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I Am Voting Autism in the New Brunswick Election, I Am Voting Liberal

Posted Sep 05 2010 3:53am

Shawn Graham, TJ Burke, Mary Schryer, Kelly Lamrock

The New Brunswick election is well under way, as the CBCNews NB Votes 2010  election countdown ticker tells us, with 22 days left until Election Day.  At this stage it is my hunch that autism services  will not receive any specific commitments from the parties.   Unless something dramatic, in the nature of a strong autism specific commitment to a new, modern residential care system for autistic adults emerges from one of the parties though this father of a severely autistic 14 year old son intends to vote Liberal.

Long before the last election took place autism groups advocated for early intervention and autism specific training for teacher assistants and resource teachers working with autistic students in New Brunswick schools. Many discussions took place with government and opposition political leaders. The then Conservative government of Premier Bernard Lord took some initial steps and Premier Shawn Graham's Liberal government developed those services substantially; particularly in New Brunswick schools.  The fact that autism advocacy groups, in direct discussion with the political leadership, played such a significant role in helping shape autism services in the schools did not always sit well with the interests of some career people in the Department of Education who opposed the changes and fought them, in some cases tooth and nail.  The changes were implemented though, after further study by then Liberal Education Minister Kelly Lamrock, and the autism commitments made by Premier Shawn Graham were honored to the great advantage of many New Brunswick students with autism disorders, including my son Conor.

Although both Conservative and Liberal governments have helped New Brunswick's autistic children in the past   autism specific commitments are not being discussed by any political party.  None of the three other parties, the NDP, the Green nor the new People's Alliance of New Brunswick have any hope of forming the next New Brunswick government.  

It is the prospect of further progress on advancing autism services, particularly for New Brunswick's adult autism population, that has me leaning strongly towards voting Liberal on September 27 2010. I will vote Liberal in the next election, in the likely absence of any autism specific commitment from the parties, because I know that the Liberal government including Shawn Graham, Kelly Lamrock, Mary Schryer  and TJ Burke, has a proven track record of helping autistic children in New Brunswick and I know from direct discussions  that they are solidly committed to helping with those with autism.  

Although I never had the opportunity to talk directly with former Conservative Premier Bernard Lord and former minister Tony Huntjens they did demonstrate a commitment to helping New Brunswick's autistic children.  Neither, however, are running in this election and Conservative leader David Alward has shown no substantial  interest in autism issues specifically, or in education, social or health issues generally.  His comments about requiring "volunteer" community service before New Brunswick students can graduate from High School cause me concern. The concept of requiring voluntary service seems illogical and contradictory. To this father of two high school sons Mr. Alward's comments also  suggest a  lack of sophisticated understanding of education issues.

The next great autism challenge in New Brunswick is to reform and modernize the residential care and treatment system for our  autistic adults.  The current group home system is inadequate for those who live there on many fronts include diet, recreation and access to treatment. The group home system as it is currently set up does not work at all for the lowest functioning autistic adults in New Brunswick who have  ended up living out their lives in psychiatric hospital wards in Saint John and Campbellton.

Current Health Minister Kelly Lamrock has stated that his department is studying, and working on the residential care system for New Brunswick autistic adults.  I know that autism groups, in which I have been included at times, have made representation on this issue. I believe Kelly Lamrock, who I have met and talked with many times, to be a  knowledgeable and trustworthy individual.  I believe that Kelly Lamrock will oversee the development of an autism specific residential care system for autistic adults.

I have   also met Premier Shawn Graham and discussed autism issues with him.  He committed to the Autism Society that his government would  train four years of classes of teacher assistants and resource teachers at UNB-CEL's autism intervention training program. Shawn Graham  kept that promise. He did so despite at times intense opposition from  interests within the Department of Education.

Like many New Brunswickers I was surprised and disappointed with Premier Graham's  reversal of his campaign commitment concerning NB Power.  I expressed my disappointment publicly but I think that Premier Graham entered into the NB Power deal  because he genuinely believed it was in the best interests of New Brunswick and felt that his first commitment, his first obligation as Premier,  was to govern in the best interests of New Brunswickers.    I believe that as a Premier he learned much from, and grew from,  that experience. And at the end of the day autism issues really carry my attention and Premier Shawn Graham has done much to help autistic children and students.

When we make our marks on election day it is for a local candidate in each riding. In this riding TJ Burke is the Liberal candidate and his personal and professional qualities are well known.  I know him as an MLA who I believe has represented our riding well in the Legislature. I know him as a very capable lawyer.  TJ Burke has always been very supportive on autism issues and even while the Liberals were in opposition he went out of his way to stop and talk with me at autism rallies I was involved with in Fredericton. I have talked with TJ several times about, and  know that he has been genuinely interested in, adult autism issues, and would be, if the Liberals are re-elected,  a strong supporter of improvements to New Brunswick's autistic adult residential care system.

On September 27  I will not be casting a protest vote or voting in anger. My vote will not be shaped by cynicism.  I will be voting for the party that I believe is most likely to help New Brunswick's autistic adults with a modernized autism specific adult residential care system, hopefully one with an enhanced facility located centrally in Fredericton near the autism expertise at UNB and the Stan Cassidy centre. I will be voting for the party that I know to be committed to, and knowledgeable about, autism generally. 

I mean no  disrespect toward the other parties, leaders or candidates.  But on September 27 I will be voting Autism.  I will be voting Liberal. 
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