Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to put a few thoughts on the record on the important subject of autism and the establishment of a day when we might recognize this challenge that affects so many families across the country.
We know so little about autism and need to do so much more work on it. Most important, we must provide some meaningful concrete support to some of these families that, in many instances, spend their life savings, mortgage their homes and give everything they absolutely have out of love for their children in the hope that one day those children will be able to participate in society in the way we all want our children to participate.
The New Democrats support the Senate bill to designate April 2 of each year as World Autism Awareness Day. However, every day we should be thinking about what we can to lift the burden of so many people in our ridings and across the country. Every day they wake up to the reality that they have very special children who have some very special needs and they hope they will get the help they require.
I do not think anyone here has not one day or another, while back in our ridings, had a meeting with some family that has shared the challenges of having such a special child in the family, the pain, the suffering and the grief that goes along with that because the family cannot find the services and support in the community.
Government does not seem to be able to find a way. As a provincial member of the Ontario legislature, I met with groups of families in my riding office. We tried to case manage and work our way through how we might take advantage of some of the very scarce resources that were available through the provincial government.
I guess the provincial government has tried to the best it can with the limited resources it has available to it, but it is not even close to enough. It hardly scratches the surface. That is why we will support this minimal effort to bring some focus and attention to this reality by supporting the other parties in the House in recognizing autism on April 2 of each year.
Bill S-211, An Act respecting World Autism Awareness Day, supports the acknowledgement of the families affected by autism spectrum disorders and the declaration that April 2 be recognized as world autism awareness day.
Many of my colleagues, the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore, the member for Vancouver Kingsway and the member for Sudbury, at one time or another have brought forward bills to the House that if passed and honoured by the government, would have provided, in a very serious and meaningful way, the kind of support that families need, which would go a long way to resolving some of the financial difficulties that come with trying to provide the services and support. I know this from having met with families and having listened to them. I heard their pleas.
I know these three members have brought bills before the House. In fact, the member for Vancouver Kingsway brought a similar bill to the one we discussing. Hopefully Bill C-327, a Canadian autism day, will pass in the House.
The member for Sudbury wanted to amend the Canada Health Act so autism could be brought under that umbrella. By amending the act, resources would not be limited in the way they are now. Families could tap into those resources and get the help they needed and get on with their lives.
The member for Sudbury headed up the United Way at one time in Sudbury. He oversaw a number of programs and initiatives that helped the people of that community in meaningful ways. He called for a national strategy on autism, which would have allowed us to respond to this challenge in a more concrete way.
My colleagues and I have no hesitation whatsoever in supporting the Senate bill before us today. However, we call on the government to become more involved and to do something more concrete other than simply naming a day for people to focus on autism and learn more about it.
We could be providing services to families 365 days of the year. One of our most fundamental responsibilities is to look after those in our communities who are most at risk and in need of services so they can be socially included in their communities, in their schools and in their recreational programs. We could do this if only there were the political will.
The initial bill, Bill C-211 put forward by the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore, called on the federal government to work with the provinces and territories to ensure that the cost of autism therapy, more commonly known as ABA or IBI, would be covered by their health care insurance plans of every province and territory. That would mean the federal government would have to sit down with the provinces and territories. It could do that now, as they renegotiate the agreement, and ensure it includes in the transfer of funds to the provinces and territories the kinds of money and resources needed to bring autism therapy under the Canada Health Act.
The provinces want to do this. Between 1990 and 2003, I spoke with officials in the Ontario ministry of health. They would love to do this, but they do not have the resources. Let us sit down and talk with them and work out a way to ensure the provinces get the money they need to make this happen.
When the bill was first introduced as Bill C-211 there was a need for the government to engage itself in discussions with the provinces so autism therapy, ABA, IBI, and other therapies, would be covered by the health care insurance plan in every province and territory. This way families, which found themselves mortgaging their homes, in some cases bankrupting themselves so they could look after their children to give them a good start in life and some opportunity in life to participate, would have the resources they needed.
We believe amendments need to be made to section 2 of the Canada Health Act. We believe ABA and IBI should be listed in the act as medically necessary services or required services for people with autism spectrum disorder.
I remember my colleague, Shelley Martel, the critic for health in Ontario, the member for Nickel Belt, also called for this. I would join with her today to say let us get on with this and get it done but, at the very least, let us support this day of autism awareness.