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Jeremy Roberts: We need to hear about the small victories in politics

Commentary

For several decades now the budget process, both at the federal and provincial levels, has evolved to become as much a narrative exercise as it is a financial one. Governments seek to outline a broad story arc for their planned actions, tying together what can appear to be disparate initiatives under core thematic buckets.

Election budgets are even more focused on narrative than usual.

The Ontario Progressive Conservative Budget, tabled right before the provincial election, and again this past week, was no exception. It focused on five core pillars, which formed the basis of the PC election pitch. Given the sizeable victory on June 2nd, voters seem to have connected with these themes.

I have worked on five federal budgets and four provincial ones. For full disclosure, I served as vice-chair of Ontario’s finance committee during this most recent budget. Throughout all of these, I have seen and been part of crafting these budget “stories.”

Most of the media coverage about this budget will focus on that narrative. Is the government living up to the promise it contains? How important was it in helping the PCs secure victory? Does it adequately address the challenges of today?

This isn’t a piece like that.

This is a story about the small initiatives often buried within budgets than can have big impact. These are often the success stories of MPs or staff, who work tirelessly throughout the year to bring a small idea from conception to implementation.

On page 128 of this most recent Ontario budget, one such item can be found.

It reads:

An example of a children’s health investment is $97 million over three years to improve the experiences and lifelong outcomes for more than 1,100 children and youth with complex special needs at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO), Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital and McMaster Children’s Hospital. Funding will support a pilot project for an integrated model to provide key health and social services, including hospital-based assessments, access to interdisciplinary clinical teams, medical care and behaviour therapy.

It was a small paragraph in an otherwise dense book: $97 million in a $190 billion plan. And it didn’t quite fit into the broader narrative pieces of highways, hospitals, and economic growth.

But for the people involved in getting those two sentences included, it was a win worthy of a big celebration.

I was fortunate to be one of those people.

I have written elsewhere of my experience growing up with a younger brother with special needs. It was the driving force for my motivation to enter politics and continues to hold an important place in my heart.

For many parents across the province whose children are diagnosed with special needs they are shocked to learn that clinical therapies for their children are often not fully funded. Unlike other medical issues, special needs treatments are often funded through a web of social services and health-care envelopes that can be challenging to navigate and access. Moreover, services often lack cohesion for the patient and family.

Far too often, these challenges lead to crises, with desperate families showing up in hospital emergency rooms. The COVID-19 pandemic worsened the stress on these families. A Queens University study has detailed and quantified these growing challenges.

My own family lived through this experience.

When my brother entered his teen years, he struggled with severe behavioural issues and epilepsy. My parents and I spent weeks on end trying to help him cope with either terrible tantrums or seizures. Both problems necessitated regular trips to CHEO for meetings with psychiatrists and neurologists.

I was just 14 at the time, and while I didn’t have the wisdom of age, I think I brought a certain childhood clarity to these appointments.

I remember one meeting vividly. We were sitting at the hospital with the psychiatrist who was recommending a change to my brother’s medications. It was easily the tenth such meeting we’d had over the course of several weeks.

“Before we finalize this change,” the doctor said, “you’ll have to meet with the neurologist to make sure this won’t impact his seizure activity. If it will, you can schedule another meeting with me to discuss.”

I stared at the doctor and then at my parents.

“But the neurologist is just three floors above us. Why in the world can’t we just get everyone in here for a meeting at once?” I asked.

It seemed like the obvious question. Most importantly, it was what was in my brother’s best interest.

But of course, it just “wasn’t how things worked”.

Our story is no different from the thousands of others unfolding across Ontario. While we are fortunate here to have a number of highly qualified and effective clinicians covering a range of fields, we lack a coordinated approach that will put the patient first.

And so, just over a year ago, a group of us including stakeholders, staff, and government officials asked ourselves a question: how can we do better?

The problem was as complex as the children who needed the support. But in developing a solution, the stakeholders started from a simple premise: kids with these challenges should get wrap-around and seamless clinical support. In other words, a child with down-syndrome and bipolar disorder, or autism and epilepsy, should be able to benefit from a team of clinicians and allied health professionals working in concert to tackle their challenges. Perhaps it might be a psychiatrist, a behavioral therapist, and an occupational therapist. Or, as was the case for my brother, perhaps a psychiatrist and neurologist.

Thankfully, the three stakeholders involved had the clinical human resources and experience necessary to fill that gap. But how could we harness it? How could we identify the kids that needed it? And, most critically, how would we fund it?

“The vast majority of stories these days about politics and government focus on negatives. The latest scandal. The longest delays. The largest funding mishaps.”

CHEO in Ottawa, Holland Bloorview Children’s Rehabilitation Hospital in Toronto, and McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton set about answering the first two questions. We on the government side set about answering the third.

Any initiative that would require new money, like this one, typically has to make its way through the budget cycle—a process that starts with determining what ministry would house the initiative and ultimately fund it.

From the start, there was a strong consensus that funding should be drawn from both the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services (MCCSS) and the Ministry of Health. While children with special needs receive much of their government support through MCCSS, it was clear that these children were struggling with health challenges as well. A jointly funded pilot would be a fantastic way to continue breaking down ministerial siloes—a common challenge faced by all governments.

Moreover, this program would break ground in another important way. Many programs for children with special needs are “diagnosis specific” (i.e. you need a specific diagnosis to access supports). This program would be different by putting the child and not the diagnosis at the centre. Preliminary criteria for eligibility would focus on children with “multiple, medical, neurodevelopmental and mental health comorbidities relating to psychiatric or developmental disorders.”

Through the use of their own entry points (e.g. emergency room visits, existing clinical services, community partnerships, etc), the stakeholders felt confident that they could develop “catch points,” where the children could be identified early and pulled into support. A comprehensive needs assessment would then determine a child’s eligibility. And, with the additional resources proposed, they would be able to better ensure coordination and collaboration between clinical partners in providing wrap-around services. It would draw on a model of care that has shown promise in an array of child development settings.

By pitching this as a pilot program, we were able to propose the concept as a test case that could be measured and evaluated to determine impact. With strained fiscal capacity, governments across the globe are increasingly turning to evaluative methods, including borrowing the corporate world’s Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), to determine the efficacy of dollars spent. The stakeholder partners would be responsible for working with government to determine evaluative parameters.

With a solid plan developed and a case to be made, our team set about working to have this pilot funded in the budget. It’s a competitive process, given the plethora of good ideas and worthy causes up for consideration. But we made our case, citing the above points, and, during the budget’s first tabling before the election, we were elated to see our hard work pay off.

Trapped within those two sentences in the budget were an array of exciting developments: the breaking down of government siloes through joint funding; a move towards a gold standard wrap-around model of care; a desire to treat the patient not the diagnosis; and an initiative that bet its success on proving its competency through evaluative metrics.

Not too shabby.

After the announcement, CHEO CEO Alex Munter said, “the children and families that will benefit most from this investment live with unimaginable struggles, often having to fight for access to care and to avoid falling through the cracks. Sometimes they end up making frequent visits to the emergency department or even being admitted to hospital because of lack of services. Every child and youth deserves to lead their best life with healthier outcomes and simpler journeys.”

“This story is a reminder of the good that is taking place every day in governments across the country.”

He could have easily been describing my family’s journey with my brother.

Not much will be written about this initiative in the papers or talked about in the media. And undoubtedly there may be some who read this piece and think I’m just “patting myself on the back”.

But this is a story that needs telling.

Beyond being exciting for the many families it will benefit, there is a broad point worth making.

The vast majority of stories these days about politics and government focus on negatives. The latest scandal. The longest delays. The largest funding mishaps.

And all of these are important. We need these stories to hold our governments accountable about the use of our scarce taxpayer dollars and the efficacy of our institutions.

But we also need to hear the good. Without the positives, it becomes easier and easier to view our political system as unresponsive, incompetent, or alien to us.

This story is a reminder of the good that is taking place every day in governments across the country. A tale of the government ecosystem at work: stakeholders, staff, civil servants, and politicians coming together to tackle a problem and try a solution. It may or may not succeed, time will tell. I’m betting on the former. Regardless, it will serve to bring hope to families that need it. These challenges aren’t simple, and we need to be willing to try solutions.

And so, when a new budget comes out, take some time to move past the narrative and reflect on the passion, drive, and commitment that goes into those documents and initiatives. And, most importantly, take some time to celebrate the small victories included within. You’ll find countless examples of them.

They are the stories of our democracy in action. And that’s worth celebrating.

Rudyard Griffiths: WEF conspiracies are antisemitic and a moral stain on conservative politics

Commentary

On a recent editionWhy did Stephen Harper endorse Pierre Poilievre? The Hub Roundtable breaks it down https://thehub.ca/2022-07-29/why-did-stephen-harper-endorse-pierre-poilievre-the-hub-roundtable-breaks-it-down/ of our Friday Roundtable podcast, I unwittingly kicked over a proverbial hornet’s nest. It wasn’t because I was railing (as per usual)The leaders won’t be talking about this issue. It may be the most important one https://thehub.ca/2021-08-16/rudyard-griffiths-the-leaders-wont-be-talking-about-this-issue-it-may-be-the-most-important-one/ against central bank’s easy money policies. And, no it wasn’t my consistent advocacyTime to face the unpleasant truth: Reforming our health system is an urgent necessity https://thehub.ca/2022-02-01/reforming-our-health-system-is-an-urgent-necessity/ for some kind of sensible private health care delivery that ticked off listeners. Rather, what got our email humming along with my Twitter feed were critical comments I made about how conspiracy theories related to the World Economic Forum had inveigled their way into the Conservative Party leadership race and the campaign of frontrunner Pierre Poilievre.

https://twitter.com/rudyardg/status/1562049843480215552?s=20&t=_FR8aiCankPEzQCgaZ_SLA

It seems for the WEF obsessed (who knew there were so many!) I had the temerity to state the obvious: there is a more than a casual association between the surge in WEF-related conspiracy theories and rising antisemitism in Canada. The many DMs and emails I have received over the intervening weeks (most thankfully civilized, others not) are uniformly incredulous. “How could I possibly think this?” “Don’t I know that Klaus Martin Schwab isn’t Jewish?” “He is a German you idiot!” And many more along the lines of “I’m an antisemite? This is a horrible smear.” Followed by the chilling sentence: “Don’t you know ‘they’ are controlling our government?”

For the outright delusional to the simply uncurious WEF hater, let me explain. Unwittingly or not, you are keeping very bad company when you are publicly espousing your belief that the World Economic Forum is a worldwide conspiracy for global domination. The toxin you are helping inject into the body politic is the antisemitic meme called the “Great Reset”. For the uninitiated, this is the core tenet of the WEF conspiracy whereby global elites, coordinated by Klaus Schwab, the organization’s executive chairman, are using the pandemic as a “false flag” to enact radical social engineerings, such as digital ID cards, forced vaccination, and the abrogation of private property rights. In short, a Gotterdammerung of our basic civil liberties is coming soon to a theatre near you, all courtesy of WEF and its acolytes in governments around the world.

“…a Gotterdammerung of our basic civil liberties is coming shortly to a theatre near you, all courtesy of the World Economic Forum and its acolytes in governments around the world.”

I will leave it to othersThe Great Reset: What is it? https://fullfact.org/online/great-reset-conspiracy-theory/ to explain just how ludicrous it is to assert that the WEF’s actual stated agenda for its post-COVID “Great Reset” recovery agenda is a secret plan for global domination. Or, that Klaus Schwab is not planning for a world without pet cats.The World Economic Forum has not planned for a future without pets or animal charities https://fullfact.org/online/WEF-animal-charities/ Or, that the Forum is increasingly criticized by its own members as ineffectual and out of touch.

No, what is important here and needs to be called out, as the ADL has documented in great detail,‘The Great Reset’ Conspiracy Flourishes Amid Continued Pandemic https://www.adl.org/blog/the-great-reset-conspiracy-flourishes-amid-continued-pandemic are how WEF conspiracy theories abound with antisemitic tropes. Namely that Jewish financiers (queue George Soros and the Rothschilds) control the Forum. That “One World Government” is the latest manifestation of (oh what a coincidence!) of a “worldwide Zionist conspiracy.“ That a “virus,” in this case COVID-19, is the means to enact this evil agenda, playing to the very oldest of tropes that Jews are carriers of disease. I could go on and on with parallels between key features of the WEF conspiracy and longstanding antisemitic beliefs but do not take my word for it. Instead, spend a few minutes on Google searching for the terms “WEF” and “Great Reset.” Before you know it you will be in some very dark places on the Web where antisemitism abounds unbound.

I can hear the protestations of WEF conspiracists. “I don’t believe these things.” “My beef is with WEF controlling our government.” “I am against antisemitism too!” Yes, you are entitled to your delusions. It’s a free country. But do not be deluded about the company you are keeping. Or the dark memes you are unintentionally feeding. And how other people will hear a dangerous dog whistle when you are enthusiastically declaiming on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube about Klaus Schwab and his sinister plans for “One World Government.” What is insidious about antisemitism is how it creeps into societies, slowly at first, then suddenly it bursts into the open as a surge of violence and hate. We know this movie. It contains some of humanity’s darkest moments. WEF haters, I implore you, don’t be enablers of the rise of antisemitism today.

“I am not accusing Poilievre of being an antisemite. Let me make that clear.  His record of support for the State of Israel and the Jewish community speaks for itself.”

Two final observations on the sorry affair that is the growing WEF delusion in Canada today, one political, the other cultural.

To state the obvious, the rise of WEF and “Great Reset” as powerful, associated conspiracy theories are concentrated in the conservative moment. More recently, and more worryingly, the WEF conspiracy has penetrated Canadian conservatism’s blood-brain barrier, migrating from the fringes into the political mainstream. I document the moment of febrile infection to Pierre Poilievre’s bizarre statement during the current Conservative Party leadership race that as Prime Minister of Canada he would ban federal ministers from attending the World Economic Forum.

I am not accusing Poilievre of being an antisemite. Let me make that clear. His record of support for the State of Israel and the Jewish community speaks for itself. What he risks being guilty of is giving unwitting succor to conspiracy theories that are closely associated with undeniably antisemitic tropes and memes. This is unacceptable for a would-be leader of one of Canada’s mainstream political parties. And, for any presumptive premier of Alberta too.

Is it possible that, like many of the Klaus Schwab obsessed, Poilievre simply hasn’t paid much attention to the darker elements of anti-WEF moment? I am happy to give him the benefit of the doubt. But to be a worthy leader of the Conservative Party of Canada he must call out the lunacy of WEF conspiracists in his own party and walk back his ridiculous ban on cabinet ministers attending the Forum. Absent such moves, it is hard for a thinking person not to impute to him the worst of political sins or dog whistling. Again, this is unacceptable and should be a disqualification for leadership.

“The rise of ‘conspiracism’ as its own potent ideology is a consequence of the failure of public policy and elites to foster a society of broad-based optimism and opportunity.”

Lest readers think I am an anti-anti-WEF fanatic, let me end on a note of sympathy for those caught up in conspiracy theories like WEF. What some WEF haters are experiencing isn’t nice. There is something wrong with our society. Their feelings of powerlessness and a lack of agency are real. But, Klaus Schwab, George Soros, nor the Rothschilds are not to blame. Instead, it’s our politics and society, and dare I even say our elites. We have subjected a large segment of Canadians, for a generation, to stagnating living conditions through economic mismanagement and conspicuous rent-seeking. We have eviscerated local communities with relentless globalization, urbanization, and consumerism. We have told ourselves that the totality of our history is racist and exclusionary. And we subjected our citizenry to the ruthless amplification of disinformation by unregulated, predatory algorithms. The rise of “conspiracism” as its own potent ideology is a consequence of the failure of public policy and elites to foster a society of broad-based optimism and opportunity.

There are no easy fixes here. No convenient scapegoats. Antisemitism must be confronted in all its guises. Not doing so is to invite a moral stain that will smother all of us. Same for ignoring the real anxieties of many of our fellow citizens who are experiencing the world today as if it is spinning out of control. While the theories conspiracists are peddling are beyond fringe, their existence is a loud warning that everything is far from alright for many Canadians. Complacency isn’t an answer here either.