Hon. Jim Munson:
Honourable senators, as I speak there is a major Autism Leadership Summit taking place at the Shaw Centre here in Ottawa. It has been going on for two days. As a caring, compassionate society, we are constantly pushing further to find the innovative and collaborative pathways to make a difference in the lives of people living with autism.
Honourable senators, it has been almost 11 years now since the Senate inquiry report entitled Pay now or pay later: autism families in crisis, and I feel even more strongly about the power of all of us together to change our society. It is about doing better together. It is about transformation, and we’re bringing Canadians to new perceptions about seeing more ability, rather than disability.
Through the hard work of parents, autism advocates and enlightened policy and political players, the autism landscape in this country is rich with ideas, energy, innovation, initiatives and solutions. The level of awareness of autism in Canadian society is ever sharper. Health systems are developing and training specialists and multiplying resources for services — that is, if you happen to live in the right community in Canada.
The autism community is asking the federal government to lead an integrated approach to bring hope to individuals with autism and their families. Over the last 10 years, rather than work in isolation, families, groups and communities began to talk to one another, to exchange ideas, to create, to strategize. It was obvious that one voice would be more effective to speak and to be heard by governments and other stakeholders.
That voice has triggered many initiatives under the previous Conservative government, and, under this present government, we’ve witnessed, over the last few days, a report from the Public Health Agency, for the first time ever, on key statistics for autism in this country. I want to congratulate the government for doing that. Also, it will provide evidence-based data needed to inform policy and programs. I hope the two new programs in Budget 2018 will be a new beginning of a new national autism strategy.
What does that look like? We’ve talked about this here in the Senate. It names the partners, what their role is and how they need to work collaboratively. It recognizes federal-provincial-territorial jurisdictions and the areas of that collaboration. It gives meaning to scientific research. It defines what federal leadership is. It names the gaps in policy and funding. It highlights best practices in all of the multi-sectors.
A national autism strategy is a pathway to address these complex needs and involve multiple sectors and partners — governments, clinicians, practitioners, researchers, community-based support organizations and businesses. It inspires government organizations from health, mental health, education, social services, justice, employment and housing, all working together around common understanding and goals.
A national autism strategy, honourable senators, is a statement of leadership. We can make a difference, but we have more work to do, a lot more. I would like to invite honourable senators to a reception at McDonald House this evening, between 5:00 and 7:00, where you’ll meet the leaders in autism in this country.