Sunday, September 05, 2010

I Am Voting Autism in the New Brunswick Election, I Am Voting Liberal

Shawn Graham, TJ Burke, Mary Schryer, Kelly Lamrock

The New Brunswick election is well under way, as the CBCNews NB Votes 2010 election countdown ticker tells us, with 22 days left until Election Day.  At this stage it is my hunch that autism services  will not receive any specific commitments from the parties.   Unless something dramatic, in the nature of a strong autism specific commitment to a new, modern residential care system for autistic adults emerges from one of the parties though this father of a severely autistic 14 year old son intends to vote Liberal.

Long before the last election took place autism groups advocated for early intervention and autism specific training for teacher assistants and resource teachers working with autistic students in New Brunswick schools. Many discussions took place with government and opposition political leaders. The then Conservative government of Premier Bernard Lord took some initial steps and Premier Shawn Graham's Liberal government developed those services substantially; particularly in New Brunswick schools.  The fact that autism advocacy groups, in direct discussion with the political leadership, played such a significant role in helping shape autism services in the schools did not always sit well with the interests of some career people in the Department of Education who opposed the changes and fought them, in some cases tooth and nail.  The changes were implemented though, after further study by then Liberal Education Minister Kelly Lamrock, and the autism commitments made by Premier Shawn Graham were honored to the great advantage of many New Brunswick students with autism disorders, including my son Conor.

Although both Conservative and Liberal governments have helped New Brunswick's autistic children in the past   autism specific commitments are not being discussed by any political party.  None of the three other parties, the NDP, the Green nor the new People's Alliance of New Brunswick have any hope of forming the next New Brunswick government.  

It is the prospect of further progress on advancing autism services, particularly for New Brunswick's adult autism population, that has me leaning strongly towards voting Liberal on September 27 2010. I will vote Liberal in the next election, in the likely absence of any autism specific commitment from the parties, because I know that the Liberal government including Shawn Graham, Kelly Lamrock, Mary Schryer  and TJ Burke, has a proven track record of helping autistic children in New Brunswick and I know from direct discussions  that they are solidly committed to helping with those with autism.  

Although I never had the opportunity to talk directly with former Conservative Premier Bernard Lord and former minister Tony Huntjens they did demonstrate a commitment to helping New Brunswick's autistic children.  Neither, however, are running in this election and Conservative leader David Alward has shown no substantial  interest in autism issues specifically, or in education, social or health issues generally.  His comments about requiring "volunteer" community service before New Brunswick students can graduate from High School cause me concern. The concept of requiring voluntary service seems illogical and contradictory. To this father of two high school sons Mr. Alward's comments also  suggest a  lack of sophisticated understanding of education issues.

The next great autism challenge in New Brunswick is to reform and modernize the residential care and treatment system for our  autistic adults.  The current group home system is inadequate for those who live there on many fronts include diet, recreation and access to treatment. The group home system as it is currently set up does not work at all for the lowest functioning autistic adults in New Brunswick who have  ended up living out their lives in psychiatric hospital wards in Saint John and Campbellton.

Current Health Minister Kelly Lamrock has stated that his department is studying, and working on the residential care system for New Brunswick autistic adults.  I know that autism groups, in which I have been included at times, have made representation on this issue. I believe Kelly Lamrock, who I have met and talked with many times, to be a  knowledgeable and trustworthy individual.  I believe that Kelly Lamrock will oversee the development of an autism specific residential care system for autistic adults.

I have   also met Premier Shawn Graham and discussed autism issues with him.  He committed to the Autism Society that his government would  train four years of classes of teacher assistants and resource teachers at UNB-CEL's autism intervention training program. Shawn Graham  kept that promise. He did so despite at times intense opposition from  interests within the Department of Education.

Like many New Brunswickers I was surprised and disappointed with Premier Graham's  reversal of his campaign commitment concerning NB Power.  I expressed my disappointment publicly but I think that Premier Graham entered into the NB Power deal  because he genuinely believed it was in the best interests of New Brunswick and felt that his first commitment, his first obligation as Premier,  was to govern in the best interests of New Brunswickers.    I believe that as a Premier he learned much from, and grew from,  that experience. And at the end of the day autism issues really carry my attention and Premier Shawn Graham has done much to help autistic children and students.

When we make our marks on election day it is for a local candidate in each riding. In this riding TJ Burke is the Liberal candidate and his personal and professional qualities are well known.  I know him as an MLA who I believe has represented our riding well in the Legislature. I know him as a very capable lawyer.  TJ Burke has always been very supportive on autism issues and even while the Liberals were in opposition he went out of his way to stop and talk with me at autism rallies I was involved with in Fredericton. I have talked with TJ several times about, and  know that he has been genuinely interested in, adult autism issues, and would be, if the Liberals are re-elected,  a strong supporter of improvements to New Brunswick's autistic adult residential care system.

On September 27  I will not be casting a protest vote or voting in anger. My vote will not be shaped by cynicism.  I will be voting for the party that I believe is most likely to help New Brunswick's autistic adults with a modernized autism specific adult residential care system, hopefully one with an enhanced facility located centrally in Fredericton near the autism expertise at UNB and the Stan Cassidy centre. I will be voting for the party that I know to be committed to, and knowledgeable about, autism generally. 

I mean no  disrespect toward the other parties, leaders or candidates.  But on September 27 I will be voting Autism.  I will be voting Liberal. 


farmwifetwo said...

Voting Liberal didn't help autism in Ontario... But we have a HUGE pile of new taxes over the last 8yrs, an out of control debt/deficit (people just don't understand the difference... frightening) that the Premier keeps telling aren't really taxes at all.... And Daddy McGuinty's Nanny Province is... WOW!!! But then again I didn't vote for him either time.

Also, they have to do 40hrs of volunteer work in Ont to graduate from highschool. Everything from fall fairs to community/church suppers to, to, to... there's a thousand options. In a world where teenagers are becoming more and more immature, have less and less responsibility, can't apply for their own jobs.... Mommy or Daddy has to do it... IMO, it's a much needed skill set... Go and work for someone, even if it's just a week.

Unknown said...

Thank you FW2. I am aware of the McGuinty government's awful record on autism in Ontario. This is NB though and the Graham Liberal government has done a lot to help NB's autisic pre-schoolers and students. As did the previous government of Conservative Premier Bernard Lord. It is not just the party label that counts, especially when looking at different provinces. You have to look at the people involved in each party and government. Here the Liberals have a strong experienced team at dealing with autism issues. The Conservatives who did help in the past are retired and the new ones have no experience and show no real interest in autism to date.

Mom on a Mission said...

Harold, I remember all too clearly my conversations with Bernard Lord prior to that election. The autism advocacy 'groups' (which really amounted to pockets of desperate and angry parents who protested at Conservative political rallies and wrote letters to the newspapers and anyone else who would listen) forced a commitment from Bernard Lord as NONE of his ministers wanted to listen at that time. Once the Lord people realized the ground swell they made an 11th hour commitment to invest substantial funding into 'preschool/early intervention' -- which amounted to giving preschoolers $1,667.00 per month to fund home ABA programs, as well as funding to develop a training program at UNB and set up community centers. Had us parents not twisted the man's arm and had such widespread public awareness I firmly believe that NOTHING would have been done at all. He did it out of fear, not a feeling of responsibility or caring... therein lies the difference between what the Liberal government has done since and what the Conservative government did before. I have spoken to Bernard Lord personally about the issue of autism funding as well as several other high-ranking politicos within the Conservative ranks at that time: NONE of them considered it important and repeatedly stated that 'there is only so much money' -- but once the polls showed that they were losing ground and we would not let the "issue" die, they did an about-face and promised funding. I will always be bitter about how un-caring they were and how their contribution was motivated by self-interest and political survival, not out of the view that it was the right thing to do for autistic children. I will be talking at length about our political activism in my blog... the citizens of NB need to know who they are voting for in the next election! Go Liberals!!!!

AutisticWisdom said...

FWIW Harold I tend to support mandatory "volunteer" work for high school students (not that it would be enough to sway your vote). With today's world telling teens it's all about them and personalizing everything from their music to their meals, it gives some perspective to have them help others for a mere 40 hours in their high school career. It's also a big help to non-profit communities who can use the help. Sometimes you need to see the people who need the help to get perspective.

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Unknown said...

Thank you Charlotte. I respect your opinion and your autism advocacy. I thank you and Luigi for your great autism advocacy over the last decade.

You may be right about the Lord government but I too have some knowledge of the efforts that were made by parents to influence the Lord government. I am well aware of the more confrontational and and pressure tactic aspects of the struggle for autism services in NB but I respectfully disagree that the Conservative response was entirely due to political pressure.

Wether it was, or was not though , is IMHO irrelevant to this election. The Liberal party currently has a strong team of experienced, capable people who have demonstrated a commitment to helping autistic children and students. The same can not be said of the current version of the Conservative Party.

The Liberal Party is the best bet to carry on the effort to help establish a badly needed decent residential care system for autistic adults. For that reason, in THIS election, I am voting Liberal on Sept 27.

Harold the Humble

Carl said...

from my opinion i find the libs are as far from doing anything realistic for Autistic children as the cons are

The only party at present that has anyone connected to the Autistic world involved with it to my knowledge is PANB

while not all of our platform is out yet and there is nothing specific in it i will say this that we will be making changes to the way autism is dealt with in this province.

that is my position

We also must remember that TA's who are a major reason why any autistic child can function are in a strike position and have been without a contract for over a year because the libs want to both give them no increase, remove seniority completely and refuse to increase their hours

realistically i dont think the libs are going to do us any favours in the autistic field

Unknown said...

Carl thank you for visiting and expressing your opinion. I am sure you have serious constraints on your time running as a candidate for a new party. Although I don't agree with your opinion I am glad that you chose to visit and look forward to reading the PANB's autism platform when it is available.

Carl said...

not my first visit by anymeans harold i have followed your blog for months my wife for even longer

and you follow our blog too for that matter lol

but opinions can and do vary even within parents of autistic children on who can support us best

but when we do bring out our autism based parts of the platform i will make sure you get a chance to see if

Anonymous said...

I, too will be voting Liberal. At least we know they follow through on commitment.
For all the reasons you stated, as I know them well, I whoe heartedly agree!!