Earlier, Autism Community Training Society executive director Clair Schuman told us Premier Gordon Campbell had approached hotel and spa owners Sergio and Wendy Cocchia about developing an autism education and research centre. But, in an interview with Public Eye, Mr. Cocchia said it was actually the other way around. "Wendy and I have approached the premier on many, many occassions and spoke to him about the need for more services and more help for families with autism and had spoken to him about our thought of building an autism centre for British Columbia," said Mr. Cocchia, who has an autistic son. "We've been speaking to the premier about this every opportunity we get."
And what about claims the government has committed $20 million to the centre? "I know there was a mention of monies in the budget. We've discussed with the premier that we'd like to make a proposal to build this centre. And we've discussed with him the figure of $20 million."
So why is there a difference between Ms. Schuman's account of last Thursday's meeting about the centre and his own? After listening to her quotes, Mr. Cocchia said, "By and large that's correct. We spoke with the premier. We've been pushing him on this - that we thought this was a good idea. He's told us we can prepare a proposal for it. We're attempting to put that proposal together. There was a discussion of $20 million."
But that funding hasn't yet been approved? "I'm not privy to what the government's done. I know that, at one point, the number being bandied around was $20 million. Our proposal is for a building that's considerably more than $20 million. And so we're talking about how we fundraise, how we reach out to the community and raise those kinds of funds and if it's possible to do."
Continued Mr. Cocchia, "We're attempting after Thursday with a great deal of success - other than a couple naysayers - to try to pull some cohesion to the autism community to try to get some input in a consultation and a discussion about what could go into an autism centre in British Columbia."
"As people who live with this horrible problem, we think that the community - other people like us - need more supports. And we see this centre as a wonderful way of delivering these supports. We think it's a great idea. So we've reached to the community saying, 'Please participate. Let's pull this up. I'll answer phone calls from Sean and anyone else who wants to call me so we can discuss autism and how we can make things better in this province."