An Ontario mother is accusing Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod of “twisting" and "manipulating” a quote she provided, saying it was wrongly used to support a significant overhaul to the autism program.
Ms. MacLeod has come under fire from parents and autism advocates in recent weeks after changes to the program that the Progressive Conservative government said would clear the 23,000-child waiting list by spreading resources among all families. But it would also mean that families now receiving intensive therapy services face cutbacks.
In the legislature on Monday, Ms. MacLeod read supportive statements from families, including one from Windsor mom Sherri Taylor that read, in part, "Families are in crisis. Our government is heading in the right direction recognizing that early intervention is key."
After learning of this, Ms. Taylor said in a social-media post that the statement read by the minister was “proof of her manipulation, and outright untruths to the public and makes a mockery of every parent who has a child with developmental disabilities, autism or otherwise.”
“How DARE you serve your political needs by manipulating my words and my intentions? How DARE you use my quote in Queen’s Park to make it look like I wrote to you AFTER the announcement in support of a plan that will harm our children? How many other quotes have you manipulated? How many other parents have you used? How can anyone trust that the stories you read in Queen’s Park have any shred of truth to them?” Ms. Taylor wrote in a Facebook post.
Asked by the NDP about Ms. Taylor’s comments in question period on Tuesday, Ms. MacLeod said her understanding is that the quote was provided to her office.
“If I used that quote yesterday incorrectly, I unequivocally apologize,” Ms. MacLeod said. “But what I will not apologize for is lifting a wait-list of 23,000 children who are being denied service by their Ontario government because of the previous Liberal administration.”
After question period, Ms. MacLeod exited out a side door, avoiding reporters’ questions about the incident.
In an interview on Tuesday, Ms. Taylor said she had been speaking to a staffer in Ms. MacLeod’s office in the days leading up to the announcement on Feb. 6 regarding changes to the program. She said that she was unsure about providing a quote that was supportive of the government’s plan, but was assured that Ms. MacLeod’s office would address early intervention and a direct funding model that would allow families to access various therapies, including speech language and occupational therapy (those services are not funded).
“I did it in good faith,” said Ms. Taylor, a mom whose eldest son was diagnosed with autism. “What I regret is them twisting, manipulating, putting their own words into my own quote and I regret them using that quote to support their own agenda and not being truthful." Ms. Taylor is a family co-ordinator at a clinic that provides occupational therapy.
She added: “It looks like I’m supporting this horrible plan. They have not consulted the professionals. They’ve not listened to the parents.”
NDP MPP Lisa Gretzky, whom Ms. Taylor contacted about the misused quote, said Ms. MacLeod should resign from her post.
“She’s lost complete public trust with the parents of children with autism,” Ms. Gretzky told reporters. “It shows how low [the government] will go in order to push their own political agenda, and that frankly they have little regard for some of the most vulnerable people in our province.”
Changes to the program will take effect April 1 and funding will be based on age and household income, with families earning up to $250,000 eligible for funding. But only those with a household income of $55,000 or less will qualify for the full amount.
Until the age of 6, children will be eligible for $20,000 a year; after that, they can receive up to $5,000 a year until the age of 18.
On Tuesday, the government released information about its sliding scale for income testing. A family earning between $70,000 and $73,000, for example, will be eligible for 89.5 per cent of the maximum funding; those earning between $91,000 and $94,000 will be eligible for 80.5 per cent of funding; and those earning between $190,000 and $193,000 will only be eligible for 31 per cent of funding.
But parents say intensive treatments cost up to $80,000 a year.
Ms. MacLeod has come under criticism in recent days that she ordered services to be frozen for those on the waiting list. E-mails show that the provincial government told service providers last fall to “pause” making calls to families. Ms. MacLeod called the reports of a freeze “erroneous.”