WITH DISABILITIES LEGISLATION
Ms Marilyn Churley (Toronto-Danforth): Later I will be presenting a motion written in Braille as a symbol of one of the many barriers people living with disabilities face in Ontario today.
My statement endorses the only thing any Tory government member has done for people living with disabilities in this and other legislative sessions. It supports the bill put forward by MPP David Young to make June Deaf-Blind Awareness Month.
While the effort is honourable, the simple reality is that hundreds of thousands of people living with disabilities in Ontario are begging this government to keep their promise and bring in a strong and meaningful Ontarians with Disabilities Act. This government continues to refuse. You might be willing to dedicate an awareness month, but you refuse to bring in laws that would tear down barriers to the disabled in Ontario, barriers like the inability to have a simple statement read aloud in Braille in the Legislature, which is supposed to represent all Ontarians, not just those with sight.
Today, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee is holding an event in the Legislature to raise awareness for the growing call to tear down barriers in Ontario. The NDP disability critic, Tony Martin, is holding a similar event today in his home riding of Sault Ste Marie.
We ask the same thing of this government: will you please make good on your promise to bring in an ODA? Stop stalling and table it here in the Legislature today.
My question has to do with the absence of an Ontarians with Disabilities Act, yet to appear--
The Speaker (Hon Gary Carr): Stop the clock please; sorry to interrupt. Order. On to the next question. Sorry for the interruption, leader of the official opposition. You can start again. We'll have the full minute.
Premier, you made that kind of promise five and a half years ago. Over two elections ago you made that promise, and you have yet to introduce in this Legislature a real Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Premier, why do you continue to fail Ontarians with disabilities?
Hon Michael D. Harris (Premier): You're quite right; we have committed to bring in an Ontarians with Disabilities Act. I think the minister has made the commitment in any one of a number of meetings from July 27 to September 28, on November 23, September 8, in meetings with Mr Lepofsky of Ontarians with disabilities, and indicated that we would be consulting. She has been, as you know, consulting not only on an act but on a whole plan, not just legislation, for persons with disabilities and has made a commitment I think for 2001 that we would have legislation in place and hopefully, with your support, enacted.
We are in that consultation process and on schedule to meet those commitments.
Mr McGuinty: Premier, you have been dragging your feet for five and a half years on this very important issue, and when it comes to gaining some real insight as to what your true intentions are, I talked about that. The most important date you left out here was the date on your secret cabinet document: August 29, 2000. It's marked "Confidential," and I talked about it before in this Legislature. It says in this, and this is absolutely breathtaking, that you are firmly committed to use "existing mandatory requirements and enforcement." You're not talking about a new law with new teeth; you're talking about going ahead with the existing law, which is grossly inadequate.
You also say in this secret document that you are going to commit to strengthen penalties for unlawful use of disabled parking permits and spaces. I can tell you that kindled a great deal of warmth in the disabled community right across this province.
Premier, will you admit it now? Five and a half years ago you never had any real intention of helping out our disabled community, and to this very day you still have no intention whatsoever of coming to the assistance of our disabled community in making sure they find opportunity here in Ontario.
Hon Mr Harris: Au contraire. In fact we did introduce an Ontarians with Disabilities Act in the last session. It was the first of its kind in Canada. You wouldn't introduce the act; the NDP wouldn't introduce the act. I know you say it wasn't as strong as you'd like it, but it was more than you had done and more than the NDP had done.
In addition to that, a number had said we should go back to the drawing board and consult, which we have agreed to do, and we are on schedule with that process. In addition to that, in spite of the fact that we inherited an $11-billion deficit, since 1995 we have introduced some $800 million in new spending to the benefit of the disabled community. I can give you a few: $60 million in community living opportunities; in 1997 we announced $15 million more in additional funds to support adults and children with developmental disabilities in the community; another $3 million in 1998; in 1999, another $35 million more in support services to help persons with developmental disabilities live in the community; in 1999 another $2 million partnership--
The Speaker: Order. The Premier's time is up. Final supplementary.
Mr McGuinty: Premier, the jig is up. You have been found out. You have done nothing of substance during the last five and a half years. You're in your sixth year of government. Back in May 1995 you said you were going to introduce a real Ontarians with Disabilities Act, something that was going to be strong, something that had real teeth, something that would require that we have some real movement in Ontario to make sure that Ontarians with disabilities get a seat at the table of opportunity, and during the course of the past five and a half years you, Premier, have done nothing.
The question I have for you, on behalf of the one and a half million Ontarians with disabilities--and I'm talking about our brothers and our sisters, our sons and our daughters, our mothers and our fathers, all people who want to contribute, all people who have the right to achieve their potential--is, why do you continue to fail them?
Hon Mr Harris: I'm sorry the Liberal leader doesn't think $800 million is a substantial amount of money, but we, with the massive deficit we inherited, think it is. If I could perhaps continue with some of the list, in 1997 in the Ministry of Health, another $25 million over five years to match funds raised by the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation; another $20 million in 1996; $23.5 million of new money in 1996; $8.4 million of new money in 1995. So not only have we committed, unlike the Liberals when they were in power and unlike the NDP when they were in power, to bring in the first Ontarians with Disabilities Act in Canada--not only are we committed to that, not only are we consulting to do that--but even without the act, we have now announced over $800 million in brand new spending to the benefit of those with disabilities in Ontario. We're very proud of that record.
The Speaker (Hon Gary Carr): This is the last warning for the member for Hamilton East. Two seconds after I sit down, you're yelling across. Last warning. You yell out again, you're out for the day.
Mr Parsons: About a month ago, my leader, Dalton McGuinty, revealed to this Legislature a secret cabinet document detailing what your government proposed to do for an Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Though it's called an action plan, it's probably more appropriately called an inaction plan.
On October 25, you wrote to the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee and indicated you were very pleased with the strategy being employed by your government. I think "strategy" is a key word. It's not a plan, it's not beneficial; it's a strategy to sneak it into place. Then on November 1, you wrote and indicated how pleased you are with the minister's consultation that's taking place with the groups.
Premier, your minister refuses to hold any public consultations in this province for people with disabilities. Today in committee room 2, from 3 o'clock to 5 o'clock, there are over 75 Ontarians with disabilities here. I am inviting you to walk with me--take 10 minutes. I appreciate your voice is giving you a problem today. This would be a great opportunity to listen to Ontarians with disabilities. Ten minutes is all I ask. They've gone to great efforts to get here. Please join with me and listen to them today.
The Speaker: Premier?
Hon Michael D. Harris (Premier): Thank you, Mr Speaker.
The Speaker: Supplementary?
Mr Parsons: Speaker, was that a clear yes? I was unable to hear because of the shouting from the far side.
The Speaker: I'm not going to get into interpreting, unfortunately. You can ask your supplementary. He may confirm it in the supplementary.
Mr Parsons: I do struggle with the lack of support to this point, so I think it's great that you're willing to come and listen. I'm also quite convinced that you have a tight timeline on when you will pass an Ontarians with Disabilities Act, so that it is more than just the 10 minutes today. I would ask you, Premier, what is the date that you plan to introduce a meaningful Ontarians with Disabilities Act?
Hon Mr Harris: I thank the member for his invitation, and I appreciate the offer. I think the minister, as you know, met with the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee on September 8. She spoke with representatives on November 23, 1999. She met with them again on September 28, 1999. Minister Johns had a conversation with Mr Lepofsky on July 27, 1999, and the parliamentary assistant, on very short notice, offered to meet with the Ontarians with disabilities on their visit to the Legislature today, but I am told that meeting was refused by those representatives of whom you speak.
The timeline, as I understand it, is once the consultations are over and once we have reviewed all of the information--I would assume you wouldn't expect a bill today since a number of representatives are still meeting with you to try and give you advice--as they've given to the minister and when that exhaustive consultation process is complete, we'll meet the timeline that we committed to for 2001.
Premier, why do you continue to discriminate against Ontarians with disabilities?
Hon Michael D. Harris (Premier): As I indicated, while we have been consulting with all parties, we have introduced some $800 million more in supports for those with disabilities than your government had.
I'm really quite surprised at you bringing this issue up. You were part of a government that had an MPP, Gary Malkowski--because Gary couldn't get you and your government to move, he introduced his own private member's bill, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act. The record of you and your cabinet and your government was, you wouldn't even call it for second reading. It's a disgraceful record.
Mr Hampton: You're good at telling half the story. We brought in legislation which would have removed many of the barriers for disabled people in terms of employment, and that was one of the first pieces of legislation you threw out. So tell all the story, not just half of it.
Premier, we understand that your intention now is to make such an act voluntary so that your corporate friends wouldn't have to comply, that they could comply if they wish. In other words, you would further sanction the kind of discrimination now that has happened for six years under your government.
Premier, there are hundreds of activists here today from the disabled community. They are asking and we are asking after almost six years, six years after you made the promise, when are you going to bring in an Ontarians with Disabilities Act that has some teeth in it, that has some strength in it, so that you will stop discriminating against disabled people in Ontario?
Hon Mr Harris: I think you would know it's illegal to discriminate against disabled people in Ontario, thanks to the Human Rights Code provisions. I think you quite understand that.
I had indicated to you that we are consulting, and to members of all three parties who have a great interest in this area, but we did not scrap your Ontarians with Disabilities Act because you refused to pass it. You refused to support your own member. You used your majority to bury this kind of legislation, which is why we committed that we would consult extensively and bring forward a bill.
We did scrap a number of your silly ideas: your labour legislation that killed jobs and put union members out of work, the kind of legislation that discriminated against, and was proven discriminatory on, quotas. We eliminated some of the legislation. That's how we turned this province around.