Members Statements in the Ontario Legislature
Re: Ontarians with Disabilities Act
November 23, 1998
| Hon. Isabel Bassett   | Dwight Duncan   | Marion Boyd   | Frances Lankin   |
| Duncan / Bassett Exchange   | Lankin / Bassett Exchange   |
Statement by Hon. Isabel Bassett
Hon Isabel Bassett (Minister of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation): Today is a milestone. It is a milestone because the proposed Ontarians with Disabilities Act is the first of its kind -
Mrs Marion Boyd (London Centre): It's going to be a millstone, not a milestone.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Order. Minister.
Hon Ms Bassett: It is a milestone because the proposed Ontarians with Disabilities Act is the first of its kind in Canada. If approved by the Legislature, the act will require every ministry to identify, remove and prevent barriers by systematically reviewing its legislation -
Mr Dwight Duncan (Windsor-Walkerville): It does nothing.
Ms Frances Lankin (Beaches-Woodbine): This is embarrassing.
The Speaker: Member for Windsor-Walkerville, come to order. Members for Beaches-Woodbine and Riverdale, come to order as well please. Minister.
Hon Ms Bassett: - policies, programs, practices and services; in effect, all government activity.
This mandatory review will be part of the annual business planning process of each ministry. This will, over time, affect the thousands of government activities that directly and indirectly impact persons with disabilities.
Ministries' annual disability access plans would contain (1) a list of government activities that would be reviewed in the planning year; (2) measures to be put in place to ensure that any new government activities are assessed for their effect on access; (3) steps to be taken in the coming year to remove and prevent barriers; and (4) a report on measures the ministry has already taken.
The proposed act is accompanied by a number of initiatives that I am also pleased to announce today:
(1) The government is establishing a Committee on Employment for Persons with Disabilities. The committee will promote access to employment in the private sector and advise the government on employment access issues. It will be composed of representatives of the disability, business and labour communities.
(2) The government is establishing an information and referral service to provide a point of access for business and for broader public sector service providers who need information and resources to make their services and workplaces more accessible.
(3) My ministry will administer an $800,000 incentive fund for barrier removal projects which have broad application. Leadership projects will encourage different sectors to work together to establish best practices in priority areas such as employment, access to buildings, transportation and education and training; and community projects will encourage local partnerships that remove barriers and improve access to local business and services.
Other ministries will also be working to improve access for Ontarians with disabilities. The Ministry of Transportation will enhance its community transportation action program to help communities meet the transportation needs of people with disabilities. The Ministry of Education and Training will enhance its Job Connect program to better help persons with disabilities find and keep jobs. The Ministry of Education and Training will also enhance its literary and basic skills program for persons who are deaf or persons who have a learning or psychiatric disability. The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing will consult with organizations representing persons with disabilities, municipalities and the home building and development industries to identify priorities for improving barrier-free design standards in the Ontario building code.
Our commitment to preventing and removing barriers for persons with disabilities is government-wide. Today's announcements follow a province-wide consultation. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all participants. While we heard a range of opinions, the goals of equal opportunity and barrier prevention and removal are clearly shared across the board. Ontarians agree that there is a need -
The Speaker: Stop the clock. Order. It's important to let the minister finish. The responses will follow.
Hon Ms Bassett: Ontarians agree that there is a need for better public understanding and increased awareness of the needs of persons with disabilities. Ontarians agree that government can and must foster information sharing, encourage partnerships, provide incentives for barrier removal and lead by example. This is what the proposed Ontarians with Disabilities Act and the new initiatives do.
I am confident that our proposed act, the measures I have just announced and the important initiatives this government has already put in place will improve access for persons with disabilities. This government believes that all Ontarians, and our province as a whole, stand to gain when every one of us has an equal opportunity to contribute to the social and economic well-being of our province.
Statement by Dwight Duncan
Mr Dwight Duncan (Windsor-Walkerville): It's with absolute sorrow that I stand to respond to the cop-out by the Minister of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation.
I want to take a few minutes to talk about the minister's announcement. She hasn't provided the opposition with the bill and it's no wonder, because the bill says absolutely nothing. It's an absolute betrayal by this government, by that minister and by that Premier of persons with disabilities in this province.
The minister's statement says that the proposed features of her act will recognize the rights of persons with disabilities to equal treatment without discrimination in accordance with the Ontario Human Rights Code.
I should tell the minister that we've had that for 10 years. We have had that. It was a Liberal government that brought that in with Human Rights Code amendments 10 years ago. What we need are mechanisms for enforcement. What we need are mechanisms that can work to ensure that persons with disabilities aren't left out of economic recovery of this province and aren't left out of the life of this province.
Minister, you've abandoned the disabled community just as you did this summer when you didn't listen to them, when you didn't give them access to your public hearings.
Then the minister goes on to say that they're going to improve access to persons with disabilities through the identification, removal and prevention of barriers to their participation in the social and economic life of the province.
Minister, those barriers are well-identified. They are identified at the municipal level, they are identified at the provincial level, they are identified in the private sector, they are identified in the broader public sector. They have been identified for a number of years.
What you've done is simply given a little bit of Pablum, a few good words that mean absolutely nothing because you have not used the resources or strength of your ministry or government to help move forward the plight of people with disabilities in this province.
Then the minister goes on to say they are going to require every minister to prepare an annual disability access plan as part of the ministry's annual planning process, setting out its measures for improving accessibility.
Those were done years ago. What your government hasn't done is move the process forward. Every ministry of your government has those plans. This Legislature has those plans. This is a sorry, sorry day, where the minister has abandoned the members of her own caucus who supported a resolution in this House that would afford the disabled a meaningful Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
What does that mean for people in this province? It means we don't have the same protections they have in Alabama. It means we don't have the same protections they have throughout the United States. It means this government is not prepared to do what their right-wing counterparts in the United States did a decade ago. It means that minister has no credibility on these issues. She did not listen to the disabled community. They're talking about voluntary compliance. When my resolution was passed, we discovered the Premier's office in North Bay wasn't accessible to the disabled. They had a ramp that they weren't willing to put out. That's what voluntary compliance is.
This government, that Premier and that minister have effectively abandoned the disabled community and have left it to the next government to bring in a meaningful Ontarians with Disabilities Act. All the advertisements in the world aren't going to make up for the fact that that Premier and that minister have abandoned the disabled and misled this province in terms of the traditions we ought to be upholding. You should be ashamed.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): You have to withdraw that.
Mr Duncan: I withdraw the statement "misled."
Statement by Marion Boyd
Mrs Marion Boyd (London Centre): ... A final word to the Minister of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation: I hope you are thoroughly ashamed of this so-called Ontarians with Disabilities Act. As the parent of a disabled child and on behalf of all the disabled people in this province, this is a disgrace. Frankly, Minister, I can't imagine you being part of this boondoggle.
Statement by Frances Lankin
Ms Frances Lankin (Beaches-Woodbine): May I say to the minister responsible for citizenship, the acts you introduced today - and I want to tell persons interested in the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, this is two pages. The first page is a preamble. The only thing in this is a guarantee that ministries will have to do a systemic barrier review as part of their annual business plan. That is it.
For five years under our government every ministry had to do that. You cancelled that when you came into power. You fired the staff who were responsible for doing those reviews. You took away the dollars responsible for implementing the accommodation measures. You cancelled all of that. Now you're putting it in legislation. This is a betrayal of a million and a half persons with disabilities. All this act does is say, "Government, get your act together and show leadership." You should have been doing that already. What are you going to do for the private sector out there? You're going to put together a joint committee. What are you going to do for the broader public sector, municipalities? You're going to put together an information and referral service.
Committees, information, referral: This is a cruel hoax. This doesn't come close to meeting one of the demands of persons with disabilities who participated in your hoax of a consultation this past summer. You heard from people right across this province who demanded and fought their way into your hearings when you at first wouldn't let them in. You heard what they wanted. You heard the principles that had to be contained in an Ontarians with Disabilities Act to really provide access.
Minister, this will not cut it. You will hear, blazing across this province, a response from persons with disabilities. An anger and a fire will be set that you will not be able to put out unless you scrap this act, unless you bring forward a real Ontarians with Disabilities Act that meets the needs to ensure that there is barrier-free access to all goods, services, programs, facilities, businesses.
This province can be a place for all people to participate in. If you had the will and the guts to stand up to what you promised in the Common Sense Revolution, it would be. We would be on our way to that in the legislation that we'll be debating in this House. I can tell you, Minister, this will not cut it. You will not be able to perpetrate this hoax, this sham, this charade on persons with disabilities in this province. They will not stand for it.
Exchange between Dwight Duncan & Hon. Isabel Bassett
Mr Dwight Duncan (Windsor-Walkerville): I have a question for the Minister of Citizenship and Culture. In your announcement today about your non-Ontarians with Disabilities Act, you've acknowledged improving access to persons with disabilities through the identification, removal and prevention of barriers to their participation in the social and economic life of the province. Given your implicit and explicit acknowledgement of those problems, can you tell me how your so-called Ontarians with Disabilities Act will do that in light of the fact that you've addressed neither questions of enforcement nor enforcement of penalties? Can you tell the House and the province -
The Deputy Speaker (Mr Bert Johnson): Minister.
Hon Isabel Bassett (Minister of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation): I would like to say that the proposed ODA, if you could read what it said, would mandate that all government ministries systematically review all their legislation, all their programs, all their policies and all their services with an eye to accessibility. That means that thousands of government activities that directly and indirectly affect people with disabilities across the province will be reviewed and will be improved. That I might say is far more than you did when you were in government and had five years to do it.
Mr Duncan: I'm sure the minister would like to clarify the absolute inaccuracy. You forgot to mention that you cut the funding for those very things that went on before. You forgot to mention anything about that.
There is no provision for enforcement. There is no provision for penalties for lack of compliance. There is nothing in this so-called legislation that's meaningful. What do you say to persons with disabilities whom you've abandoned yet again? Another government that's abandoned them. What do you say to them today? They're going to be here tomorrow to speak to you and they're going to want to know why, having fought themselves into your closed hearings this summer, having been ignored by you and your government, they have now been given a patronizing bit of pablum that has no enforcement mechanisms, no penalties. What are you going to say to them tomorrow? Having ignored them up to now, how are you going to convince them that there is any kind of enforcement or penalties for non-compliance with an act that really doesn't work? What are you going to say to them tomorrow?
Hon Ms Bassett: I would say there are enforcement measures in place. What you are arguing is the fact that you want a new enforcement agency other than the Ontario Human Rights Code which is in place. This government has maintained funding to the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Under the thrust of this government, we have ensured that it is now hearing its cases and streamlining its complaints process. In fact, 80% of new cases sent to mediation are resolved in 90 days, and the commission's new case management system is considered a model process by other agencies that need efficient systems. This government is not going to create an expensive new agency when we have a perfectly good one working right now.
Exchange between Frances Lankin & Hon. Isabel Bassett
Ms Frances Lankin (Beaches-Woodbine): My question is to the Minister of Citizenship. In 1990, as Chair of Management Board, I instituted a program of systemic barrier reviews, ministry by ministry. Ministries had to compile the reviews, include it as part of their annual business plan and submit it to Management Board and treasury board during their estimates. Management Board analysts reviewed those plans and provided independent comments to treasury board and Management Board as they reviewed them. There were resources allocated for the systemic barrier reviews. There was a fund to accommodate changes within the ministries. Essentially, everything that you have announced today, which your minister and your government cancelled in 1995, was being done for five years.
What isn't in your legislation is any requirement for municipalities, the broader public sector or the private sector to do a single thing to remove barriers. Surely in the consultation you heard from members of the disability community that they wanted legislative guarantees that the private sector and the broader public sector, as well as the Ontario government, must accommodate and remove barriers. Why is that not included in your legislation?
Hon Isabel Bassett (Minister of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation): First of all, we certainly feel that we listened very intently to 282 groups across the province. We heard what they had to say. We set out the parameters at the beginning that we weren't going to impose mandatory means.
When you ask what we are doing for the business sector, we are having a committee on employment. We listened and heard that they wanted an information and referral service. Business after business told us and me personally that they want to do things about barrier design; they don't know where to go to find out about it. We are bringing that in. We are giving an $800,000 incentive that will allow small businesses to work on projects that have a broad application, that will remove barriers. We are bringing in, in the education ministry, Job Connect program enhancements that will put people in touch with jobs, people with disabilities who have not been able to do that before. We as a government -
The Deputy Speaker (Mr Bert Johnson): Thank you. Supplementary.
Ms Lankin: Minister, you didn't listen to people. Don't say you listened intently. You ignored what person after person, group after group representing the community of the disabled came forward and told you.
Goodwill is not enough. Voluntary measures are not enough. This will not improve the situation for persons with disabilities in Ontario. All you've included in this meagre two-page bill is what was already being done in the province under the former government, the plan that you cancelled in 1995, and now in 1998 you're announcing you're going to reinstate it.
This is an abysmal failure. You have failed in your responsibility to advocate on behalf of people with disabilities. How are you going to answer to them?
Hon Ms Bassett: All I can say is that if you feel so strongly, you should have done more. You had five years in government and you did nothing. You would not even support your own member who brought forward a private member's bill, and he himself had a hearing impairment. If you feel so strongly about bringing in endless mandatory means, you had every opportunity to do it. We do have a mandatory measure requiring all government ministries to submit systemic plans.
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