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Autism group says minister warned of ‘long, hard four years’ if they didn’t support changes

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Behaviour analysts say children’s minister Lisa MacLeod and her staff threatened to make their lives miserable for the next four years if they didn’t endorse the government’s changes to autism services.

In a memo to members Wednesday, the board of the Ontario Association for Behavioural Analysts said “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.”

It went on to say that “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 … In spite of the implied risk, the organization refused.”

One analyst who attended the meeting said it was more “akin to dealing with a mob boss than an elected official.”

The rift with ONTABA is part of an escalating division between the Ford government and some in the autism community in the wake of its overhaul to the system, which MacLeod has pledged will clear the massive wait list for services in two years.

Parents of children with autism are also feeling bruised by the government’s dismissal of the Ontario Autism Coalition, a grassroots Facebook group of parent advocates, as “professional protesters.”

A senior source in the community and social services ministry said staff had met with ONTABA four times — and had provided details of the coming changes, and was under the understanding a supportive quote was planned. However, the source said, different representatives attended the final meeting and the tone changed.

The government “had a number of productive and cordial meetings” with the therapists as well as others in the autism community, from parents to service providers, said the source.

The source did not recall MacLeod saying that should the group not provide public support, rocky relations would ensue.

“She certainly said that we are committed to this plan,” said the source.

Several service providers and hospitals provided endorsements of the plan.

Meanwhile, the government faced more opposition from Autism Ontario, which said despite ministry claims, the organization will not be managing intake or dispersing money to families over the next year while the province overhauls autism funding.

Autism Ontario said its statement is aimed at correcting a “number of misunderstandings or assumptions,” since the government announced age-based funding caps to clear a therapy wait list of 23,000 kids, the organization said.

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The organization came under fire from angry parents last week when MacLeod suggested Autism Ontario was playing an integral part in her government’s plan to shift control of provincial funding for autism services from regional agencies to parents.

In at least one media interview, MacLeod said Autism Ontario will be directly involved with the new funding regime.

Under the changes announced by MacLeod Feb. 6, children with autism up to age 6 will receive lifetime caps of up to $140,000 until age 18, while those over age 6 will get $55,000. Funding will be aimed at low- to moderate-income families with those earning more than $250,000 no longer eligible, she said.

But parents, whose noisy protests in 2016 convinced the previous Liberal government to reverse a similar age-based funding scheme, say the Progressive Conservative plan makes the same mistake. They say the new funding falls woefully short of meeting the needs of children with complex needs whose therapy may cost as much as $80,000 a year. And it may be too much for others. It will likely mean cuts to 8,400 children currently receiving help with no funding cap, they add.

In a statement, ministry officials confirmed Autism Ontario will not be directly involved with the wait list or the funding.

Autism Ontario has been supporting families and people with autism in Ontario for the past 46 years and has parent representatives across the province through 25 local chapters, said spokesperson Katharine Buchan. It supports and advocates on behalf of both children and adults with autism through workshops, training and individual support, she added.

Social media attacks against the organization’s staff and volunteers, many of whom are also parents with autistic children, have been difficult, she said.

One part-time Autism Ontario staffer in a local chapter, who is a mother of an autistic child, called police over what she felt were threatening Facebook posts from another mother, Buchan confirmed.

“The anger is justified, but I’m not sure it makes sense to be directing it at one another when we need to be working together ensure that all children’s needs are met,” she said.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the government should not be “labelling groups of parents who are doing their best for their children as professional protesters.

“It’s despicable. Shameful.” she added.

“They are using these tactics to try to besmirch these parents, parents who are very worried about their children,” she said in an interview

She called analysts’ claim they were pressured to endorse the autism overhaul “strong arming professionals in the autism field, trying to knuckle them down and prevent them from providing their professional opinion on the government’s changes.”

Kendra Thomson, the incoming president of ONTABA, said her organization was not provided with any details about how their profession would be regulated, and because they weren’t told what the government’s planned registry would look like, they could not publicly support it.

As for allegations ONTABA is a lobby group, she said it is a non-profit that represents a number of professionals and promotes evidence-based services.

She also said the group was not “meaningfully consulted” on the autism changes, and despite the discord, “if we were given the opportunity to provide meaningful conversation, that would surpass the tone and anything (communicated) to date.”

She said ONTABA’s representatives left that final meeting feeling very disappointed, though “the tone was consistent with previous meetings with myself and others.”

Louis Busch, a past-president of ONTABA who attended the final meeting with the minister and her staff, said he went as a “private citizen” and that it was a tense meeting from the outset, unlike any he has attended with the past five ministers to hold this portfolio.

Busch, a board-certified behaviour analyst who works with adults, said after pressing for details, they were told a regulatory college would not be announced, but a website would provide a list “which is not regulation.”

Busch noted that MacLeod said without public support from ONTABA, “it’s going to be a long, hard four years for you.”

“This was more akin to meeting with a mob boss than an elected official,” Busch said.

Meanwhile, at a Wednesday announcement on Ontario’s fiscal situation, Finance Minister Vic Fedeli said there will no additional funding for autism services beyond the $321 million announced last week.

“There were 23,000 families with children with autism who received no help whatsoever, so this plan is a fair, sustainable, and equitable plan,” said Fedeli, noting it has been well-received in his hometown of North Bay.

“We all don’t have the same services that are readily available in the south, so we’ve delivered on that. That’s why at home they’re very happy with this plan,” the treasurer said.

With files from Robert Benzie

Laurie Monsebraaten is a Toronto-based reporter covering social justice. Follow her on Twitter: @lmonseb

Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy

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Nostalgia and much more with Starburst XXXtreme

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Get a taste of adventure with Starburst XXXtreme based on the legendary NetEnt Game. The nostalgic themes are sure to capture fans of the classic version as they get treated to higher intensity, better visuals, and features. The most significant element of the game is its volatility. Patience will not be an essential virtue considering the insane gameplay, and there is a lot of win potential involved. It retains the original makeup of the previous game while adding a healthy dose of adrenaline. 

Starburst Visuals and Symbols

The game is definitely more conspicuous than before. The setting happens over a 5-reel, 3-row game grid with nine fixed win lines, which function if a succession from the left to the right reel is present. Only those players that that attain the highest win per bet line are paid. From a visual standpoint, the Starburst XXXtreme slots illustrates lightning effects behind the reels, which is not surprising as it is inherited from the original version. Available themes include Classic, Jewels, and Space. The game is also available in both desktop and mobile versions, which is advantageous for players considering the global pandemic. According to Techguide, American gamers are increasingly having more engaging gaming experiences to socialize to fill the gap of in-person interaction. Starburst XXXtreme allows them to fill the social void at a time when there is so much time to be had indoors. 

Starburst XXXTreme Features

Players get to alternate on three features which are Starburst Wilds, XXXtreme Spins, and Random Wilds. The first appears on reels 2,3, or 4. When these land, they expand to cover all positions while also calculating the wins. They are also locked for a respin. If a new one hits, it also becomes locked while awarding another respin. Starburst XXXtreme offers a choice between two scenarios for a higher stake. In one scenario with a ten times stake, the Starburst Wild is set on random on reels 2,3, or 4, and a multiplier starts the respin. The second scenario, which has a 95 times stake, starts with two guaranteed starburst wilds on reels 2,3, or 4. it also plays out using respin game sequence and features. The game also increases the potential with the Random Wilds feature to add Starburst Wilds to a vacant reel at the end of a spin. Every Starburst Wild gives a random multiplier with potential wins of x2, x3, x5, x10, x25, x50, x100, or even x150.

The new feature is sure to be a big hit with the gaming market as online gambling has shown significant growth during the lockdown. AdAge indicates the current casino customer base is an estimated one in five Americans, so Starburst XXXtreme’s additional features will achieve considerable popularity. 

What We Think About The Game

The gambling market has continued to diversify post-pandemic, so it is one of the most opportune times to release an online casino-based game. Thankfully Starburst XXXtreme features eye-catching visuals, including the jewels and space themes. These attract audience participation and make the gameplay inviting. The game also has a nostalgic edge. The previous NetEnt iteration featured similar visuals and gameplay, so the audience has some familiarity with it. The producers have revamped this version by tweaking the features to improve the volatility and engagement. 

That is characterized by the potential win cap of 200,000 times the bet. Starburst XXXtreme does not just give betting alternatives for players that want to go big. The increase of multipliers also provides a great experience. If the respins in the previous version were great, knowing that multipliers can go hundreds of times overtakes the game to a new level. 

Players should get excited about this offering. All of the features can be triggered within a single spin. Whether one plays the standard game or takes the XXXtreme spin route, it is possible to activate all of the features. Of course, the potential 200,000 times potential is a huge carrot. However, the bet size is probably going to be restricted and vary depending on the casino. It is also worth pointing out that a malfunction during the gameplay will void all of the payouts and progress. Overall, the game itself has been designed to provide a capped win of 200,000 times the original bet. 

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Anglais

‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year

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In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal

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MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.

STUDIO SHORTAGE

The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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