The Harper Conservative government strategy to address the Autism health crisis in Canada is beyond pathetic; it is wretched. It is nothing more than a ploy from the now infamous Conservative Party Book of Dirty Tricks.
The Harper Conservatives' autism strategy was announced in November 2006 by Health Minister Tony Clement and consisted of a web page and a stakeholder symposium to be held in 2007. Yes there were other elements - sort of. A research chair was mentioned - sort of. The Harper conservatives pledged to begin exploring the establishment of a research chair focusing on effective treatment and intervention for ASD. They also pledged to launch a consultation process on the feasibility of developing an ASD surveillance program through the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) to help shape appropriate ASD programming and research. I wonder which generation of Canadians will be around to see whether an ASD surveillance program, whatever that is, is determined to be feasible?
Of course there is the pledge to address Canada's autism health crisis by designating a bureaucracy within a bureacracy, the pledge to designate the Health Policy Branch of Health Canada as the ASD lead for actions related to ASD at the Federal Health Portfolio level. Health Canada itself of course is the federal government Department charged with responsibility over health matters which the Harper Conservatives tell us [ignoring the development over decades of cooperative federalism] is a matter entirely within provincial constitutional jurisdiction. Gee, the policy branch of the federal department responsible for a matter which the Conservatives claim is entirely within provincial jurisdiction will be designated as the lead branch of that department for actions related to ASD at the federal level. WOW!!
Then there is the autism web site promised by Health Minister Clement. Personally I believe it to be the least informative autism site on the internet. But that may be a bit harsh. There may be autism web sites that are still "under construction" and actually say nothing at all. Judge for yourself:
Then there is the "stakeholders" symposium promised to be held in 2007. As one who has been an autism activist for the last 8 years in New Brunswick I recoil at the use of the word "stakeholder". It sounds like a property interest in a commercial transaction. I am an autism activist because of my profoundly autistic son. He, with his brother, are the joys of our life but they are not "stakes" in a poker game. And government typically defines the stakeholder concept broadly to include any group that might be useful in pushing the government's own agenda. Careful selection of a few stakeholder groups for government funding and support invariably results in useful tools for creating division and weakness in the disability community whose issues are being addressed, allowing government to divide, delay and deny provision of necessary services.
I was asked by the Autism Society New Brunswick to participate as the ASNB representative at the autism stakeholders symposium which was scheduled to take place mid-June 2007 in Ottawa. I contacted the Canadian Institute for Health Research to register for the event and was told that the federal government wanted the Autism Society Canada, the federal organization of which ANSB is a member, to forward the names of participants for the autism symposium. Thus the provincial body, the ASNB, could not forward names directly of representatives for a national symposium to address an issue which, according to Stephen Harper, Tony Clement and Edmonton area MP Mike "Bigfoot" Lake [Conservative Party autism spokesman and Autism Dad]is entirely within provincial jurisdiction. The Autism Society Canada put my name forward at the request of ASNB and I waited to receive my invitation. I had been told the invitations would be sent out two weeks ago. When I followed up last week I was informed by CIHR that the symposium was being discussed at a more senior level and that so many names were put forward that it was necessary to arrange a new larger location. In the meantime I had become aware that prominent, no nonsense autism activists like Andrew Kavchak in Ottawa and the FEAT-BC folks had also been put forward as participants in the national autism stakeholders symposium. Last week it was formally announced that the symposium was "postponed" to an unspecified date in the fall.
I do not believe the excuse that the Government of Canada could not find a large enough room to accommodate a national symposium of autism representatives by mid-June. The federal government is THE consumer of services for such activities in the National Capital Region and has a lot of purchasing/bargaining power. There is a substantial industry in the region which thrives on hosting such events and the capacity has been developed for these purposes. The federal government itself owns a good chunk of the national capital real estate and surely has the facility to itself host a symposium.
The Harper Conservative government became increasingly aware that activists such as yours truly, Andrew Kavchak, some FEAT-BC reps, and some of the family members involved in the Auton and Deskin-Wynberg autism cases were coming to Ottawa to participate in the national autism symposium and they wanted no part of it. That is the more plausible explanation for the postponement/cancellation of the symposium. The whole national autism "strategy" could have been lifted from page 1 of the Harper Book of Dirty Tricks recently exposed and which directs Conservative MP's to to obstruct the progress of parliamentary committees, including stacking such commitee proceedings with witnesses who would support the Harper Conservatives' agenda. The page was turned to page 2 when the only pledge of any merit, the national autism stakeholders symposium was "postponed" until the fall of 2007. IF the symposium does proceed in the fall you can be sure that every effort will be made by the party of Harper and Clement to ensure that the voices of serious autism activists will not be present and will not be heard. As dictated in Harper's Book of Dirty Tricks only sponsored, docile autism representatives supportive of the Conservative Party agenda will be invited. ... Continued on Page 3, Harper's Book of Dirty Tricks.