I know we are all talking about what happened Thursday, Dec 14 and I think I finally have a grasp of everything I saw and heard.
There were fifteen of us in the reserved gallery where the MPP's can come and speak with us. During the debate, we heard the motion and corresponding statement by Sophie Kiwala, MPP who spoke so graciously and eloquently and really showed the passion she has over this issue. We were then shocked to hear so many others speak in favour of the motion. As can be seen from the transcript, six other members spoke in favour of the bill, but more importantly, all three parties were represented from those six members. As a result, the motion passed with unanimous assent. This was a big test. All the other motions of the day were contested because they are being used for political wrangling and election preparations. However, FASD was treated different. Certainly everyone present at the assembly wanted to see this happen. This also included MCYS Minister Michael Coteau and Education Minister Mitzie Hunter based on the types of things they were doing on the floor while the debate was going on.
After the debate was finished at about 2:30, we had a long break because all motions needed to be debated first then the votes come. So the vote was at 4:30.
During the break, though, Sophie joined the fifteen of us and we had some discussions about next steps and had some pictures taken. If you go to her Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/SKiwala/ and click on the large group photo, you will see Education Minister Hunter joined us on the far left hand side.
Sophie then went on to tell us the bill FASD Bill also went through first reading. However, it is important to note only 6% of private member bills have passed in the last 10 years in Queen's Park. The reason is as follows: MPP Kiwala, as a backbencher and not a Minister, only gets one day every 17 months to present motions and bills. By the time she would get to present it for second reading, we will have an election and the bill will disappear and have to start all over again. However, because she tabled it, any minister can pick it up now and present it. But it is still a tight time frame. The Assembly comes back on Feb. 20 and can start presenting bills again. Sophie did tell us, though, she thinks an election may be called for June which means the writ is dropped in May where everything stops. This bill must go through second and third reading between Feb 20 and May 1. And the most likely person to do this is Education Minister Mitzie Hunter of Scarborough. Sophie has had several conversations with her and MPP Hunter did show support, but she has a challenge as well. Sophie did try to have the bill be done as a Education Policy/Procedural Memorandum which doesn't require assembly assent but was turned down. The Ministry of Education is requiring it to be done as an amendment to the Education Act which is extremely ambitious. As of right now, the second reading is not scheduled and there is no current discussion to schedule it.
So what can be done? Because Len Whalen and I stayed right to the end for the actual vote and then by happenstance went home on the same train as Sophie, she gave us several pieces of advice on how to advocate now.
1) Be personal! Sophie mentioned for her it was hearing the stories of three constituents at Kingston that got her started on this path for fighting for us. She also went on to say the biggest highlight of the day for her was getting to meet Savanna and her dog Sasha from Hamilton. Brian and Bonnie from Scarborough of FASworld has been fighting the good fight for a lot of years now and have done a great job educating their MPP, Education Minister Hunter. I can not stress enough the impact twenty-five personal stories would have on her.
Everyone needs to be writing to MPP Hunter and specifically tell her how you know early intervention in the schools is so needed in order to make such a positive impact on those children impacted by FASD. Be sure and send this same letter to your local MPP as well.
2) Sophie is working on getting us an advocacy day at Queen's Park. At this day, every one of our organizations get a table where we want to be giving away a short pamphlet of information about FASD and a give-away like a pin or logo. We will have an opportunity to make an impression on every single MPP in the assembly through this day if they are willing to come. She is working on getting us a day around the April/May timeframe.
3) If you have influence on your local SEAC committee, encourage them to send a letter of support for the bill to Education Minister Hunter. If she sees there is support for this bill from both parents and school boards, this will make a big impression on her.
4) Sophie also communicated how excited she was to find out that Vanessa Hrvatin is now writing for the National Post regarding FASD. She also sees this as one more way to get the province talking about this issue.
This is the first time I have ever met Sophie and her staff face to face. I was so impressed with Anna, her Legislative Assistant firstname.lastname@example.org. She was such a great host and brought a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the proceedings. It is very clear to me that Sophie is an amazing collaborator, has navigated in a very short timeframe through multiple obstacles, and has a clear strategy on how to champion our cause. She did make it very clear she needs and wants us to continue advocating. She has managed to open a door but it is up to us to push through it. We do NOT have cabinet support yet. It is clear the MCYS, the Attorney General, and the Education Minister do believe in what we are doing but there are still obstacles holding them back.
Let me finish by saying a huge thank you to Sophie and her staff. Sophie specifically told me she wants us to be talking to her through Anna. She really has a heart for us and I'm pretty sure she was crying when I gave her the picture of the five of us on our first day as a family. She truly does want to hear from us and loves the encouragement we are giving her.