MPP Gretzky Speaks to Opposition Day Motion on Children Living with Autism

Although it’s unfortunate that I have to get up to speak to this, I’m glad that I do have an opportunity to lend my voice. I’m going to look at this from a slightly different lens than has been brought up so far. I’m going to talk about the education sector, as the member from Sudbury touched on it.

He also liked to talk about what the NDP do or do not support, so I’d like to clarify what we do or do not support. We certainly do not support kicking kids aged five and over who have autism off a list for service, so let’s be clear about that.

Also to the member from Sudbury, we don’t support a government that, over the last three years, has committed over $1 billion to the education sector and has not actually forwarded that money to that sector or spent it on the children in the education system.

We certainly do not support a government that, this year alone, has cut $8 million in special education funding—funding specifically for children like those with autism. They’ve cut that from 25 school boards, $8 million. They’re already starving school boards of money for special education needs; they are only compounding that problem.

I’d like to speak about some of the quotes coming out of the education sector. Just last week, there was a quote from Lynn McLaughlin, who is the superintendent of special education for the Greater Essex County District School Board, the public school board in Windsor. She said, “We’re concerned because there’s still so many questions.” This government is not even forwarding information to the school boards to let them know what the plan is or if there’s funding coming in order to be able to support these children once they’re cut out of service.

I’d also like to share from the education workers. From CUPE: “‘This is devastating for the 30,000 families with children who have ASD diagnoses,’ said Terri Preston, chair of CUPE Ontario’s school boards coordinating committee. ‘It comes at a time when we are already seeing massive cuts to supports in schools, including hundreds of educational assistant positions being eliminated. How are we supposed to build a better Ontario when so many children with ASD, developmental disabilities and learning disabilities are being abandoned by the province?’”

Speaker, we’re seeing it across the province, where the boards are being forced by this government because of a lack of funding to lay off the very staff that are skilled and professional and who can work with these children to actually support them

There’s no supports for the kids in the education system, and there’s no plan to support them. Although the member from Sudbury can talk about how different ministries are working together, how the Minister of Children and Youth Services can stand up and say what a wonderful job the Minister of Education is doing and how well they’re working together, clearly they’re not working together. They’re not communicating with the families, they’re not communicating with the school boards who are trying their hardest to service these kids and help them reach their full potential. They’re not helping.

There’s a quote from Sam Hammond from the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario. He told a rally of parents of autistic children, hundreds of parents, thousands even, who came to Queen’s Park recently over this, that “Premier Kathleen Wynne’s cuts to intensive behavioural intervention or IBI therapy will put a system already lacking supports ‘over the edge.’” I could not agree more.

These are the professionals, not the members on the government side. They’re not professionals in this. The member from Sudbury mentioned, “You don’t you know unless you’ve lived it.” They’re not living it, and they’re not listening to the experts. In fact, when Dr. Dawe comes forward and says what they’re doing is not what was recommended, they throw him under the bus and say—

Speaker, I have great concerns, families have great concerns about the fact that their children are now being thrown into the education system and being told that they’re going to support them in there, every one of the families in this room knows that’s not happening. This government is sacrificing these children. These ones you’ve kicked off the list, you’ve put an $8,000 price tag on their heads. That seems to be all they’re worth to you. You need to change your minds and you need to support this motion.