to funding a $19 million Canadian Autism Partnership" two years ago, and said the provincial Liberals "underfunded autism services for over a decade."

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