By Roseanna Vachon
Posted to Site October 22, 2010
Why would Liberal MPP Rick Johnson criticize the Progressive Conservatives for trying to assist the intellectually disabled? As a parent of an intellectually disabled adult, I came to him for help but no resolution was forthcoming. He indicated that it was a School Board decision and not a provincial government issue.
Why then has the Deputy Minister of Education intervened and threatened Catholic School Trustees with claw backs, an investigation and strongly advised them to cancel transportation. The provincial Liberal government are very much involved!
At my request, Laurie Scott and Elizabeth Witmer, agreed to be the voice of the intellectually disabled. They should be commended but instead Mr. Johnson has attempted to smear their good intentions. His public comments confirm this government’s intent to continue turning their back on our most vulnerable citizens, robbing them of their quality of life, and denying them equal access to continued learning under the Accessibility For Ontarians With Disabilities Act.
After a 30 year precedence and an established expectation of service, the Trillium Lakeland District School Board denied the continuation of transportation for 7 intellectually disabled adults. The PVNC Catholic Board, picked up the reins and agreed to assist these rural individuals but now face threats from the Ministry.
Johnson says this is in contravention of the Education Act. The Ministry, however, forces School Boards to allow their facilities to be used by community organizations and school libraries to be used by adults. Boards contravene the Act by permitting bus driver’s pre-school children on the bus. All are non-student, but practical uses of existing resources just like busing our individuals.
We have a broken rural transportation system and empty high school bus seats. We have a responsibility to the taxpayers of Ontario to use existing resources efficiently and to become more accountable for our carbon footprint. The school bus system is an established, cost effective, reliable means of rural transportation. Viable community options and individual transportation funding are not available and families have been forced to look at group home options only to find minimum 10 year wait lists.
Mr. Johnson made reference to Community Care. Although a good service, it is not economically feasible for rural distances 5 days a week, nor are there transportation funding dollars or Gas Tax options for individuals. To imply that these are available, viable options is misleading.
This government can no longer work in silos. They must take a common sense, creative approach to finding solutions. Locally we found the solution 30 years ago. The Ministers of Education and Community and Social Services must work together in the best interest of the intellectually disabled and amend the Education Act. The definition and age of students should be expanded to allow these adults to ride high school buses to their non-traditional continued learning programs. The legislation must be inclusive.
The families of these individuals pay education taxes and have saved taxpayers millions by keeping their loved ones at home. Help is required now. How and when are the Ministers of Community and Social Services and Education going to address the gap in service for all our challenged rural citizens? The answer is simple, has no cost to the public, no cost to the School Board, is established, tested for 30 years and is safe… bring the transportation back to the way it was with the Trillium Lakeland District School Board.
We must be the voice of those who can’t advocate on their own behalf. I commend the PCs, specifically Laurie Scott and Elizabeth Witmer for bringing the voice of our people to the Legislature. We know what Mr. Johnson has called it. I prefer to call it compassionate democracy.