An autism advocate who joined the Ford government last year to help develop better autism policies has quit, citing a “terrible mistake” in the province’s new plans for autism funding.
Until last summer Bruce McIntosh was the president of the Ontario Autism Coalition, and one of the voices behind the successful campaign to force the previous Liberal government to overhaul it’s autism treatment programs and funding.
McIntosh joined the Progressive Conservative government as the legislative assistant to Tory MPP and Parliamentary Assistant for Children and Autism Amy Fee.
On Wednesday he quit in frustration just as the government announced its overhaul of autism program funding.
“There were flaws in the Liberal program but these flaws in the new program are far worse,” McIntosh said in an interview with iPolitics.
The plan, released by Fee and Community Services Minister Lisa MacLeod, includes a promise to clear the entire 23,000 person wait-list.
“Our intention is to clear the wait-list within the next 18 months,” MacLeod said.
The government says the vast majority of children on the wait-list are waiting for behavioural services.
The province is also doubling the funding to the five hubs that are tasked with diagnosing autism in children. Over the next two years, the total funding for the hubs will go from $2.75 million to $5.5 million in an effort to speed up diagnosis.
The hubs are in Ottawa, Sudbury, Barrie, Hamilton and Toronto. Currently the province says children wait approximately 31 weeks to get diagnosed.
However to pay for those investments, the government is implementing a cap on the total public support kids with autism can get and will also start income testing that support.
This means that no matter what the needs of the individual child are the maximum funding a child can get from the age of two to 18 is $140,000.
MacLeod said families making more than $250,000 won’t get any public funding.
In an email Autism Ontario — not to be confused with the Ontario Autism Coalition — said that amount of money could be eaten up within two years for a child who is high on the autism spectrum, and needs much more intensive treatment than a child lower on the spectrum.
At the crux of it, McIntosh said this is the problem with the new program. Because while the funding is income tested, it doesn’t test for need.
“The government has made a terrible mistake in their decision to give the same amount of money to every kid with an autism diagnosis,” McIntosh said. “It ignores need. And that means that kids at the high needs end of the spectrum — the high intensity kids — are not going to have enough money to pay for what they require, and the families at the low end are going to have more than they need.
“If you don’t take needs into account, nobody is getting the right amount,” he added, saying it’s “not a responsible use of tax dollars.”
MacLeod defended the funding cap to reporters, saying the goal was to “front-end” the money “for children between the ages of zero and five because we know early intervention is key.”
However, McIntosh says the early intervention shouldn’t come at the expense for longer term help.
“I have never met a kid with those high needs ready for discharge in two years,” he said.
Instead of sending a statement to iPolitics about McIntosh’s resignation, the government instead directed us to a tweet from MacLeod’s chief of staff. In it Timothy Porter said McIntosh “was informed he could resign in December.”
The Liberal party slammed the Tory plan as “disastrous,” the NDP said the new plan represents a cut, and the Green Party said the announcement was a “start” but that it doesn’t reflect a comprehensive plan.