Hansard of the Legislative Debate and Vote
on the October 29 1998 Resolution
ONTARIO HANSARD (Transcript)
Thursday 29 October 1998 | Jeudi 29 octobre 1998
The House met at 1004
PRIVATE MEMBERS' PUBLIC BUSINESS
ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES LEGISLATION
LGISLATION SUR LES PERSONNES HANDICAPES EN ONTARIO
Mr Dwight Duncan (Windsor-Walkerville): I move that, in the opinion of this House, since persons with disabilities in Ontario face systemic barriers in access to employment, services, goods, facilities and accommodation; and since all Ontarians will benefit from the removal of these barriers, thereby enabling these persons to enjoy equal opportunity and full participation in the life of the province; and since Premier Harris promised in writing during the last election in the letter from Michael D. Harris to the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee dated May 24, 1995 to:
(a) enact an Ontarians with Disabilities Act within its current term of office; and
(b) work together with members of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee, among others, in the development of such legislation;
And since this House unanimously passed a resolution on May 16, 1996, calling on the Ontario government to keep this promise, therefore the Ontarians with Disabilities Act should embody the following principles:
- The purpose of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act should be to effectively ensure to persons with disabilities in Ontario the equal opportunity to fully and meaningfully participate in all aspects of life in Ontario based on their individual merit, by removing existing barriers confronting them and by preventing the creation of new barriers. It should seek to achieve a barrier-free Ontario for persons with disabilities within as short a time as is reasonably possible, with implementation to begin immediately upon proclamation.
- The Ontarians with Disabilities Act's requirements should supersede all other legislation, regulations or policies which either conflict with it, or which provide lesser protections and entitlements to persons with disabilities.
- The Ontarians with Disabilities Act should require government entities, public premises, companies and organizations to be made fully accessible to all persons with disabilities through the removal of existing barriers and the prevention of the creation of new barriers, within strict time frames to be prescribed in the legislation or regulations.
- The Ontarians with Disabilities Act should require the providers of goods, services and facilities to the public to ensure that their goods, services and facilities are fully usable by persons with disabilities, and that they are designed to reasonably accommodate the needs of persons with disabilities. Included among services, goods and facilities, among other things, are all aspects of education including primary, secondary and post-secondary education, as well as providers of transportation and communication facilities (to the extent that Ontario can regulate these) and public sector providers of information to the public, eg, governments. Providers of these goods, services and facilities should be required to devise and implement detailed plans to remove existing barriers within legislated timetables.
- The Ontarians with Disabilities Act should require public and private sector employers to take proactive steps to achieve barrier-free workplaces within prescribed time limits. Among other things, employers should be required to identify existing barriers which impede persons with disabilities, and then to devise and implement plans for the removal of these barriers, and for the prevention of new barriers in the workplace.
- The Ontarians with Disabilities Act should provide for a prompt and effective process for enforcement. It should not simply incorporate the existing procedures for filing discrimination complaints with the Ontario Human Rights Commission, as these are too slow and cumbersome, and yield inadequate remedies.
- As part of its enforcement process, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act should provide for a process of regulation-making to define with clarity the steps required for compliance with the Ontarians with Disabilities Act. It should be open for such regulations to be made on an industry-by-industry basis, or sector-by-sector basis. This should include a requirement that input be obtained from affected groups such as persons with disabilities before such regulations are enacted. It should also provide persons with disabilities with the opportunity to apply to have regulations made in specific sectors of the economy.
- The Ontarians with Disabilities Act should also mandate the government of Ontario to provide education and other information resources to companies, individuals and groups who seek to comply with the requirements of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
- The Ontarians with Disabilities Act should also require the government of Ontario to take affirmative steps to promote the development and distribution in Ontario of new adaptive technologies and services for persons with disabilities.
- The Ontarians with Disabilities Act should require the provincial and municipal governments to make it a strict condition of funding any program, or of purchasing any services, goods or facilities, that they be designed to be fully accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities. Any grant or contract which does not so provide is void and unenforceable by the grant recipient or contractor with the government in question.
- The Ontarians with Disabilities Act must be more than mere window dressing. It should contribute meaningfully to the improvement of the position of persons with disabilities in Ontario. It must have real force and effect.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr Bert Johnson): Mr Duncan has moved private member's ballot item number 29. According to section 95, you have 10 minutes.
Mr Duncan: I'm pleased to stand today on this resolution, which shouldn't be new to any member of the House. This resolution was designed in consultation with members of this House, members from all three parties.
The process for this resolution began some 10 years ago when the United States adopted its Americans with Disabilities Act. Throughout subsequent governments, all of us have participated in the discussion of these and other issues that confront persons in our community with disabilities. All three political parties in the last general election - all three of our parties - and each of us individually as members of those parties gave a commitment to persons with disabilities in this province that we will enact a meaningful and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act in the life of this Legislature.
As I was contemplating what to say today, it struck me that we are in the fall. We are in the dying days of this year, as we are in the dying days of this Legislature. Depending on when the call is, depending on what other business the government has and the opposition has, we have relatively few days as members of this Legislature to deal with this type of legislation. This type of legislation gives us the opportunity as able-bodied individuals to help bring those in our community who feel alienated from it into the mainstream.
This resolution and the commitments that were made by all of our political parties in the last election - the government party and the two opposition parties - involved five principles. I'd like to take a moment to review those principles.
The first principle is the principle of involvement in open, accessible discussions about the contents of this bill, an Ontarians with Disabilities Act. That is, we should be talking about the issues. There are issues within this. There are issues around implementation. There are issues around who should be covered. There are all kinds of issues around that. But the process must be open and, most important of all, it must involve persons with disabilities. None of us, if we haven't experienced a disability of one form or another, can effectively address their concerns.
As I travelled the province in the last week and met with groups literally across the province, I want to tell you what Graham in Windsor said to me. He said, "Don't forget persons who don't have visible disabilities." I got that message in North Bay; I got it in Peel region; I got it everywhere I went. I say to Graham and members of the Legislature that we must not only confront visible disabilities; we must confront those disabilities which aren't visible.
The second principle is the principle of removal. Too often I think those of us who aren't faced with the day-to-day challenges that our brothers and sisters are faced with take for granted or think or believe that we've done everything we can to remove existing barriers. The simple fact of the matter is, we have not.
This Legislature itself can only accommodate two wheelchairs at any given time. It doesn't adequately allow people who are deaf to hear what goes on. I believe all members in this House support the removal of barriers, and I believe the people of this province want barriers removed. But we mustn't be complacent and think that we've done everything. We mustn't believe that because we have handicapped parking spots, the barriers have all been removed. They haven't been.
The third principle is the prevention of new barriers. Technology presents barriers; technology prevents barriers. If you don't have access to technology, how do you compete in this economy? And if you're disabled and you don't have the income, how do you access a computer, especially a modified computer?
The fourth principle is the principle of proactive intervention. That is, we as a government, as a Legislature, have a duty and a responsibility to proactively intervene. It shouldn't be a question of volunteerism. We must commit ourselves in a proactive fashion to bring the resources of government to bear on removing barriers and on preventing new barriers.
The fifth principle is the principle of enforcement. All of us know, as members of provincial Parliament, and many have sat on municipal councils before, that the best-intentioned law in the world doesn't work if you can't enforce it. Whatever law we pass must have a mechanism that works for enforcement. The Human Rights Commission, where oftentimes we try to resolve these, simply does not work in an adequate or fast amount of time.
Ces principes sont trs importants, pas seulement ici dans la lgislature, mais dans toute la province. Pour tous nos citoyens, il faut que nous adoptions ces principes maintenant et dans la nouvelle legislation, dans la nouvelle loi du gouvernement. Moi, je soutiens un ODA qui sera fort et o nous pourrons enforcer toutes les provisions de cette loi maintenant et dans l'avenir.
Throughout the last period of time, I have had the opportunity to travel the province and meet with the most able people I know. Today in Windsor, at ALPHA, Dean Labutte and his group are watching us in the Legislature. The people in North Bay who are out in front of the Premier's office as I speak asking for the government to keep its commitment are among the most able people I know. The people in Peel region who are watching today are among the most able people I know and are among the people who most want to be brought into this process. The people who have been to your offices this morning, the people from the Rumball centre, are among the most able people I know.
I believe all of us in this House, all private members, want this kind of legislation. We don't want to be 10 years behind the Americans. We want Ontario to be the most accessible and accommodating and open province in this country and indeed, hopefully, in North America.
I say to my colleagues in the House, we have a rare opportunity to adopt what I would call a piece of legacy legislation, a legacy that for this House will be as meaningful as Algonquin Park was to Oliver Mowat's government, or the education reforms that Davis implemented in the 1960s were to his government, or the French Language Services Act was to the Legislatures of the 1980s.
We have an opportunity, my colleagues, all of us, in a non-partisan fashion, in a trilateral fashion, if you will, to leave a legacy we can all point back to regardless of our political stripe and say, "We did that." This has been asked for for years. We are 10 years behind the Americans. We have a chance now to keep all our commitments because all of us made that commitment, whether it be through our political party or through groups in our communities in the last general election.
I ask members in all three parties to support this resolution embodying these 11 principles and I ask the government: Bring that legislation forward so we can pass it and leave a legacy for our children and our grandchildren.
Mr Wayne Lessard (Windsor-Riverside): I rise and speak in support of this resolution because I know that for many in our communities, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act has been too long in coming.
It was Mike Harris during the 1995 election who promised to bring in this legislation and, as a result of the lack of action, it was my NDP colleague Marion Boyd who introduced a resolution into this Legislature in May 1996. That was supported unanimously and yet we are still waiting for the Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
There are many groups in my community that are anxiously awaiting this legislation, groups like Legal Assistance of Windsor, the AIDS Committee of Windsor, the local Canadian National Institute for the Blind, the Hearing Society, WECAN and the Windsor/Essex Chapter of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, who I know have done a great deal of work in preparing briefs and lobbying government members.
Individuals who live at Alpha House, a residence in my riding, are also asking themselves why it has taken so long for this government to introduce legislation. They're asking themselves why the promise is not being kept, why a government that says "A promise made, a promise kept," is failing to keep its promise with respect to persons with disabilities. There's a good reason, and that is that the overwhelming promise that this government is fulfilling is the one that provides a tax benefit to those who are the most well off. If it means cuts to education or cuts to health care to do that, then that's OK.
Those cuts are affecting many people in my area, people like Debbie Desjardins, who wanted me to raise the case of her daughter in the context of this resolution that says persons with disabilities should have "equal opportunity to fully and meaningfully participate in all aspects of life in Ontario." She has a daughter, Brandie, who requires support services so that Debbie is able to fulfill her obligations as an employee at Casino Windsor. Debbie has been looking after Brandie for 21 years and has saved the government millions of dollars. Brandie is now an adult. She now feels that she should be able to have the opportunity to live like other able-bodied individuals, but at the moment Debbie only gets temporary short-term help.
Community agencies are stretched to their maximum in assisting individuals and their families, and the rights of the disabled to "equal opportunity and to fully and meaningfully participate in all aspects of life in Ontario" is a message that she wanted me to convey on behalf of herself and her daughter.
Mary LeFleur and her daughter, Jodi, who has been diagnosed with severe and profound developmental delay and autism disorder wanted me to mention that her daughter, Jodi, being 21 years old, graduated from the developmentally challenged program at Southwood School in Windsor and attended Autism Services Inc. That was a program that was run during the summertime. This program has the ability to provide for a number of adults with autism, but the funding is going to end on October 31.
This is a government that often likes to say that it wants not to give a handout to people but to give them a hand up. This is an opportunity for government members to do the right thing, to support a resolution that is going to move us into having protection for people with disabilities in Ontario, and I urge all members to support the resolution.
Mr Derwyn Shea (High Park-Swansea): I an pleased and honoured to rise today to speak to the resolution put forward by the honourable member for Windsor-Walkerville.
Members will recall that during the 1995 election, the Premier wrote, "A Harris government would be willing to enact an Ontarians with Disabilities Act in the first term of office within the economic goal posts of the Common Sense Revolution."
Members will also remember that in May 1996 the House unanimously passed a resolution by the member from London to enact an ODA and work with the ODA committee, a group of disability stakeholders, in the development of an Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
I'm pleased and honoured to say to all those who are here today and everyone watching at home that this government's principles and parameters for an ODA are still very clear. They are written in black and white in our discussion paper that was released in July. We are committed to bring forward an ODA and we will keep our promise.
I was pleased during our summer consultation to hear from hundreds of Ontarians and organizations on how to improve accessibility in this province.
I think it somewhat ironic, of course, that the tone of the debate from those on the other side of this chamber is just slightly harsh. The two opposition parties have been silent on an ODA for some time.
The New Democratic Party, for example, failed to support a private member's bill that was brought forward by one of their own members in 1994. During our ODA meetings we listened to what Mr Malkowski had to say about the need for programs and the need for legislation. We thank him for his candidness about how difficult it was to get his colleagues in government from 1990 to 1995 to listen.
It is ironic that the Liberal disability critic did not participate in the ODA consultations. His office, I know, was contacted back in July and informed how he might get involved. I know the minister and I have looked high and low for Liberal submissions on behalf of the opposition. We can't find them; there are none available. His office was informed about the meetings in Ottawa but he was not involved. Nothing has been heard from him or from the leader of the Liberal opposition on this issue.
At this point I suppose we can say that they are johnny-come-latelies. They were late in endorsing debt reduction, late in supporting tax reduction and they are late in showing interest or support for an ODA. But we welcome their support for a strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act. The minister should be bringing forward legislation shortly because a promise made is a promise kept and I'm pleased that my NDP colleague reminded us of that. A promise made is a promise kept.
Let me turn my attention to the resolution that is before us now in more precise terms. The resolution sets out a number of directives that may or may not be good ideas, but the principle of an effective ODA is something all members of this chamber should stand in support of. We support the principle of equal opportunity for everybody. The Premier made a commitment and that commitment is being fulfilled. Any legislation from our government is based on some fundamental principles and consultation.
We spent the summer consulting across the province on the ODA. The minister met with many stakeholders in Toronto, and I met personally with large numbers of varied stakeholders across this entire province. We held consultations in eight communities, met with representatives of 283 groups and organizations and received over 260 submissions from individuals, community leaders and organizations, representatives of Ontarians with disabilities, business, municipalities, service providers and labour.
Mr Dominic Agostino (Hamilton East): Did you open the meetings up?
The Deputy Speaker: Order.
Mr Gilles Bisson (Cochrane South): It's a good point, Speaker.
The Deputy Speaker: Member for Cochrane South, come to order.
Mr Shea: During the consultations we asked for input on three key questions. First, what are the priorities for preventing and removing barriers for persons with disabilities? Second, what could be included in an Ontarians with Disabilities Act? Third, what additional approaches could complement an Ontarians with Disabilities Act? We are currently reviewing the many ideas which were put forward in meetings and in the submissions. Once our review has been completed, the minister will be moving to bring legislation before the House.
legislation isn't the only thing government can or should do, however. I know that our government has given a lot of emphasis to programs. For example, $1 billion a year for special education through the Ministry of Education's funding to school boards for programs for exceptional children, such as children with disabilities and gifted children, and up to $25 million over the next five years for neurotrauma research, prevention and rehabilitation projects.
Mr Lessard: Are you going to vote in favour of the resolution? Are you voting for this?
The Deputy Speaker: Member from Windsor, come to order.
Mr Shea: In May 1998, the Premier announced the approval of $3.7 million as the first round of projects as part of Ontario's $25 million commitment to the Rick Hansen Neurotrauma Initiative.
In short, this Liberal resolution contains many things. Some are helpful, others are perhaps more problematic, but the thing that is most important about it is equal opportunity, and that is something we can all support.
Mr Gilles E. Morin (Carleton East): Before I start my presentation, I must say I'm surprised that Mr Shea, a man I respect, a man I consider of a high calibre, would do a political speech while we have thousands of people look at us at this moment, thousands of people looking at us for an answer to their demand, a cry for help. Let me assure you, had you done your research, you would have found out that we called the minister's office on many occasions to find out where meetings were to be held and never did we ever receive an answer.
I commend the member from Windsor-Walkerville for presenting a challenge to the government in the form of this resolution. It is inspired by the hundreds of people with disabilities who have come together around the province to ask for a strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act. It is simple justice the community is calling for, justice that has been too long denied.
Only recently has this government acknowledged that they have this promise to keep before the next election. For that reason, I am sure that we will see a bill reasonably soon. What I doubt, however, is that the government will produce a piece of legislation that will be truly meaningful. It will be another item they can check off the list to say a promise has been kept, but it is terribly cynical to approach the issue in this way. The only way we can judge the effectiveness of this legislation is whether it will have a measurable impact on the lives of people with disabilities.
It is true that the task is daunting. What an effective ODA would help accomplish is to shift our way of thinking. We would recognize our differences as human beings and acknowledge the fact that our environment is organized in a way that favours some people more than others. All persons have a right to a life of dignity. We must realize that our society does not provide a level playing field for everyone. Many of us have been born to a life of privilege and, sadly, don't even know it. As a result, we don't see the broad range of physical, social and economic barriers that people with disabilities encounter every day, and it keeps getting harder for them.
In its consultation document the government listed the programs and services it provides to persons with disabilities. It is trying to say: "Look. See how much we do for you." What they fail to say is that behind the elaborate program names, program funding is shrinking. That is the reality. More families are having to compete for fewer resources. Hours of support are being cut. More stringent rules are applied in a whole range of programs. The full impact has yet to be felt, but the prospects are not good. It all adds up to the kinds of cuts to persons with disabilities that the Premier promised would not happen. This is the context into which this government would place its Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
That is the reason for this resolution. What persons with disabilities are asking for is a real advance into the world that we all take for granted. We're asking the government to live up to its obligations and give us legislation that will make a real difference in the lives of people with disabilities.
Ms Frances Lankin (Beaches-Woodbine): I'm pleased to speak to this resolution and indicate my full support for it. I'm quite disturbed by what I've heard in this House today. As I understand it, the government members will rise and vote in favour of this because they don't want to be seen to be on the wrong side of this very important issue. But if you listen to the words of the parliamentary assistant, you heard very clearly his support for a couple of helpful things in the resolution and some things that are not very helpful. He said their clear commitment still exists, what they wrote in black and white in that discussion paper.
Nothing could disturb one and a half million Ontarians with disabilities more than hearing that. You've just dashed their hopes entirely that you were going to have a strong, effective law. That discussion paper was full of all the weasel words like "voluntary measures." Let me tell you what happens in Mike Harris's Ontario with voluntary measures.
The speech I intended to give today has just been thrown right out the window because my colleague from Sault Ste Marie, Tony Martin, has shared with me a letter that he just received from Vince Buczel in Sault Ste Marie:
"On October 18, 1998 I had the opportunity to visit Pancake Bay Provincial Park to enjoy the fall colours, a pleasure I've enjoyed for over 25 years.
"Upon turning into the main park entrance from Highway 17, I was confronted by a newly installed gate. Another car had also pulled in just ahead of me.
"I parked my car and got out to continue into the park on foot. As I walked past the other car I noticed that the occupants were greatly distressed. I asked the male occupant what was wrong. His response was that he had enjoyed coming to the park in the off-season since it opened to enjoy the beauty and now he couldn't get in because of the newly installed gate. You see, this man used a wheelchair and now could not access the park. Pancake Bay Park has a wonderful paved loop that winds its way through towering pines and along some of the most beautiful waterfront scenery in the world. In addition the park has installed a wonderful paved ramp up to the beach area, provided handicap parking in the picnic area and has wheelchair-accessible toilets. Not much good if you can't get into the park.
"On Monday October 19 I called Mr Chris Caldwell, Pancake Park's manager, and relayed to him my experience of the previous day as well as my concerns. He stated that the new gate was installed and closed at the end of the camping season to counter vandalism and illegal garbage dumping by area residents. He also stated that handicap accessibility issues were not taken into consideration at the time he took the decision. I asked him to reconsider his decision in light of the accessibility issues and said I'd touch base with him again. Ontario Parks policy has, as part of its definition, the following: 'Outside the operating season, the park is designated as closed, vehicular access to campgrounds is prohibited through the gating of access roads and vehicle access may or may not be permitted for day use.' Pancake Park did have gates restricting access to the campgrounds already! Access to the entire park is now restricted with the new gate, not just the campground.
"I again contacted Mr Caldwell on October 27 and asked him, now that he'd had a chance to reflect on the decision, if the gate was going to stay. He stated" - every one of you in the government benches, listen to this - "that handicapped individuals have ample opportunity to access and enjoy the park when it is open and the gate will stay where it is. It is at this point that I felt compelled to write this letter. For many years Pancake Bay Park has been a welcoming and valued complement to our unique northern lifestyle. I have often seen wheelchair-bound individuals enjoying a stroll during the peaceful off-season. This decision to relocate the gate is regressive, punishes the innocent and will do little to combat vandalism. The Ontario Parks even sell winter and summer passes that encourage you to 'enjoy unlimited daily vehicle entry to all provincial parks.' By whom?"
"I encourage everyone to call the park manager at (705) 882-2209 or e-mail Ontario Parks at comments@OntarioParks.com and oppose this exclusionary decision. Our provincial parks are for use by everyone 12 months of the year."
That is what happens to the voluntary approach in Mike Harris's Ontario. Mike Harris has removed and cut the staff in ministry after ministry who were responsible for removing barriers in the Ontario public service. He has removed the fund that was put in place under the previous government to systematically remove barriers and to implement changes that were necessary to ensure that workplaces were accessible.
How do you expect voluntary measures to work outside of the government if under a Premier who says he's committed, with a parliamentary assistant who has travelled the province and says their commitment is clear, you can still have gates erected in provincial parks that stop accessibility?
This act is for everyone. This act ensures that all of us who are disabled, who may become disabled or who have disabled members in our family can enjoy access to all parts of our society together. It is simply a necessary piece of legislation. Any dickering around, saying, "We'll make it voluntary. We'll make it an approach where we attempt to encourage people to participate," anything like that will simply be a betrayal of the one and a half million Ontarians with disabilities and all of us who support them and who call on the government to keep their true promise and enact a strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
Mr John L. Parker (York East): I support the resolution proposed by my friend opposite regarding an Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Let me say, however, that there should be no confusion in anyone's mind about this government's position on supporting persons with disabilities. Our government believes, and has always believed, that persons with disabilities should have an equal opportunity with every other Ontarian to participate in the social and economic life of this province. Furthermore, this government has always said that it intends to promote that participation by both legislative and non-legislative means.
I have personally urged it to advance on this agenda, and it has done so. In fact, this government has already gone further than any other government in the history of this province to make equal access a reality. As the member opposite says himself, during the last election campaign the Progressive Conservative Party said that it would enact an Ontarians with Disabilities Act in its first term of office, within the economic goalposts of the Common Sense Revolution. This is a government that keeps its promises and we will keep this one too.
Do we support the objectives at the heart of the member's resolution? Of course we do, and he knows we do. It will be this government - I repeat, this government - that is going to move our province closer to becoming barrier-free for persons with disabilities. Let's be blunt here. If either of the two previous provincial governments had been even half as serious as this government is about achieving equal opportunity for people with disabilities, we wouldn't have to be here this morning responding to the member's resolution. Members on that side of the House had an opportunity to do what we will be doing but they did not do it. Let's not forget that.
As the member knows, Isabel Bassett, the Minister of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation, her parliamentary assistant, Derwyn Shea, and ministry officials met recently with literally hundreds of individuals and groups to discuss issues affecting persons with disabilities, and I personally commend the Bloorview MacMillan Centre for its assistance in this process. This government distributed more than 7,300 copies of a discussion paper that became the focus for an unprecedented consultation process on preventing and removing barriers for Ontarians with disabilities.
The government had consultations in eight cities across the province. It consulted with 283 organizations in Hamilton, London, Ottawa, Peterborough, Sudbury, Thunder Bay, Toronto and Windsor. More than 100 of these groups represented the disability sector. The government received approximately 260 submissions on improving access for persons with disabilities, about 60% of which came from disability groups.
The discussion paper set out a number of parameters for consulting on barrier removal, and I think it's important that we reiterate those parameters now, because they were, and are still, clear statements about this government's direction in this regard.
We said that time frames for implementing barrier-removal approaches should be realistic. We said that approaches must support the government's overall goals. We suggested that a range of approaches should be considered. We were clear that barrier-removal approaches should use existing legislation and enforcement mechanisms to their fullest extent. We stressed that barrier-removal ideas in the area of employment should be consistent with the government's voluntary approach to promoting equality in the workplace.
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): Voluntary.
Mr Parker: I understand that the members opposite have difficulty with that concept; that's something they have to deal with.
We stated that the roles and responsibilities of different levels of government should be kept clearly in view.
In other words, we have been clear from the beginning about our direction and about the fact that both legislative approaches, such as the Ontario disability support program, already introduced, and the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, soon to come, as well as complementary approaches to achieving equal opportunity for persons with disabilities must fit within the government's overall vision for Ontario and the promises it has made to Ontarians.
Each organization the government consulted with had its own opinion on the issue, its own experiences to relate and its own recommendations to make. I also know from my colleague the Minister of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation that the consultation process has provided the government with a considerable amount of information on disability issues from representatives of business, disability groups, labour, health service providers, municipalities and the education sector.
Naturally, given the diversity of opinion and divergence of views that such a group would bring forward, the government has to take a measured, considered approach to addressing barrier removal and prevention. There is no point in repeating the mistakes of previous governments and developing a hodgepodge of legislation and programs that fail to meet the needs of the very people they purport to assist.
What we need is a thoughtful plan for barrier removal, a plan that will continue to advance this province firmly towards its goal of removing and preventing barriers. This government wants a balanced and workable approach to supporting people with disabilities and preventing and removing barriers to their participation in our society. This government fully intends to lead by example, to demonstrate what achievements are possible when there is a commitment to succeed.
But make no mistake. The government intends to meet the commitment it has made. It will do so in a carefully planned manner that achieves the objective of enabling disabled Ontarians to contribute their potential to the social and economic life of this province.
Mr Agostino: I'm pleased to join in support of the resolution by my colleague the member for Windsor-Walkerville. It's certainly interesting to listen to the members of the government party talk about this commitment they have. What you had was a three-and-a-half-year delay. What you had were public hearings that were an absolute sham. What you had were public hearings that were closed. What you had were hearings with selected individuals whom you chose to come forward and you shut out the rest of the community. You won't even release the papers that were submitted at those public hearings. You're afraid to do that.
Very clearly, what we're going to get is more feel-good, pat-on-the-head weasel words and weasel legislation. We talk about voluntary. Our history should tell us that voluntary compliance when it comes to dealing with people with disabilities in Ontario does not work. We have passed hundreds of bills in this Legislature since this government has taken office. They have not seen fit yet to bring this bill forward, three and a half years later. When the bill does come forward, it is going to be an absolute joke, because it will be based on the goodwill of people who may want to comply with this legislation but don't have to.
My father spent 24 years in a wheelchair. I know at first hand the impact of voluntary legislation. What that means is that my dad could not get into a building unless my brother and I were there to pick up the wheelchair and carry it up the steps. What it meant was that for him to access a disabled bathroom - it didn't exist. We had to take him behind the building. It meant that there were many buildings he couldn't get into, many workplaces he couldn't get into. That was the reality of voluntary legislation. It doesn't work, it is unenforceable, it is a sham, and all you're trying to do here is give some vague commitment that somehow is going to tell you that you've kept your promise. You haven't kept your promise. You have betrayed a million and a half disabled Ontarians with this feel-good, pat-on-the-head approach that you have taken here. You're not going to fool those folks. They know that this type of legislation is not going to work. It's not far-reaching enough. It is not going to have the teeth it needs for it to work.
You had a golden opportunity here to act. You had a golden opportunity to set up a place in history for yourselves, to do something real that helps Ontarians. What we've heard clearly this morning is that you're going to let this thing slide. You are going to give up that opportunity to make some real changes to help disabled Ontarians. I say shame on you.
You've cut funding to vocational rehabilitation services. You've cut funding to disabled programs. You've added user fees. That is your legacy. This bill is not going to be your legacy. Frankly, the introduction of this bill is going to be a joke. Unless this government moves to ensure that it is not going to be voluntary but mandatory, and it's going to force every single aspect of our society to comply, it is going to be a dismal failure and the disabled community will not forget the betrayal you've imposed upon them.
Ms. Shelley Martel (Sudbury East): I'll be brief but I want to say a couple of things. First of all, the resolution we're dealing with today follows on the resolution from May 6, 1996, when Marion Boyd, my colleague from London Centre, called on this government to enact the Ontarians with Disabilities Act in this term. That was agreed to by all members of this House. Here we are, two years later, doing the same thing yet again.
Frankly, this government's handling of the development of this act has been abysmal. There is no other way to describe it. For the first three years of this government you did nothing with respect to the development of this act. What you did, though, was to reverse a number of policies and cut a bunch of funding from a number of programs that were put in place to help the disabled, some over many numbers of years.
In the middle of the summer, the government finally decided that it was going to do something with respect to its commitment around this act. The government developed a consultation paper, which it dropped on the disabled community and a number of organizations in the middle of the summer.
Two things have to be said about the discussion paper and the consultations. First, if this discussion paper is a forerunner to a bill that is supposed to protect and enhance the condition of the disabled in the province, forget it. Don't even bother bringing anything else forward. The measures that were outlined in the government document have no teeth, are voluntary, are worthless, aren't worth the paper they're written on.
The fact that you want to use the Ontario Human Rights Commission to deal with discrimination is ridiculous. People know that doesn't work. Using the Human Rights Commission doesn't deal with the systemic problems, the systemic discrimination and the systemic barriers the disabled face in this province. We have two people who went to the public hearings who said the following:
"People's complaints would be still handled by the Human Rights Commission. What's the point in bringing in a disability act? It's the situation we have now." That was Kim Scott, who is with the Canadian Hearing Society, Sudbury chapter.
Joanne Nother said: "There's no teeth to it, no form of enforcement. There is nothing that will force employers to make the workplace accessible or force them to comply." Joanne is the chair of the NorthEastern Ontario Regional Alliance for the Disabled.
Second, with respect to the consultation process itself, it was a sham: seven communities only, in the middle of the summer, a 90-minute meeting behind closed doors by invitation only. It was an affront, a slap in the face of the disabled community, who want and need to participate in the development of this act. People in Sudbury said very clearly that this is ridiculous.
Mr Andre Crepeau, who is with the Canadian Hearing Society, said, "We're the experts. We're the ones who are living with these barriers." He expressed his disappointment about the closed meeting.
This government promised legislation this term. This government must recognized that the disabled have an enormous contribution to make to the Ontario economy. It's time this government went on and got this bill done.
Mr Frank Klees (York-Mackenzie): I did have some prepared remarks, which I'll ignore because my colleagues who waxed eloquent in their remarks robbed me of the time to present them. What I will say, however, is that I tend to agree that this is not the time for political speeches and it's not the time to defend a process, because it is time for us to become very serious about the needs of the disabled in our communities.
When we talk about the issue of mandatory versus voluntary, I'm going to suggest to you that we have ample example, as someone has already said in this House, that when certain issues are made voluntary, there perhaps is a reluctance on the part of those responsible for implementation to follow. We recently had that example with municipalities. I'm one who would support that some requirements be made mandatory to ensure that the services for the disabled in our communities are adequately met.
As I indicated to people outside this place earlier today, I have been and will continue to be an advocate for the needs of the disabled in our communities. I have been an advocate of bringing forward an Ontarians with Disabilities Act by our government, and I'll continue to do that. When it comes forward, I also agree that it should be meaningful, and if it is not brought forward as a meaningful document for first reading, I will be the first one on this side of the House to work with other members of this Legislature to ensure that it is in fact a meaningful document, a meaningful piece of legislation.
All of us have a vested interest in ensuring that the work that goes on in this place is not simply for political purposes or for making the necessary noises to the people in our community. We all have a responsibility to ensure that when we spend time in debate, when we spend time in committee, the final product is something that will work for the people it's intended to help, that is practical in implementation and that will, at the end of the day, achieve its objectives for Ontarians and ensure that the quality of life for people with disabilities in this province is improved.
Mr Alvin Curling (Scarborough North): In the two minutes I have, let me lend my support to this resolution put forward by my colleague the member for Windsor-Walkerville. Today we have the opportunity to honour a promise that the government put forward and to honour a promise not only by the government but by all of the Legislature. Disabled people are appealing to the highest level they can go, the Legislature. The Legislature itself is the body that can make meaningful and effective legislation for all the people who are disabled.
Let me also say what it's all about, which I'm just going to emphasize, and I think we do know. All they're talking about is access: access to employment, a meaningful way of life; access to public services, which are given to all of us and paid for with taxpayers' money; access to buying a product to carry on their life; access to transportation. These things are basic. I really am confused when we have this sort of debate as we talk about a political issue. I think today we have the opportunity, all of us, to pass the motion and move it along so we can have that law in effect, and I support it very much.
I just want to take a second to say that it was an excellent speech given by my colleague the member for Carleton East, and also the presentation prepared by my colleague here. We are in strong support, and I hope we all have that support in making this resolution pass today without the dance and fanciness that goes on here each day.
Mr Peter Kormos (Welland-Thorold): First, I want to tell you that every New Democrat in this Legislature stands firmly behind this resolution, not just vaguely, in principle, but with respect to every facet of this resolution, which calls for real and meaningful enforcement of what are basic human rights in this province.
I'm concerned about the vagueness of the Tory support. I'm concerned about the fact that they support this in principle today, yet within months of forming government they repealed equity legislation, modest legislation that gave some access to persons with disabilities to our workplaces. You see, it's not just about eliminating barriers to buildings; it's about ensuring that every Ontarian, and today we're speaking about persons with disabilities, has access to the economic activity of this province as well; that persons with disabilities have a right to real jobs with decent wages; that persons with disabilities have a right to housing that is appropriate for them and that is decent and affordable housing.
We need firm laws to establish firmly in this province that every Ontarian is going to be included in the day-to-day activities of Ontario life. This government has not made that commitment. I call upon Tory backbenchers to forget the whipping today and vote with their consciences.
Mr Michael Gravelle (Port Arthur): I'm very pleased to have the opportunity to speak in very strong support of my colleague from Windsor-Walkerville's resolution today, and also to speak on behalf of the disability community in Thunder Bay and northwestern Ontario, which has worked so hard to have this legislation brought forward.
The truth is, I think my colleague will probably be the first to say that he wishes he wasn't bringing forward this resolution. We all wish this government was bringing forward legislation that indeed would be meaningful and indeed would have some true effect and make a real change in terms of the disability community. The fact is, it has become increasingly clear, especially in terms of the speeches that were made today, particularly by the member for High Park-Swansea, that this government will bring forward legislation but will be dealing very much on the basis of voluntary compliance.
We know that the efforts to secure voluntary compliance over the past 20 years have not been effective. It is our responsibility, and our obligation as legislators, to make sure that legislation comes forward and that the promise that was made by Mike Harris is kept not in some shallow, hollow fashion, but kept in a meaningful way. Because the truth is that Ontarians with disabilities still face massive unemployment rates and systemic exclusion from education, mainstream public transit, employment, job creation, housing, and many other areas.
If I may just say so, the consultation process that has been discussed by the government members was truly one that was completely insulting from the very beginning. The fact is that in April the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee presented a blueprint and wanted to present it to all three parties in a rather non-partisan fashion. I was very proud, as the member for Port Arthur and on behalf of the member for Fort William, Lyn McLeod, who couldn't be there, to accept that blueprint on behalf of the group. Persons United for Self-Help, PUSH Northwest, presented that to me.
What was shocking about that at the time was that not one government member would accept that particular blueprint. That was certainly a bad sign. This was already after an extraordinary delay in the process where the minister and the former minister would not even meet with the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee. This blueprint is one that is very clear in terms of what the needs are.
The consultation this summer was truly a farce. The fact is that PUSH Northwest went to the session chaired by the member for High Park-Swansea and were told that they would have an opportunity to speak but that they couldn't stay. They sat in that room and told the member that they were not going to leave, that they were going to stay there and sit in because it was their right to do so. We were proud that they did so. They were able to listen to the presentations, all of which supported the fact that there needed to be mandatory and clear, meaningful legislation, not the legislation that unfortunately we're now expecting to see.
I'm glad to have had an opportunity to state my case in strong support of my colleague from Windsor-Walkerville.
Mr Bradley: I'd like to thank my colleague Dwight Duncan from Windsor-Walkerville for bringing forward this resolution this morning. I suspect the resolution will receive unanimous approval of this House. The real proof of whether it's going to be implemented, of course, will be in the actual legislation that is forthcoming.
I'm a bit concerned by the defensiveness I've heard and some rather partisan remarks that have come out this morning from some of the Conservative members. It appears that they are uneasy with many of the provisions that might be contained in this kind of legislation, and of course the proof will be in the actual detail of the legislation that we see. I was concerned about the controlled, restricted and limited consultation that took place behind closed doors. It would have been advantageous to have open consultation, widespread consultation across the province, to come forward with an act which is truly going to be meaningful.
When I hear the words "workable," "voluntary" and "practical" used, it seems to me they're code words. They're code words which, to those who are opposed to this kind of legislation, will give them some ease. If you look at the Ministry of the Environment, for instance, when you say, "Will you please, on a voluntary basis, clean up the environment" or "Be good environmental citizens," some might well do that but many will not. It requires enforcement, it requires strong provisions within the legislation and the regulatory framework.
What individuals with disabilities in Ontario are looking for is not some privilege but the right to enjoy the same kind of life that others in our society enjoy in terms of access to housing and transportation, and particularly access to good jobs that might be available within our society and certainly within our province, and access to education and physical access to buildings and to our society as a whole. We have made some progress in the last number of years. Much more progress has to be made.
As they see the television ads that come on, costing the Ontario taxpayer millions of dollars - self-serving, blatantly political advertising, whether it's on health care or education or municipalities, whatever it happens to be - they must be thinking, "Wouldn't it be nice if that kind of money could be invested in services that would assist people with disabilities to be part of the mainstream of Ontario," as all want to be part of the mainstream of Ontario. Yet they see that money being wasted, squandered, thrown away on self-serving advertising. I think that money could be converted to much better use.
I hope all members of this House support this motion. More importantly, I hope the bill that emerges is truly meaningful and beneficial.
The Acting Speaker (Mr Gilles E. Morin): Member for Windsor-Walkerville, you have two minutes.
Mr Duncan: I want to begin by thanking my colleague from St Catharines, Jim Bradley. To those in the community watching and listening today, Mr Bradley gave up his private member's time to allow us to bring forward this resolution, and he deserves tremendous credit for the support he has given to the disabled community throughout Ontario.
I listened carefully to the parliamentary assistant to the minister, and I believe he said they are asking the government members to support the resolution and I welcome that.
I welcome that because I thought his other comments weren't accurate in many respects. There was no meaningful consultation this summer. People were barred from participating. That's why we brought this resolution forward, so we could have an open discussion about these issues. We haven't had that, we haven't. Members were excluded. My colleague from Carleton, M. Morin - we made a conscious decision not to participate. We met with groups throughout the province to hear their point of view. Any notion that that was a meaningful consultation should go right out the window.
I say to my colleagues opposite and my colleagues on the opposition benches, we have a real opportunity to leave a meaningful legacy of recognizing the inherent rights of every member of this community to be full partners in this community. We have the opportunity to pass legislation that will be meaningful and enforceable, that goes beyond voluntarism and says to the disabled community, "You are full partners, you belong here." I say to my friends on all sides that the most able people I have met in my life I have met from the disabled community as I talked about this resolution throughout Ontario.
The Acting Speaker: The time for the first ballot item has expired.
ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES LEGISLATION
LGISLATION SUR LES PERSONNES HANDICAPES EN ONTARIO
The Acting Speaker (Mr Gilles E. Morin): We will now deal with ballot item number 29, standing in the name of Mr Duncan.
Mr Duncan has moved private member's notice of motion number 23.
Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry?
All those in favour, say "aye."
All those opposed, say "nay."
In my opinion, the ayes have it.
ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES LEGISLATION
LGISLATION SUR LES PERSONNES HANDICAPES EN ONTARIO
The Acting Speaker (Mr Gilles E. Morin): All those in favour of the motion will please rise and remain standing.
Bradley, James J.
Ford, Douglas B.
Jordan, W. Leo
Leadston, Gary L.
McLean, Allan K.
Ouellette, Jerry J.
Parker, John L.
Clerk of the House (Mr Claude L. DesRosiers): The ayes are 56; the nays are 0.
The Acting Speaker: The ayes are 56; the nays are 0.
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