Mr. Russ Hiebert (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence, CPC)
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to complete my thoughts on Motion No. 172 addressing a national autism strategy.
There is no doubt that autism spectrum disorders have an enormous impact on affected families. As the parents of individuals with autism spectrum disorders have attested, the impact is often discouraging, both financially and emotionally.
As the member from the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, I have been hearing from constituents on this issue for some time now. I have heard from many parents who are concerned for their children's future and who are concerned about accessing appropriate treatment and therapy.
The primary concern many parents in B.C. have is the level of funding they receive for treatment. Currently, the Province of British Columbia pays up to $20,000 annually for treatment for children up to age six. It pays $6,000 annually for treatment of children six years of age and older.
However, depending on the amount of treatment an autistic child needs, some parents find themselves paying much more than the $20,000 maximum the province currently covers. These parents look around and see some provinces, such as Alberta, covering the full cost of treatment. Other provinces address autism as a component of their public education systems, again, without imposing a financial burden on parents.
As such, many parents in my province have lobbied the B.C. government for additional funding. They have also gone to court to try to obtain more provincial funding.
Late in 2004, the Supreme Court of Canada addressed this issue in its unanimous ruling in the Auton decision. The chief justice, writing for the court, determined:
--the legislature is under no obligation to create a particular benefit. It is free to target the social programs it wishes to fund as a matter of public policy, provided the benefit itself is not conferred in a discriminatory manner.
The Supreme Court also found that funding for ABA or IBI treatment was not required under the provisions of the Canada Health Act. As such, the provinces are exclusively responsible for deciding on the level of funding they will provide for autism treatment.
Of course, parents with autistic children are not so much concerned with questions of legal obligation on the part of the provincial governments as they are with the question of whether their children are getting the held they need.
Motion No. 172 is important because it gives federal representatives an opportunity to consider and debate the contribution we can make to help families affected by autism. In doing so, our new Conservative government will continue to respect the jurisdiction of the provinces to make health care funding decisions. We will also continue to respect the judgment of the Supreme Court.
However, it is clear that even though the primary responsibility for funding treatment is an exclusive provincial responsibility, there are ways that our new Conservative government can, and already does, help.
First, our government provides general funding to the provinces and territories through the Canada health transfer for the provision of health services. This year we are providing nearly $20.1 billion exclusively for health care, $1.1 billion more than last year. Our budget commits to increasing that amount by 6% per year. Next year the provinces can count on $21.3 billion and, the year following, $22.6 billion.
Also, our new government gives families affected by autism direct financial support through the tax system. In budget 2006, our new government included a number of measures that either were proposed by the technical advisory committee on tax measures for persons with disabilities or that even go beyond its recommendations.
Among these measures were: increasing the maximum annual child disability benefit, effective July 2006; extending eligibility for the child disability benefit to middle and higher income families caring for a child who meets the disability criteria, effective July 2006; and, boosting the maximum amount of the refundable medical expense supplement.
While direct assistance for families is important, the federal government also plays a key role in medical research.
The search for a deeper knowledge into the causes of autism and for better treatments is an area where our new Conservative government believes it can make a meaningful contribution. For instance, the Public Health Agency of Canada funds Centres of Excellence for Children's Well-Being, two of which are doing important work on autism spectrum disorders.
We realize we can do more, which is why last Tuesday the Minister of Health announced some very important initiatives. These initiatives include: first, funding for a new research chair into the causes and treatment of autism; second, consultations leading to a national autism surveillance program; third, a stakeholder symposium to be held in 2007; fourth, a new Health Canada website focused on autism related information; and fifth, leadership by Health Canada in coordinating our government's response to autism related issues.
Families in my community and across Canada have been waiting a long time for a comprehensive federal response to the challenges posed by autism. I believe the leadership our government has shown in the past week will make a significant difference in the effort to better understand and treat autism.
Therefore, I would like to present an amendment to my hon. colleague's Motion No. 172. This amendment would further reinforce our government's commitment to build a strong, national strategy for autism spectrum disorders.
That, Motion No. 172 be amended by deleting all the words after the word “include”, and substituting the following:
(a) the development, in cooperation with provincial-territorial governments, of evidence based standards for the diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorder;
(b) the development, in cooperation with provincial governments, of innovative funding methods for the care of those with autism spectrum disorder;
(c) consulting with provincial-territorial governments and other stakeholders on the requirements of implementing a national surveillance program for autism spectrum disorder;
(d) the provision of additional federal funding for health research into autism spectrum disorder.
Subtopic: Autism Spectrum Disorder