Warning to low-hanging politicians

JOHN GEDDES April 23 2007

Warning to low-hanging politicians

JOHN GEDDES April 23 2007

Warning to low-hanging politicians

BY JOHN GEDDES • Imagine a Tory who won a seat in the last election by only a few votes. Who would such an MP least want to have to fight, alongside the usual opposition rivals, to survive in the coming campaign? How about enraged, well-organized parents who accuse Ottawa of failing to assure their children of essential medical care?

They might not know it yet, but this unsettling scenario faces certain carefully targeted Conservatives. Parents of autistic children plan to take aim at selected government MPs who squeaked in last time by two per cent of the vote or less. And the most vulnerable MP of all could be the architect of the federal autism policy that has the parents so upset—Health Minister Tony Clement, who won his Ontario riding of Parry Sound-Muskoka last time by a mere 29 votes.

Autism groups are cagey about revealing details of their plan of attack before an election is on. But one Ontario activist told Maclean’s, “Clement is like a pear ready to drop from the tree.” B.C.’s Families for Early Autism Treatment was active in a few closely fought B.C. ridings in 2006. Some of the group’s core members, including director Jean Lewis, are scheduled to attend a meet-

ing in Halifax on May 26 to pass along tactical lessons to East Coast parents of autistic children. But if Stephen Harper’s minority falls before then, the B.C. firebrands plan to cancel their Halifax event and make a campaign detour to Ontario of up to two weeks. “We will certainly be in Parry

Sound-Muskoka,” Lewis said. The B.C. group and their allies demand federal action to tend medicare coverage to full early autism treatment, which can cost $35,000 a year young children.

Successive federal Liberal and Tory governments have held that deciding what conditions are insured is up to the provinces. Lewis says autism activists will back individual candidates who support their position, but not parties. “When the Liberals were in power,” she said, “they were as pathetic as the Conservatives are now.” M