Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Conservatives Will Support Amended Motion for a National Autism Strategy

It appears that I owe the Harper Conservatives an apology; that I might have been overly harsh on them in earlier comments about their rejection of a National Autism Strategy. It now looks like the Conservatives are in agreement with an amended motion for an NAS, one which should pass the vote with all parties except the Bloc supporting the motion as amended.


Father of autistic child satisfied with plan OTTAWA - Brian Rimpilainen watched from the galleries of the House of Commons on Monday as Parliamentarians found a compromise on a national strategy on autism that the governing Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats could support.

Rimpilainen, a Fredericton man whose eight-year-old son, Logan, has autism, said he was satisfied with the outcome of the debate even if the compromise motion is less robust than the original one put forward by Fredericton Liberal MP Andy Scott.

"It is good to see it moving forward," he said.

The debate was unusual in that it showed Parliamentarians working together instead of fighting, and that the MPs who addressed it told emotional personal stories. The vote on the motion will be held Dec. 5.

The only party opposing it is the Bloc Quebecois because it treads into provincial jurisdiction.

Speaking at the end of the debate, Scott said he would have preferred his original motion but that in the interests of getting government support it was acceptable to water it down.

"The amendment in fact captures the spirit of the original motion," he said, noting that the four elements are still there: a national strategy based on national standards, funding, surveillance and research.

The amendment stressed that the objectives would be achieved "in cooperation with the provinces," a key caveat that allowed the federal government to support the motion.

"All those elements are there. They are not nearly as prescriptive as they were in the original motion and that was necessary to get the government to do it in a way it sees fit, but all the elements of the original motion are there and we will hold the government's feet to the fire to make sure it is done in the spirit in which it was intended."

Scott said he had support from the New Brunswick Autism Society for the amended motion, and had been working with Leo Hayes high school where the autism motion has been a class project.

During the debate, Alberta Conservative Mike Lake told his story about his 11-year-old son Jaden who has autism.

When Jaden was 21-months-old, they began to suspect he had autism.

"We knew that therapy was going to be expensive. Even then we were looking at between $50,000 and $60,000 a year. At that time, I was making probably between $35,000 and $40,000 so the numbers did not really add up," he said.

Lake added that he was lucky because around that time Alberta decided to fund the expensive, 40-hours-a-week, one-on-one therapy that many consider necessary to break through the isolation that people with autism suffer from.

New Brunswick covers the treatment but only until the age of six, while in Alberta it is until the age of 18.

"The fact remains that where Alberta showed leadership and made autism treatment a priority, other provinces have not. That is why this motion is so important," Lake said.

He credits the treatment for the progress Jaden has shown. He is now in school.

Steven Fletcher, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of health, also spoke to the motion. A quadriplegic due to an automobile accident, Fletcher had worked with Scott to find a compromise.

"It is issues like this which attracted me to politics in the first place. I never planned to be a politician. I wanted to be an engineer like my father, grandfather and great-grandfather, and I actually became one. I worked in the gold mines, but after my accident, a collision with a moose, I realized that my career as an engineer would be impossible. I had to make different choices," Fletcher said.

"It was after my accident that I realized that in our society we have a contradiction."

Canada treats illness but doesn't invest enough in ensuring that disabled people can live "meaningful and dignified" lives, he said.

"Canadians expect that everyone should have the opportunity to live the Canadian dream," Fletcher said, turning his wheelchair to face the Bloc MPs.

"This is the right decision "... I understand there is an objection from one party because of the word 'national' in the motion. The House should always put Canadians first, regardless of the province they may come from."

Outside the Commons, Fletcher said the government began to address autism last week when Health Minister Tony Clement announced some funding for research, and the final public policy will include "innovative funding methods" for families.

Fletcher said the research will answer questions such as why autism is increasing and whether intense therapy is the best treatment, adding that the provinces have to be involved because health care in a provincial jurisdiction.

Also outside the Commons, Scott said the government must come up with a strategy before the next federal election.

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