Opposition parties are calling on the Ford government to release copies of its contract with the Daisy Group consulting firm after The Globe and Mail reported that the company, led by Warren Kinsella, provided strategic advice and media training to Minister Lisa MacLeod and her political staff.
The Globe reported that after the government work ended in late 2018, Mr. Kinsella’s firm made an unsolicited offer of free media training in March to Autistics for Autistics (A4A), a small group of Canadians with autism who challenge the benefits of behavioural therapy. Its supporters have occasionally clashed online with parents of children with autism over the province’s autism policies.
A spokesperson for A4A, Anne Borden, told The Globe that the group received two sessions of media training from Daisy and a third session scheduled for July was abruptly cancelled.
Ms. Borden said A4A members began to suspect a connection between Daisy’s free media training and the Ontario government, and expressed these concerns to the company. Ms. Borden said Mr. Kinsella responded with “a totally bizarre and rude e-mail” that included a threat of litigation unless her comments were retracted.
Mr. Kinsella said his company’s pro bono work for A4A was unrelated to his company’s earlier work for the government, which involved working with Ms. MacLeod on files related to social assistance when she was minister of Children, Community and Social Services. Ms. MacLeod did not attend Question Period Thursday.
NDP ethics and accountability critic Taras Natyshak said the information reported by The Globe is disturbing.
"Concerned parents deserve answers,” he said during Thursday’s Question Period at Queen’s Park. “Government funding went to a communications consulting firm, and that firm turned around and offered free services to a group that was attacking the government’s critics. Even the group itself felt this was suspicious. When they asked questions about why they were getting all this help for free, they were threatened with a lawsuit. The Ford government needs to come clean … Will the Premier tell us, today, what Daisy Group was being paid to do, and provide answers for parents who have been treated so cruelly by this government over the last year?”
House Leader Paul Calandra responded on behalf of the Ford government.
“Obviously the minister followed all the rules with respect to this contract,” he said. “Look, the minister is not different than any one of us here. We often sometimes need assistance in fulfilling our duties. I know the members opposite do as much as we do. But in this instance, the minister followed all of the rules.”
Kayla Iafelice, a spokesperson for Premier Doug Ford, also said that all of the rules were followed and that the government would have no further comment.
Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser told reporters the contract should “100 per cent” be released in order to rebuild trust with the autism community. Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner also said the contract should be made public in the interest of transparency.
Ms. MacLeod announced in February that the government would be changing its funding formula for autism therapy. The proposed changes restricted access to applied behavioral analysis (ABA) therapy, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars per year. The plan prompted widespread protests from parents, which ultimately led the government to issue an apology and pledge to revise its plans.
Mike Moffatt, a parent of two children with autism who supports behavioural therapy, noted that A4A’s positions are out of step with the vast majority of autism advocacy groups. He also noted that some A4A supporters have been verbally abusive toward parents online.
Mr. Moffatt said any effort to increase the profile of A4A could dilute the messages of protest from the other autism groups.
“If the autism community is sort of fighting with each other, then it makes us less effective in advocating for change,” he said.
In an e-mail Thursday, Mr. Kinsella repeated his assertion that the work for the government and A4A were not related and that his firm has not worked for the government since November, 2018.
“The two files were not related in any way, shape or form, and they were separated by the passage of many months. Insinuations and innuendo that they were in any way related are categorically false,” he said. “We fully support the release by the government of details about the single assignment for which we were selected. We were proud of the work we did, and we gave them good value.”
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