Government change to autism funding plan a win for kids

Autism HUB plan scrapped

Over the last year, I have been standing up for children with autism and their families.

Last October, the B.C. government announced it would change its autism funding model from individualized parent-directed funding to a HUB model.

Right now, parents are able to direct funds towards personalized programs and therapies. A HUB model of care means children would access care through community centres and parents would have less control over what programs and therapies are available to them. This is a model of care that Ontario switched to a few years ago.

Waitlists have skyrocketed and tripled there, children are not getting the necessary care and are falling through the cracks, advocacy groups are calling for a shift back to individualized funding models, and families are literally moving out of Ontario to get better resources for their children.

Ontario has become chaotic in its delivery of care. This HUB system is a disaster.

This would be a devastating change for families with children with autism, and the announcement last October from Mitzi Dean, Minister of Children and Family Development, sent traumatizing shockwaves through the community. There is no time for mistakes in the life of a child.

We know that early intervention and care can mean the difference between independent successful living in adulthood, or dependency for life for some.

Is the individualized funding model perfect? No, there are changes needed.

For example, all children with neuro diversity need treatment and care. Right now the individualized funding model only includes for those with autism. This definition needs to be expanded. Additionally, funding only happens with diagnosis and currently, diagnostic rofessionals have tremendous waitlists. But once you have the diagnosis, the funding can be targeted specifically to the needs of the child with autism.

So what should have been fixed?

An expansion of the individualized funding to all children of neuro diversity and an expansion of the number of diagnostic professionals. Instead of making those adjustments, the government changed the model into a one-size-fits all and only if you can get in.

Thankfully all of that changed this last week.

The government under new Premier David Eby, reversed course and went back to individualized care, making the announcement on a Friday, without a news conference. Just a video from the premier’s office.

Parents of children with autism advocatied for more than a year. Protests on the steps of the Legislative Assembly, letters, petitions, tears, and meetings with each MLA that would meet with them were held.

Along with my B.C. Liberal colleagues, I have listened and we were active in our opposition to the proposed changes, asking the minister responsible and the government to reconsider and listen to the families. That is the job of his Majesty’s loyal Opposition, to demand more explanation on government decisions, laws and regulation and to find the cracks and be the voice of people affected by all that government does, or doesn’t do.

The goal of the Opposition is to improve legislation and outcomes for all British Columbians.

And we have. We have stood at those rallies, spoken, advocated, asked questions in the Legislative Assembly, delivered speeches, and sounded the alarm bell.

The changes that the government was in the process of making were wrong and we echoed the voices and became the loud horn to tell government about it. That is our job.

So in my view, this was a win. It was a win for the Opposition because government had to back down. It was a win for parents who have been re-traumatized over the last year not knowing how they were going to get the resources needed for their child. But the real winners are the children.

And that’s why I love my job.

My question to you is this:

What would you like the opposition to focus on next?

I love hearing from you. Please email me at [email protected] or call the office at 250-712-3620.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


Government rushing through important housing legislation

More debate is needed

By the time you read this, B.C.’s newly sworn-in premier David Eby will have introduced two new housing bills, with one week left in the (legislative) session.

If that seems rushed it’s because it is.

I am not sure what is in the housing bills yet, although I have some ideas. I have a wealth of knowledge about housing, having been in the industry for the last 25 years.

Some of you will remember Kelowna’s housing industry was not always this robust.

In the 1990s, when our economy tanked, many people left the province looking for work. From the 1990s to the early 2000s, there were no increases in housing prices.

In 2001, (former premier) Gordon Campbell and his B.C. Liberals were elected on a platform that included cutting personal taxes to help stimulate the economy. BC came back to life, fiscal prudence was brought back to budgeting and a professionalism about the dates and times of elections, budgets and bills was brought into the Legislative Assembly of B.C.

With that positive economic growth, housing started to post modest gains. Those modest gains were decimated by the worldwide recession from 2008 to 2010. Thankfully, due to investments by B.C. Liberal governments in infrastructure, like the William R. Bennett bridge, the expansion of Kelowna General Hospital and the introduction of UBC Okanagan, we saw jobs come back to Kelowna, along with an increase in housing activity.

As things started to heat up to a point that was beginning to get uncomfortable, two things occurred.

First, the B.C. Liberal government of the day started to invest in rental and subsidized housing. Second, a foreign buyers’ tax was implemented.

That strategy worked and B.C. posted a moderation of housing escalation once again.

The last six years with an NDP government changed that.

Housing prices are skyrocketing under the NDP and the leadership of then Housing Minister David Eby attempted to quell housing pricing by lowering demand through taxation, without addressing supply. The speculation tax and school tax are examples of that.

Finally, the now-Premier David Eby, has seen the light and acknowledged increasing supply is the most effective way to address housing costs. So he intends to table these housing bills this week.

Unfortunately, instead of vigorous debate and thoughtful dialog on amendments to the housing bills being brought in, the government wants to slam them through in a week, with little democracy.

Housing is a complex issue and one that desperately needs to be solved. The best ideas and solutions come through dialog and debate.

My question to you this week is this:

Do you think that the government should rush these important housing bills through without time for debate?

I love hearing from you. Please email me at [email protected] or call my office at 250-712-3620.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Issue of food security needs to be dealt with now

Food insecurity growing

A recent survey showed 20% of all respondents are reducing meal sizes or skipping meals in order to save money. That is in addition to food bank use up 40% and the school breakfast program use surging.

People are having a hard time with the escalating cost of food.

This is no wonder with food inflation in B.C. skyrocketing. Grocery store pricing is up by 11.4%, more than 10% for two months in a row, which is the highest cost escalation in 40 years.

So, if it feels like everything is costing more, it is.

The high price of food affects women three times more than men and youth are also reporting disproportionately being impacted. UBC students staged a walkout last week to protest, in part, a lack of university action on food insecurity.

The percentage of British Columbians struggling with the cost of food was higher than the national average, because our food costs are higher than in other provinces. People are struggling to feed themselves.

This inflation is being fought through interest rate escalation. Unfortunately, economists are telling us that inflation-fighting tool disproportionately affects lower socioeconomic demographics, and will further the divide between the “haves” and the “have nots.”

Food security is serious. In B.C., we are fortunate to have so many agricultural resources, but are we supporting them enough? Why isn’t farming as profitable as it would seem to be with the price escalations we are seeing? Why is the cost of food going up? Farmers are also suffering under inflation. The cost of their labour has gone up, they are paying new taxes on their labour called the Employer Health Tax, on top of paying for private health care for their employees.

The farming industry has also seen the cost of machinery and equipment go up in addition to taxes on their vehicles, like trucks. Then there is the cost of fuel.

One rancher I spoke to reported having normal fuel costs of $30,000 in the past but now it costs $140,000 for the same month.

So the input costs for food have risen exponentially, but the revenues have not gone up by that same percentage.

If farming isn’t sustainable, our food won’t be either and if our food isn’t secure, neither is our economy and our society. There is a direct link between all of these aspects of our community.

So what do we do?

The B.C. government needs to do more to curb cost escalation of food. Many of the taxes and costs I mentioned are directly related to taxes that have been added by the government in recent years.

The taxes the government has on our fuel is why we have the most expensive fuel costs in North America.

Yes, you read that correctly, the highest in North America.

Supports for farmers should be given and streamlined processes should be created. Direct sales and more farmers’ markets should be created. But while we wait for government to act, we can all support our local food organizations, agencies and those feeding those in need.

On example is the Gurdwara Guru Armadas Sikh Society and its application for a new site. The site would include a larger facility, as well as gardens to feed the need and train people going through difficult times. As many know, the Gurdwaras feed thousands in our community each year.

I recently heard of students eating daily at the Gurdwara as they struggled with the escalation of food costs. The generosity of the Sikh community is extraordinary.

Give to the food bank. Give to our school feeding programs, so they can give to the children in need in our communities.

My question to you this week is:

How are you coping with the inflated cost of food?

I love hearing from you. Please email me at [email protected] or call me at 250-712-3620.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


Growing wait times for cancer treatment are a matter of life and death

Cancer care crisis

Cancer is a ticking time bomb.

Specialists are warning about the tsunami of cancer that is about to ensue. They are also warning they are seeing later stage cancers in greater numbers and sounding the alarm bell that the list of those waiting to get into see a specialist is now in the millions.

Is it really that serious? It is.

The difference between life and death for cancer patients can be the time it takes for diagnosis and treatment. In a 2020 British Medical Journal article, it was shown that for every week of delay after diagnosis, survival is shortened by 1.2 to 3.2% per week of delay.

Imagine waiting three months. That is what British Columbians are doing right now. They are waiting months for treatment, which is why our outcomes are getting worse and our wait lists longer.

I have spoken to constituents who are being given these wait times. One patient was given six months to live if not treated, and then told that the first meeting with a specialist was going to be three months away.

A woman in her 40s waited months for “minor” surgery to remove cancerous tissue in her cervix, only to have it grow and need a full hysterectomy. Another, was told she had to wait two months for radiation.

We need better cancer care. B.C. is experiencing the longest waits in Canada and that is unacceptable.

What can be done? We need system-wide changes, not about tweaking the edges or giving minor amounts of money. This is about radical overhaul.

B.C. Cancer delivered a 10-year cancer plan, but it has yet to be accepted or funded. Meanwhile, people die on waiting lists.

Our oncologists are burning out because of the lack of resources and massive underfunding. A study recently done shows B.C. is the worst for burnout in Canada.

The same study showed (doctors) are not being consulted enough on policy decisions.

While the health minister has talked about of new positions being funded, 18 oncologists have left B.C. because of the working conditions.

We aren’t supporting our B.C. Cancer medical team.

Things also have to change with the B.C. Cancer leadership structure and how cancer treatment administered. We need proactive, funded, predictive planning that will accommodate the capacity necessary to treat cancer.

The health minister was asked repeatedly about this, and his answer is (the government) might have one. But it is not public.

Clearly this is not working. B.C. has fallen from first place in cancer outcomes in Canada to last place in wait times (the longest) in Canada, according the the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

What we can’t see in their numbers are the layered effects of waiting—waiting to see a family doctor, waiting for imaging studies, waiting for a biopsy booking, waiting for results to be reported, waiting to see an oncologist for consultation and waiting to have treatment once a decision has been made to treat.

Last week in Question Period, (Liberals) stood up and asked the question, why are British Columbians at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to outcomes and waiting?

This has to stop.

My question to you this week is this:

How much priority should be given to cancer treatment in our healthcare spending?

I love hearing from you. Email me at [email protected] or call my office at 250-712-3620.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Renee Merrifield is the BC Liberal MLA for Kelowna - Mission and the Opposition critic for the Environment and Climate Change, as well as Gender, Equity and Inclusion.  She currently serves on the Select Standing Committee for Finance as well.

A long-time resident of Kelowna, Renee started, and continues to lead, many businesses from construction and development to technology. Renee is a compassionate individual who cares about others in the community, believes in giving back and helping those in need through service.

She values your feedback and conversation, and can be reached at [email protected] or 250.712.3620

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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