Premier Gordon Campbell has reportedly approached hotel and spa owners Sergio and Wendy Cocchia about developing a promised autism education and research centre. And he's committed $20 million toward building that centre, which was announced in the government's February 2008 throne speech. This, according to an account of a meeting that took place last Thursday at the couple's Century Plaza Hotel and Spa.
In an interview with Public Eye, Autism Community Training Society executive director Clair Schuman - who helped organize that meeting - said Mr. Cocchia told attendees, "The premier - who he knows - had given him a heads-up saying there would be something in the throne speech that would please him. And, of course, he did listen to the throne speech and discovered that there was going to be a centre being built related to autism education and research."
"And, at some point later - post-throne speech - the premier did speak with Sergio and indicated that he wanted Sergio and his wife Wendy to pull together a society and work on a proposal to build the building. And that there would be money committed in the provincial budget for it - not for operating costs but for this building, this centre. And that land would be made available from the province, probably."
Ms. Schuman also said Mr. Cocchia has been hoping to work on the project with Simon Fraser University - which recently received $2 million in provincial and federal government to fund a new autism intervention research chair. "I just spoke with Sergio this morning. And he told me he got a letter and SFU has committed to being involved in this."
Asked for her opinion of the centre, Ms. Schuman said, "We have to do something to increase the capacity in this province - to educate the province and support families. And, if this outside-of-the-box situation can contribute in a positive way, I think it's worth exploring." Although she acknowledged there were three people out of the 50 who attended the meeting "who expressed some concerns about process - where did the money come from, what ministry is involved, is there a competitive process."
Ms. Schuman said Mr. Cocchia asked her society to help organize the meeting as part of consultation process to "test the waters" for the centre. Ms. Cocchia made headlines last year when The Vancouver Sun's Nicholas Read reported she and former education minister Christy Clark wanted to establish "a publicly funded school in Vancouver for children with disabilities." Education Minister Shirley Bond was receptive to that proposal. But B.C. Coalition for People with Disabilities executive director Margaret Birrell and B.C. Coalition for People with Disabilities president Michael Lewis had reservations about the school because they felt "segregating" special needs children would be a mistake.
The following is a complete copy of the invite to the aforementioned meeting.
----- Original Message -----
From: Clair Schuman
To: Clair Schuman
Sent: Monday, July 14, 2008 1:16 PM
Subject: FW: An invitation to a meeting re Pacific Autism Family Center
To keep the email address you have provided to ACT confidential I am forwarding this invitation on behalf of Sergio and Wendy Cocchia of the Pacific Autism Family Center.
On behalf of the board of the Pacific Autism Family Center would like to extend an invitation for you to attend an information and discussion session about a new "Autism Center" for B.C.. We are seeking input and assistance from the community on what should be included in such a center.
Century Plaza Hotel
1015 Burrard St.,
(parking available in lot on Comox Street)
Thursday July 24,2008
Please RSVP to email@example.com
This is a private meeting, if you feel that there is some other person(s) whom should be invited please forward those names to address above for consideration.
Sergio & Wendy Cocchia