02/13/2019 18:00 EST | Updated 02/14/2019 10:00 EST

Lisa MacLeod's Staff Pressured Us To Support Autism Plan, Group Says

They allegedly said the association would face consequences if it didn’t provide a supportive quote.

Chris Young/Canadian Press
Ontario Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Lisa MacLeod announces changes to the province's autism program in Toronto on Feb. 6, 2019.

TORONTO — Staffers for Ontario Minister Lisa MacLeod threatened a health-care organization with "four long years" if it didn't publicly support the government's autism program, board members charged Wednesday.

MacLeod's staff allegedly made the threats in a series of meetings with representatives for the Ontario Association for Behaviour Analysis (ONTABA) in January.

ONTABA's members are psychologists, nurses and other professionals who use behaviour analysis to treat people who have autism, intellectual disabilities and brain injuries.

The organization has been asking for meetings with MacLeod and her staff since the fall, member Julie Koudys told HuffPost Canada. She is a clinical psychologist and chairs ONTABA's ethics committee.

We are open to coming to the table and working constructively together, but that has not happened to date.Julie Koudys

"We want to collaborate with this government. ... Families are begging for it," said Koudys.

"We are open to coming to the table and working constructively together, but that has not happened to date."

ONTABA was given one introductory meeting with MacLeod's staff on Sept. 25, 2018, and a series of meetings in January at which the government vaguely described its goals for the new autism program and did not ask ONTABA for input, Koudys said.

The government has been facing heat from advocates and parents who say its new policy, announced by MacLeod earlier this month, will overwhelm schools and deprive children with severe autism of the treatment they need.

Watch Minister Lisa MacLeod's announcement:

On Jan. 9 — a month before the government made its announcement — ONTABA was asked to provide a quote showing support for the plan, Koudys said. This request was reiterated in a phone meeting on Jan. 18 and at a follow-up meeting, in person, on Jan. 29.

ONTABA's board sent an email to its members outlining what happened on Wednesday. Screenshots of the email, which Koudys confirmed is authentic, circulated on Facebook and Twitter.

The email stated: "The Minister and her staff requested that ONTABA provide a quote of support, without providing full details on the program, and indicated that failure to do so would result in 'four long years' for the organization. The Minister also indicated that if a quote of support was not forthcoming, a communication that behaviour analysts are 'self-interested' would be released from her office."

One day after MacLeod's announcement, her office sent out a press release listing supportive quotes from health-care professionals and parents. MacLeod called ONTABA "very self-interested" in an interview with Global News Radio the same day.

More from HuffPost Canada:

The minister's spokesman Derek Rowland would not confirm that staff met with ONTABA, nor would he identify the staffers who were at the meetings.

ONTABA was "unwilling" to work with the government to give parents more choice in how they get treatment for their kids, he told HuffPost in an email.

"Our first priority has [been] – and always will be – supporting Ontario families of children and youth with autism," he said.