Daisy, Warren Kinsella, the Conservatives, and the Autism Fight

Mike Moffatt
5 min readOct 31, 2019

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A story in today’s Globe and Mail: [Warren] Kinsella firm provided free training to autism group, threatened suit after they questioned possible ties to Ford government.

Highly recommend reading, though it is behind a paywall, so I guess I also recommend subscribing.

Here’s some background and my take on events.

  1. There are a number of advocacy groups in the autism space. Groups with a focus on kids, groups with a focus on adults, groups giving the perspective of service providers, etc. The groups are made up of volunteers who get involved because they’re trying to improve the lives of people on the spectrum and their families. It’s a whole lot of unpaid labour, so everyone involved does so out of love.
  2. These groups tend to be quite small, with almost no resources. Again, a labour of love.
  3. Even before the Conservative government announced the changes to the Ontario Autism Program in February, they were bullying groups of service providers, suggesting there would be four long years for service providers unless they publicly backed the reforms.
  4. The first version of the Conservative Ontario Autism Program was announced in February, and was highly criticized by almost every advocacy group in this space. Reason was simple: The government was cutting funding in the range of $100 million (though they never released the exact figure), and the way the remaining funding was being allocated was incredibly wasteful: it spent significant dollars are on cases where there was little to no clinical need, while providing inadequate support to those with higher needs. (TL;DR version: it wasn’t needs-based).
  5. Although almost every group condemned these changes, there was one exception: a group called Autistics for Autistics Ontario (A4A), who are opposed to a form of therapy known as applied behaviour analysis (ABA), which they believe is harmful.
  6. ABA is incredibly expensive; our son is currently receiving this support (and doing very well with it), but the cost can be over $80,000 a year. While the Conservative changes did not ban ABA; they did the next closest thing: by placing a cap of $20,000 a year in support for kids under 6, and $5,000 a year for kids over 6, they priced all but the wealthiest families out of this market. So A4A was understandably broadly supportive of the Conservative reforms.
  7. A4A and a handful of their members were vocal on social media and traditional media, in their opposition to parents and advocacy groups fighting the reforms (as is their right to do). One of the co-founders of A4A, Alex Echakowitz, was particularly abusive online towards parents, with comments such as “I hope your children all die under Ford. Maybe that will give you a fucking wake-up call”, and calling one service provider an “eugenicist”. Needless to say this created tensions in the community, to have advocates attack other advocates.
  8. After making a number of changes to the proposal, the Conservative government announced a 20 member advisory panel, to study the issue. Two members for A4A were named to the panel: Matthew Jason Dever and Echakowitz. Other advocacy groups only had a single member on the panel or were left out entirely.

Enter Daisy and Warren Kinsella

  1. The ongoing autism fight saw a slide in popularity for the Ford Conservative government in Ontario.
  2. This unpopularity spilled over to the federal Conservative Party, and caused, in the brilliant words of Shannon Proudfoot, Doug Ford “to hide himself in a root cellar for five months”.
  3. Or as one Liberal put it to Matt Gurney: “ There is a lot of buyer’s remorse that we were seeing. It was big. It had an impact. Some of the people answering their door for us have kids with autism. I heard they were chasing Conservative door-knockers right off their lawns. People were mad. And, yes, it made a difference.”
  4. So it’s a pretty straight line here: The vocal opposition to Ford’s changes caused a decline in popularity for the Ford government, but also a decline in popularity for Andrew Scheer and the federal Conservative Party during the federal election.
  5. Enter Daisy and Warren Kinsella. We know that Kinsella and Daisy were working on behalf of the Conservative Party, to “seek and destroy” the Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada who were siphoning off Conservative support.
  6. Kinsella and Daisy approach A4A Ontario, the group working to neutralize opposition to Ford’s autism program changes with an “unsolicited e-mail from Daisy Group praising its ‘amazing work’ and offering free media training.”
  7. As well, “Mr. Kinsella’s firm had contracts in 2018 to provide strategic advice to the Ontario government through the ministry that was led by Ms. MacLeod, who was also responsible for the autism file until June, 2019. Mr. Kinsella said those contracts focused on planned changes to social assistance programs, and were unrelated to Daisy’s 2019 volunteer work for A4A.
  8. Needless to say, a more effective A4A would be beneficial to both the federal and provincial Conservatives, as it would help counter the vocal opposition to the Ford government’s Ontario Autism Program changes.
  9. “A few A4A members went to Daisy’s Toronto office on April 24 for a two-hour training session. Ms. Borden (a board member for A4A) said she posted a statement on Twitter about the event, but was later told by Daisy Group to take it down, which she did, and not publicize the training.”
  10. There was a second session, and a third planned. Two hours before the third session was about to start, Daisy canceled it, and included a link to an article about the Ford government announcing new changes to the Ontario Autism Program.
  11. “The group said that e-mail led them to suspect a possible connection between Daisy and the provincial government, and that they requested that their relationship with the firm end.”
  12. Daisy responded with “angry emails” accusing A4A of libeling them. Daisy threatened legal action if A4A did not apologize.

So here we are. This has been a brutal year for so many of us in the community. I know my health has deteriorated due to the constant fight to get our kids the health care they deserve. The abuse and bullying we have suffered from the government itself along with that from Ontario A4A has only compounded the problem. It’s even more disheartening to learn we had even more opponents than we realized, but sadly it’s not surprising.

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Mike Moffatt

Senior Director, Smart Prosperity. Assistant Prof, Ivey Business School. Exhausted but happy Dad of 2 wonderful kids with autism. I used to do other stuff.