Members Statements in the Ontario Legislature
Re: Bill 83
December 3, 1998
| Gilles Morin   |
| Hon. Isabel Bassett   |
| Gilles Morin   |
| Howard Hampton   |
| Howard Hampton, Hon. Isabel Bassett   |
Mr Gilles E. Morin (Carleton East): Today is International Day of Disabled Persons. It is a sad day for the 1.5 million Ontario citizens with disabilities who were betrayed by this government's introduction of a sham Ontarians with Disabilities Act last week. People with disabilities were appalled that the government would attempt to claim that it has fulfilled its promise to them with a bill that could have been written on the back of a paper napkin. Legislation is not even needed to bring about the minor changes they are offering.
There is only one way for the government to redeem itself. It must withdraw Bill 83 and recommit to a genuine, full and open consultation that will produce a bill with substance and teeth. Persons with disabilities need to have the barriers they face in every facet of daily life addressed by forward-thinking and progressive measures. Often the accommodations that need to be made are small but not obvious and would make a tremendous difference, while the cost of not including vital and talented people in the economic life of this province hurts everyone.
The government must assume a leadership role and provide effective incentives for positive change throughout all sectors of society. People are willing to change, but need to know how. Meet with the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee now to set up a process to put this initiative on the right track. Withdraw this sham legislation now and do it right.
Hon. Isabel Bassett
Hon Isabel Bassett (Minister of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation): Today is International Day of Disabled Persons. In 1992, the United Nations General Assembly asked member states to observe this day "with a view to furthering the integration into society of persons with disabilities."
Ontario has a long history of leadership in addressing the concerns of persons with disabilities. Thirty-six years ago, it was the first province in Canada to adopt a human rights code. The code was amended in 1981 to extend protection on the basis of disability. Recently, this government introduced a proposed Ontarians with Disabilities Act that is the first of its kind in Canada.
Our government is leading by example. Bill 83 will mandate all government ministries to systematically review their legislation, programs, policies, practices and services, with a view to preventing and removing barriers. Ministries will have to submit annual plans outlining what they will review, what actions they will take to remove barriers and what they have already done to improve accessibility.
In time, the proposed Ontarians with Disabilities Act will affect thousands of government activities and millions of Ontarians.
This is a day to renew our commitment as a community to improving access for persons with disabilities in all aspects of our society. Preventing and removing barriers to participation is a shared responsibility, and co-operative solutions are the best way to achieve results. In that regard, I am delighted to announce that the province will be partnering with the Conference Board of Canada to assist Ontario employers to increase workplace accessibility.
The conference board has research capabilities and expertise that is widely respected. It will conduct research to identify current approaches and best practices for barrier removal in the workplace. The results will form the basis for discussions involving disability groups, employers and the government's recently announced Committee on Employment for Persons with Disabilities, among others, to develop win-win solutions and practical ways of removing employment barriers to persons with disabilities.
The government is also establishing an information and referral service and setting up an $800,000 incentive fund to promote best practices and partnerships in communities across Ontario.
These and other actions by successive Ontario governments to support persons with disabilities bring us steadily closer to our vision of an Ontario where every person can achieve his or her full potential. They bring us steadily closer to the United Nations' vision of furthering the integration into society of persons with disabilities.
By working together as a community, we can reach this goal. We can build a strong and caring society where persons with disabilities have equal opportunity to fully participate in our great province.
Mr Gilles E. Morin (Carleton East): This government had the gall last week to introduce something it calls the Ontarians with Disabilities Act. This legislation gives them nothing of substance that persons with disabilities have asked for. This legislation is not worth the paper it's written on. It's an insult and a betrayal of this government's promise and people's hopes.
While this government is all about public relations and positive spin on complex and troubling issues, we in the real world need to face reality eye to eye. The situation that most people with disabilities face is more than most of us could handle.
It doesn't have to be this way. The minister says the government is going to try harder, get its own house in order and encourage others to do the same. Great. After stalling on an ODA for three and a half years, this is all we get.
Where are the provisions for persons with disabilities to be actively involved in addressing barriers? Where are the enforcement mechanisms? You know very well that former Chief Justice Brian Dickson told you that no measures were going to work without mandatory provisions. You know that the underfunded and overburdened Ontario Human Rights Commission cannot protect persons with disabilities against systemic barriers.
This government hides behind lists of program names and funding promises that are announced over and over again. Ask those with disabilities whether their lives are any easier, as the government claims they are. This government wants to say that they have kept their promises whether their announcements have any substance or not.
Bill 83 must be withdrawn. It is time to make it possible for persons with disabilities to come in the front door and take their rightful place in the life of this province.
Minister, let me make my own recommendation, my own suggestion to you. Convince your colleagues at the cabinet to re-establish a ministry responsible for the disabled, as we had in government before when we were in power. The idea was abandoned. Try it. It works well.
Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): This is International Day for Persons with Disabilities, and I want to acknowledge the tremendous work done by people with disabilities in this province and especially by the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee, which has had to fight this government every step of the way. Their drive and determination is an example to all of us. Unfortunately, this government still isn't listening to them.
It is perhaps very appropriate that this international day will be followed tomorrow by the release of a report from the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. That committee has been studying Canada's compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Among the questions it has asked Ontario is, why did the Harris government abolish the Employment Equity Act provisions that would have helped people with disabilities get into the workforce? We can only wonder what the UN committee will have to say about Bill 83, a slap in the face to Ontarians with disabilities.
The committee also asked about measures to address poverty among people with disabilities. Getting assistance is another issue. We are beginning to hear about the problems people are experiencing with the Ontario disability support program. They are waiting months to have their applications approved. In some cases the applications are being rejected because their family physician has not filled them out in a technically correct manner or doesn't have all of the minutiae of information.
The Ontario Medical Association says that many doctors do not have enough information to fill out all of the minutiae questions that are on this eight-page Activities of Daily Living report. It's a one-size-fits-all form, like so many things this government does. One applicant who has a psychiatric disability told the London Free Press, "Under this government, it seems that as long as I can have a bath and I can put on a tie, I'm not disabled."
But the most telling side of this government's attitude is Bill 83, a fraud that is being perpetrated on people with disabilities.
Howard Hampton, Hon. Isabel Bassett
Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): In the absence of the Premier, this is a question for the Minister of Citizenship. Today is the International Day for Persons with Disabilities, and my question is about another outlandish remark made by your Premier last week. Last week in this House, your Premier tried to imply that the former member for York East, Mr Gary Malkowski, supports your empty Bill 83 and your government's sorry record in responding to the needs of people with disabilities. After Mr Malkowski heard the outlandish remarks by your Premier, he straightaway wrote him a letter. In his letter he says to the Premier: "Your statements could not be further from the truth. I think Bill 83 is useless, toothless and patronizing legislation. I have never supported Bill 83."
Minister, will you, on behalf of your Premier, retract last week's statement and will you apologize to Mr Malkowski?
Hon Isabel Bassett (Minister of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation): First of all, if you cared to read Hansard carefully, you would see that the Premier's comments in the House last week about former NDP MPP Gary Malkowski had to do with the government's program, the Ontario disability support plan. At a news conference in 1997, speaking for the Canadian Hearing Society, Mr Malkowski said about the launch of the ODSP: "I wish to congratulate you, Minister" - referring to the Minister of Community and Social Services - "for showing the most positive kind of announcement we've had in some time, including previous governments. I would also like to offer congratulations to Mike Harris for making a commitment, for introducing the Ontarians with disabilities legislation."
So your statement is totally false.
The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Member for Ottawa-Rideau, could you go back to your seat, please.
Mr Hampton: This is incredible. Not only does this government think they can spend $50 million in taxpayers' money -
The Speaker: Order. Stop the clock. Member for Dufferin-Peel.
Mr Hampton: This is getting more outlandish all the time. Not only does this government think it can spend $50 million -
The Speaker: Stop the clock. Look, folks, he's going to get his question in, so you may as well let him do it. It's going to happen, so stop heckling.
Mr Hampton: I'll try again, Speaker, because I think we've caught the Premier in yet another very outlandish situation.
Not only do you think you can spend $50 million of taxpayers' money trying to brainwash people, but you also think you can twist the words of Mr Malkowski. I've got Hansard. This is what the Premier said. After you introduced Bill 83 he said: "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.'"
Mr Malkowski said nothing like that. This is what he said:
"Your statements could not be further from the truth. I think Bill 83 is useless, toothless and patronizing legislation. I have never supported Bill 83."
Stop trying to put words in people's mouths. Apologize to Mr Malkowski. Stop trying to misrepresent his views. Will you do that?
Hon Ms Bassett: I want to point out I will not apologize because Mr Malkowski did give input and took part in our consultation process during the summer. I want to thank him for that. I must say, that's better than any member of the parties opposite bothered to do. If you were so interested in this issue, you could have come forward and -
Mr Hampton: Step outside and say that. Let's go. Come on.
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