National Autism Strategy – A History

Patrick Monaghan
Jul 22 · 8 min read
Senator Jim Munson

Is it finally going to happen? Will the provinces start to work collaboratively with the Federal Government to ensure that all autistic Canadians receive the support they require?

It feels like momentum is building, but I’m sure it’s felt this way before.

Let’s take a look at where we’ve come on this, and where we may be headed.


Let’s start in 2006.

The Standing Senate Committee received a mandate from the Senate to explore the issues surrounding funding for autism therapy in Canada, and the need for a National Autism Strategy. They held 9 meetings, and heard from 53 witnesses (included autistic individuals, parents with autistic children, advocacy groups, health professionals, autism researchers, as well as some members of government — really the whole nine yards). They put together a comprehensive report (Pay Now Or Pay Later — Autism Families in Crisis) summarizing the testimonies of this collective, which can be found here.

Around the same time, a few bills were brought forward in the House of Commons regarding autism therapy, summarized in this excerpt from the Senate report below:

Bill C-211, introduced by NDP MP Peter Stoffer, can be seen below:

Bill C-304, from Liberal MP Shawn Murphy, came next:

C-304 did advance to Second Reading (the only bill of its kind to get to that step), and was debated and voted on in early 2007 (we’ll get to that soon).

And then there was Motion M-172 from Liberal MP Andy Scott, which did pass 231–45 (only opposed by the Bloc Quebecois):

Bill C-304, on second reading, was opposed by the Bloc, but also by the Conservatives. The vote was 113–155.

It’s worth noting that current CPC MP Mike Lake (who has a now-adult autistic son) voted against the bill.

A group called FEAT BC (Families for early autism treatment of British Columbia) released a statement in opposition to Mike Lake’s media statement. The BC group’s annotated response to MP Lake can be found here:


The next set of attempts came from NDP MP Glenn Thibeault a few years later:

C-360 in 2009, C-504 in 2010, C-219 in 2011

Thibeault’s bill did not advance past first reading in any of its attempts.


Moving forward to 2015 we had the beginning of the Canadian Autism Partnership Project (CAPP), a working group aimed at creating an official proposal regarding a National Autism Strategy.

A full list of documents of what CAP was looking to do can be found here:

For a quicker summary, here’s their Briefing Note:

The Partnership did not seek to change anything about the Canada Health Act, nor did it involve any direct funding for therapy, but rather sought to provide a platform for cooperation and coordination between the provinces.

When CAP was voted on in the House, put forth as a Motion sponsored by CPC MP Mike Lake, it ultimately was defeated 130–167.

All but one Liberal MP voted against the Partnership (MP John McKay was the lone Liberal vote in favour).

According to the former Health Minister Jane Philpott, it was voted down because the project didn’t have unanimous support from the autism community, including Autism Canada, who’s chair Dermot Cleary had concerns of what they saw as another “level of bureaucracy.”

More discussion on what happened can be found below:

I can’t say I fully understand myself why CAP was defeated, as it was a pretty modest ask ($19 million over 5 years), but politics seem to always be involved in decisions like these.


Just prior to that, in 2016, at the Liberal Biennial Convention in Winnipeg, a Policy Resolution on autism treatment was passed:

Sounds pretty good, right?

Well, nothing came of that.

People following the autism story in Ontario are likely well aware of Brampton dad Jamie Peddle, who has been canvassing Federal MPs and making it his mission to help remind them of this resolution.


CASDA (Canadian Autism Spectrum Disorder Alliance, formed in 2009), who had worked on CAP, recently released their Blueprint for a National Autism Strategy.

For more detailed information look here, but I included their summary handout below:

What CASDA is asking for is all very reasonable. They’ve highlighted some easy opportunities for action (reforms to the DTC, enhancing the Child Care Expense Reduction, etc).

I feel there are many parents, though, who would think they’re not asking for enough.

Families are in crisis RIGHT NOW.

Families are going into massive debt RIGHT NOW, struggling to pay for therapy for their children.

The CASDA Blueprint does not directly address funding for therapy. When provincial funding falls short, the hope would be that the Federal Government would balance the cost, or better yet, lead the way. When therapies like ABA are recommended to a child by a medical professional, why is it not covered by Medicare?

This was a prime focus of the previous bills brought to the House, and a common theme in the 2007 Senate report, but was not addressed by the CASDA Blueprint.

Longtime National Autism Strategy advocate Andrew Kavchak, who has a son the the spectrum, discussed some of these shortfalls of the Blueprint in a letter to the Ottawa Citizen:


So what does the future hold?

Let’s look at what we know about the current Federal party stances.

Conservatives

Party Leader Andrew Scheer was asked directly by autism parent Faith Munoz at an event what his plan was for children with disabilities:

He named Mike Lake as his “point man” for an autism strategy, then blamed the Liberals for the situation in Ontario. When pushed, all he had to offer was that if Justin Trudeau wasn’t removed as Prime Minister, the Liberal government will continue to do to Canada what he feels Kathleen Wynne did to Ontario.

Faith rightfully pointed out that the Ontario Liberal government (once pushed, mind you) had created an Ontario Autism Program that was really starting to help kids – that is before the CPCO took over, MPP Lisa MacLeod destroyed the program, gutted it, was removed as Minister responsible, and we’re still left trying to pick up the pieces.

Scheer’s response to Faith doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. The CPC playbook always seems to include blaming the Liberals, but then offering little in terms of real solutions.

But if you’re looking to get information on what the CPCs will be advocating for – talk to Mike Lake.

NDP

I’ve never heard Jagmeet Singh speak directly about autism, but what we do have is the NDP platform package — A New Deal for People

Autism is mentioned, albeit briefly, with a promise to work towards a National Autism Strategy.

Not a lot of detail there, but it’s something.

Green Party

Party Leader Elizabeth May spoke this year at Autism on the Hill, an annual autism advocacy event on the steps of Parliament Hill. Here is May’s speech from this year’s gathering:

In their Vision Green document, they do have the following statement:

It’s promising to see that the Greens are in favour of therapy covered under health care. I’ll update here again if more details become available.

Liberals

There are several Liberal MPs that have show themselves to be open allies to the fight for a National Strategy.

MP Chandra Arya was the sponsor of the Autism Petition, initiated on April 5th, then delivered to the House on May 17th.

Here are the details of the Petition:

MP Arya has indicated the intention of the Liberal Party to include a National Autism Strategy in the platform.

If the Liberals plan on addressing the issues outlined in this petition, and create a National Autism Strategy with those concerns as the basis, I think they’ll be checking off the right boxes.


When Senator Munson presented the Pay Now or Pay Later report in 2007 he described families as being in crisis.

For 12 years since then, the Federal Government has been unable to cooperate on a plan, and families remain in crisis. Autism support is not standardized across the country. Families actually consider moving provinces in hope of better support for their kids in another province, essentially becoming refugees in their own country.

When Munson spoke on what has been done so far to achieve a National Autism Strategy he says: “It. Is. Not. Enough.”

I leave you with Senator Munson’s speech from Autism on the Hill. Please watch it.

“This is a moral issue. This is a human rights issue. This is so damn important.”

No matter which party forms the government this fall, I hope that all parties are willing to work together to FINALLY make a National Autism Strategy a reality.

    Patrick Monaghan

    Written by

    Optometrist by day. Autism Advocate. Full-time dad to 2 kids on the spectrum.

    Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
    Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
    Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade