Autism wait list continues to grow

By MPP Bobbi Ann Brady

It was another strident week at Queen’s Park as we work through the Fall session. Of course, the RCMP investigation into the Greenbelt debacle was front and centre during question period, leading to mention of this government’s record of signing off on an unprecedented number of Ministerial Zoning Orders (MZOs).

On the front lawn, Monday, families gathered to draw attention to Ontario’s flawed approach to the autism file. I was afforded the opportunity to address the crowd as I have spoken to countless families who are struggling to find services that fit their needs.

Five years ago, Ontario’s Autism Program was facing major issues which families had been witnessing for a long time. The program was under-funded, it had a long waitlist, and it lacked a range of clinical services.

In 2018, newly-minted Premier Doug Ford was apoplectic over the waitlist of 23,000 children – in 2023 that waitlist sits around 60,000 children hanging on, waiting for supports and services. The waitlist continues to grow at a rate of about 7,000 each year.

The current program’s budget is $667 million, which only gives 20,000 children with autism the therapies they need.  Government is only serving one-third of those in need of help. Any athlete will tell you third place is not good enough.  And third place is not good enough for Ontarians waiting for autism supports and services.

The government has provided families two rounds of “one-off” funding, ranging from $5,500 to $22,000 based on the child’s age. I know families who registered for the Ontario Autism Program after March 31, 2021, but have not received any funding.

I recently met with a family who told me that what they are receiving for their son is a waste of taxpayers’ money. In fact, many of the services being offered to their toddler are online. How does a child make emotional and personal connections over a computer? They don’t. 

I’ve always believed parents know what’s best for their children. Perhaps it’s time to reimagine the autism file and put families in the driver seat.

And speaking of reimagining, the Ford government introduced a bill designed to return 3,000 hectares of land back under the protection of the Greenbelt and will codify the Greenbelt’s boundaries in law as well. This means future amendments would have to go through the legislature rather than simply by regulation — which is how Doug Ford and his government initially amended it.

A little refresher:  in November 2022 the Ford team revealed their aim to extract 15 parcels of land from the Greenbelt to build 50,000 homes, which was part of the government’s broader goal of building 1.5 million new homes by 2031. Time warp to August 2023, when two provincial watchdogs distributed reports that considered the process by which lands were chosen for removal from the Greenbelt gave preference to particular well-connected developers.

Those developers had dangling in front of them an $8.3 billion carrot from the government’s dealings.

Ontario’s respected Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk labelled the selection process “seriously flawed” in her report, which was released on August 9.  A few weeks later, Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake’s verdict deemed the process “created an opportunity to further the private interests of developers improperly.”

Steve Clark (former housing minister) resigned on September 4 amid the growing scandal, and Kaleed Rasheed resigned from the PC caucus after it was revealed he’d provided incorrect information to the integrity commissioner.

And to top it all off, the RCMP announced two weeks ago that it was launching a formal investigation of the Ford government’s decision to carve up the Greenbelt, having been referred to the matter in August by the OPP. Ford has reiterated that nothing illegal happened.

Time will tell as they say. In the meantime, the Greenbelt and the RCMP investigation is front and centre each day in question period – I suspect it will continue to be a distraction for some time. In the meantime, other important issues fall by the wayside.

Bobbi Ann Brady is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk