REPLY TO GOVERNMENT’S RESPONSE TO: “Pay Now or Pay Later” report by the Senate Social Affairs Science and Technology Commitee

Senators, this week I received from the minister of Health the Government’s response to the Final Report of the Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology.  Our report,Pay Now or Pay Later – Autism Families in Crisis brought to the attention of government the plight of Canadian families and children with autism who are scrambling to get the care and treatment they need.  As you know, autism is a condition that requires the intervention of many professionals.  Canada’s health and education systems were not designed to deliver the integrated type of treatment kids with autism need.  As a result, families are left to fend for themselves.  Across Canada, they are selling their homes and making huge sacrifices to buy treatment.   The stress is tremendous.  Our report title said it well:  families are in crisis.

The Senate report made several recommendations and called on government to play a leadership role on behalf of families with autism.

How disheartening then, to read the government’s response and learn that the primary role the government sees for itself is that of “facilitator of enhanced evidence”.  Senators, families with children with autism don’t need evidence, they don’t need enhanced evidence and they don’t need government to facilitate enhanced evidence, whatever that means.  They need help.

If I am disappointed with the government’s response, think how disappointed families with autism are.  Much of the 11 page response is devoted to informing us of what the government is already doing.  Words like “ongoing support” and “continued collaboration” pepper the document.  Families with autism already know how little the government is doing.  Their bank book confirms it.  They don’t need a bureaucratic report to back it up.

The bottom line, Senators, is that the government thinks the status quo is good enough. We know it isn’t, so I’d like to propose that we use the child care allowance model that the government has adopted.  This provides $100 per child per month to families with children to help defray the cost of child care.  The Prime Minister said onFebruary 6, 2006 that “This allowance will let parents choose the child care option that best suits their family’s needs.” The Prime Minister urged opposition parties to support the plan even though $100 per month is less than one tenth of what full time child care actually costs.  The Prime Minister said that this amount is better than the “status quo which is zero”.  Let’s take a page from the Conservative government playbook and do the same thing for families with autism.  Let’s call it the Autism Allowance and provide $500 per month to families with autistic children.  Like the child care allowance, it’s about one tenth of what they actually need.  It won’t even come close to covering the full cost of treatment, but it will side step any jurisdictional concerns and, using the Prime Minister’s words, it will allow parents to choose the option that best suits their needs and it will certainly be better than the “status quo which is zero”.

Like the child care allowance, this autism allowance would be far from adequate, but it would be a start.  At least a step in acknowledging the hardship and stress families with autism live with every day.  I would like to remind Senators that this government has posted this year an historic $14 billion surplus. Let’s use it wisely and help families with autism.