UPDATE to article below:
In abundance of transparency on my part, I provided a disclaimer at the beginning of the interview, prior to MPP Bouma beginning his answers: Although in my private community volunteerism I am a member of the Board of Directors at Lansdowne Children’s Centre, I do not speak on their behalf or have any input of collaborating data or editorial opinion from any individuals in that organization in any capacity relevant to my posting as Publisher of 4BRANT.com. This was made perfectly clear, in addition, as I encouraged the MPP and his Executive Assistant to record our conversation as I intended as well. This story is nothing more than a direct transcript of legitimate questions and answers, as a response to being approached by MPP Bouma and his Executive Assistant who requested the interview, through both phone and email communication on their part.
Publisher’s Note: I was given approximately 15 minutes on the phone to interview MPP Willem Bouma in his Queen’s Park office specifically about the issue of reduced funding for parents of children with Autism.
To be perfectly frank, after the interview I struggled and considered spiking the story to save the rookie representative of Brant Riding embarrassment. 4BRANT’s philosophy is to report in a FAIR, FACTUAL and FOCUSED approach. My dilemma was that in my opinion Bouma’s comments seemed somewhat naïve, lacking transparency and ill-informed. I also found his Executive Assistant Christopher Rell very defensive and aggressive when he interjected clarifications on behalf of the MPP.
However, my purpose was to seek answers demanded by Bouma’s constituents, which have not been answered directly. I fully expect to receive pushback and isolationism for writing this and a likely flurry of social media trolls supporting him. So be it.
4BRANT: Would you share what information was brought to you (regarding autism funding) in caucus prior to looking into your legislation?
MPP: We got into [a] discussion of the program, but that is all I can get into because of caucus confidentiality.
4BRANT: There would have been discussion of the previous Ontario Autistic Program brought in by the previous government?
4BRANT: I presume there would have been information from the B.C. government program, which implemented a similar process recently?
MPP: I don’t have any comment on that.
MPP: No comment.
4BRANT: Is there an education period, particularly to give, for new members, an understanding of the complexity of these issues?
MPP: Well I think, you know, everyone does their best on this, but there’s a lot of issues all coming at the same time.
4BRANT: Can you tell me how the number (of unserved children) of 23,000 came up?
MPP: That is just standard Ministry information. The Ministry came up this morning and said, ‘the people that are saying differently from that are misrepresenting that’.
4BRANT: It sounds like there are several kinds of waitlists, for each different level of program applications and you have accumulated all the waitlists for all the individuals, but it doesn’t represent 23,000 individuals who are without service. Am I correct?
MPP: I disagree.
4BRANT: For clarification you are saying there are 23,000 children not getting any service at all?
4BRANT: In the past, given children with a severe diagnosis, families were given up to $80,000 a year and over four years ($320,000 total) and your model is offering $140,000 lifetime only from age 2 to 18 and with a [financial] means test.
MPP: I think what we are doing is recognizing the importance for parents to make the right decisions for their kids.
4BRANT: I think the parents are making the decisions on behalf of their children currently and you are just changing the goalposts as to what the funding is.
4BRANT: In light of the reduction of funding are you aware of the consequences particularly after they age out, at 18?
MPP: There’s no reduction in funding for the entire group of children with autism. We’re funding all 32,000 kids that suffer from this, right. You’re suggesting that if we put $3 billion per year up to age 18 then the kids would need no services after age 18. I find that highly unrealistic. It’s much better to give some people something than to give a whole bunch of people nothing. It comes down to how do we help the most people. Unless you are writing a cheque for us, we don’t have $3 billion to fund everybody. We are increasing what is offered. In previous years it was $256 million a year and we are offering $321 million a year.
4BRANT: That includes the bureaucracy being created as well as the dollars to the families, but families are expecting to receive less.
MPP: The people who are on funding right now probably will receive a little bit less, but we’re opening up the system so a whole bunch of kids can get some funding.
4BRANT: You understand there is a backlash with this?
MPP: I kind of picked it up on social media this past weekend.
4BRANT: Those people would like to talk with you. Is that a possibility?
MPP: If there are 2,000 people, I don’t know how we can handle that.
4BRANT: How about setting up a local forum?
MPP: I don’t know if I will be available for something like that and based on the feedback that people are telling me that I don’t have a right to live and stuff like that, I don’t see how anything positive can come out of that.
Exec. Asst. Christopher Rell: If individual families would like to have a meeting with Will, we have been scheduling them. We haven’t denied anyone anything. We’d like to help the individual families. If they want to phone the office. We’re not going to have an open forum because nothing productive is going to come of it. We will address the needs of individuals.
4BRANT: I know there is an inconvenience…
Exec. Asst. Christopher Rell: We’re not going to talk any more about this. We’d be happy to meet with them…individuals…in the riding…the constituency.
MPP: We will do our best to accommodate them.
4BRANT: People are asking if, as MPP your priority is the party or your constituency.
MPP: If you ask that, you haven’t been following me.
4BRANT: I understand, but if you look at the community and three out of four eligible voters did not vote for you…
MPP: My actions speak for them on that one.
4BRANT: People suggest they have tried to reach you, but feel rebuffed and have not got a response.
Exec. Asst. Christopher Rell: We take every call and email with great concern. We do not deny people access to meet with them. That’s a lie.
MPP: Anyway, thank you very much. I do need to get back and great chatting.
4BRANT: Thank you
John Bradford, Publisher
With Additional Editing by: Victoria Gray
Multimedia journalist and Editor-in-Chief of 4BRANT