Progress on Ontario's deficit comes at a cost

By Cecilia Nasmith

While Northumberland-Peterborough South MPP David Piccini points with pride to the progress Premier Doug Ford is making to tackle Ontario's deficit, a number of local parents find the provincial government's methods of doing so unacceptable.

A Friday-morning protest outside Piccini's Port Hope constituency office was mounted by the Autism Advocacy Committee and other taxpayers in response to the announcement earlier this month of changes to the funding model for parents with autistic children – providing for an average of $8,750 per year per eligible child, while the average cost of intensive therapies can exceed $70,000 a year.

“Families deserve not to be shuffled from one bad Liberal plan to an even worse Conservative plan,” their press release said.

Piccini's office issued its own press release on the occasion of the third fiscal quarter since the government's election in June. The province's deficit has declined from $15-billion to $13.5-billion, it said – a $1-billion improvement since November.

“In six short months, we have managed to find $3.2-billion in savings across government, delivered $2.7-billion in tax relief to Ontario families, individuals and businesses, and cancelled millions in planned tax hikes,” the news release said.

As for measures to stimulate business, it continued, it pointed to taxes that were cut, hydro rates that were lowered, and regulations and red tape that were slashed.

Efforts to help Ontario families include tax credits for low-income workers and savings at the gas pump from eliminating the cap-and-trade programming, not to mention freezing hunting- and fishing-license fees and allowing free fishing on Family Day weekend.

Locally, Piccini pointed to a $1.74-million investment in Campbellford Memorial Hospital, a temporary addition to acute-care beds at Northumberland Hills Hospital, Trillium Foundation funding for Transition House, and long-term-care funding for the Golden Plough Lodge and Pleasant Manor.

Ontario Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Lisa MacLeod announced the change to autism funding Feb. 6 as a positive development that would clear lengthy waiting lists for therapy. The group protesting in Port Hope, however, say the new funding model will result in less funding per child, and that this funding will depend on age and family income rather than clinical need.

“This announcement once again abandons the needs of society's most vulnerable by ripping away the services of high-needs children receiving therapy, and all other autistic children on the waiting lists will have their services cut,” they argued.

“We are calling on the government to fund families according to the needs of their children, and stop any plan that forces families to cope with any cut to therapy already being given.”