Liberal support for national project linked to autism remains uncertain
The House of Commons is scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to fund a national partnership that says it will try to get all provinces and territories on the same page when it comes to autism.
But the Conservative MP behind the motion, whose 21-year-old son has the neurological disorder, says he’s worried the government won’t support it.
“Honestly, I thought it was a no-brainer … it’s a dime per Canadian per year,” said Edmonton’s Mike Lake of his motion before the House, which requests $19 million to get the Canadian Autism Partnership up and running for the next five years.
“It’s worded with as little partisan language as can possibly be worded in a motion.”
The request for funds isn’t coming out of nowhere, and neither is the partnership itself. The push for a national project that would help coordinate research, advocacy and government actions across Canada related to autism began two years ago.
In 2015, a working group was formed by the Conservative government to study how best to respond to the increasing prevalence of autism spectrum diagnoses across the country.
About 1 in 68 Canadian kids are diagnosed with the disorder, which can result in difficulties with social interaction, trouble communicating and restrictive or repetitive behaviour, among other symptoms.
Each province and territory has a different set of policies and resources in place, which means families may have different treatment options available at different points in a child’s, or young adult’s, life.
Lake’s son Jaden, for instance, was diagnosed formally in Alberta at age two, and began receiving treatment almost immediately, something his father says has made him “a completely different young adult” today.
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But in other jurisdictions, a child might be four-years-old, or even six, before government-approved treatment begins, and by then the window for early intervention is nearly closed.
The 2015 working group came up with a business plan requiring the $19 million in funding over five years to work toward a more uniform approach. But the money was nowhere to be found in the latest Liberal budget.
“It’s a fairly modest ask in the general scheme of things,” Lake argued. “I think there was a lot of surprise when it didn’t find its way into the budget.”
Lake said debate in the House of Commons over his subsequent motion was met with “non-committal” responses from Liberal MPs and the minister of health herself, Jane Philpott. At this point, he said, he has no idea if it will pass on Tuesday afternoon.
‘We will let you know tomorrow’
Outside the House of Commons on Monday, Philpott would not provide a firm answer.
“We will let you know tomorrow at the time of the vote, but Canadians know that we are certainly aware of the issues associated with autism spectrum disorder and how it affects families over a very long period of time and of course, we will continue to support families and those needs.”
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Asked if her government believes Canada needs a national strategy on autism, Philpott countered that “that is not what this motion is about.”
“This motion is about a specific organization that is asking for funding. We, as a government, are committed to addressing the needs of, health needs of, all Canadians. Working, of course, with our partners in the provinces and territories who are, as you know, largely responsible for the delivery of care.”
It’s unclear if the unifying work being proposed by the Canadian Autism Partnership could be done more efficiently in-house by the government itself.
Lake promised, however, that if the motion fails, he “will continue to push … we know that this is well supported within the autism community in Canada. We know that Canadians would support this.”
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