It’s been almost 5 months since Todd Smith was named the new Minister of Children, Community and Social Services on June 20th, 2019.
Lisa MacLeod, the former Minister responsible, announced her plan for the autism program back on February 6th, which was met with outrage from parents and professionals alike.
She was removed from the file just over 4 months later.
Let’s look at a timeline of some important dates along the way:
- “Consultations” were held by Lisa MacLeod and her staff in early 2019, including this one in Ottawa on January 28th, that I attended. With an announcement forthcoming (9 days later) for a program that was clearly already designed, roundtables like this were purely for show.
- January 29th – MacLeod met with ONTABA the next day, threatened them with “four long years” if they didn’t offer a statement of support for the upcoming changes to the OAP
- February 6th – Announcement of the Childhood Budget model. Immediate backlash followed.
- February 7th – Lisa MacLeod calls ONTABA “self-interested” in a radio interview with Craig Needles
- February 8th – Todd Smith writes “op-ed” in support of Childhood Budgets
- February 8th – First protest outside of Lisa MacLeod’s constituency office. 3 parents gained entry into her office for a brief meeting (including my wife, Kerry Monaghan). This would be the first, and only, known time that MacLeod met with any autism parents after the Feb 6th announcement.
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- February 14th – MacLeod sort of apologizes for her four long years remark to ONTABA … a week later.
- February 25th – Story broke of how the OAP waitlist had been frozen since at least October 2018, with public providers instructed not to bring kids off the waitlist, and told not to disclose to families the waitlist was frozen.
- February 27th – A story broke of how Lisa MacLeod and her policy director Susan Truppe manipulated a quote from autism parent (and future Advisory Panel member) Sherri Taylor to try and show support for the OAP’s proposed changes.
- March 7th – Large protest at Queen’s Park, attended by hundreds of people. The sounds of the protest could be heard inside the Legislature.
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- March 21st – MacLeod announces “enhancements” to her proposed plan. Income testing is removed, eligible services were expanded, and the first round of 6 month extensions were announced for those kids in service, once their contracts ended. The new algorithm for choosing kids off the waitlist was referenced for the first time (rather than going sequentially based on intake date):
Children will be brought off the waitlist based on a combination of the time they have been waiting for service, and with a continued focus on early intervention. Considerations will be made for children five years of age and youth 17 years of age to ensure they receive the maximum remaining funding.
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Todd Smith tows the company line, uses the #ClearTheWaitlist hashtag in a supporting tweet.
- March 26th – First mention from Lisa MacLeod of the proposed $600+ budget for the OAP
- March 27th – Monique Taylor’s brought forth an autism motion for debate in the house to #PauseThePlan. It seems to pass, with CPO MPPs not paying attention, and failing to vote against it
- April 2nd – MacLeod announces the plan for a consultation period over the coming months, including a survey, tele-townhalls, and encouraging all MPPs, regardless of party, to hold roundtables. (Note: MacLeod did not hold a roundtable herself during this period). She also announced the plan to form the Advisory Panel to review the data.
- April 6th – Lisa MacLeod brushed off autism parent Kristen Ellison at a PC breakfast speaking event in Peterborough
Today I went to a "Club Blue" breakfast in Peterborough put on by the PC riding association. Lisa Macleod was the guest…
- April 11th — Provincial budget comes out, and the promised $600 million figure is nowhere to be found
- April 12th – This was the day I learned I was lied to by Lisa MacLeod’s staff (story link in tweet below):
- April 12th: Also the day we learned that the SSAH waitlist has been frozen since January 2018. Many families that were already receiving SSAH in the previous year also saw delays in receiving a renewal of funding.
- April 29th: Another large-scale autism protest at Queens Park, the Solutions March, with hundreds again attending.
- May 1st: Consultations officially begin, the online survey becomes available
- May 5th: Another last minute meeting cancellation from Lisa MacLeod’s staff to an autism parent.
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- May 30th: Advisory Panel members finally named, after multiple delays.
- June 1st – Lisa MacLeod speaks at an event inside the Heart & Crown in Nepean, is heard saying of autism parents “if you give them an inch, they want a mile.” Twitter thread on the events below:
- June 6th – Ontario Legislature adjourns, with plans to return on October 28th, nearly 5 months later.
- June 14th – Despite being told the new program was live back in April, no Childhood Budget cheques had been received yet, until shortly after this tweet from Lisa MacLeod:
- June 20th – First Advisory Panel meeting. They would go on to have 18 full-day meetings over the next several months.
- June 20th– Cabinet Shuffle. Lisa MacLeod demoted, Todd Smith named new MCCSS Minister.
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June 26th – New Parliamentary Assistants assigned post-shuffle. Amy Fee retains her position, and Jeremy Roberts is added to the fold.
- June 28th – Globe & Mail story of the Baber Report comes out.
- June 30th – Full Baber Report leaked
- July 3rd – Todd Smith gets his feet wet early, less than 2 weeks into the job, meeting with some heavy-hitters in a quickly-organized roundtable at Jeremy Robert’s constituency office in Ottawa. Two Advisory Panel members, Cindy Harrison and Anne Huot, were present, along with multiple Ministers, service providers, and autism parents. Smith was to embark on a “listening tour” to hear directly from families.
- July 15th – Intelligencer article comes out surrounding his first listening tour event in Belleville. Smith is quoted about changing the panel’s mandate
“I met with the Ontaio Autism Panel last week in Toronto and gave them a new mandate to move forward with.”
- July 24 – After much confusion, we learn in a piece from Sneh Duggal (QP Briefing) that Childhood Budgets aren’t considered taxable income. Mike Moffatt wrote a Medium piece about it the next day.
- July 25th – Scarborough listening tour event
- July 29th – Smith officially announces the change in the Advisory Panel’s mandate, with the potential to change to a completely needs-based program, within a budget of $600 million. A planned date of April 2020 is mentioned.
“It is clear that we didn’t get the redesign right the first time and I am here to tell you that we will now.” — Todd Smith
- August 6–8th – Northern Ontario listening tour
- August 13th – London listening event
- August 19th – Ottawa listening event. I attended this one, spoke to Minister Smith directly, and he confirmed to me that the $600 million is available this fiscal year.
Where do we go from here?
Putting it perspective, in the stretch since the February 6th announcement:
Lisa MacLeod was MCCSS Minister until June 20th, lasting 4.5 months.
Todd Smith has been the Minister longer than MacLeod has, nearly 5 months now, but with some major differences. The Ontario Legislature was adjourned on June the 6th, 2 weeks before the cabinet shuffle. MacLeod had heavy exposure, required to answer for herself day after day in Question Period, with the media always around.
Her tenure was marred with scandal and callousness. Anyone was going to look good after that, especially when you can stay out of the limelight.
The Advisory Panel was set in motion by Lisa MacLeod, but then Todd Smith took over on the day the panel met for the first time, ultimately changing the mandate on their 5th meeting. It necessitated a reset within the room, and a refocus of their efforts. This was an important step.
While waiting for the panel to do their work, Smith did make himself available those first couple months to hear directly from families, which was a huge step forward from what Lisa MacLeod had offered. But while still on extended break from Legislature, after all the listening events were done, there was a huge gap where nothing noteworthy seemed to happen. We were asked to be patient, and wait for the panel report.
With the receipt and release of the Advisory Panel report on October 30th, Smith had this to offer:
“There are some things in the report that we can act on rather quickly, and some that will take a little bit more time.”
He went on to say:
“I believe there are some quick wins here, to get families what they want,” Smith said, adding the panel’s recommendation for early intervention is something “we can move really quickly on.”
Well, Minister, it’s time to get to work.
Here are my suggestions of steps Todd Smith should take ASAP
- Abandon the MacLeod-era algorithm
Go back to taking kids off the waitlist chronologically based on intake date. This can, and should, be done immediately.
2. Increase the rate of Childhood Budget releases
Todd Smith told me that they hoped to get 5,000 cheques out. As of the last update, they’ve arranged less than 1700 so far. Even if 5,000 cheques are cashed, and they were all for $20,000 (which they won’t be) – that’s only $100 million. If the old program costs a little over $300 million to run, and you add the Childhood Budget spend, they’re still way under budget. The money is just sitting there. They need to start spending. Kids are waiting.
The ministry can use the panel report to estimate the initial capacity of the new program, and get more kids started by giving them a budget cheque. It’s not perfect, but it’s at least something.
3. Make Childhood Budgets renewable for those that need it
Michael Coteau used the 8k/10k program as an interim solution, and Todd Smith should do something similar here.
If a high-needs child over 5 is given a Childhood budget cheque for $5,000, that likely won’t get them very far in meeting their needs. Even a 20k cheque for a younger child may be easily spent before the new program is ready. What do these families do in the interim? If they can’t finance therapy on their own, and their service provider can’t hold a spot for them until new program funding is available, they likely will be moved to the back of the private providers waitlist, and miss out on valuable time while they wait … again.
Not all kids will need a renewal, but the ones that do … may need it a lot. This is not a lofty ask given the budget availability, and would be extremely helpful to kids with high needs.
4. Form the Implementation Committee immediately
A key ask from the Advisory Panel is to have a committee to see the recommendations through to implementation. This new group has a lot of work to do, but doesn’t even exist yet. The Minister needs to move on this quickly, so that the work can begin.
From the panel report:
Getting that committee together, as well as the expert subcommittee, needs to be a priority.
5. Start hiring Care Coordinators
The Panel called for every child to have access to a care coordinator as a point of contact, and an important resource to navigate the system. Multiple panelists have identified their suggested Urgent Response Service as a key recommendation to prioritize. Forming that system won’t happen overnight, and in addition to the Implementation and Expert Committees, this process will require Care Coordinators to help facilitate the whole thing. You can’t do that without people in place. Hiring needs to start now.
6. Break the silence on SSAH
So many families rely on this important service, and not just autism families. With the report that the SSAH waitlist has been frozen for almost 2 years, waiting families are left in the dark, with no information on the future of the program. They’re also left unsupported. The Minister needs to address the state of this program, and get money flowing again to families.
Parents were as patient as they could be while we waited for the Advisory Panel Report. With the recommendations officially available now, it’s time to start moving on them, and moving quick.
Every day without action is another day with families in, or reaching, crisis.
There are clear steps that the Minister can take to push the process forward.
Form the implementation committee.
Set a press conference.
Announce the priority concerns that will be addressed first, and get working on it immediately.
The time to act is NOW.