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A REAL Canadian National Autism Strategy Under A Harper Government?

Posted Mar 11 2011 4:53am

As I have twice indicated on this blog I was pleased to be invited to attend the Autism Speaks Canada national autism strategy discussion in Banff, Alberta.  Although unable to attend in person I did participate via teleconference and offered my two cents worth on some of the important issues which should be addressed in any national health care strategy.  I participated, however, knowing full well that under a Stephen Harper government no REAL National Autism Strategy would be permitted.  Stephen Harper has been an opponent  of Canada's public health care system long before becoming Prime Minister of Canada.  His views are the views of the current version of the federal Conservative Party and no exception will made to ensure a strong federal government effort to address Canada's Autism Crisis.

This week has seen questionable action taken by the Harper government to have a National Health Act review conducted ..... not by the elected House of Commons where the last such review was conducted and where the Harper Party is in a  minority .... but in the unelected Senate where the Harper Conservatives hold a majority. The move, as detailed by the National Union of Public and General Employees , is  part of an ongoing campaign to diminish and possibly destroy any federal government role in funding of health care in Canada.  Organizations which call for a stronger federal government role in health care have already been told they will not be permitted to appear at the Senate review
"NUPGE President James Clancy criticized the Harper government for sending a review of the 2004 Health Accord to the unelected Senate rather than allowing elected Members of Parliament to conduct public hearings.


Ottawa (11 Mar. 2011) - The National Union of Pubilc and General Employees (NUPGE) is criticizing the Harper governments decision to have the unelected Senate conduct the second mandatory review of the 2004 Health Accord (for more on Health Accord and federal transfers click here).


The previous review was conducted in 2008 by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health. This moves the review outside of the elected House of Commons, where the Harper government is in a minority, to an unelected Senate committee where the Conservatives are now in a majority.


"What does this government want to hide from the public in this action," asks NUPGE President James Clancy. "Why won't the prime minister allow elected Members of Parliament to review his record on health care?"


Clancy pointed out that the move sends a bad signal about the future of public health care and Canada's democracy.


"This is one more example of the prime minister's anti-democratic nature. He sees the House of commons as a nuisance to be shoved aside. He'll do anything to bypass the democratic process," said Clancy.


The unelected Senators clearly hope to get the review done as quickly as possible. Hearings have already started in the Senate Committee on Science, Technology and Social Affairs.


A number of organizations that are calling for the federal government to play a stronger role in health care have been told they will not be allowed to appear and give testimony.


"The message for Canadians is clear: The Harper government not only holds Parliament in contempt, it also seems to view Canadians who strongly support public health care with contempt as well,” said Michael McBane, National Coordinator of the Canadian Health Coalition.


In the build-up for negotiations for the renewal of the Health Accord in 2014, some members of the Harper government have started to hint about making cuts to health care transfers. One prominent caucus member, Maxime Bernier, has publicly called for a termination of all federal health care transfers."

The opposition by the governing federal Conservatives to a federal role in health care bodes ill for a real, successful National Autism Strategy. Such a strategy requires non-partisan political support in order to succeed.  An example of non-partisan support for autism strategy exists here in New Brunswick.  Our province  has been recognized as a leader in the provision of autism services as set out in the following letter from the web site of the Association for Science in Autism Treatment's David Celiberti:.

ASAT Responds to Canadian CBC's "N.B. Can Be a Leader in Autism Services


Saturday, October 23, 2010


I read with great interest your recent article about the state of services in New Brunswick (“N.B. Can Be a Leader in Autism Services," September 14, 2010). I do beg to differ about the title of the piece. New Brunswick is already a leader. To have amassed 800 trained agents of change in six years is nothing short of incredible and inspiring, particularly given the diversity of your province with respect to geography and language. Other Canadian provinces can look to New Brunswick for an exemplary model of how things could and should be for children with autism and their families.


There is a misconception that services in the United States are superior to that of our neighbors to the north. I can assure you that children with autism in rural areas and in economically depressed areas of the U.S. do not always access state of the art, science-based treatment such as those based on applied behavior analysis. In many cases throughout the US, children with autism receive poor quality behavior analytic services that may be lessened if providers were able to access more intensive training and networking opportunities similar to what is being offered in your province. Part of the Association for Science in Autism Treatment (ASAT)'s mission is to help close that gap through information dissemination, and we are keenly interested in the efforts of leaders like yourself developing, implementing, and evaluating systems.


And like other true leaders, you have looked critically at your accomplishments with an eye toward making every year of service delivery better than the previous year. We applaud your recognition that treatment parameters such as intensity need to be tailored to each child to maximize gains. When resources are scarce, this individualization can be an arduous task, but nonetheless critically important. Equally important is the need to communicate to government officials, tax payers and other stakeholders that immense financial savings are attached to doing right by our children when they are young.


It is unfortunate that funding for parent training is not more abundant. Optimal outcomes for children with autism are predicated on the support of educated, informed and skillful parents. Promoting carryover, ensuring consistency, and enhancing skill development across all environments are crucial roles for parents, but parents require support and training to assume these crucial roles. Your stated concerns and insights about the dearth of services for adults are much appreciated, and reflect the challenges that we have here in the U.S as well.


Families of children with autism in New Brunswick are blessed. Keep fighting the good fight.


David Celiberti, Ph.D., BCBA-D, President
Association for Science in Autism Treatment

Although much work remains to be done here in New Brunswick much has been accomplished. There are many reasons why this small relatively poor province has achieved some good results.  A strong parent advocacy movement has been critically important along with  the involvement of well informed, conscientious professionals.  At the end of the day though programs have been put in place by government and therein is one of the important elements in New Brunswick's autism success to date.  Our provincial autism strategy has been a non-partisan effort with both governing parties contributing significantly.

New Brunswick's dominant political parties, the Liberals and the Conservatives, have both been actively involved in improving autism services.  Many of our autism services began during the Conservative government of Premier Bernard Lord. They were improved upon during the Liberal government of Premier Shawn Graham.  Autism in New Brunswick was taken seriously by both of our governing parties over the last 10 years.

Federally however only the NDP and the Liberal party have shown an inclination to move toward a REAL National Autism Strategy.  The sovereignist Bloc Quebecois will not accept any federal role in setting national health care priorities. They are joined by the  Conservatives, currently our governing party, who are fundamentally opposed to our national medicare system.  I wish it were not so but the ideological opposition of the Harper Conservatives towards our national health care system  leaves absolutely no room  for a REAL National Autism Strategy.
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