The Chair: The next group are the advisory group on equal Opportunity for Persons with Disabilities.
The Chair: Our next presenters are the Advisory Group on Equal Opportunity for Persons with Disabilities, represented by David Lepofsky and Marion Hayward.
Good morning and welcome to our committee this morning. I guess you understand the rules about the time, so the floor is yours. Questions will start, by the way, with the Liberals.
Mr Don Ogner: Good morning. My name is Don Ogner and I'm the past chair of the Ontario Public Service Advisory Group on Equal Opportunity for Persons with Disabilities.
On my right is Kathleen Naeyaert, a member of our advisory group, and on my left is David Lepofsky, the vice-chair.
I would like to briefly introduce David, since he will be presenting our brief. David is a highly regarded constitutional lawyer who, as his citation for the Order of Canada given this March, states: "has used his professional knowledge to work tirelessly to protect the rights of disabled people. He has helped to educate and sensitize the general public and legislators to the obstacles faced each day by disabled persons."
He was also one of the persons responsible for persuading governments to include disability in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and in the Ontario Human Rights Code. David.
Mr David Lepofsky: Mr Chair, members of the committee, good morning. Mr Ogner referred to my Order of Canada citation. I was honoured by my country for taking steps to try to sensitize legislatures and legislators to the barriers facing people with disabilities and I feel that this morning's activity is, I hope, an effort by me to live up to the honour that my country has given me.
Let me begin by explaining who we are. The OPS advisory group is a voluntary association of government of Ontario employees with disabilities which has come together to be available to advise government and the Legislature at all levels about the equality of opportunity needs confronting persons with disabilities We provide unique expertise because our group involves people with all kinds of disabilities, people working at all levels of the public service-that are prepared to hire disabled people, that is and, as well, people of all walks or wheels of life. We are tied to no political party, no ideology, except we believe that people with disabilities deserve equality. We have served both the prior government and this government in advising at all levels and including appearing before committees of this Legislature and continue in that role today.
We hope to continue doing such in the future, though sadly without any consultation with us, the person who reads our materials on tape, transcribes to Braille and otherwise makes materials available to us, was declared surplus yesterday.
We are here to provide you with feedback in relation to the Bill 8 before you and hope that our expertise will assist you in deliberating on the issues before you.
To begin, the need for employment equity: We say with respect that there is a pressing need for employment equity for persons with disabilities. We restrict our comments this morning to the needs of persons with disabilities because we're not authorized to represent the needs of any other group, but we don't seek by our presentation on our needs to speak negatively or to derogate from the needs of other groups that employment equity seeks to promote.
People with disabilities have been acknowledged in this country and indeed around the world to be a
People with disabilities have been acknowledged in this country and indeed around the world to be a substantial and substantially disadvantaged minority group. This is not something one can wish away, just because one is unaware of it, where some 15% of the public disproportionately represented among welfare recipients who have their problems these days, I'm given to understand-and as well disproportionately, indeed massively represented among those who are unemployed.
Society expresses outrage when the unemployment rates in our community climb as 8% or 9%. People with disabilities would think they'd died and gone to Heaven if they had the privilege of an unemployment rate of 8% or 9%, because most recent federal statistics suggest that our unemployment is about or in excess of 50%. We, put simply, face enormous ongoing barriers in the workplace, both pre-existing ones and new ones that are being frosted all the time.
Our advisory group has been very active in identifying them and I'm going to ask Ms Hayward to assist you in this regard by distributing a document which we've delivered just recently to the Chair of Management Board and all the public sector unions bargaining in the workplace. This document seeks to identify-es we have for the government for two years-that one major set of barriers that we face in the public service are barriers in the downsizing and redeployment process.
This brief documents such and demonstrates the fact that not only are we the most underrepresented group in the Ontario public service but we get one major affirmative action program. We are overrepresented among those who lose their jobs during downsizing, and that is an affirmative action program that we would welcome having been repealed, though I don't find that in Bill 8. We encourage you to look at this, because we're calling on all the contracting parties to identify and remove the barriers that face us in downsizing so that we can at least have a fair shake at staying in the public sector even while it is downsizing.
We submit, with respect, that our problems of disadvantage in the workplace are endemic, they are long term, and they have not been solved to date. They have not been solved by a Charter of Rights that's been around since 1982, a Human Rights Code that's been around since 1982, and with great respect to those who hold different views while they're on this committee or deposing before you, after 20 or more years of voluntary programs in educational programs, which many of us have participated in and which all of us know have not worked.
There is no evidence that 20 years of voluntary programs in education works. Our experience is that if you educate employers on disability without the club of a legal requirement to do something about it beyond that within the Human Rights Code, the fact is thev smile, they thank you, they go to conferences, they have big lunches, they go back and they do exactly what they've been doing for 25 years, and that's why we have an unemployment rate in excess of 50%.
We'd like to suggest, with respect, that Bill 8 promotes affirmative action, but not the affirmative action that we would commend. Bill 8 purports to put us into the position we were in before the Employment Equity Act was passed, and there was an affirmative action program in effect at that time. It was not legislated, it was not written down anywhere, but it was amply documented over decades and decades of experience. It was an affirmative action program for white, able-bodied men who got jobs disproportionate to their numbers and disproportionate to their merit. It was inconsistent with the very principles of fairness, merit and equality that proponents of Bill 8 purport to espouse.
We'd like to suggest that employment equity is neither a new nor a left-wing concept. It was introduced, as you've heard, federally by Brian Mulroney, not noted for left-wing leanings; it was introduced in the Ontario government by the Bill Davis and John Robarts Tories for women-effirmative action for women-again not known for left-wing leanings. It is enshrined in subsection 15 (2) as a fundamental value in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a universally adopted document approved by Conservatives, Liberals and NDPs alike from those involved in the constitutional process in the 1980 to 1982 period, and it is considered frankly qood business sense.
Those who argue against employment equity suggest that somehow treating people differently is to deny the merit principle and to discriminate. Yet the most sovereign legal body in our country, the Supreme Court of Canada, interpreting the most sovereign legal document in our country, the Charter of Rights, has held unanimously that equality can and often does require different treatment, and that identical treatment itself can well be a discrimination.
We'd like to suggest, with respect, that those who feel that a workforce equal opportunity plan will solve the problems that we've identified are in error. For one thing, we've been told through consultations, usually convened about two days after we're notified of them and without opportunity to prepare, that the bedrock of the workforce...
...often does require different treatment, and that identical treatment itself can well be a discrimination.
We'd like to suggest, with respect, that those who feel that a workforce equal opportunity plan will solve the problems that we've identified are in error. For one thing, we've been told through consultations, usually convened about two days after we're notified of them and without opportunity to actually prepare, that the bedrock of the workforce equal opportunity plan is that it will be non-legislative, non-mandatory and voluntary.
We say, with respect, that that is a formula for disaster. We already know that voluntarism doesn't work. We don't need, with respect, to prove it again.
We've been told that the equal opportunity program will involve potentially such measures and I should say in terms of voluntarism, if you need any better evidence that voluntarism doesn't work, this very government, under Bill Davis as Premier, started to try it for people with disabilities when it adopted the then handicapped employment program now the Centre for Disability and Work, a model of exactly what the WEOP is supposed to be, in 1980. Thirteen years of experience, and I challenge anyone to find anyone working in that who will suggest that it is an effective alternative. It helps, but it does help enough to solve any problems in a serious way.
Put simply, the ideas which have been presented to us through consultation are neither effective nor respectful of our true entitlement to equality. We've been told about ideas that are being considered such as 1-800 numbers, pamphlets, awards for those who do well. That's great in the arts, but not great in the field of equality, with respect. We think that those kinds of measures are both tokenistic, patronizing and ineffective. Our best analogy would be is if you went to a doctor having somebody just shot six bullets in your head and the doctor restricted in his range of treatment to offer you either Anacin, Tylenol or Aspirin. Frankly, the options are not exactly ones the patient will find that intriguing.
At the same time as the workforce equal opportunity plan is being developed, at the very same time there is a troubling new initiative being undertaken in the Ontario government, that is, the gradual elimination of those in the public service who've been hired and trained at public expense to promote equal opportunity for people with disabilities and others. The employment equity officers in the various ministries whose major mandate has not been employment equity but removing barriers, preventing discrimination, Human Rights Code compliance, put simply, are gradually being downsized and in three cases P1 imin;~tod
I'd like to also distribute a letter which I've sent on behalf of our group to the Chair of Management Board identifying this problem. Rather than keeping the very expertise that's been built up at public expense to ensure that workforce equal opportunity can be delivered in the public service, the very expertise that's been developed within the public service, at public expense, is being terminated before the workforce equal opportunity plan has even been finalized, developed or implemented. We say, with respect, that that's a waste of public resources and will only create new barriers for people with disability.
I turn for about one minute to the question of destruction of information in subsection 1(5) of Bill 8. That provision, we suggest, is unprecedented in the law, destroying information collected at public expense. It serves, we suggest, no social goal, no social value. It applies not only to employers but any person, any journalist, who has information that may have derived from employment equity inquiry may have to find their notes, buy some kerosene and qet rid of it quickly to comply with this law.
What social purpose is that serving? It applies not only to statistical data from employees which, with respect, is already secured, is already protected and is already free from risk of abuse but also would include any survey conducted within the Ontario public service of employees with disabilities to identify barriers that they face, in order words, information that is very important and useful to promote workforce equal opportunity practices. That information is required by this law to be destroyed. That information may well be relevant to human rights proceedings now and in the future. Put simply, it may be evidence that should be destroyed. We say that is not a constructive exercise, and ask for that provision to be removed.
To conclude, we urge that employment equity be retained. If people think this law includes quotas, it doesn't. But if people think it does, do what the federal government has done. Put in a clause that says, gNo quotas shall be allowed under this act." If people think this law interferes with the merit principle, it doesn't. Put in a clause, as the federal government does...
...it doesn't. Put in a clause as the federal government does saying hiring must be based on merit.
To conclude, we wish to remind members of the committee that everyone either has a disability, knows someone who has a disability or one day will have a disability. Put simply, the only difference between us and you is that we've gotten ours already. Before your days on this Earth come to an end, the chances are you will have one too, quite possibly while you're trying to pursue employment. When you consider whether to vote on this bill or how to vote on this bill, when you go to bed at night we ask you to think, not only about the impact of your vote on us, who already have disabilities, not only on your children or friends who have disabilities, but on yourself some months and years ahead. Will you have made your own life a better one or a worse one, depending on your vote on this bill?
Subject to any questions, Mr Chairman, those are our submissions.
The Chair: Thank you very much. We have one minute left per party. Mrs Pupatello.
Mrs Sandra Pupatello (Windsor-sandwich): Mr Lepofsky,
quickly, your comments on the fines eta that could be imposed under Bill 79.
Mr Lepofsky: My comments on the fines that could be imposed under Bill 79?
Mrs Pupatello: Yes.
Mr Lepofsky: Probably about the least consequential provision of it as a matter of practice. The really material provisions in that bill are the administrative enforcement ones.
Look, there's lots of ways of touching up that bill but you've got to have it around before you touch it up.
Mrs Pupatello: Yes, I happen to agree with you actually.
Mr Marchese: We thank you for the presentation. It was very helpful, I think, to all the members here. Sam Savona came before this committee, a person with a disability, and talked about how he searched for work for 10 years and found one day's work out of those 10 years. All of that happened while we had an equal opportunity kind of world.
We're likely to have that world reintroduced and we're going to see people who are struggling to get into the work market, like yourselves, finding it extremely difficult again. I think you've answered that question, but I don't know whether you want to speak to it again.
Mr Lepofsky: The cost to the public of repealing this bill is the cost to the public of maintaining barriers, of allowing new barriers to be created, which this law would have prevented, is the cost to the public of maintaining people with disabilities on welfare, collecting public money rather than being taxpayers and paying into the public purse. The cost of discrimination to the public is enormous. If one wishes to reduce the public debt, one should wish to promote employment for people with disabilities and Bill 79 would have done that.
Mr Young: I want to thank you very, very much for comin here today and I think I can speak on behalf of my colleagues that we admire very, very much the work that you do and your presentation was very helpful and excellent.
I do want to check something for the record and ask you a question at the same time. I want you to be aware that it's not the government's intent and never has been to cut welfare for people with disabilities or seniors. Those people will be taken out of the welfare rolls and put on a program more appropriate that will be separate and receive the benefits of help from the government which they should have.
With regard to your saying that there hasn't been progress, or you indicating there hasn't been progress in the last 2 0 years, is that what you're saying, that there hasn't been progress for people with disabilities getting jobs? If so, I'm a little confused because you said the employment equity bureaucracy is being removed so there's an indication to me there that it probably wasn't being effective. So what progress has there been in 20 years?
The Chair: Excuse me. It was a wonderful question. It just was a little too long, so we have to go on to the
Mr Marchese: Mr Chair, can we get unanimous consent to allow him to finish the answer?.
The Chair: The Chair has made a decision. Thank you very much for Your Presentation.
Mr Lepofsky: Ask me outside. Thank you very much. I appreciate the opportunity.
Mrs Margaret Borland (Mississauga South): Mr. Chairman, I would like to register an objection, and I hate to do this, but in the past, when a question has been asked, even if we have run overtime, the deputation does have an opportunity to answer it.
The Chair: Okay. Basically the decision is that each presenting group has been told they have 20 minutes. How they intend to use it is up to them, but we are going to stick to that.