Austim Parents Head to Queens Park

Yesterday over 200 parents made their way to Queens Park with the intentions of making their voices heard.  And they did indeed.

When the province of Ontario outlined its 2016 budget, it announced funding of $333 M per year for a new Autism program.  That announcement was met with enthusiasm from thousands of parents who have children on the spectrum, political leaders like Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown and myself included.

Little did they know how these new changes would affect their lives.

These changes to the program including limitations and restrictions on the Intensive Behavioural Intervention or IBI for children 2 to 5 years old.  Children 5 and older will receive $8,000 and an immediate boot off the waiting list.  Permanently.

Listening to some of the parents outlining what they have had to do and what they will need to do in the future to help support their children is just heartbreaking.  Here is one parent had to say yesterday.

“We sold one of our cars, some of our furniture, used all our savings, liquidated the equity in our home, and moved our family of five into a one-bedroom apartment,” Bourdon said, her voice breaking.

She questioned if Premier Kathleen Wynne and Children and Youth Services Minister Tracy MacCharles have “given up their possessions to uphold the dignity of their child.”

Just incredible.  My hat goes off to all of these parents who took the time to go to Queens Park and make their voices heard.  My suggestion would be to not give up.

Those who know me know that for years I have been an advocate for Autism awareness.  Working with several organizations in our area, we have been working hard to raise awareness at all political levels and to make this an issue for the provincial government.  We can’t stop now.

Here is Ontario PC Leader Patrick Brown asking the government hard questions about the changes to the program.

Contact your local MPP and let them know these changes have to be stopped.  Autism doesn’t end at the age of 5.  By taking away this expensive therapy for these children, it is setting them back years.  Parents I’ve talked with who have had their children in IBI therapy say that it works.  If it works? Why change it.

I am very proud to see the community come together as they’ve done recently over this and I will do what I can to help out at whatever level is needed.

Parents can not let their children down.  It’s not a matter of deciding whether to pay for food or pay for therapy for their children.  When people have to sell their belongings to fund this therapy, don’t you think the system is broken?

Congratulations to these parents and keep up the pressure to have these changes reversed and have the province focus in on Autism therapy for the young children, teenagers and those who are now adults.  Don’t let up!

Good News Bad News Day for Milton

If you’ve been following the news recently, yesterday was a bit of a roller coaster for Milton.

downloadEarlier in the day we found out that CN, despite its assertions to the contrary, must apply to the Canadian Transport Agency (CTA) for approval of their proposed intermodal in Milton.

What does this mean? It means that it isn’t going to be smooth sailing as they thought it would be.  In the grand scheme of things it means it’s another hurdle CN must climb before anything is approved.

You can read about the decision here (Inside Halton/Milton Canadian Champion – Rachael Williams)  Further to that, there is a decision pending to see if CN has to complete a full environmental assessment with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) as part of their plans.  If this is ordered by the CEAA, CN will have yet another hurdle to overcome before anything happens with the intermodal facility.

Is it good news for Milton? Yes it is.  It goes with what Halton Region municipalities have been asking for since day one.  Follow the process any other developer would have to follow in Milton.  Is it perfect? Not at all, but it shows CN that they simply can not make assumptions and they do indeed need to follow a process.

There’s the “good news” for Milton.  Now, to the bad.

mevAfter close to 8 years of planning by the Town of Milton, Halton Region and Laurier University, the Province of Ontario made a decision for a new location of a university campus.  It wasn’t Milton.

The Province announced yesterday that the City of Markham (the municipality that tried for an NHL arena without a franchise) was the winner and approved a new York University / Seneca College campus beating out 12 others including Milton – which was considered a favourite – and Barrie.

You can read about this decision here (Inside Halton/Milton Canadian Champion – Rachael Williams)  Dr Max Blouw, who is the President and Vice-Chancellor of Laurier University, stated that they will indeed re-submit the proposal to the Province of Ontario in 2016.  The small sliver of a silver lining is that all is not done with new university campuses in Ontario.  They did say that in spring 2016 there will be another bid process opened up and the Milton Education Village has another shot.

I spoke of roadblocks earlier and this is one for Laurier University and the Town of Milton’s plans for the Education Village – located at Tremaine Road from Derry Road to Britannia Road – and potential economic development along with much needed job opportunities for Milton.  The Education Village, along with the Derry Green Corporate Business Park, is one of the keys to job growth and success in the Town of Milton.

In a press release by the Town of Milton (see here) we have committed to forge ahead with these plans and continue our advocacy with the Province to approve this campus.  Laurier University along with Dr Max Blouw willl press on and resubmit their proposal in the spring of 2016.

The question remains is this.  Why not Milton? Milton being the fastest growing municipality in Canada, is a prime location in the GTA for a university campus.  It has the full support of all parties involved including the Town, Halton Region and Laurier University along with their future partners.  The land is ready, available and serviceable.  There is also a facility in place that will be part of the campus up and running – a little thing called the Mattamy National Centre for Cycling which is now being prepared for the Pan AM Games in roughly 50 days.

All the pieces are in place, yet brushed aside by the Province.  These questions will hopefully be answered over the course of time and between now and the next proposal date, I will continue to advocate to the Province of Ontario, our MPP and anyone else who will listen, that the Milton Education Village / Laurier University campus should be approved as quickly as possible.

Jobs, economic growth and not to mention the Province of Ontario’s long time promise of post secondary spaces are keys to success.  Maybe the Province thought that a few token announcement of a couple of additional GO Trains and a quick payment of ice storm funds would suffice for Milton.  Not in my opinion.

Its time the Province of Ontario sees this.  With Milton growing as fast as it is, at the behest of the Province itself, with close to 400,000 residents expected by 2041, the provincial government must recognize that this is a priority area and the right decisions need to be made at the first opportunity, not as an afterthought.

Halton Provincial Candidates Have to Answer Region’s Questions

Halton Region to question local election candidates

Some of the first questions posed to Halton’s provincial candidates will come from the Region itself.

This week, Halton Regional Chair Gary Carr will send a questionnaire to MPP hopefuls in Milton, Oakville, Halton Hills and Burlington for their take on Halton’s most pressing election issues.

Asked what’s at the top of the list, Carr said the $8.6 billion in future infrastructure needs comes to mind. “We want to ensure water and waste water facilities, regional roads, provincial schools and hospitals will be there for our population.”

Halton’s population is expected to double to 780,000 by 2031.

In the last month, Milton’s, Burlington’s and Halton Hills’ hospital expansions have been given the go-ahead from the Province, but Carr said he’d like promises that all the hospital projects will come to fruition. “The government could change. It could be a minority (government). We’re asking all candidates about the hospitals. We don’t want the plans to change as a result of the election.”

Carr said expanding Hwy. 401 through Halton and ensuring schools keep up with the bourgeoning young population are also priorities.

The document, ‘A strong Halton for a strong Ontario,’ was released earlier this summer and serves as an advocacy platform that sets out the Region’s position on key issues impacting residents.

Some of the requests of Ontario’s next government in the report include a complete review of the Development Charges Act and fast-tracking Metrolinx projects with 100 per cent provincial funding for GO Transit.

The report also places a strong emphasis on preserving Halton’s natural landscape and outlines Halton’s opposition to the proposed GTA West and Niagara to GTA corridors, further quarry expansion on the escarpment and asks for a provincial commitment to the Randle Reef clean up.

Similar questionnaires were sent to candidates in the last provincial election and during May’s federal election.

Carr said during those campaigns, close to every candidate took the time to fill out the questionnaires. “It helps create a dialogue. They (candidates) know what’s important to us, they will know what our issues are and that’s important as people look for a good candidate.”

Carr added that the questionnaire serves as a mechanism to ensure candidates stick to their word if elected.

Completed questionnaires will be posted at throughout September.

Milton Champion Coverage of Hospital Expansion Announcement

I’m still giddy (yes I said giddy) with excitement everytime I read something about the expansion at Milton District Hospital.  Here is the article from today’s Milton Canadian Champion (by Christina Commisso) with coverage of the historic announcement.

Hospital expansion approved

Completion expected in late 2015 or early 2016

Hugs, high-fives and tears were aplenty Thursday morning, as Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews announced Milton’s hospital has been given the long-awaited green light for a massive expansion.

Milton District Hospital (MDH) will triple in size following a 320,000 square-foot addition that should be completed by late 2015 or early 2016.

“The support is unanimous. We have people from all political parties who are here today saying yes, this is the right decision. I’m pleased that all of us together have gotten where we are today,” said Matthews, as the room erupted in applause.

Pointing to an outpouring of community support that has  surrounded the MDH expansion, the Liberal MPP said hospitals are the heart and soul of a community, “and no where is that more true than right here in Milton. You should change the town’s motto to ‘where we don’t take no for an answer.’”

Matthews re-iterated that the expansion is poised to move full-steam ahead. “I want to be very clear this money has been allocated. It is in our fiscal plan. It has gone through our treasury board. All of the Is are dotted and Ts are crossed. This money is part of our infrastructure plan.”

The expansion will include a new emergency department to accommodate 45,500 visits a year. Currently the department can handle 30,000 visits. The addition of an MRI machine and chemotherapy services will more than triple the size of the hospital’s diagnostic imaging department. A new maternal child-care ward will include 17 post-partum beds, up from the current eight, and the intensive care unit will see 10 beds, up from six.

Also in the plans are two new medical surgical in-patient units with capacity for 72 patients and expanded operating suites, and a post-anesthetic care unit that will accommodate 8,400 surgeries a year — a 70 per cent increase over the department’s current capacity.

Eighty per cent of the rooms will be single patient to enhance infection control.

Halton Healthcare Services (HHS) CEO John Oliver said construction should be complete by 2015/16, about a year after the new Oakville hospital is planned for completion.

“Both hospitals will be under construction at the same time and one will open right after the other. We’re going to make up for lost time in Milton,” said Oliver to an elated crowd.

He said detailed planning with hospital staff will begin immediately, along with discussions with the hospital foundation and the Town regarding the local share of the construction costs plus the entire cost of equipping and furnishing the hospital.

Asked about the cost of the expansion, Oliver said for the time being a number won’t be released to the public. “We learned from the Oakville project when you put a number out, it changes…we’ll talk about the kinds of services and the number of beds, but we won’t release a number to the public.”

Milton Mayor Gord Krantz said at this point in time he has no idea what kind of money the Town will be on the hook for in terms of the local share.

“This was only the start and now some of the grunt work needs to be done and finances is going to be a big part of that,” he said. “I have a sneaking suspicion the community is going to buy into this and fundraising is going to have to be a definite part of it.”

The recently-announced Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital expansion, pegged at $312 million, is looking for $120 million from the Burlington community. The Town of Oakville has committed up to $130 million toward the construction of the new Dundas Street and Third Line hospital, and the Oakville Hospital Foundation is raising $60 million for the community share.

Asked if the hospital’s local share will be part of the Town’s 2012 budget — which is already well underway — Milton’s CAO Mario Belvedere said, “We will do what needs to be done to support this program and we can work on amending whatever needs to be done.”

He said he plans to meet with Oliver within the next few weeks to discuss numbers, adding that the scope and speed of the expansion is “well beyond our imagination.”

Halton’s Conservative MPP Ted Chudleigh, who has advocated for a Milton hospital expansion for a number of years, joked, “It’s such a good day, I don’t think I can say anything bad about the Liberals.

“This project is going from functional planning to completion in one step, that’s unprecedented in Ontario.”

Asked how the expansion — which several Milton residents and councillors dubbed the number one election issue — changes the dynamics of the October 6 provincial election, Chudleigh said, “It becomes less of an issue. It comes off the table and now it’s a matter of making it happen.”

Local provincial Liberal candidate Indira Naidoo-Harris said Thursday was a day for celebration.

“It’s a wonderful day for Halton and Milton. I am thrilled the minister has been listening to our community.”

Several members of the Friends of Milton Hospital and Grow Milton Hospital groups were on hand for the announcement and said the days of gathering about 40,000 signatures (during two community campaigns) in support of an expansion — in rain or shine — has finally paid off.

“We needed care at all levels,” said Friends of Milton Hospital co-chair and former nurse Cari Kovachik-MacNeil. “Milton’s emergency has always been known for how good it was, but then where do the patients go from here when the hospital is in gridlock. Now they can stay here, in their own hometown.”

Infrastructure Minister Responds!

Here is the long awaited response from Infrastructure Minister Bob Chiarelli via a letter to the editor in the Milton Canadian Champion. 

As the readers of my website will know, I have been demanding answers from the provincial level of government in Ontario to find out when Milton District Hospital will be expanded.  Over the last several years many groups of citizens, levels of government and Halton Healthcare services has been trying to convince the LHIN’s and the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Infrastructure and the Premier of Ontario that Milton needs to have a hospital expansion.

The statistics are endless in our arguement that something needs to have been done a long time ago and must happen now.  Halton Healthcare Services has made many presentations to council over the last while outlining the drastic need for expansion in a hospital that is designed for a population of 30,000 while Milton now is approaching 100,000.

The Friends of Milton Hospital collected over 35,000 signatures on post cards a couple of years back and delivered them to the Health Ministers office.  Recently the Grow Milton Hospital Campaign submitted a petition to Queens Park with over 6,000 signatures collected in a matter of weeks.

The Provincial government promised the over 95 plus municipalities who are in similar, if not worse situations that Milton is in a detailed 10 year capital project list after the budget this past spring.  The list was “coming soon” and I along with other Miltonians received tweets from the Premier’s press secretary saying the LHIN”s and the Ministry were “working on it” and something would be coming soon.

At the end of June, after months of promises, the provincial government released the Building Together plan outlining their priorities.  The problem is there was no detail included.  The town of Milton, the Region of Halton and for that matter every municipality has to detail their capital plans, with lists of projects, time lines, prices and how we’re going to pay for it.  Thats a requirement the Provincial Government has for municipalities.  We didn’t get a plan.  We got promises.

You cant blame myself and the other municipal leaders in this town for being disappointed and frustrated.  This has been an ongoing issue for many years and I for one am puzzled at the lack of committment the Province has for healthcare in Ontario.

The people of Milton are frustrated.  You only have to bring up the hospital in conversation and blood pressures around the room begin to rise.  At last nights town hall meeting when we discussed the hospital expansion levy and the potential expansion of MDH, residents were confused as to why nothing was being done for so long and why we as a municipality can’t do anything to speed it up.

All we are looking for Minister Chiarelli, Minister Matthews & Premier McGuinty is the green light.  We are ready to go with the plan that’s needed to help improve the delivery of health care services in Milton.  The hospital and the doctors and nurses within are stretched to the limit and even though they haven’t hit the breaking point…its getting close.  The Town of Milton would like to put a plan into place so that we can fund our portion of the hospital expansion.  We’re ready to consult with them to find the best solution possible for that funding.  We are at the starting line…waiting for the green light.

The Town of Milton along with the Region of Halton is trying to build a community where people can live, learn, work and play.  We want families to chose Milton for its great amenities, the schools, the restaurants, the places to work and learn at our education village and to be able to have a medical facility that can handle the current and future health care needs of its residents.

The time is now!  Grow Milton Hospital!

Ontario Government committed to Milton

Dear Editor:

Re: June 30 story entitled ‘Councillors disappointed with infrastructure plan.’

Milton councillors criticized Building Together, Ontario’s first ever long-term infrastructure plan, for a perceived lack of detail.

They’re correct to point out that our government must tackle the province’s infrastructure deficit. Over the last six years, the Ontario government has invested an average of $10 billion annually in infrastructure.

Our commitment to schools, hospitals and roads is clear in Halton and across Ontario. Ontario’s infrastructure investments since 2003 total $62 billion, creating 600,000 jobs — including 620 jobs in Milton. We have committed $35 billion for the first three years of Building Together to continue our work.

Needless to say, we mean business.

The Dalton McGuinty government’s record is the best indication of what we’ll do for Milton’s infrastructure. Milton is one of the fastest growing municipalities in the country. That’s why we have invested more than $34 million in dozens of infrastructure projects since 2003, including the Milton Centre for the Arts, Milton Sports Centre expansion and the widening of Tremaine Road.  

We recognize the need to plan for future growth as well. That’s why we have provided more than $4 million in growth funding to Halton Healthcare Services, and a $1.5 million planning and design grant to Milton District Hospital to help further develop its expansion proposal.

The McGuinty government is also helping municipalities build their own infrastructure by uploading municipal services. When uploading is fully implemented in 2018, Halton Region will save an estimated $22.5 million per year.

Since 2004, the McGuinty government has also transferred $2.4 million to Milton for public transit funding (formerly known as gas tax revenue). We will continue to ensure Milton gets its fair share.

Through Premier McGuinty’s mandate, our government has built, expanded, and modernized hospitals, schools, community centres and public transit across the province — creating hundreds of thousands of jobs and making a positive difference for Ontarians. Building Together is a commitment and strategic plan to continue these investments in Milton and across Ontario.

Bob Chiarelli, Infrastructure Minister, Government of Ontario