Ontario Hansard - Thursday 16 May 1996.
ACCESSIBILITY FOR THE DISABLED.
Mrs Boyd moved private member's notice of motion number 18:
That in the opinion of this House, since persons with disabilities in Ontario face systemic barriers in access to employment, services, goods, facilities and accommodation; and
Since all Ontarians will benefit by the removal of these barriers, thereby enabling these persons to enjoy equal opportunity and full participation in the life of the province;
Therefore, the government of Ontario should keep its promise as set out in the letter from Michael D. Harris to the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee, dated May 24, 1995, to:
(a) enact an Ontarians with Disabilities Act within its
current term of office; and
(b) work together with members of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee, among others, in the development of such legislation.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr Bert Johnson): I'd like to remind once again that the guests in the gallery are not allowed to demonstrate, and that includes clapping. We'll not tolerate it.
The Deputy Speaker: I remind the members that I would appreciate your attention.
Mrs Boyd has moved ballot item number 30, private member's notice of motion number 18. Mrs Boyd?
Mrs Marion Boyd (London Centre): I want to begin the debate by reading into Hansard the letter that was mentioned in the resolution. It says:
"Dear Mr Baker" -- who is a member of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee --
"Thank you for your most recent correspondence dated May 3, 1995, concerning the proposed Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
"As I indicated to you in my response of May 11, 1995, to the Advocacy Resource Centre for the Handicapped questionnaire, a Harris government would be willing to enact an Ontario with Disabilities Act in the first term of office within the economic goalposts of the Common Sense Revolution.
"The accommodation issue is often the stumbling block when it comes to financing access to post-secondary institutions, transportation, government publications, training programs and communications. We hope, through cost efficiencies achieved in other areas of government, to direct much-needed funding to accommodation.
"I would be pleased to work together with your committee in the development of such legislation."
Today all members in this House have an opportunity to ensure that the government's promise becomes reality.
Why is an Ontarians with Disabilities Act essential? Persons with disabilities are a large yet severely disadvantaged group in our society, comprising at least 15% of the population. Disabled people experience massive unemployment rates far in excess of national and provincial levels.
Because so many doors are closed to them, disabled people are grossly overrepresented among those receiving social assistance.
Those of us fortunate enough to be without disabilities take many things for granted: the right to go to our local school; to attend post-secondary institutions; the right to use public transportation, to travel in buses, trains and airplanes; the right to communicate with and to attend at the place of national, provincial, regional and local government; the right to seek and be considered fairly for a job; the right to access and use services, facilities and goods which are offered to the public, just to name a few. Persons with disabilities all too frequently are prevented from enjoying these rights.
The problems confronting persons with disabilities are not just the product of old barriers resulting from the uninformed decisions made years, decades ago by those who designed our institutions, facilities and services. Many of the worst barriers are very recent and they could have been avoided with foresight and commitment to accessibility.
The most obvious example is the proliferation of computer products which could easily be adapted to serve users who are blind, mobility-impaired, dyslexic and otherwise disabled. The technology gap the Minister of Education and Training has identified between users and non-users of computers is equally being created by the mainstream computer industry even as we speak by their failure to adapt hardware and software appropriately.
During these days when governments seem obsessed by budget cuts and government downsizing, persons with disabilities have been among the first and most seriously affected victims. This government has taken many steps which further disadvantage the disabled: They repealed the Employment Equity Act; they repealed the Advocacy Act; they charge user fees for drug benefit prescriptions; they cut funding to municipal parallel transit for persons with disabilities and then tried to blame the municipalities for their cut; they threatened to weaken the building code obligations to make new and renovated buildings accessible; and they cut funding to education, which puts those in special need in special disadvantaged positions.
But what, we must ask, is the cost to our society when we exclude disabled people from full participation in our community? The price is high, it is avoidable and it is one that we will all pay sooner or later. The major costs are human costs. All around us today are many talented people who happen to have disabilities. Some have been able to overcome the numerous barriers they face through their own effort, resourcefulness, family and community support. We all honour their accomplishment, but we must not laud them as superstars or be misled into believing that by their success our society is barrier-free, because also in our midst are many others who also have enormous talent to offer but who, because of the barriers they encounter, have never had the chance to shine.
These citizens slam up against public transit systems they cannot use, buildings they cannot enter, schools whose teachers don't know how to teach them, documents they cannot read and, worst of all, the stereotypical and exclusionary attitudes of many employers, service providers and government officials which continue to prevent people with disabilities from full access to jobs and other mainstream opportunities that the majority take for granted.
Even those who are more concerned about dollars than human costs have to admit that the cost of excluding the disabled from mainstream Ontario is enormous and is growing fast. We pay that cost every time a person with a disability is denied an education or a job and is driven to rely on social assistance. We pay the cost every time we buy an inaccessible bus which drives up the demand for the more expensive and less effective parallel transit systems. We pay every time an aging person ceases to be active and self-sufficient in our community, and aging is the most common cause of disability. There will be a greater proportion of persons with disabilities in the year 2000 than ever in recent history.
We must act now to dismantle existing barriers and prevent others from being raised. Existing laws to protect the rights of the disabled have not succeeded in breaking down barriers. Equality rights in the Ontario Human Rights Code since 1982 and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms since 1985 are important legal rights, but we know from long and bitter experience that they have not proved to be a total solution.
The time for action is now. Ontario must set an important and valuable lead in achieving a barrier-free society for persons with disabilities by the year 2000. The government must keep Mike Harris's promise to bring forward an Ontarians with Disabilities Act and to do so in close consultation with the coalition of people and organizations dedicated to this task. This House should know that despite his promise, as yet Mr Harris has refused to meet with the committee, and so has his Minister of Citizenship. I notice that the minister and her parliamentary assistant are not with us today, and I think that's shameful, because this is their responsibility.
We have lots of people with us today who are intimately concerned about this issue, and we must remember that those people do not have access to --
Mr John R. Baird (Nepean): On a point of order, Mr Speaker: The honourable member opposite is in her second term. She knows it is against the rules of this place to refer to the absence of an honourable member, and she's done it on two --
The Acting Speaker (Mr Gilles E. Morin): I must admit that I didn't pay attention, but if this is the case, you're not supposed to do that.
Mrs Boyd: My apologies, Mr Speaker.
These people who came to be with us today, many of whom could not get into the chamber, are currently watching this debate on television in rooms elsewhere in this building. There are more than 50 people who could not get access to this building. You will see that there is space for only four wheelchairs. This is not appropriate. This is the kind of thing we need to stop.
The development and passage of an Ontarians with Disabilities Act is not a right- or left-wing issue; it is an issue which should be above partisan politics. One need not be a champion of civil rights to pass such a bill.
After all, George Bush, the Republican President of the United States, passed exactly such a bill there in 1990.
Even those whose ideology opposes government regulation of the economy in most areas agree that government must intervene when the marketplace fails or has itself created a serious problem, and as people with disabilities will attest, the marketplace for jobs, goods, services and facilities has not served this substantial portion of our society.
Each of us here either has a disability ourselves or has the opportunity to look forward to when we may have a disability in the future, each of us has someone near to us who has a disability and each of us has constituents who look to us to serve their needs and their best interests. Therefore, it should be easy for us as a Legislature to pass this resolution in favour of going forward with an Ontarians with Disabilities Act. This is not the act itself; this is a plea to the government to keep its promise, to work with the committee that has been organized from a coalition of individuals and groups to form the kind of legislation that will be acceptable.
The Leader of the Opposition, the Premier himself and certainly our party believe that the time is now for all of us to join together and show those with disabilities in our community that we truly honour them, we respect them, we welcome them to be part of a full life in this province. We have a rare opportunity today to make that promise come true.
The Acting Speaker: I would like to remind the people in the gallery that you're not supposed to clap.
Mrs Helen Johns (Huron): It is a pleasure for me to address this House today on the issue raised by my honourable colleague the member for London Centre. I would like to comment on this resolution presented by the honourable member. I have no problem with the intent of this member's resolution; I have a difficulty, however, with the content and the wording chosen by her and what she implies in her speech that she has just given us. She implies that this government has done nothing to reduce the systematic barriers in access for disabled people.
Mr Dominic Agostino (Hamilton East): Destroy the system.
The Acting Speaker: Order. Interjections are not allowed. She has the floor.
Mr Floyd Laughren (Nickel Belt): Tell her to stop being provocative.
Mr Tony Martin (Sault Ste Marie): Tell her to be honest.
The Acting Speaker: Order. You're wasting your time. The member for Huron.
Mr Len Wood (Cochrane North): Get her to tell the truth.
The Acting Speaker: Order. The member for Cochrane North, I want you to withdraw that remark.
Mr Len Wood: I withdraw.
The Acting Speaker: The member for Huron.
Mrs Johns: Let me just remind you what was said during the campaign. I am quoting from the ARCH TYPE May-June survey of three political parties. This is what our party said:
"A Harris government would be willing to enact an Ontarians with Disabilities Act within the first term of office within the economic goalposts of the Common Sense Revolution. The accommodation issue is often the stumbling block when it comes to access to post-secondary institutions, transportation, government publications, training programs and communications. We hope, through cost efficiencies achieved in other areas of government, to direct much-needed funding to accommodation."
The Harris government is committed to the interests and dignity of persons with disabilities and is sensitive to the challenges they face both in the workplace and in society as a whole. The challenges faced by the disabled community are being addressed by this government, and they are being addressed through a number of initiatives and will continue to be addressed through our term. These aims can and will be achieved within the economic goalposts of the Common Sense Revolution.
I would like to share with the House information on the recent initiatives taken by this government, and my colleague the member for Nepean will share with you information pertaining to initiatives coming from the Ministry of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation. As work in these areas progresses, we will continue to encourage input from all interested parties on how to effectively address the concerns of persons with disabilities.
If I may have the indulgence of my honourable colleagues, I would like to list some of the recent actions taken by the ministry I'm associated with, the Ministry of Health. These initiatives, combined with the actions taken by the Ministry of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation, contribute to and encourage the dignity and autonomy of disabled people.
In the budget we announced $170 million this year to provide in-home care, longer-term care that we are reinvesting in to provide seniors and disabled people with care in their homes instead of in institutions. This means an additional 80,000 people in communities across the province will receive services such as in-home nursing care, housekeeping and meal programs.
I have a specific example to share with you. In Sault Ste Marie, an additional $200,000 will be pumped into the system. With this, the community decided that they would like to have 12 more people with disabilities able to find housing. They will live independently within the community with these dollars. Dollars are being allocated from the community to disabled people.
Reforms to Ontario's long-term-care system will simplify access, preserve existing community-based organizations and reduce administration through the establishment of the community care access centres.
At the present time, 70 people with disabilities are currently participating in a pilot project to test the option of receiving direct cash payments to recruit, manage and pay for their attendant care services. I have met with some of the people who are in this pilot project during the focus groups that I set up for long-term care.
We have invested $25 million in dialysis machines. We announced $23.5 million to enhance community-based mental health services. We've reinvested to get our people with acquired brain injury home. And we will provide $10 million this year, and it will grow to $20 million, to expand services for preschool children with speech and language disorders.
The government's commitment to the interests and dignity of persons with disabilities is not restricted just to the Ministry of Health. There are a number of other actions being taken across other ministries.
The Ministry of Housing remains committed to an Ontario building code that provides for full accessibility.
At the Ministry of Transportation, funding to municipalities for specialized transit services for people with disabilities will remain at the current levels for the next two years. Fully accessible conventional transit services is part of the ministry's "family of services" concept of services for people with special transportation needs. This includes specialized transit, community buses and accessible taxis, and it will be achieved in an efficient and fiscally responsible manner.
In reforming the welfare system, we have protected income support for seniors and people with disabilities. The government in its budget has announced plans to move seniors and people with disabilities off welfare and on to an Ontario guaranteed support plan that meets their needs, respects their dignity and continues to protect their benefits.
Mr Agostino: When? When are you going to do it?
The Acting Speaker: The member for Hamilton East, order, please.
Mrs Johns: At the Ministry of Education, incentive funding to colleges and universities is provided to assist them in meeting their legal obligations to accommodate the needs of students with disabilities, and this funding will be maintained at its current level.
It is mandatory for school boards to provide or purchase from other boards special education programs and services for students with exceptional needs.
Lastly, as part of the ministry's contribution to the equal opportunity plan, which the member for Nepean will discuss in further detail, MET will soon be releasing policy statements on workplace equal opportunity and anti-discrimination education to school boards, colleges and universities.
So indeed, this government is showing its commitment to people with disabilities. As we move forward with work in these areas, we will continue to encourage input from all interested parties on how to effectively address the concerns of people with disabilities.
Mr Agostino: I rise in support of the resolution of the member for London Centre. I'm somewhat surprised that the member on the government side of the House would actually talk of the accomplishments this government has made in relation to the disabled community. Maybe I can outline some of those accomplishments.
The first thing this government did was cut 5% of all agencies across this province that deal with the disabled community: the Canadian Paraplegic Association, the Canadian Deaf-Blind Association, the Ontario March of Dimes, the Canadian Hearing Society, the CNIB, and the list goes on and on.
Then they cut funding to municipalities, which impacted transit:
Wheel-Trans in Toronto, DARTS in Hamilton.
Then they decided they were going to cut welfare benefits, and they promised they were going to protect seniors and disabled. My colleague across the floor just spoke of that commitment. Let me remind my colleague that as of the end of March there were still 12,438 seniors and disabled receiving a reduced welfare rate when you promised in the Common Sense Revolution you were going to move them to a protected category. You have failed to do so. It's almost been a year and you still have over 12,000 seniors and disabled who have had their benefits cut when you promised you weren't going to do that. That's the commitment this government's talking about.
We're now talking about redefining "disability." That's a great buzzword for saying, "We're going to find a way of ensuring that less people are eligible for disability benefits across Ontario, and we'll move those individuals to the welfare system as well," so they can get less benefits and the government can save more money. I can tell you that's what it will mean. When the redefinition of "disability" comes down, you will see a definition that will limit in scope, in magnitude, the number of people who receive disability benefits in Ontario, and that will be a smaller number than it is today.
In regard to this resolution, what we're talking about here today is simply an opportunity for the government to act, to do what it said during the election it was going to do. It's not a question of special rights, it's not a question of special privileges, there's a question of equal access and equal opportunity. The Ontarians with Disabilities Act would ensure that by the year 2000 we will have a truly barrier-free province in every aspect.
In my own community of Hamilton-Wentworth, a great deal of work has been done. We've had the advisory committee on the physically disabled, headed by Councillor Geraldine Copps, who is here with us today -- and many of the members of the committee are here in the gallery -- which over the years, for a very small amount of dollars but a great deal of work and dedication and commitment, has made tremendous strides and tremendous progress in Hamilton-Wentworth in removing many of the barriers that exist in our community. Much has been done; a great deal more has to occur.
My father spent 23 years in a wheelchair as a result of an industrial accident, so I know at first hand the barriers, I know at first hand the difficulties, I know at first hand the struggles that many individuals have to go through. What this act is simply asking is for the government to move to ensure that the barriers that are there in education, in job training, in access to government information, in communications, in transportation, in goods and services and facilities, are removed. It is a simple question of equality. It is a simple question of acting on a commitment that was made.
The disabled community doesn't need to be patronized, doesn't need to be patted on the head and made to feel good, doesn't need wonderful words to tell them how wonderful they are. What the community needs is action. You are the government. You have the power to act, and within the mandate. My fear is that if you wait and you wait and you wait and you introduce some wonderful action in 1999, or some response to this three or four years from now, the time will run short. The goal of a truly barrier-free province by the year 2000 will not be met, because you can't do that kind of change in a year. You can't make those types of changes in six months.
I urge the government to act today on its commitment. The commitment is clear, it's unequivocal, and the one way we can get that ball rolling today
-- I know the two opposition parties are going to support this resolution
-- is to have the government members support the resolution. This is a free vote. This is an opportunity for you to move away from the clutches and the restraints of government and cabinet and speak out on behalf of your constituents and send a clear message to the Premier and to the cabinet that we want to ensure that the Ontarians with Disabilities Act is proclaimed and moved upon very quickly.
I urge government members to support this. You will be sending the best signal that any of us in the House can send today by supporting this resolution and not doing what is necessarily feel good, not doing what is necessarily special or different, but doing what is right and what is equal and what is necessary in this province.
Mr David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre): I want to take just a moment before our critic, the member for Fort York, expands on our position on this issue. Like my colleague for Hamilton East, I wish to recognize the work that's been done in our community of Hamilton-Wentworth and particularly to note that my former seatmate, Alderman Geraldine Copps, is here today, who, for all the time that I have known her, has devoted the majority of her effort in the interests of helping the disabled in our community. I'm pleased to see that she's here today to represent Hamilton-Wentworth and to be a part of this important issue.
I want to say very directly to the government that the most vulnerable people in this province are, first of all, the ones you've gone after first, the ones you've gone after the hardest, and they're the most frightened in this province. The government ought to believe it; people are frightened. Your agenda hurts people. Your agenda denies people hope. It denies people an opportunity to have a decent standard of living and a decent quality of life. Here's an issue that you ran on. One of your promises was that you would do something about this issue. If this government is going to hide behind weasel words like economic goalposts, then this is nothing more than a blatant broken promise.
The very least this government can do for the disabled, if they won't advance their cause, at the very least, keep your one promise to the most vulnerable you made in this society and do something in this area. Show you have at least a drop of human compassion because, quite frankly, there are millions of Ontarians who are convinced you don't care about them at all, and there's growing evidence that is the case.
I look to my colleague from Fort York and I thank my colleague from London Centre for raising this issue, but it's the government that has the responsibility, morally, legally and ethically, and we call on them to keep that commitment.
The Acting Speaker: Order. I would like to remind the people in the gallery that you're not allowed to applaud; only the members on the floor, not the members in the gallery. Further debate?
Mr Baird: In the time left available to me, I would like to examine a number of initiatives coming out of the Ministry of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation in this government.
For instance, the ministry has within its purview the Ontario Human Rights Commission. The Ontario Human Rights Code provides for protection against discrimination on the grounds of disability. The goal of the code is to ensure that all Ontarians have equal rights and opportunities in employment, accommodation, goods and services, and facilities.
This government recognizes that persons with disabilities face physical and attitudinal barriers which often prevent them from being judged on their merit and from achieving their full potential. To help persons with disabilities participate in the paid workforce and in the volunteer sector, the equal opportunity plan launched following the repeal of the former government's quota legislation will include a fund to support access and accommodation.
Officials within the ministry are refining program design, assessing alternative service delivery options and actively implementing initial deliverables. Employer associations, employers and other parties have been contacted and are playing a leading role in equal opportunity partnerships. Management Board, the Ministry of the Solicitor General and the Ministry of Education and Training are implementing specific equal opportunity initiatives for their sectors.
Through our government's equal opportunity plan, we are establishing a fund to support access and accommodation for persons with disabilities, to participate in both the paid workforce and in the volunteer sector. The Ministry of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation, the Ministry of Community and Social Services and the Ministry of Health will develop proposals for a pilot project to test cost-effective accommodation components of employment-related programs for persons with disabilities.
We're making plans for a one-window information referral service, a clearinghouse of equal opportunity business resources, demonstration projects to encourage best practices and partnership building, and training in education through workshops, conferences and alternative formats.
We are committed to equal opportunity for all Ontarians through the development of an equal opportunity strategy. We are promoting fairness, removing workplace barriers and helping build an Ontario where hiring and promotion decisions are based on merit.
Last month, the Minister of Citizenship announced the initiative for vulnerable adults. This was the government's response to the legislated end of the Advocacy Commission as part of Bill 19. This government's approach to advocacy is non-intrusive. It supports community-based services without creating new legislation or duplicating services. Our approach provides support to families, volunteers, community workers and health professionals who are already delivering excellent services.
I know the honourable member opposite sat on the committee which examined Bill 19, and she and her colleague the member for Fort York delighted in repeating during the hearings and afterwards that this government would not provide any financial assistance to those most vulnerable in our society.
In the debate on third reading, they asked for $3 million. They said that's what deputations had asked for. Well, our initiative for vulnerable adults has committed $3 million -- let me repeat that -- $3 million to a community-based approach to supporting the dignity and interests of vulnerable adults.
The support for advocacy services will include the coordination of community-based advocacy through community development and other assistance, including a refocusing and near doubling of the community action fund to $2.25 million; funding for an information and referral service including a toll-free line; funding for a clearinghouse for resource materials, and materials to support training and education efforts; a requirement that provincially funded and operated institutions provide accessible ways for dealing with the concerns of vulnerable adults.
Mr Christopherson: You cut $25 million.
The Acting Speaker: The member for Hamilton Centre, you had your turn.
Mr Baird: As well, the ministry is looking at strategies to deal with abuse and neglect when it occurs. These strategies, among many others, include developing minimum safeguards to protect against abuse in institutions; working with stakeholders to develop and implement protocols to address abuse and neglect; developing guidance for enhancing police response to elder abuse; reviewing current practice with respect to prosecutions of abuse against vulnerable adults -- regrettably, I don't have time to list them all.
To conclude, I would be remiss if I did not bring to the attention of this House a rather curious inconsistency in the sponsorship of this resolution by the member opposite. This inconsistency should be addressed by the honourable member before we vote on this resolution. Why is it that today the honourable member for London Centre calls on the government to implement an ODA when her government failed to act on an ODA when it had the chance?
In a survey presented by the member's interest group, the party position was, "This is an issue that will be considered by the government in its second term." However, this is the same government which let the former member for York East's bill die on the order paper. Why didn't they call it for debate? Was it a busy legislative agenda? Did the House not have time to consider the legislation? The House only sat for some 20 days in the year leading up to the election campaign. It's curious why in five years, with so much free, available legislative time, not one single vote on final reading was ever called on this legislation. I think it's very important to point that out.
Mr Tony Ruprecht (Parkdale): I'm delighted today to support this resolution by the member for London Centre, because it is essential that we discuss this matter today.
I am reminded that in the past each of our parties made promises to the disabled community, and when we're being examined today, each of our parties could have done better.
Are we asking something extraordinary today from the government? No, we're not. We're simply asking that a promise to establish the Ontarians with Disabilities Act be kept. Obviously it is essential to ensure justice and fairness in Ontario. Justice and fairness mean access to jobs, justice and fairness mean access to our transportation systems, justice and fairness mean access to education and a host of other things.
If you will permit me to give you just a bit of history, in 1983, the United Nations proclaimed the Decade of Disabled Persons for the whole world.
The Acting Speaker: Order, please. You're not allowed to use any props in the House, please.
Mr Rosario Marchese (Fort York): It's not a prop; it's a scroll.
The Acting Speaker: Just place it back on the desk. You can refer to it, but I would ask you to refrain from using a prop in the House.
Mr Ruprecht: I want to read from it.
The Acting Speaker: Put it on your desk and you can read from it.
Mr Ruprecht: I will read it, Mr Speaker.
In 1983 the United Nations proclaimed the Decade of Disabled Persons. What did the party in power do? Did they immediately act on the resolution of the United Nations? No. It was pushed aside. In fact it was pushed aside until 1985, and at that time, of course, I had the honour to become Ontario's first minister for disabled persons. But at least the government, within 30 days, acted on the Decade of Disabled Persons and immediately established a secretariat with a special minister to ensure that the promises that had been made previously were kept and some guidelines were to be established.
What are those guidelines that all of us agreed on, that each party signed, that in fact the whole community signed in Ontario? The principles are:
"(1) That the dignity, independence and potential of persons with disabilities will be respected in all aspects of life.
"(2) That persons with disabilities have equal rights and equal obligations in common with all citizens to participate in and contribute to community life.
"(3) That efforts will be made to increase public knowledge and awareness of the abilities and needs of persons with disabilities in order to break down the barriers which exist due to a lack of understanding and outmoded attitudes.
"(4) Public cooperation will be sought to promote positive action in broadening access of persons with disabilities into the life of the community.
"(5) Services and programs will be aimed at integrating persons with disabilities into existing social and economic structures" -- the word you like so much.
"(6) Consultation will take place among governments in all sectors of society to ensure a coordinated effort will be established."
We all signed this and we tried to ensure that these will be guidelines not only for all Ontarians to understand but guidelines and principles for all of us to follow. Have we kept that promise? No. I'm reminded two years ago I was asking at that time the present government of the NDP, "Where is the minister of disability?" Two years ago, I couldn't find him because he was axed or she was axed, gone.
I asked the second question: "Where is the secretariat of disabled persons? Where did they disappear to?" The same question can be replied with the same answer: axed and gone. The reason I'm bringing this to your attention today is because all of us agree essentially on the principles and today we can do something about it. I support the resolution by the honourable member for London North; her colleagues support the resolution; all of us will support the resolution. I hope that the government, you too, who are speaking right now, will also support this resolution.
Why am I asking that question? Because I'm simply saying all of us could have done better and we have a chance right now to support this resolution simply because we're not asking anything out of the ordinary, we're asking for simple justice and fairness for Ontario's disabled persons, and today is the day that we can at least maintain part of our promise.
Mr Marchese: I'm very happy to stand today to support the resolution from the member for London Centre, because I think it is an important resolution and she has been a very strong advocate in this field for a very long time.
I want to speak to some of the comments that have been made by the members from Huron and Nepean. I think the pernicious actions of this government vis-à-vis the issues of equity are very, very transparent.
The previous government introduced employment equity legislation that was designed to deal with issues of inequality as it relates to women, people of colour, people with disabilities and aboriginal people. We did that with the knowledge that historically these groups have not had the same access to employment equity, to employment fairness in the workplace. We introduced another piece of legislation, the Advocacy Act. Through the Advocacy Commission we thought and felt that people, frail seniors and people with disabilities, would once and for all have a voice they have not had for a long, long time. We did it with the knowledge that people in the field for 20 years were screaming for an Advocacy Act. We had introduced it.
Mr Marchese: One of the members says it didn't work. They had barely five months to begin to introduce a system to bring about greater fairness for these people and these members say it didn't work. Your pernicious actions are very transparent. In a matter of weeks, with a few simple words, you repealed the Employment Equity Act and you repealed the Advocacy Act. You have absolutely no shame when it comes to destroying everything we tried to do that restores, gives people with disabilities, people who have been traditionally shut out, an opportunity for greater fairness. You have broken all that down, tearing it down, and you're not building anything with your actions.
So what does this government say? "Don't worry. Employment equity is gone, but you are all equal. Discrimination is against the law so you should all feel good about the fact that because discrimination is against the law, you are all equal. Therefore, there is no discrimination against women, no discrimination against people of colour, no discrimination against people with disabilities because it's against the law." If it were against the law, why does discrimination continue to exist?
I alluded to a study that the Ministry of Citizenship did the other day where four in 10 Chinese Canadians said, "There's discrimination against us." The response from the Minister of Citizenship was, "Discrimination is against the law." I guess Chinese Canadians should go home and feel good because this government says we are all equal and there is therefore no discrimination. But the people who are hurt by discriminatory attitudes know that discrimination continues and that what you have done by repealing the Employment Equity Act and the Advocacy Act is a despicable, inexcusable act, and those people affected by it will not forget it.
The member for Huron continues and says, "We have an equity plan." Nobody knows what the equity plan is. No one in government knows what the equity plan is because there is no plan. There is no plan that gives equity to people who traditionally have been discriminated against. She talks about the resolution here that speaks to the fact that this government in 1995, May 24, promised to deliver an Ontario Disability Act. She says, "Ah, but there are a few words following that, and those few words are `within the economic goalposts.'" What does that mean? They're taking down the net.
They're taking the posts and the net is gone. That's really what it means.
There was no promise if you accompany the whole promise by having economic goalposts. If you take the posts away, there is no promise any more, which means you didn't mean to promise it, except to deceive these people that somehow when you went into government you would do something about it --
complete flim-flam deception from this government on this very issue.
The Tories talk about the few millions of dollars that they're putting in to support seniors, that they're putting in to support women on issues of breast cancer, the $5 million they're putting to feed the kids in the schools, but they fail to remind you they have taken $8.3 billion out of the budget by next year, $8.3 billion gone. Then they say, "Oh, but we're putting in a few million dollars to protect women, to protect people with disabilities, to protect seniors and to give food to the children in the schools." But they've taken the base and the foundation away. They've torn down the building. They take a few bricks, give them back and say, "But look what we're doing for women, for seniors, for people with disabilities." Does that make sense to those of you listening here, to those of you who have been able to be here today to witness this? Does that make sense? I say it doesn't make sense.
They refer to the Human Rights Code as the mechanism for dealing with discrimination, and they say: "But we've got that in place, so don't worry. If you've got a problem with discrimination on the basis of a disability, on the basis of race, you can go to the Human Rights Commission. And don't worry, we promised that once we would get rid of the Employment Equity Commission, we would put some of that money back." Lo and behold, they did not. I knew they would not. These are promises that are very empty when it comes to issues of this sort.
The couple of million dollars they said they would put back to the Ontario Human Rights Commission is not there; in fact, they took $700,000 away from the Human Rights Commission. But they say, "That's okay, because by taking money out of the system, we're going to make it more efficient." That's what they say. They say, "We are going to do more with less." We know the story of Jesus around this, but I'm not sure the Tories can do it.
The Acting Speaker: Order. No interjections, please.
Mr Marchese: We've heard about Jesus being able to do some miracles of this kind, but surely the Tories, as all of you here have witnessed, not just today but over a period of time, can't do it. They cannot do more with less. It's quite obvious. It's contradictory. You cannot do more by taking out a lot. It seems in the Tory world, the Disneyland of the Tories, they can do it, but those who are watching and listening know that you cannot.
The Human Rights Commission is a good thing. The Human Rights Code is an important thing, because it says, "You shall not discriminate," and it's a good mechanism and tool for people to have. The problem is, it's complaint-driven. It says that where you have been aggrieved, where there is a problem and you feel there has been discrimination, you've got to take it there to the Human Rights Commission, and then the loops in the Human Rights Commission -- so many of you here today know the loops you've got to get through to get your case heard.
But don't worry, those of you present today. The Tories are going to make it better, because they're taking money away and they're going to do more with less. So your case, if you get there, will be dealt with. It will not be dealt with very easily, because the backlog is long, because it takes a great deal of time, because it takes a huge effort from an individual who seeks redress to get there and then to suffer the length of time that it takes to get your story dealt with. It takes a long, long time.
So the Human Rights Code and the Human Rights Commission are important to have, but it's not enough. We need something more. We need to be able to deal with physical barriers that are in society at every imaginable level; arbitrary measures that prevent full participation in employment, in job training, in housing, in public and private transportation, in goods, facilities and services. We need to remove those barriers, those physical barriers, and we need to deal with attitudinal barriers that are within the system, that are systemic, and they're not going to go away.
Voluntary educational opportunities, voluntary educational programs, will not work; they do not work. We need a law. You, Conservative government, have made a promise. Your leader, and perhaps some of you don't know this, made a promise, May 24, 1995, that he would deliver through an Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
Mr Peter L. Preston (Brant-Haldimand): Where's yours?
Mr Marchese: No, not where's mine; where is yours? You made that promise, and you like to keep your promises. Except when you go after the vulnerable, you don't keep them. But when you have to go to get money from the very wealthy, who are avoiding paying their taxes, you take your sweet time to do it.
We need an Ontarians with Disabilities Act to supplement the Human Rights Code, an act that would promote the removal of serious existing barriers and prevent the erection of new barriers; an act that would provide specific direction to employers, landlords, service providers, manufacturers in housing and transportation. We need an effective process for enforcement, and we hope, through this resolution and through the act that your Premier has promised to introduce, that finally we will get justice for people who have been excluded for a very long time. Hopefully, you will remedy your mistakes of having repealed the Employment Equity Act and the Advocacy Act and eliminated the Anti-Racism Secretariat through this promise of introducing an Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
Mr Frank Klees (York-Mackenzie): Periodically, matters come before this House that would allow us to set aside partisan rhetoric, and I believe that this resolution would have been one of those and should have been one of those resolutions that would have allowed us to do that. Unfortunately, that didn't happen.
But what I would like to do is take this opportunity to commend the member for London Centre for bringing this resolution forward. I also believe very strongly that it's very important that we, as a government, do as we said we would do and protect those who are the most vulnerable in our province. I agree with the member when in her resolution she states that all persons should be able "to enjoy equal opportunity and full participation in the life of the province." I will be supporting this resolution.
Mr Mike Colle (Oakwood): I'm very happy to hear that the honourable member across the way is going to support it, because this is a free vote, and I think this gives every member on the other side an opportunity to support something they believe in. It encourages your government to proceed down the road to establishing the Ontarians with Disabilities Act. I know that you also always emulate initiatives south of the border. As you know, the American government has the Americans with Disabilities Act, so I think it's part of what you believe in, to follow good things they're doing south of the border.
I would just like to say that one specific example that concerns me about the government's track record on this is that there are sometimes things that happen below the surface. I know, rather than getting into statistics and budget numbers, the way your government has impacted on real people. I have a single mother in my riding who has a disabled child. One of the first things your government did was to cut her social assistance. I appealed to the minister and said: "This mother is the friend and caregiver of her disabled child. She dresses him, she clothes him, she walks him, she plays with him and takes him to school. When you cut $300 from that mother who stays at home taking care of her child and friend, you're cutting that disabled youngster." Despite that appeal, this mother right now cannot pay her property taxes and cannot put enough food on the table. That $300 a month not only affects the mother, who supposedly is able-bodied, but has been an impact on that disabled child who is part of her family.
That's where you've hurt people. It's not just a matter of numbers, it's not just a matter of economic goalposts; we're talking about human beings. We're not talking about sports or playing fields, we're not talking about economics; we're talking about human dignity.
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): In our society, people who do not require the intervention of government are the wealthy, the powerful and the privileged. Those who do need the intervention of government are the disabled, the disadvantaged and those unable to speak for themselves. We, as legislators, have that opportunity to speak for those who often are not in the major halls of power and do not have the advantages that others have.
Not that many years ago people with disabilities were relegated to the sidelines, left to fend for themselves and dependent upon the charity of others. Progress has been made in recent years, but it has often been with resistance from those who believe they have been inconvenienced.
Significant cuts have taken place by this government, these cuts have impacted adversely on the disabled and the families of the disabled and they have been unable to meet the needs they have as a result.
When people representing individuals who are developmentally challenged, people from the associations for community living, gathered on the front lawn of the Ontario Legislature a few years ago when the NDP government was in power -- they were there to protest the level of funding at that time -- members of the Conservative Party were very quick on that occasion to condemn and eager to support those who were on the front lawn.
Conservative members now have the chance to translate that express concern into action. They can do so by supporting this resolution, whose time has come, not only by supporting the words in the assembly this morning, not only by rising in their seats to vote in favour of it, but also by acting upon the provisions of this resolution. The action will be the measure by which you are judged as opposed to simply the symbolic standing in the Legislature.
I encourage all members of the Legislature to rise and support this motion and to ensure that the government moves forward to implement its provisions.
Mrs Boyd: I'm pleased to stand and summarize the debate for this resolution. I have listened with great care to the members of the opposition, as have, I am sure, all the people here to hear this: my daughter, who is a 25-year-old with multiple sclerosis; two of our former colleagues, one born with a disability and one having acquired a disability; and all the others here and in the rooms in this place who are going to be watching to see whether this government is going to keep its promise.
The weasel words in the promise are enough to protect you, because if you make it possible for disabled people to be self-sufficient, to be taxpayers, it will be well within the goalposts of the Common Sense Revolution.
That is what these people are asking for. All they want out of life is to have the barriers that have been erected in the past destroyed, the barriers that we erect every day in the way we do things not to be erected in the future, and for us to actually give them equity, not equality. When you have a disability, equality is not the same thing as equity. Equity means that you actually have the chance to access that opportunity, and it cannot be on the basis of simple equality. They will always remain disadvantaged under those circumstances.
I urge the members of this House: This is our opportunity to keep a promise and it is an opportunity for us to dedicate ourselves to rectifying some of the wrongs of the past, to really show people that we do not just have fine words, that the dollars we have are not the most important thing. The most important thing is working with them to help them be productive and contributing members of society. That is all they want.
If in fact we destroy that opportunity by making it impossible for school boards to continue the supportive work towards equity for students -- and many, many school boards are telling us, and I know they're telling you, that the job of providing that opportunity, certainly within the local community, is disappearing, given the cuts that have happened to education.
We know, yes, there's some money going in to help disabled students in universities, but I can tell you, those who try to get around most universities know that it is a drop in the bucket to what needs to be done. And let's look around us here today. Those of us who cope every day with this wonderful historic building know what barriers are and we know how hard and how difficult it is to try and remove those barriers. But the last three governments of Ontario have been committed to doing that in this place, and we know we have not yet succeeded; we know we must keep on trying. We can do that in other places.
The member for Brantford says he can't vote for the first resolution because of a promise made by the government. Let me tell you, you must vote for this resolution because you also made a promise to the disabled of this province.
The Acting Speaker (Mr Gilles E. Morin): We will now deal with ballot item number 30, standing in the name of Mrs Boyd. If any members are opposed to a vote on this ballot item, will they please rise.
Mrs Boyd has moved private member's notice of motion number 18. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry?
All those in favour will please say "aye."
All those opposed will please say "nay."
In my opinion, the ayes have it.
The Acting Speaker (Mr Gilles E. Morin): We will now vote on the private member's notice of motion number 19, introduced by Mrs Boyd.
All those in favour of the motion will please rise and remain standing until your names are called.
Agostino, Dominic; Galt, Doug; McLeod, Lyn Baird, John R.; Gerretsen, John; Munro, Julia Barrett, Toby; Grandmaître, Bernard; Ouellette, Jerry J. Bisson, Gilles; Gravelle, Michael; Parker, John L. Boushy, Dave; Hastings, John; Phillips, Gerry Boyd, Marion; Johns, Helen; Preston, Peter Bradley, James J.; Johnson, Bert; Ramsay, David Brown, Michael A.; Johnson, Ron; Rollins, E.J. Douglas Christopherson, David; Jordan, Leo; Ruprecht, Tony Chudleigh, Ted; Klees, Frank; Sampson, Rob Churley, Marilyn; Kormos, Peter; Shea, Derwyn Colle, Mike; Kwinter, Monte; Sheehan, Frank Cordiano, Joseph; Lalonde, Jean-Marc; Silipo, Tony Crozier, Bruce; Laughren, Floyd; Stockwell, Chris Curling, Alvin; Marchese, Rosario; Turnbull, David Doyle, Ed; Martel, Shelley; Wildman, Bud Duncan, Dwight; Martin, Tony; Wood, Bob Fisher, Barbara; Martiniuk, Gerry; Wood, Len Froese, Tom; McGuinty, Dalton.
Clerk of the House (Mr Claude L. DesRosiers): The ayes are 56; the nays are 0.
ACCESSIBILITY FOR THE DISABLED.
Mrs Marion Boyd (London Centre): My question is for the Minister of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation. Madam Minister, in the Common Sense Revolution, your election document, your government promised that aid for seniors and the disabled would not be cut, and yet despite that promise, over the last few months we've watched your government strip away many of the gains the disabled community and previous governments had worked hard to achieve.
On May 24, 1995, your Premier promised, first, that he would see that an Ontarians with Disabilities Act was enacted within the first term of your office; second, that he would work with the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee to achieve that. Since the election, the Premier has refused to meet with the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee and has referred them to you. To this point, you have not had the decency to meet with them or to discuss this matter or to make a commitment.
This morning, the few members of your caucus who were present passed a resolution endorsing that the government follow the promise of the Premier. My question for you, Madam Minister, is, first, will you also stand up today and endorse the resolution that your government keep its promise to bring forward an Ontarians with Disabilities Act within this term, and second, will you commit to meet with the committee that has been formed from a coalition of many, many different groups, and has been working on this issue for some time, within the next month?
Hon Marilyn Mushinski (Minister of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation): I have said before and I'm going to say it again and I'm going to repeat it today that this government is absolutely committed to the interests and dignity of persons with disabilities, and we are particularly sensitive to the challenges they face both in the workplace and wider society. Let me tell you some of the things we have done.
We introduced an equal opportunity plan that spoke specifically to including a component on disability and the workplace. Included in that disability component is assistance for employers and employees with respect to barrier removal for persons with disabilities.
We are going to enhance the access fund to provide access and job accommodation opportunities for persons with disabilities.
We have established a pilot project that will test consumer-focused approaches to job accommodation programs.
We are developing a new community-based approach to support the dignity and interests of vulnerable persons and have dedicated $3 million to that program.
We are also reforming the Ontario Human Rights Commission and Ontario Human Rights Code to enable full opportunity for access to that code for people with disabilities.
Mrs Boyd: The member for Nepean already read that list into the record this morning, but thank you for repeating it. I guess you didn't feel you had time to commit yourself to endorsing the resolution this morning and working with the committee to accomplish it. The people who have disabilities in this province are finding it hard to buy your commitment to barrier removal.
We had another example yesterday in this building, when this government refused to ensure barrier reduction services. Prior to the election, the Premier said, "A Harris government would work to ensure that all new intercity buses purchased in Ontario are fully accessible." That was his promise, and remember, this is a Premier who says if he breaks his promise, he'll resign. Yet yesterday, at the standing committee on resources development, your government colleagues voted down a proposed amendment presented by the Transportation Action Now group that would eliminate obstacles to ensure the accessibility of intercity buses. The actions of your caucus last night broke your government's promise to the disabled community. We want your assurance today that you will commit to include those amendments in Bill 39 to keep the government's promise to ensure accessibility to intercity buses.
Hon Ms Mushinski: I find this interesting coming from the member who for a year sat on an Ontario disabilities act, did nothing about it and allowed it to die on the order paper. But having said that, let me tell you that fully accessible transit services continue to remain --
The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): Order. I can't hear the minister.
Hon Ms Mushinski: Let me tell you that fully accessible transit services remain a long-term goal of this government. We are committed to working cooperatively with the transit industry --
The Speaker: Order. I'm having a problem hearing.
Hon Ms Mushinski: -- in providing effective and efficient transportation services that will meet the needs of all citizens in Ontario.
Let me also say that Bill 39 is interim legislation which all parties agreed to pass quickly to maintain a regulated environment in the intercity busing industry until full deregulation occurs, scheduled for 1998. This government will be willing to enact such legislation at the appropriate time after full consultation with other disabled groups and the industry has taken place, just as we did with repealing the Advocacy Act.
ACCESSIBILITY FOR THE DISABLED.
Mr Dominic Agostino (Hamilton East): My question is to the Minister of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation. To go back to the point made by the member for London Centre earlier, this morning hundreds of disabled individuals from across Ontario came to the Legislature looking for some hope, for some leadership and some direction from your government. They came here looking for a commitment that your Premier made when he went out during the election campaign and promised to the community that he would enact legislation, that he would enact the Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
I'm astonished at your response to the member for London Centre. You did not answer the question. You have refused to meet with the organization; your Premier has refused to meet with the organization; you refuse to outline a timetable.
A very simple question, Minister -- and I don't want to hear what you've done in the past; I want to know what you're going to do in the future: Will you meet with this organization? When will you bring in the legislation your Premier promised during the election campaign?
Hon Marilyn Mushinski (Minister of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation): I think I need to remind the member what was said during the election campaign that he referred to. I'm quoting from the ARCH, or Advocacy Resource Centre for the Handicapped, May-June survey of the three political parties during last year's election. This is what our party said. It said that "a Harris government would be willing to enact an Ontario with Disabilities Act within the first term of office, within the economic goalposts of the Common Sense Revolution."
Quite clearly, some of the initiatives we have taken that I alluded to in my response to the honourable member for London Centre are addressing those particular issues with respect to disability.
Mr Agostino: It's a disgraceful answer from a disgraceful minister. I cannot understand --
The Speaker (Hon Allan K. McLean): Order. I ask the member if he would reconsider the word "disgraceful."
Mr Agostino: The minister sits there, was asked specifically why she refuses to meet with the disabled community, doesn't answer; was asked specifically when she's going to enact the legislation, doesn't answer; and then gives us the garbage that says, "We're going to enact this within the economic goalposts."
What you're saying to the people of Ontario is that these goalposts, as you set them in some part of the field you may have burned down and destroyed already -- what you're saying is that the issue of equality, that the issue of equal access, that the issue of education and jobs for the disabled community depends on your economic goalposts. What you're saying is that your priority to give a 30% cut to the rich is more important than ensuring equal access for the disabled in this province. Minister, that is a disgrace.
The Speaker: What's your question?
Mr Agostino: Minister, without telling me what you've done in the past, can you tell us today why you're refusing to meet with the committee, and can you tell us again a time line when you're going to bring in this legislation and stop playing games with the disabled community across Ontario?
The Speaker: The question has been asked.
Hon Ms Mushinski: I can assure the honourable member that indeed I have not refused to meet and, at their request, they delayed such a meeting. I will be meeting with them in June and it has already been scheduled.
ACCESSIBILITY FOR THE DISABLED.
Mr Rosario Marchese (Fort York): This morning we passed unanimously a resolution that was introduced by my colleague the member for London Centre. It reads as follows:
"That in the opinion of this House, since persons with disabilities in Ontario face systemic barriers in access to employment, services, goods, facilities and accommodation; and
"Since all Ontarians will benefit by the removal of these barriers, thereby enabling these persons to enjoy equal opportunity and full participation in the life of the province;
"Therefore, the government of Ontario should keep its promise as set out in the letter from Michael D. Harris to the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee, dated May 24, 1995...."
People with disabilities, who came here in great numbers from London, Hamilton, Toronto and many other areas, demand full participation in society as people who deserve and want to work and want to contribute in society. They want physical barriers removed. They want attitudinal barriers to be dealt with by government in a proactive way.
They say that the Human Rights Code is not enough, that they need something much more proactive to be able to deal with discrimination as it relates to people with disabilities. They want Mike Harris, the Premier of this province, to keep his promise and deliver on the Ontarians with Disabilities Act. We urge him and the minister to meet with them as soon as possible to do that.
ACCESS TO LEGISLATIVE BUILDING.
Mr Dominic Agostino (Hamilton East): On a point of order, Mr Speaker: A question to you, you being in charge of the man responsible for the building. This morning there were a number of people who tried to have access to the gallery who were in wheelchairs. As a result of limited space and limited access, many dozens of individuals in wheelchairs could not be in the gallery to see the proceedings on a bill or on a resolution by the member for London Centre on the Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Also, a number of people needed sign-language interpreting, and as a result of services not being provided, had those individuals not brought their own interpreters, they would not have been able to have access to the proceedings in the House.
I would like to ask you, as Speaker responsible for this building and for accessibility to this building, if you can investigate what can be done to improve the situation in here, to ensure that we have adequate spaces for people in wheelchairs and that we have adequate services available for sign language and others that disabled individuals would require to access this building.
The Speaker: The member has made his point.
Mrs Marion Boyd (London Centre): Mr Speaker, on the same point of order: I've had occasion to write to you in the past around the issues of accessibility in this building and some of the concerns around safety in this building when the building has been evacuated and so on. It became very clear to us, with very few visitors actually; only about 200 of the visitors who wanted to be here could actually come to the building and our inability to deal with that number of citizens who have special problems became very clear. I would join the member for Hamilton East in asking that you involve the members of this assembly in trying to come up with the kinds of solutions we need to come up with to be sure we are accessible to our constituents.
The Speaker: I appreciate very much the members bringing that to my attention. We understand the problem we're having at the north end of the building, but my aim is to have a new ramp put in the main entrance of the building and that is what I would like to see happen.