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Article - The Toronto Star -
December 4, 1998
Section A

Deaf Activist Angry Tories Claim His Support

Former NDP MPP says Harris misquoting him

by Kellie Hudson
Toronto Star Queen's Park Bureau

Gary Malkowski wants the Premier to stop taking his name in vain.

The deaf activist, and former provincial politican, says Mike Harris is taking his comments out of context to bolster support for his "useless, toothless and patronizing" disabilities act.

"I can't believe what Mike Harris has done, using my name the way he has," Malkowski said in an interview yesterday. "He's using my name for some benefit."

Last week, Harris stood up in the Legislature to defend his controversial Ontarians with Disabilities Act, and said Malkowski has publicly complimented the government on its disabled initiatives.

"We have had more people with disabilities, including a former New Democratic member who came forward and said of the move we made: "This is the biggest breakthrough in the history of the Ontario Legislature," Harris is quoted as saying.

Harris was referring to Malkowski's support for the government's decision to take the disabled off welfare, Citizenship and Culture Minister Isabel Bassett said, in response to angry questioning yesterday from NDP Leader Howard Hampton.

But Hampton said the Premier was deliberately evasive to a direct question.

"The question was from Frances Lankin and it was about the Ontarians with Disabilities Act," Hampton said in an interview after question period. "If you follow the question then you follow the answer, it's very clear. He's (Harris) trying to imply that he (Malkowski) was in favour of the bill."

Regardless of the context, Malkowski is furious his name is positively linked to anything the Conservatives are doing when it comes to the disabled.

Malkowski has written a letter to the Premier asking him to withdraw the statement from the record, and to stop undermining his credibility "by making false and public statements."

As a disabled activist, he says he is outraged at the legislation and wants the government to replace it.

Malkowski said he did support the decision to remove the disabled from welfare rolls, but only if it was accompanied by a strong Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

Under the current act, introduced by Bassett two weeks ago, every ministry will have to review annually all legislation, policies, and programs, to identify, remove and prevent barriers. The bill has yet to be debated.

Critics say the law does not rquire removal of a single barrier, and doesn't offer any new rights for the disabled, nor any enforcement measures.

Yesterday was International Day for Persons with Disabilities, and Bassett spoke proudly of her government's commitment to improving access.

But things turned a little nasty when Hampton challenged Bassett, near the end of a heated exchange.

"You step outside and you say that," he yelled at her.

Hampton said he was just telling Bassett to repeat her remarks about Malkowski outside of Legislature, where she could be sued for them.

Bassett said she thought it a threat, but tried to laugh it off.

"It made me think that my money to work out is paying off. If I get taken outside, maybe he'd have a surprise."

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Last updated Saturday, December 12, 1998 1:42 PM