Second Session in the Ontario Legislature
Re: Bill 83
December 7, 1998
| Mr. Gravelle   |
| Mr. Gerretsen   |
| Mr. Cullen   |
Mr Gravelle: No matter which member over there is choosing to heckle me, I'm sure they're hearing from their own municipalities. Maybe the truth hurts. This is a piece of legislation that is just turning into a disaster.
The township of Dorion wrote a letter. They are desperate: "...for your immediate action. We would appreciate your assistance in this urgent matter."
They are all totally desperate in terms of what their jobs have to be, and this government is not allowing them to do their own jobs. It's really quite astonishing. We have to talk about that, so to have the opportunity to talk about an issue such as that next week is an opportunity we are all grateful to have.
There are a number of issues that go on and on. We've all talked a great deal about the absolute mess in the education system. We are all very disappointed in the Ontarians with Disabilities Act that the minister put forward a couple of weeks ago. I'm hearing from many of the groups I represent who feel very strongly that unless there is some kind of enforcement, unless there is some clear way of making this act have meaning, it is an insult to them and one they are incredibly upset about. I spoke to a group last night at the 40th anniversary of the Multiple Sclerosis Society, and they're upset. They said, "If it isn't going to be enforced, can there at least be some real accountability?" I will look forward to speaking on that when that legislation comes forward.
My time has, unbelievably rapidly, come to an end. I can't believe how quickly 20 minutes goes by. I'm sure you're all disappointed that my time is up. I'm glad to have had an opportunity to express some of my concerns. They're all serious concerns and ones that I intend to continue to fight.
... The other point I wanted to very briefly raise today - and I see that the minister is back in the House, and we welcome her; I've got a lot of regard for the Minister of Citizenship and Culture - deals with the Ontarians with Disabilities Act that has just been introduced. I know that groups out there have been complaining about the act. We have been complaining about the fact that the act really doesn't do anything.
I would like to read a very short paragraph in a letter I received that was an open letter to Mike Harris. I know all members of the Legislature received a copy of this letter as well. It's written by the president of the Ontario March of Dimes. I think all of us in the Legislature know of the tremendous hard work that the March of Dimes has done over the years for our disabled community. I know they operate in just about every community in Ontario. We can all be extremely proud of the work they've done. Let's just hear for a moment what they have to say about the current Ontarians with Disabilities Act as introduced by the minister. I'm reading from that part of the letter which deals with the ODA. It states:
"As you know, during the last election, you" - meaning Mike Harris - "made a promise that your government would introduce an Ontarians with Disabilities Act during its first term. The three-page act your government introduced does nothing to address the vast range of barriers that confront persons with disabilities. The act does not require government to remove or prevent a single barrier. There is no requirement for consultation, there is no duty to comply. It does not bestow any increased rights, and it most certainly has nothing to do with the resolution passed unanimously in the Legislature on October 29, which called for a strong, meaningful and effective ODA.
"To refer to the proposed legislation as an Ontarians with Disabilities Act is misleading and unacceptable."
I'm reading from the letter. These are not my words; these are the words of Duncan Read, president of the Ontario March of Dimes. He continues:
"While there may be cost implications to implement a comprehensive ODA which conflict with the goals of the Common Sense Revolution, we had hoped that your government would recognize the economic benefits of full societal participation of persons with disabilities and make a genuine effort to remove physical barriers.
"Introducing legislation with the name Ontarians with Disabilities Act, but which lacks substance negates the goodwill of your government. There are 1.5 million Ontarians (close to a million voters), who will benefit by the effective removal of barriers, and a whole province that will benefit from an increasingly independent and productive population.
"We urge you to fulfill your promise and eagerly await the introduction of legislation worthy of the name Ontarians with Disabilities Act."
There is no way that anybody could say it better than the president of the Ontario March of Dimes, and it's not too late. It's not too late for the minister to go back to the cabinet table and say to Mike Harris and her fellow colleagues in cabinet: "The act that we have introduced simply isn't adequate. Let us do something meaningful. Let us live up to our promises. Let us introduce a meaningful Ontarians with Disabilities Act." I'm absolutely positive, from the people I've heard in my community, that there isn't anybody who has been awaiting this act who feels that the act as currently introduced is anywhere near adequate. Minister, please do the right thing. Introduce a meaningful Ontarians with Disabilities Act, as called for by Mr Read in his letter to your Premier on November 26.
Mr Cullen: Of course, so these amendments are tabled. For heaven's sake, why wasn't it done the first time? Why do we have to go through all this? Can the member for Nepean explain to us why this wasn't thought about 23 months ago when the government went down this path?
I'm only on Bill 79. As well, we have to deal with Bill 81, dealing with the outcome of the budget that was tabled last May. It's amazing: Last May the government comes in with a budget and then it tables for the first time on November 23 the legislation to bring into place the budget that it presented last May. Didn't they think about it at the time? Obviously not.
We have the Environmental Statute Law Amendment Act, Bill 82. Then Bill 83 - oh, it is sad. I have to pause at Bill 83, and I pity the poor minister who sponsored the bill. It can't have been her idea to come forward with this pitiful piece of paper that is called the Ontarians with Disabilities Act. I look at the preamble, and the preamble takes up almost all of one page. The preamble of course has no legal force, but I just want to quote from the preamble because it says here, "It is the shared responsibility of everyone in Ontario to identify, remove and prevent barriers to the participation of persons with disabilities."
One would think that this legislation would therefore provide us with the tools to ensure that these barriers are being removed so that people with disabilities could participate in our community on an equal footing with everyone else. But does it do this? Oh, no, not at all. In fact, it even goes on in this preamble. It says here, "Identifying, preventing and removing barriers will increase the contribution of persons with disabilities to the economic and social life of the province." That's true. That's something that all of us here would want to see happen, and we find all of us here willing to work to make it so.
It is so sad what's in this bill, because this bill, besides giving a section on purpose and one definition, then goes to section 3. There are only seven sections to this act: a purpose; one definition; section 3, dealing with ministry plans re barriers; section 4, dealing with a review of the act; section 5, recognition of existing legal obligations; section 6, the commencement; and section 7, the title.
In this short act you start looking for where the meat is, and you go to section 3, ministry plans re barriers. This is the meat of the bill. The meat of the bill says, "As part of each ministry's annual planning process, every minister shall prepare a plan for the identification, removal and prevention of barriers to persons with disabilities...." This is already part of the action plan for these ministries. The minister responsible for Management Board services would tell you that is already there, that the ministries are already doing this task, so this piece of legislation merely formalizes what they're doing.
How does this help the ordinary Ontarian who lives out in this community in achieving a reduction of barriers so they can go down the street, enter a store, go to the washroom, pay their bills at a bank, go to the hardware store, pick up their mail, go to their job, be able to access public transit, go to a child care centre to pick up their four-year-old daughter, go to their school to talk to their son's teacher, go to the hospital to visit their mother, go to a nursing home to visit their father, any of those things? Is that in this bill? Sadly - and it is sad - they are not. It's a failure of a bill.
I said earlier that there are so many bills before this Legislature, so many government bills, and I can't speak for the government, but I'm projecting from the comments made by the ministers. There are about a third there that need passage; there are about a third there that, generally speaking, as I said, with some work with the other parties, our party included, we would find common ground on; and about a third that are meant to go nowhere. I would say to you, this pitiful piece of paper known as Bill 83, the so-called Ontarians with Disabilities Act, merely enshrines review of ministerial policies, which if any minister had any guts would make sure were in place already. I'm sorry, that's clearly a bill that's not meant to go anywhere. It's for show, only for show.
It is sad because the disability community, which we know is a growing community, which we know seeks to participate because they have skills, they have things to contribute to our society, their expectations were so raised by this government, by the leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party, saying, with his pearly blue eyes, into the camera, "A promise made is a promise kept," and there would be a new Ontarians with Disabilities Act by this government during its mandate.
I'm sorry, we have this bill here and it is for show, simply for show, and it's a cruel disappointment for those people with disabilities who earnestly believed there would be some way that the government would use the mandate that it had to facilitate their participation in our community. This government has fired a cap gun and it is a blank. It is sad.
That's only Bill 83. We've got a number of other bills here: Bill 85, the Vintners Quality Alliance Act; Bill 90, the Automobile Insurance Consumer Protection Act; Bill 92, the Emergency Volunteers Protection Act; Bill 93, the Franchise Disclosure Act, and the government is promising even more bills coming down the pipe. We're sitting here only to the end of next week, sitting in midnight sittings. We're taking this time, now at five after 10, going on to midnight, to discuss this calendar motion the government has put forward, and yet we're expecting to hear an election next spring. ...
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