Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill S-210, An Act respecting World Autism Awareness Day.
This initiative follows that of the UN, which, in 2008, proclaimed April 2 as World Autism Day in order to encourage families affected by this disease to call for the services to which they are entitled. In Quebec, we already have Autism Month—the month of April—while in Canada it is the month of October. We are right in the middle of Autism Month. It works out well that we in this House can discuss Bill S-210, introduced by a Liberal senator.
From the outset, certain aspects of the preamble of Bill S-210 are inconsistent with the constitutional rights of Quebec and the provinces. Even though this is 2009, even though the Bloc Québécois has been here since 1993 and even though before the Bloc Québécois arrived a good number of MPs from Quebec from various parties defended the interests of Quebec in the House, we have always talked about federal interference in provincial jurisdictions. It seems to go in one ear and out the other and again today we must explain, and explain again, how important it is for the government to respect provincial jurisdictions.
We are therefore of the opinion that any reference to a national health system, which is an area under the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces, should be removed from the bill, and we wish to propose amendments to Bill S-210 to that effect.
However, we do support the basic premise of the bill. Autism spectrum disorders are affecting more and more children around the world, so it is important for families to have access to a growing range of appropriate services. If the federal government wants to invest money in health care, we will not stand in its way. But the trouble starts when it tries to impose conditions. We all know that this matter falls under Quebec's exclusive jurisdiction and that Quebec is in charge in this area. The government should therefore transfer the necessary funds, and Quebec will develop its own policies, just as it has always done so well.
A World Autism Awareness Day is a good idea, not only because it will raise public awareness of this complex syndrome, but also because it will encourage people to help improve thousands of families' quality of life.
I would like to take a few minutes to talk about some examples from my riding. One of the prime examples is an organization dedicated to the well-being of families with autistic children or children with learning disabilities. That organization is the Centre de stimulation L'Envol, a community organization that opened its doors in Victoriaville in 1996 and offers stimulation and recreation activities for children aged 0 to 12 with communication disorders.
L'Envol's mission is to promote the availability of a complete range of special services to support families and help children with developmental disorders reach their full potential.
In 1994-95, Marguerite Bourgeois, a mother of two children with serious communication disorders, had no access to special services. She got an idea, and she decided that it was up to her to take charge and open a centre in Victoriaville to help families like hers. She got parents together, developed a plan for an early stimulation centre, and presented the plan to various community partners and the regional health and social services authority.
Thanks to the financial support of various social organizations and private donations, the Centre de stimulation L'Envol opened its doors in Victoriaville in September 1996, as I said.
I will give two short definitions to illustrate the specific nature of L'Envol's client base. I think that pretty much every member of this House can think of a number of people around them, perhaps even in their families, who have children with this sort of communication disorder. One cannot be unaware of it.
Pervasive developmental disorders include several qualitative impairments ranging from mild to severe in three developmental areas: social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication, and restricted and stereotyped patterns of behaviour and interests. Autism is the most well known.
Dysphasia is a pervasive impairment affecting verbal communication which is characterized by a slow and atypical development of the power of comprehension and use of language. How severely individual aspects of speech are affected will vary from one child to the next and even in the same child. To varying degrees, dysphasia disrupts verbal communication, socialization, learning in school and the performance of certain tasks. This gives an idea of the areas in which the Centre de stimulation L'Envol in Victoriaville does its work.
Each region of Quebec has several organizations sharing the same goals and working to help families and parents. On l'Envol's website, which I visited this morning, we can find several interesting testimonies from families living with this hardship, although these testimonies do show that there is hope. That is why it is important not only to raise public awareness, but also for the public to make financial contributions to help these people.
I will take for example the testimony of two individuals whom I know well: Geneviève Poudrier and Guy Désilets, of Victoriaville. They have one child and they share their experience on L'Envol's website. Let me quote them briefly.
We were very worried when we learned that Benjamin [their child] was not developing like all the other children. At 32 months, he did not say a word and played alone, lining up his cars, his sausages or his pieces of toast. We put a lot of energy into giving him what he needed: stimulation. Now, he says simple sentences, knows his letters and loves finding words and reading short books. Benjamin plays with his friends at day care and gives us a warm welcome when we go to pick him up.
We can see from this testimony from the parents that things were very difficult for them initially. It must be very hard for parents to see that their child is not developing in the same way as his friends. But a little later, with stimulation, thanks in part to L'Envol, the child made remarkable progress. Obviously, every child will progress at his own pace, but without stimulation, the parents would not have gotten the results they did.
Guy Désilets, Benjamin's father, is an officer with the Sûreté du Québec in the Arthabaska RCM, in my region, and he decided to get involved. He organized a golf tournament for police in the region to raise funds for the Centre de stimulation L'Envol. Year after year, his golf tournament has raised more than $15,000 for the Centre de stimulation L'Envol. It is truly a phenomenal success. L'Envol has used the money to replenish its stock of games for the children and to keep the cost of its services as low as possible. I would like to pay tribute to police officer Guy Désilets for his excellent initiative.
Since 2003, and I will conclude in a moment, Quebec has had an action plan for those affected by autism. We have to continue moving in that direction. We have to further encourage governments to adopt policies like the one adopted by the Government of Quebec.
Bill S-210 opens the door to a national strategy, which poses a problem, as I was saying earlier. However, with the necessary amendments, the Bloc Québécois would have no problem supporting such a measure. The need to continue building awareness stems from the fact that autism spectrum disorders and pervasive developmental disorders currently affect about 60 children per 10,000, while in 1980, it affected 10 per 10,000. It affects all children equally, regardless of social conditions, race and ethnicity. It affects people from every social class. That is why I am asking the members of this House to carefully consider Bill S-210.