Amid sweeping changes to autism and education funding, province's Ombudsman received earful
As Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government introduced sweeping changes to Ontario’s Autism Program, Student Assistant Program and the education system, the province’s Ombudsman was getting an earful.
Paul Dube’s report, released Tuesday, records a wave of complaints made in the days after highly controversial changes were made by the government, which resulted in steady protests on the front lawn of Queen’s Park.
Days after the government announced changes to the autism treatment funding model, the Ombudsman’s office received 569 complaints from families and stakeholders who raised concerns about the funding caps and potential effects of the changes.
The new model offered every child with autism a lifetime “childhood budget” of $140,000 to be used at the parent’s discretion. However funding was subjected to caps based on age — those five and under could receive a yearly maximum of $20,000, while those six and above would be limited to $5,000 a year.
“A significant number were angry about the government’s policy decision and political approach,” Dube’s report reads.
While the Ombudsman met with ministry staff to discuss the “trend” in complaints, Dube warns that his office does not intervene in broad public policy decisions but rather deals with actionable complains.
The Ford government’s board education consultations received 39 general complaints in 2018-2019 primarily dealing with the controversial sex-education curriculum.
The government scrapped the previous health and physical education syllabus after stiff opposition from parents of elementary-aged students who felt the subject matter was too advanced for young minds.
Ford ultimately unveiled a curriculum that was consistent with the previous version, however controversial topics will be taught beginning in Grade 7 and 8 instead of earlier grades.
Changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) garnered 181 complaints, according to the Ombudsman’s report, mostly related to funding decisions undertaken by the Ford government.
While colleges and universities were ordered to give students a 10 per cent tuition fee discount, the Progressive Conservatives largely eliminated the previous Liberal government’s “free tuition program,” which the Auditor General argued would eventually cost the province $2 billion a year.
Grants were largely eliminated and replaced with repayable loans while the six-month interest-free grace period was eliminated.
Electric Vehicle Program
A wave of complaints flowed into Dube’s office after the Ford government cancelled the Electric and Hydrogen Vehicle Incentive program –the majority coming from the owners of Tesla vehicles unable to claim their rebate.
After the carbon-fight cap and trade system was scrapped by the new government the incentive program — paid for by cap and trade revenue — was also eliminated.
More than 300 electric car owners, in line for rebates between $5,000 and $14,000, complained to the Ombudsman’s office.
While the government announced a two-month transition period within which the rebate could be claimed, they were limited to vehicles that dealers already had on their lots. Dube says it excluded more than 100 owners of the Tesla Model 3, who purchased their cars directly from the manufacturer, all of whom complained.
The government was forced to change its policy after a lawsuit from the manufacturer.
Still, Dube said his office noticed a new wave of complains in March 2019 from electric vehicle owners whose rebates were denied because their cars were not on a ministry-approved list of vehicles.
“Our work on resolving this issue is ongoing.”