Ontario’s largest public sector union and the NDP education critic are calling on Lisa MacLeod to resign, saying her behaviour toward an autism group was akin to bullying and inappropriate for a cabinet minister.
The Ontario Association for Behaviour Analysts said MacLeod — who is minister of children, community and social services — pressured them to provide a quote in support of changes to the province’s autism program, but without details they refused.
They say MacLeod then told the group it would be a “long four years” if they didn’t.
A senior source in MacLeod’s ministry who is familiar with all meetings with ONTABA said different representatives attended the fourth and final meeting, and the tone had changed. The source said the ministry had been led to expect public support from the group.
The source said he “did not recall” MacLeod making such a statement.
A spokesperson for MacLeod said ONTABA was unwilling to work with the government on changes to the system.
On Thursday, Warren (Smokey) Thomas, head of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union and New Democrat Marit Stiles said MacLeod should step down.
In a statement, Thomas said “I can’t tell you how disappointed I am in Lisa MacLeod … It’s unbelievable she would bully others to pay lip service to (Premier) Doug Ford’s attack on autistic children.”
On Twitter, Stiles said: “From our most vulnerable children& youth, to women & families fleeing violence, Minister Lisa MacLeod has consistently made decisions that cause them harm. As we head back to Queen’s Park next week, I’m hoping she does the right thing: #ResignLisaMacLeod.”
At a news conference in Woodbridge on Thursday morning, Ford said he had yet to speak to MacLeod about the controversy, but would — in part to ensure reports on the issue are “factual.”
Ford, however, also said he would “never” ask MacLeod to resign. “She’s an absolute all-star … she’s done an incredible job” on a difficult file, he told reporters.
A memo Wednesday to ONTABA members said of the Jan. 29 meeting: “The minister and her staff requested that ONTABA provide a quote of support, without providing full details on the program, and indicated that failure to do so would result in ‘four long years’ for the organization.
“The minister also indicated that if a quote of support was not forthcoming, a communication that behaviour analysts are ‘self-interested’ would be released from her office … In spite of the implied risk, the organization refused.”
One analyst who attended said it was “more akin to meeting with a mob boss than an elected official.”
The rift with ONTABA is part of an escalating division between the Ford government and some in the autism community in the wake of the Progressive Conservatives’ system overhaul, which MacLeod has pledged will make funding more equitable and clear the massive wait list for services within 18 months.
While several service providers and hospitals issued public endorsements of the plan after it was announced, parent support group Autism Ontario — which was praised for supporting the changes by MacLeod — released a statement Tuesday saying the organization “neither proposed nor endorsed” the revamp.
Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy
Laurie Monsebraaten is a Toronto-based reporter covering social justice. Follow her on Twitter: @lmonseb