Mar. 14: Remarks to the Media on the New Ontario Autism Program

Thank you. I’m here as an economist and very proud father. I have two wonderful children, both on the spectrum and on the wait list for services.

The Ford Ontario Autism Program fails families on the spectrum, but it also fails Ontario taxpayers in three very clear ways.

First, it is a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars. In times of austerity, it is crucial that every dollar be stretched as far as it can. We need to maximize return-on-investment.

Ford’s changes go in the opposite direction. Instead of letting professionals consider a child’s actual needs or where therapy dollars do the most good, this government made a political decision to, in their words, “make sure everyone gets something”. That would be appropriate if you’re Oprah Winfrey, handing out free iPads to every audience member, but it is no way to handle an issue as delicate as health care.

Under the Ford plan, some kids will get more funding than they can possibly use. For others, it means the year-long therapy they require will last only two weeks, at which point they will be mainstreamed into schools that are wholly unprepared. Giving some families a useless 2nd iPad while other children have life-altering therapy stripped away is fiscal malpractice.

Second, the income clawbacks are a steep new autism tax on families. A recent C.D. Howe report notes that “governments need to be cautious of discouraging work [by] mothers and secondary earners in a family, because taxes and benefit programs […] create extraordinarily high effective tax rates.” Under the Ford plan, if a parent re-enters the workforce, their Childhood Budget for therapy is clawed back by up to 70 cents for every dollar earned that year. This new autism tax eliminates any incentive for both parents to stay in the labour force.

Finally, the Ford autism program discriminates against girls. Let me repeat. Doug Ford’s autism program discriminates against girls.

Funding is based on the age a child is diagnosed. Because girls get diagnosed significantly later than boys, even when they have the same symptoms, girls will receive substantially less funding than boys, simply because they are girls. My daughter is one of those girls the Ford government is discriminating against. Judges will ultimately determine whether this form of gender discrimination is constitutional, but I know it is indefensible.

I am pleading with the Ford government. Delay these changes. Get rid of the wasteful one-size-fits-all approach, get rid of the autism tax, and get rid of the discrimination against girls. Come back to the table, let’s work together to create a program that is actually an improvement on the old one. Thank you.