Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my colleague, the member for Richmond—Arthabaska.
Mr. Speaker, today we are debating a motion brought forth by my colleague and dear friend, the member for Edmonton—Wetaskiwin, and I want to thank him very much for this. I am surprised that we are actually debating this. I am shocked that the government has not signalled that it will be supporting this.
Autism spectrum disorder is widely considered the fastest-growing neurological disorder in Canada, affecting one in 68 kids, including my own son. Before I get into my personal experience with the disorder, I would like to discuss autism and raise more awareness about what it is exactly.
In the past, in the early days, autism was recognized as distinct subtypes, including autistic disorder; childhood disintegrative disorder; pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified; and Asperger syndrome. In May 2016, they were merged into one diagnosis, and that is what we are calling autism spectrum disorder.
ASD is a lifelong diagnosis that affects those who have autism in many different ways. The symptoms can include social impairment, restricted and repetitive behaviour, intellectual disability, and motor and attention difficulties, just to name a few.
However, those who have autism, including my own son, can also excel in certain areas, such as music—for example, my son can play three instruments—languages—he can speak a couple of languages really well, and I cannot even speak English or French properly—art, and even visual skills. This is one of the wonderful things about individuals with autism. Each individual is unique.
Forty per cent of those on the spectrum, like my own son, have above average academic and intellectual abilities, and about 25% are non-verbal. However, they can learn to communicate using other means. We just need to give them those resources.
Signs of autism usually tend to emerge around the ages of two or three, but more needs to be done to raise awareness about the signs to help families detect autism early on.
The motion brought forward by my colleague addresses an issue he knows all too well and for which he has been a great champion for many years. It calls on the government to grant $19 million over five years, which has been requested by the Canadian autism partnership working group, the self-advocates advisory group, and the Canadian Autism Spectrum Disorders Alliance.
Unfortunately, this funding was nowhere to be found in budget 2017. The Liberals do not seem to realize that this funding is needed to help establish a Canadian autism partnership program that would support families and address key issues, such as research, early detection, diagnosis, and treatment.
In contrast, in the 2015 budget, under the previous Conservative government, the Canadian Autism Partnership Project, CAPP, was established. It is worth noting that many Liberals supported that idea, such as senator Jim Munson, a Liberal senator.
The national ASD group, led by the Minister of Health and some of Canada's leading autism experts, was established to guide the work of CAPP, which received $2 million in funding to explore a partnership concept through broad-based engagement that would address all the issues I have raised.
Our 2015 election platform also promised:
...we'll continue to support the Autism Spectrum Disorder Working Group's work to develop a Canadian autism partnership. We'll be read to support the initiative in areas of federal jurisdiction once the development work is complete.
As we have all heard, this should not be a partisan issue. This is a matter that needs to be addressed at the federal level but has, unfortunately, been ignored by the Liberal government.
It is disappointing to hear and see that Liberal MPs would rather hand out millions of dollars to Bombardier executives so they can reward themselves with big bonuses over providing necessary funding for issues such as autism spectrum disorder.
My friend, the member for Carleton, put it into perspective. One bonus to one Bombardier millionaire executive would pay for the entire autism commitment.
I want to share my family's own experience with autism spectrum disorder. It is not something I share very often, but I assure members that I have received permission. Since this is an important issue, and we need to raise as much awareness as possible, I spoke with my son last night and I got his permission.
My son was diagnosed with Asperger's, which was one of the previously separate subtypes of autism that I mentioned earlier in my speech.
Those who are diagnosed with Asperger's are considered to be at the high-functioning end of the spectrum. However, he, like many others who are eventually diagnosed with Asperger's, had difficulty with social interactions.
Without a doubt, we faced many challenges. There was growing frustration with the school system and the medical system, since he was poorly diagnosed.
There was frustration with the system then and, unfortunately, there is still frustration for many families now. My son was very fortunate, because, unlike many Canadian families facing the same and sometimes more difficult circumstances, we had the means to put him into a private school so that he could get the attention he needed due to the challenges he faced. We held him back a year, which was very controversial, but he was able to get some wins: he raised his self-esteem and confidence. Achieving all of this took many years of hard work, because it was hard work for him. He worked hard on his social interaction skills so that he could start to read social cues. He actually had to intentionally make eye contact while having conversations with another person.
After years of frustration, misdiagnoses, and hard work, I am extremely proud to say that in spite of all of his challenges, my son has just finished his second year of medical school and is one of the youngest kids in his class. People who meet my son today would never know that he faced these challenges when he was younger. Some people would know, and my colleague from Edmonton—Wetaskiwin probably would know, but because of his gift, he had to work harder, and we as a family had to work harder. We had to educate ourselves and the people around us. Today, I can honestly say that he is one of the best communicators I know, and I am more proud of him and his accomplishments than ever.
As I said, my family was fortunate enough to have the means to ensure the best care and education was available to my son, and this is not the case for all Canadians. We still lack public awareness, especially in our school systems. We lack research and treatment, and most importantly, we still lack proper and early diagnoses.
The Liberals cannot ignore this issue any longer. Yesterday, the Minister of Health chose to ignore questions from my colleagues about autism spectrum disorder funding. She kind of skirted the question. Today she was asked again, and she again refused to answer. The reality is that she is failing hundreds of thousands of Canadians who are living with autism spectrum disorder. I am not just talking about the kids; I am talking the moms and dads, the sisters and brothers, and the people in the community.
This is the Minister of Health's and the Liberal government's opportunity to do the right thing. This is $3.8 million, which is a rounding error in comparison to what the government is spending around the world on other kinds of initiatives. In fact, this is a smart and responsible investment that can make the lives of many Canadians better. I encourage all members of the House to vote in favour of this motion so that proper funding can be allocated to this very important issue.
I want to speak a little more about my son, because he is an example of this. Because he was able to get the help he needed, he is going to help other Canadians, with a perspective that very few of us have. One of his frustrations, but also one of his gifts, is that kids with Asperger's can focus like a laser. If they are interested in something, they can do it, and they can achieve it better than many other ordinary Canadians. If we look back in history, we could name numerous people with autism: Temple Grandin, who many people know is on the speaking circuit now; Charles Darwin had autism; Albert Einstein; Jerry Seinfeld thinks he's on the spectrum; Isaac Asimov; Susan Boyle, the singer; Dan Aykroyd, the Canadian comedian. All of these people achieved wonderful things in spite of the challenges they faced.
It is so important for us in the House to know that we can make a difference. When I look at the ask my colleague has made of the House and also at the big picture, it is a small investment for such a large return that will affect Canadians. This group has worked hard since I have been in the House. As I said earlier, Mr. Speaker, you and I were both elected in 2004 and there was not much out there, but today there is. By making this very small investment, the government can make a huge difference not only to Canadians affected by autism spectrum disorder but to all Canadians, because when these kids get the help they need, they can achieve anything. I believe that. Let us vote for this motion today and support my colleague from Edmonton—Wetaskiwin.