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New ODA Bill 125
hansard December 3, 2001
Ontario Hansard Monday, December 3, 2001
ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES LEGISLATION
INTERNATIONAL DAY OF DISABLED PERSONS
Hon Cameron Jackson (Minister of Citizenship, minister responsible for seniors): Mr Speaker, on a point of order: Might I seek unanimous consent from the House to have five-minute statements from each of the caucuses with respect to the International Day of Disabled Persons?
The Speaker (Hon Gary Carr): Is there unanimous consent? Agreed.
Hon Mr Jackson: December 3 is the day that the United Nations has set aside as the International Day of Disabled Persons. It is an annual opportunity for governments all around the world, for persons with disabilities, their families, their friends and their caregivers, to celebrate their achievements and focus on public awareness of issues around disabilities.
Ontario is already recognized as a leader in services for persons with disabilities in Canada. Our foundation of legislation and services for persons with disabilities includes the federal Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as the Ontario Human Rights Code, and they are considered the strongest in North America.
A strong Human Rights Code provides a solid basis for the rights of persons with disabilities in this province. The code and the commission have an impressive record of protecting the rights of all residents, including persons with disabilities, yet we know that we can do much more in this regard. That's why this government is planning legislative amendments that would update, improve and strengthen the Ontario Human Rights Code. I'd like to acknowledge the work of the chief commissioner, Keith Norton, and his commissioners.
There is a special feeling to the events that mark the International Day of Disabled Persons this year. With our recently released Vision of a more inclusive and accessible society, with our Framework for Change for Persons with Disabilities and with our proposed legislation, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, Bill 125, we have embarked on a course that is considered one of the broadest and strongest in all of Canada.
We're determined to increase the independence, the opportunity and the quality of life for persons with disabilities, to achieve a province where existing barriers are removed and have a legislated plan in place in order to remove existing barriers. All of us have a role to play in this important goal. That's why we've consulted Ontarians so widely in preparing our accessibility strategy. We have met with hundreds of persons with disabilities and their organizations, parents of children with disabilities, municipalities and even the private sector. These are valuable meetings, and they reinforced my belief that Ontarians were up to the challenge of assisting this government in establishing standards and guidelines that can be enacted to improve the lives of persons with disability.
Last Friday, further public hearings began in Ottawa on Bill 125, and these hearings continue in Windsor, Toronto, Sudbury and Thunder Bay this week. The hearings reflect our continued commitment and desire to make a good bill even better by holding it up to public review and consultation.
The government's proposed Framework for Change would directly affect four key areas: the Ontario public service, the municipalities, the broader public sector and the private sector. Each has a role to play in helping Ontario achieve its vision for persons with disabilities and each is affected by the mandatory and the non-mandatory measures.
I am encouraged that the private sector has already taken measures to improve accessibility in our province. The best examples we have are the Greater Toronto Hotel Association, the Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association and Tourism Toronto.
Earlier today, I launched a new ministry Web site at the Granite Brewery restaurant on Eglinton Avenue in Toronto, a fully accessible private sector restaurant. The Granite Brewery has menus in Braille, the public telephone is lower to accommodate persons in wheelchairs, audible emergency signals have been installed for customers who are blind or visually impaired and the staff have been specifically trained to provide good customer service to persons with disabilities. When I asked Ron Keefe, the owner, what prompted him, he said the CNIB and seniors in their immediate community, in their neighbourhood, have a right to have full access to his business.
That's why I think it is important for us to include all sectors in our Vision for improving the quality of life for individuals with disabilities in our province. You'll find more about the Granite Brewery and many other leading-edge companies on the ministry's brand new Web site, Paths to Equal Opportunity, which was launched this morning.
Later today, I will be attending the March of Dimes 50th anniversary open house and reception. The Ontario March of Dimes and the Ministry of Citizenship have forged a strong working relationship over the years. We respect them as leaders in their field, and we rely on their expertise and their commitment to persons with disabilities. All in all, the ministry has provided significant funding, but it is this relationship which has worked so successfully.
The March of Dimes is not unlike hundreds of organizations, with their dedicated staff and volunteers who are inspired by their service to disabled citizens. As members, we continue to be inspired by their spirit and their hopes for our future.
Ontarians want to do what's right, and they have demonstrated this time and time again. Our Vision, our Framework for Change and our proposed disabilities legislation will, I believe, be welcomed into Ontario's historic wellspring of justice and fairness.
Barriers still remain; we know that. But together we must set about the task of removing them. Only the Ontario government is prepared to make the first step to empower disabled persons to make decisions about removing barriers to accessibility, services and employment in their communities. Working in partnership with municipal government, agencies and institutions in the broader public sector, the private sector, persons with disabilities and all caring Ontarians, this government is leading the province to full accessibility and equal opportunity for all its citizens.
Mr Dwight Duncan (Windsor-St Clair): On behalf of the official opposition, I and my colleague from Ottawa Centre will share our five minutes to make a few comments about the International Day of Disabled Persons.
As we reflect on the contribution of the disabled community not only in this country but around the world, we think of people like Franklin Roosevelt, or like Gary Malkowski, who was the first deaf person elected to this Legislature. We think of the enormous contributions that have been made by many people who face challenges the rest of us don't in terms of making this world a better place, whether here in the Legislature or right across Ontario.
This day also gives us reason to pause and reflect on what contributions may have been met, what opportunities may not have been forsaken, had we truly had a more accessible society in the past, had we as a people made greater efforts and striven further in days past to ensure that accessibility. The numbers of persons in our society who are disabled are truly astounding, and their contributions are truly remarkable. Tomorrow, the Order of Ontario will be bestowed on one of my constituents, Danielle Campo, a remarkable young woman who represented this country so well in the Paralympics. I'll be speaking more about that tomorrow.
But we must reflect always on how we deal with these issues legislatively and from a public policy perspective. The minister referenced the achievements of successive governments in this province, whether it was the government of Bob Rae or the government of David Peterson or the government of William Davis or John Robarts, that have consistently moved us forward. Today in committee in Windsor, we are debating the government's Ontarians with Disabilities Act, a bill that we feel is flawed, but we will have more to say about that in the committee hearings and as we continue debate in this House.
It's ironic that those hearings had to be moved at the last minute today in Windsor because the facilities that were booked were not accessible to the disabled. It is an important matter, when we deal with the issues confronting disabled persons, that we be sensitive to their needs, in a timely fashion, but one that will allow full accommodation as a government. It's unfortunate that at a time when the world, particularly the United States with its Americans with Disabilities Act, has moved so far forward, we are left moving hearings at the last minute because the site we chose as a government was not accessible for Ontarians with disabilities. It is a commentary not on the government but on this society that that sort of thing should happen. It is a commentary on all of us, that each of us needs to strive to recognize the enormous potential that people in our communities have to give to society and to improve society. We in the official opposition pay tribute to those among us with disabilities who contribute every day to the greatness of this province and country.
With that, I'll give the remaining time to my colleague from Ottawa Centre.
Mr Richard Patten (Ottawa Centre): I would like to add that I had the experience last Friday of sitting in on some hearings to look at the Ontarians with Disabilities Act proposals that are before the people, and it's quite a moving experience.
There was one gentleman suffering from multiple sclerosis who in particular had an impact. His statement was, "The bill as it is proposed does not, of course, deal with the private sector," which is fundamentally important, because in the daily lives of most disabled people, about 75% to 80% of their experience has to do with barriers in the private sector. He used the analogy of one step. He said, "Everywhere I go, there's one step." He's in a wheelchair and he struggles even being able to manage the wheelchair. He said, "I keep hitting upon trying to go to a coffee shop. There's one step, and it's a barrier. I try to go to a dry cleaner's; there's another barrier because of that one step." He said these things do not take massive amounts of resources. There are no incentives even for the private sector to make improvements to some of their places. He said that will be, at the end of the day, what we will see as a measurement of the commitment of this government, because it is in the government's hands.
We will vote for you with some support in addressing the private sector to play a role in supporting the disabled people in our province.
Mr Howard Hampton (Kenora-Rainy River): International Day of Disabled Persons: a day established by the United Nations to recognize that people who struggle with disabilities are often not fully included, not fully given access or allowed to access all of the work, all of the physical settings, all of the participation in our society that we believe needs to happen.
It is clear that headway is being made in other countries around the world in terms of recognizing the challenges that individuals who suffer with disabilities face. It is clear, for example, the strides that have been made in a number of European countries. It's clear, for example, by some of the legislation that has been passed in the United States. We would hope that in our province, the province of Ontario, we would similarly take steps to broaden the access in employment, broaden the access physically, broaden the access in terms of participation in society.
At this time we are in fact debating legislation, Bill 125, which the minister says is Ontario's answer. On this day, I simply want to comment once again on the reality of Bill 125, which is being heard now in hearings being held across the province. The people who are coming to the hearings are not congratulating the government; the people who are coming to the hearings are pointing out the shortfalls in the legislation. This is what they point out:
There are no mandatory requirements for the private sector: the private sector does not have to increase the physical accessibility to buildings; the private sector does not have to think about accessibility in terms of employment or other participation.
There is no enforcement strategy to this legislation; there are no timelines to indicate when persons with disabilities can expect to live in a barrier-free Ontario.
The advisory committees that will be established have no power to ensure compliance and enforcement; their only capacity will be to lobby, something that the community has been doing.
There is no funding allocated to improve accessibility.
There is no mandatory action required of municipalities, other than simply to develop plans, plans which need not be acted upon.
The only enforcement machinery that is available is the Ontario Human Rights Commission, something which we know is already very badly overextended.
And while the legislation says that it reforms the Social Housing Act to ensure any future social housing is fully accessible, we know that no social housing has been built in this province for five years now.
So representatives of the disability community, the David Lepofskys, the Gary Malkowskis, are left to wonder, if there is so little in this legislation, what is improving. What is happening? I think the sad commentary is that not much is happening.
This is a day where the government wants to say that it is doing something. The reality is, when you look at their legislation, not much is happening at all.
M. Gilles Bisson (Timmins-Baie James): Imaginez-vous qu'aujourd'hui, en 2001, on se plante ici " l'Assembl1e l1gislative de l'Ontario pour faire des remarques faisant affaire avec la Journ1e internationale des personnes handicap1es. Moi, je me dis comme individu ontarien comment on n'a pas avanc1 le dossier, dans les 120 ann1es que la province est ici, comme Assembl1e l1gislative. Pourquoi pas faire des modifications " la loi municipale pour un fait seulement, le moindre des moindres : dans n'importe quelle planification des nouveaux b'timents dans la province, que chaque b'timent soit b'ti avec l'id1e de faire accessibles ces b'tisses-l" ? C'est quelque chose qu'on pourrait faire, c'est facile, Ja se fait tout de suite et on pourrait avancer le dossier pour les personnes avec disabilities. Mais on ne le fait pas.
Mr Steve Gilchrist (Scarborough East): On a point of order, Mr Speaker: I know it's never the intention of any member to mislead this House. However, I believe I heard Mr Duncan suggest that the hearings in Windsor today are taking place in a facility that is not disabled-accessible. In fact, the representative -- The Speaker: Order. The member take his seat. The member will know that he can't correct the record of somebody else. If there is a record that needs to be clarified, the member can do that.
Mr Duncan: On a point of order, Mr Speaker: It's a misinterpretation; I'm sure the member didn't mean to mischaracterize. The hearings in Windsor had to be moved late on Friday because it was determined on Friday afternoon that the venue that the hearings were supposed to be in was not in fact accessible. They moved them, effective today, to accommodate those persons who, it is my understanding, could not have been accommodated in the original facilities that had been chosen.
The Speaker: I am aware of the change of the venue. The Chair of the committee I'm sure will handle the circumstances as rightly as is his duty.