Members Statements in the Ontario Legislature
Re: Bill 83
November 26, 1998
Frances Lankin, Premier Harris
Ms Frances Lankin (Beaches-Woodbine): My question is to the Premier. I want to talk to you about keeping promises. This is with respect to the Ontarians with Disabilities Act. On May 24, 1995, you wrote a letter to David Baker and to the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee in which you said that a Harris government would be willing to enact an Ontarians with Disabilities Act in its first term of office. You also said, "I would be pleased to work together with your committee" - meaning the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee - "in development of such legislation."
Premier, I know you're going to tell me that your minister and her parliamentary assistant have met with these groups, and with the ODA Committee in particular, on a number of occasions. But they've written to you on a number of occasions when this bill has been stalled and slowed down and when they feared that it wouldn't come through and they've asked to meet with you. Now, I've got to tell you, they describe the legislation that has been introduced as a kick in the stomach. They don't have faith in your minister; they really want to meet with you. Would you be willing to live up to this promise and meet with the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee?
Hon Michael D. Harris (Premier): As you have indicated, I have lived up to my commitment and my promise that our government would introduce an Ontarians with Disabilities Act. I indicated as well that we would work with the group. I believe that there now have been 10 meetings with either the minister or the parliamentary assistant and I say this: While the group might argue that the bill is not the bill they would draft and doesn't go as far as they would like, I think it's important to note that it is absolutely the first of its kind in Canada. It puts the most onerous requirements on the public sector, sending a signal that we want to work our way through this ourselves, before it is completely compulsory for the private sector. It requires government to review over 600 pieces of legislation, thousands of government initiatives and, if passed, it puts it into legislation for the very first time in the history of Ontario and indeed for the first time anywhere across Canada.
Ms Lankin: Premier, I know that's what the briefing note from the ministry says. You already had an obligation as a government under the charter to review all legislation and bring it in line with provisions of the charter and the Human Rights Code.
There is nothing new in this legislation. It is not a step forward and, Premier, I've got to tell you, there is nothing in the legislation that compels you to do anything after you've reviewed these 600 pieces of legislation, acts, policies etc. You've got to take a real step here and you've got to listen to people. It's not just a group. Please, don't dismiss them. There are a million and a half people with disabilities in this province. These people and all of their organizations are saying this legislation is a dismal failure and it doesn't deserve the name, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
Premier, please, would you just make one commitment here today? Would you commit to meet with the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee and at least listen to them yourselves so you can see if they make sense, common sense, in the argument they are putting forward?
Hon Mr Harris: Let me say, this government has taken more initiatives and more actions than any other government in Ontario's history and indeed any other government across Canada.
We brought in the Ontario disabilities support program. For the first time, we took disabled people off welfare, where you let them languish. Your government and the Liberal government and former governments for the 10 years of your two parties let them languish. We've created a separate program there with the support of your party, and I think you in particular.
We have had more people with disabilities, including a former New Democratic member who came forward and said of the move that we made, "This is the biggest breakthrough in the history of the Ontario Legislature." That's a former NDP member of the government who couldn't get you to move when you were in office.
Yes, I have written to Mr Lepofsky. I have indicated there will be ample opportunities. We're interested in more dialogue. This bill will work its way through the process. But I tell you this: It may not be perfect in your terms, but it's -
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Thank you. Final supplementary.
Ms Lankin: Premier, I have a copy of your letter to Mr Lepofsky. It arrived today. I have the copy here. You completely ignored the central request they made, which was just to meet with you. Yesterday, you were fine to meet with people in Vaughan and have breakfast around a kitchen table and talk to folks. That's OK. Of course, it was a photo op. If they brought the cameras, would you be prepared to meet with them then?
Let me be serious here. I want you to please make a commitment that you will meet with these people, that you will listen to their concerns. They could tell you a whole lot of other things your government has done that have set back persons with disabilities. But that's not what the debate is about.
The debate is about a commitment you made for an Ontarians with Disabilities Act, and everyone understood to some extent what that would contain. What you've introduced is a sham in comparison. Premier, beyond anything else, if you want to be accountable to people, if you want to be accountable for your promises, you should at least be prepared to meet with them and to say face to face what your answer is. Will you meet with these people, Premier?
Hon Mr Harris: I think that the member has acknowledged, even in the question, that I have lived up to my commitment to introduce the act, to consult, to continue to consult, to take a leadership role for the first time in Canada.
I don't know how this member particularly has the nerve, after five years of doing nothing, after five years of Gary Malkowski begging you to do something, a member of your own caucus, and now he has come forward and said this Progressive Conservative government has done more for people with disabilities than any government has in the history of Ontario, including his own of which he was a member.
So for you to come forward now - the first time in Canada. I've put the bill there. The decision-making people are the committee, and I invite those people to meet with the committee members who will, with an open mind, as the minister has and as the parliamentary assistant has, work this bill through the parliamentary process.
Ms Lankin: Mister Accessibility, Mister Accountability. You won't even meet with them.
The Speaker: Member for Beaches-Woodbine. I caution the member for Beaches-Woodbine to come to order, please.
New question, leader of the third party.
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