Editorial - The Toronto Star -
November 27, 1998
Section A, page 28
Hurting the disabled
It is hard to know precisely why Mike Harris is allowing Isabel Bassett - or requiring her, we know not which - to front the Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
The bill is reproduced to the right. Except for the preamble, that's all there is.
The entire bill introduced by Bassett, the Minister for Citizenship, Culture and Recreation, warrants not a minute of debate. Indeed, the bill can be summed up in the opening words of paragraphy 5 (2), which says: "Nothing in this Act..." And so the question remains. Why?
The disabled in this province - there are 1.5 million of them - had been led to expect more of the Premier and his government.
And they had the right to expect it. They had a right to expect that some of what they proposed in the consultations the government invited, but limited, might be reflected in new legislation.
They had a right to expect legislation that would require at least some barriers -- even one -- actually might be removed.
Instead, they have been dealt political cruelty on top of the cruelty already dealt them.
With this bill, Harris has returned to an earlier persona. His concern once was to free his friends from the burdens of regulation. He cared little that regulation protected those both living with disability and being punished for it with the barriers built of inequity and insensitivity.
That earlier Harris could say this in seeking election: "Here is a disabled person only 50 per cent as good as any able-bodied worker but you must hire them and pay them as much as an able-bodied person. That's nonsense.
But we thought that, with the experience of governing, he had learned a lesson when he committed himself to an Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
Alas, no. Yesterday, he declared that with this bill, "I have lived up to my commitment that I would introduce an Ontarians with Disabilities Act." Read the bill.
It's the first time in Canada, he said, that a government has taken "such strong action." Read it.
All he has done is bury the hopes of 1.5 million people in a bureaucracy for which he has displayed little but public contempt and ask nothing of these bureaucrats he doesn't trust but to prepare a plan. Read it.
The bill's emptiness is in the spirit of his "50 per cent as good" comment. Read it.
He should withdraw the bill.
But he needn't withdraw it just because it is embarrassing him, or his cruelly spinning minister, or his cabinet or caucus.
He should withdraw it because it is a hoax on the disabled. And it is an affront to all the decent people, Tory or not, in a province whose fundamental decency can no longer be found in their government.
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