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Ontario’s Children, Community and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod speaks during an announcement in Toronto, on Feb. 6, 2019.Chris Young/The Canadian Press

Ontario’s Children, Community and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod is facing allegations that she told a group of behaviour analysts to publicly support the provincial government’s autism program or it would be “four long years” for the organization.

The Ontario Association for Behaviour Analysis said in a note to its 1,200 members on Wednesday that Ms. MacLeod and her staff asked the non-profit organization for a quote in support of its changes to the autism program without providing full details of the announcement.

“Just days before the February 6, 2019 announcement, the Minister and her staff requested that ONTABA provide a quote of support … and indicated that a failure to do so would result in ‘four long years’ for the organization,” the e-mail from the group’s board of directors said.

The note also said Ms. MacLeod told the group that if public support was not provided, “a communication that behaviour analysts are ‘self-interested’ would be released from her office.”

ONTABA’s incoming president Kendra Thompson, who said she didn’t hear the comments first-hand, interpreted the remarks to mean that the “working relationship that we might have had would cease to exist with this government.” The group has voiced its concerns that the recent changes announced by Ontario will leave many children without the level of therapy they need.

“From the brief interactions we did have … the communication was not meaningful. It was prescriptive. It was ‘let us tell you what we’re doing,’ but not ‘will you consult on what we’re doing,’” she said.

In a statement, Ms. MacLeod’s spokesman did not deny the allegations but said the government’s first priority has always been to support families of children and youth with autism.

“Despite collaborative dialogues that took place over six months of consultation, ONTABA was unwavering in their desire to self-regulate and unwilling to work with government to open up the sector to provide parents more choice in support services for children with autism,” spokesman Derek Rowland said.

“We remain committed to working with all stakeholders who are dedicated to clearing the wait list and empowering parents to make decisions that are in the best interest of their family and children with autism.”

Ms. MacLeod announced last week that in order to clear a backlog of 23,000 children waiting for publicly funded autism therapy, families will get up to $140,000 to pay for treatment – although funding will be subject to annual caps that families and advocates say will fall far short of what’s needed for intensive therapy.

The funding is dependent on age, rather than individual needs for varying levels of intensity. Families will receive a maximum of $140,000 for a child in treatment from the ages of 2 to 18, also dependent on family income, but advocates say intensive therapy can cost up to $80,000 a year.

Families will receive up to $20,000 a year until their child turns 6. From that time until they are 18, it would be up to $5,000 a year.

Ms. MacLeod also reportedly told the Waterloo Region Record that Autism Ontario was among the organizations that support her plan, but the group released a statement saying that isn’t true.

“Autism Ontario neither proposed nor endorsed the announced changes to the [Ontario Autism Program] and is concerned about the impact these changes will have on children and families accessing the program,” it said in a statement.

With a report from Caroline Alphonso and The Canadian Press

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