Some five weeks after a “disrespectful” incident in the B.C. Legislature, B.C. Autism Advocacy is still waiting for an apology from Nicholas Simons, minister of social development and poverty reduction, and premier John Horgan.
The organization’s Elena Lawson said that, in the March 28 incident, Simons (MLA for Powell River-Sunshine Coast) reacted to comments by Surrey-White Rock MLA Trevor Halford – who was speaking on behalf on children and youth in B.C. with autism – with a dismissive, mock-crying gesture.
In an emailed response to a Peace Arch News request for comment from Simon’s office, ministry communications director Vivian Thomas said, however, that the matter had been addressed “some time ago.”
“This matter was addressed… when the minister stood in the chamber and withdrew any action which may have been perceived to offend Members of the Legislature,” she wrote.
But in a letter to Horgan on March 23, B.C. Autism Advocacy said Simons’ actions were “completely unacceptable, and disregard the stress and uncertainty families feel with the autism funding changes.”
“To use a ‘crying hand gesture’ is disrespectful and we do not condone this behaviour,” continued the letter, which was copied to Simons, Halford, who is opposition critic for education, children, family development and childcare, and Karin Kirkpatrick, leader of the opposition.
But, as of Thursday, “we’ve not received any comment from (Simons) or the premier,” Lawson said.
“This shows disrespect on so many levels,” she added.
In a letter to Peace Arch News, published on April 7, Surrey reader Louise Witt, parent of a teenager with autism and an intellectual disability, wrote that she was “more than offended by this immature, hurtful display,” and wondered how Simons’ Powell River-Sunshine Coast constituents felt about it.
“Rather than keep a successful program that has been operating for 20 years, the NDP government is taking away individualized funding for children and replacing it with a ‘one-size-fits-all’ program that is is doomed to fail all disability groups,” she wrote.
Halford told Peace Arch News that, prior to the incident, he had been “speaking directly to the NDP’s decision” to move away from the individualized funding approach.
“It’s something I’m quite passionate about,” he said. “It’s going to affect a lot of people in this community. It’s going to have a massive impact.”
Simons, he said, “saw a good opportunity to heckle me while I was speaking.”
“I did push back – I asked him if he had something to say, and if he did, would he stand up and say it. It just goes to show the lack of empathy and understanding the NDP has for this issue.”
Halford said it was also question from him – on what the government proposed to do about the shortage of family doctors in the province – that precipitated Premier John Horgan’s infamous ‘f-bomb’ during question period on April 25.
“I’m sorry if I’m asking questions that are inconvenient for the government,” Halford said.
“But that’s my job. They have to be accountable to people in my riding. They can swear at me, they can mock me, but they will not stop me.
“At the end of the day we deserve better and our constituents deserve better,” he said. “And that’s what I’m going to fight for.”
Halford acknowledged that Simons appeared to mutter something to the effect that that he “withdrew his comment” after the incident on March 28.
But Lawson noted that it hardly added up to the formal apology that B.C. Autism Advocacy is requesting.
Lawson also noted the speed with which Horgan apologized for his outburst at Halford.
“But he’s not holding his cabinet ministers to the same standard,” she said. “The fact that it’s been five weeks without comment, shows how much they really care about autism.”