CPC leadership candidate Roman Baber promises a 'transformational' National Autism Plan

'I believe it's not just the right thing to do, it's the fiscally prudent thing to do'

Catherine Lévesque 3 minute read April 20, 2022

CPC leadership candidate Roman Baber will open his campaign with a promise of a National Austism plan

As Prime Minister, Conservative Party of Canada leadership candidate Roman Baber promises to match provincial funding of autism treatment of up to $500 million per year, a move he said would encourage local jurisdictions to “get their act together” and reduce growing waitlists.

Baber will be presenting his National Autism Plan, his first official policy announcement as leadership candidate, Wednesday evening at a campaign event in Vaughan, Ontario

“In Canada, we now have one in 50 Canadian children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, and treatment can make a very profound impact in a child’s life. So I believe it’s not just the right thing to do, it’s the fiscally prudent thing to do. Because I’d rather invest in treatment to improve the child’s life instead of paying for support for the rest of their life,” Baber told the National Post.

“Families, typically, are tired of fighting provincial governments,” he added. “What I will propose on Wednesday, I would suggest, humbly, will be transformational.”

Under his proposal, treatment of autism would be deemed a “shared health-care priority”. The federal government would reach bilateral agreements with provinces and territories relative to the number of Canadians under 18 years of age who are estimated to require treatments such as applied behaviour analysis, occupation therapy and speech language pathology.

Baber, a Toronto-area MPP who announced he would not be running again in the provincial election because of the race at the federal level, has called for a complete reset to Ontario’s autism program in an internal review he led in 2019, and even accused the Ford government of spreading misinformation about the costs and the backlog of children waiting for treatment.

Ultimately, the MPP was kicked out of Ford’s caucus in early 2021 for being critical of COVID-19 lockdowns.

Baber is still highly skeptical of Ontario’s ability to provide a program that works for families with autistic children. “Part of the reason why I’m doing this specifically is I want to commit the provinces to spend money on treatment, as opposed to spending money on coordination or on potential treatments that are not evidence-based,” he said.

“This will give me assurance that provinces will actually get their act together and go and dedicate money for treatment.”

Provinces and territories have, however, been very vocal about needing a significant increase in health-care funding. Some, like Quebec, are fiercely opposed to any strings attached to more money as have been proposed by the Liberals for long-term care, mental health or hiring more professionals.

It is unclear how they would react to Baber’s proposition, which incorporates approximately the same model to ensure funding in a specific area related to health.

Baber said he has learned a lot about autism thanks to his partner, Nancy Marchese, who is a well-known advocate and CEO of a centre providing the same type of treatment he hopes to fund with his proposition. “She has given me a lot of insight into autism. And, together with a number of constituents, inspired my passion for this issue,” he said.

“We’re in Autism Awareness Month and the month is coming to an end fairly soon. I think it’s important that Canadians get familiarized with this issue.”


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