Members Statements in the Ontario Legislature
Re: Ontarians with Disabilities Act
November 24, 1998
| Dalton McGuinty / Hon. Isabel Bassett Exchange   |
| Howard Hampton / Hon. Isabel Bassett Exchange   |
| David Christopherson   | Alex Cullen | Response from Hon. Isabel Bassett   |
| Frances Lankin / Hon. Isabel Bassett Exchange   |
Statement by Dalton McGuinty
Mr Dalton McGuinty (Leader of the Opposition): My question is for the Minister of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation. Three and a half years ago to the day, in fact, Mike Harris promised one and a half million Ontarians with disabilities that he would introduce and pass in this Legislature a meaningful Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Not only that, he promised to work with the ODA committee to draft and implement that act.
After two resolutions in this House and much foot-dragging, and given that there is an election on the horizon, you decided that you had to do something, that you had to do anything. So yesterday you introduced in this House an Ontarians with Disabilities Act that is gutless, toothless and worthless. Would you please stand up and tell us why it is that you and Mike Harris have broken your promise to introduce in this Legislature a meaningful Ontarians with Disabilities Act?
Hon Isabel Bassett (Minister of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation): I say that we have introduced a meaningful Ontarians with Disabilities Act and we have kept our promise. In fact, I am proud of the bill that we are introducing because it does what no other bill has done for the disabled in Ontario. You, Leader of the Opposition, could have done it in your term in office and you did not do it.
Mr McGuinty: Just so all members are clear on what we're talking about here, this bill consists of two pages. The first page is nothing more than the preamble. The second page provides that there's going to be recognition of existing legal obligations. There are no new rights created and no real new responsibilities created for anybody who has dealings with the disabled community in Ontario. Two pages. This is gutless. It is toothless. Please stand up and tell us why it is that you've let down the disabled community of Ontario, 1.5 million strong, who were specifically promised that your government would introduce a meaningful Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
Hon Ms Bassett: I would say to the honourable member, you of all people should say size doesn't matter because you yourself introduced a bill, the very first bill you introduced in September 1995, which was a measly three paragraphs long. It is Bill 2, 1995.
Our proposed act would mandate the systemic review of all legislation. It is a step forward. You say the act guarantees no rights. Read the preamble to the bill. The rights of the disabled are guaranteed in the Human Rights Code. As for timelines, each and every single year, every ministry will have to report in their public business plans their progress on preventing and removing barriers to the disabled. This is, I guarantee you, a systematic plan to move the agenda forward for the removal and prevention of barriers for the disabled.
Mr McGuinty: Minister, you had the opportunity to consult in a meaningful way with the disabled community and you did not do that. Furthermore, there was a precedent set in this House. A resolution was introduced by one of my members, Dwight Duncan. It specifically provided for a number of provisions that ought to be incorporated in a meaningful Ontarians with Disabilities Act. That resolution was supported unanimously. In fact, 25 Conservative members in this Legislature supported this resolution. The last provision in this resolution reads: "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."
Not only have you broken Mike Harris's promise, not only have you not lived up to the commitment made by the Conservative members who voted in favour of this resolution, but you have dishonoured the disabled community here in Ontario. Again, why have you broken your specific commitment? Why are you failing to honour that promise made by Mike Harris to support -
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Thank you. Minister.
Hon Ms Bassett: We have honoured the promise made by our leader. We are moving the agenda forward by bringing in an Ontarians with Disabilities Act. When you bring up the resolution, I hope all members of this House would support the intent of a resolution to move forward on an agenda for removing and preventing barriers for the disabled.
We, on the other hand, did not want to bring in an expensive quota system, which is implied in the resolution. We did not want to set up another expensive review process. We already have the Ontario Human Rights Commission there. The resolution is pushing for that kind of thing.
All members of the House want to see the removal and prevention of barriers for the disabled and we certainly are doing that with this bill. I would remind the honourable member that the Liberals voted against employment equity, so to come on now for political reasons with something like that -
The Speaker: New question, leader of the third party.
Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): A question for the Minister of Citizenship. It's about her cynical treatment of disabled people in Ontario.
Yesterday, you introduced this two-and-a-half page nothing and you tried to call it an Ontarians with Disabilities Act, an incredibly cynical move on your part, Minister. But what's even more cynical is that two months ago you boasted to my colleague the member for Beaches-Woodbine, and I quote, that you had sent your discussion paper to more than 7,000 interested parties, that you had consulted with 283 groups in eight communities and that you had received submissions from more than 240 individuals, and this sorry piece of cynical garbage is all that disabled people got.
Minister, admit what you're really up to. You got an order from the Premier's office, "Produce a bill, any bill at all," so that the Premier won't be embarrassed by his failure to live up to his promise. Admit it. That's the cynical strategy.
Hon Ms Bassett: The Premier is sticking to his promise and I am proud of the bill we are bringing forward.
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): You really are rich.
The Speaker: Hold on.
Mr Alex Cullen (Ottawa West): Shame on you, absolute shame. The audacity to stand there and say that.
The Speaker: Member for Ottawa West.
Hon Ms Bassett: I would say that I'm proud of the ODA that we're bringing in. The proposed act is going to mandate that all government ministries systematically review all of their legislation, all of their programs, all of their policies, all of their practices and all of their services with an eye to accessibility. This means that literally thousands of pieces of government legislation and government activities that directly or indirectly affect the lives of the disabled will be reviewed on an annual basis. That is going to directly change what is happening with the disabled in this province.
It won't happen overnight. It will happen in time. This is a systematic plan that no one else has brought in, let alone your government when your very own member, who was disabled, did not bring it in.
The Speaker: Supplementary.
Ms Frances Lankin (Beaches-Woodbine): Minister, that is not only shameful; your performance here is despicable in terms of what you are saying about people with disabilities and what they are demanding in this province. You are putting out a red herring that they are talking about quota laws. They have never asked you for a quota law. They have asked you for a law to remove barriers.
You know what they said about your Premier today? They said that this is a slap in the face to persons with disabilities, that the Premier has punched them in the stomach, that he has totally betrayed them. How can you stand here and say that you are proud of this? They don't want to deal with you any more. They want to deal with the man who is making the decisions.
Minister, will you facilitate a meeting between the persons with disabilities, the Ontarians With Disabilities Act Committee and the Premier so they can tell him face to face that this bill doesn't merit the name the Ontarians with Disabilities Act?
Hon Ms Bassett: I would say to the honourable member that I am proud of the bill I have brought forward. ODAC has been helpful to us. I would expect them to be angry if they do not get everything that is on their agenda.
The Speaker: Order. Minister.
Hon Ms Bassett: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I want to thank ODAC for their input. If I were looking for a lobbyist for any cause, I would hire David Lepofsky of ODAC. He's been absolutely admirable in pushing forward his agenda, and so he should be. But my role as a legislator is not the same as his. We, as the government, have to balance the interests of all sectors of our society, and that's what we have done.
We listened to over 283 groups during our consultations in the summer and we heard certain key messages that we have answered, maybe not in the way that members of the opposition would want us to answer, but we share the same goal of moving the agenda forward for the people who are disabled. We are doing that and you are going to see improvement, and I can say that with a pure conscience to the people who are disabled.
Ms Lankin: Minister, it's not a question of not giving them everything they wanted. You didn't give them anything that they asked for, that they demanded and that they are entitled to in this province. It is a shameful day to hear you stand there and give that kind of patronizing answer to the persons with disabilities in this province and to the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee.
They spoke very clearly about the principles that needed to be achieved to remove barriers to access. Your bill doesn't even begin to accomplish that. Your parliamentary assistant, who went around this province, is shamefaced in terms of what you have come forward with.
Minister, I can't think of anything else to say to you but resign, get out of the way, and have the Premier meet with these people face to face and defend his lack of action and his complete betrayal of people with disabilities in this community.
Hon Ms Bassett: I would say that we are taking steps to remove barriers for the disabled. Our proposed legislation will mandate government to review all its legislation, practices, programs and services. In an orderly, systematic way each year, what has been proposed and what has been reviewed will be submitted to Management Board. It will be open to the public, and the public will see what is happening. The fact that it is mandatory is going to move the agenda forward.
This government is keeping its promise made to the people of Ontario to introduce legislation that is going to help prevent and remove barriers to the disabled, and you are going to see changes occur because of it.
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