To: All Supporters of a Strong Ontarians with Disabilities Act
From: David Lepofsky, Chair, ODA Committee
Date: November 24, 1999
On November 23, 1999, Ontarians with disabilities won a major victory on the road to a strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act. After a three-hour debate on the floor of the legislature, the Legislature unanimously passed a resolution sponsored by Opposition Liberal MPP Steve Peters, which requires that: "An Ontarians with Disabilities Act which is strong and effective should be enacted no later than two years from today, November 23, 1999." The debate was preceded by strong questioning by both the Liberals and NDP during Question Period.
This resolution has three important ingredients. The Government must pass the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, pure and simple. No ifs, ands or buts. The Ontarians with Disabilities Act must be strong and effective, not weak and ineffective. It must be passed within two years, and not a day later.
This victory was the product of the tremendous efforts right across Ontario who worked either on their own or together in groups and organizations to make this happen on such very short notice. It is the result of all who wrote, phoned, faxed and E-mailed their MPPs to support this resolution. It was the product of all who sent letters and news releases to their local media. It was the result of those many, many people with disabilities, reported by the media as 150, who overcame transportation barriers at their own expense and on their own time came to Queen's Park to watch the proceedings.
This included people from as diverse locations as Kingston, Peterborough, Lindsay, Durham, Barrie, St. Catharines, Niagara Falls, Guelph, and London, and, undoubtedly, more. It was the product of those who gathered at the same time in Windsor and Thunder Bay to hold events in support, and those many others who watched the proceedings in their own communities on TV. It was the product of the many who gave of their time and effort to help us organize this event on short notice.
At Queen's Park we again had to watch the proceedings on TV monitors from committee rooms rather than from the public galleries of the Legislature because the galleries are still largely inaccessible. We showed our solidarity and support for our members with diverse disabilities by continuing to do so until the Legislature, the symbol of ongoing inaccessibility, corrects this longstanding barrier. Members of the Legislature came down to talk to us both during and after the debate.
During the debate itself, both the Liberal and NDP speakers spoke in strong support of the resolution. In sharp contrast, the Government Conservative members appeared to be speaking against the resolution and were keeping well clear of the rooms where we were watching the debates. It appeared until the end that the Government would vote against the resolution, given the tone and content of their speeches. Opposition members, who had come down to meet with us in the committee rooms where we observed the debates, repeatedly called on the government's lead spokesperson on this issue, Citizenship Minister Helen Johns, to come down to speak with us.
Only at the very end of the debate and just before the vote did she finally do so for a few minutes. She announced to us at the very end of the debate that the Government would support the resolution. It was clear to one and all that this was a last-minute decision by the Government MPPs, made in the face of the strong turnout at the Legislature building that day, the well-attended news conference that the ODA Committee had held that morning, and the lack of any credible alternative for the Government.
Even though there were 89 of the 103 MPPs in the Legislature for the vote on this resolution, and the resolution passed 88 to 0 (the Speaker of the House has no vote), Premier Mike Harris was one of the few MPPs who was absent for the entire debate and vote.
The passage of this resolution, and the efforts that made it happen, received significant media coverage on CBC TV, Global TV, on radio news and in newspapers.
The ODA Committee wishes to thank the Liberal Party for dedicating one of its two scarce Opposition Days to the topic of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, which is the longest debate on this topic ever to have occurred to date in the Ontario Legislature. We thank Liberal MPP Steve Peters for sponsoring the resolution and his staff for their excellent work with the blizzard of logistics to make this all happen. We also thank the New Democratic Party for strongly supporting this resolution.
We have lots more to do to build on this important milestone on the road to a strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act. We welcome your suggestions on what next steps should be undertaken by members of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee, individually, in their regions and as a provincial whole, as well as by any and all other supporters of a strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Send your ideas to lepofsky@echo- on.net We shall aim shortly to send out a package of suggestions to one and all. Also, send us any reports that appear in your local newspaper. Our momentum just keeps on building!