Standing committee on social development.
Monday 3 February 1997.
Funding for persons with disabilities.
Advocacy Resource Centre for the Handicapped; Ontarians with Disabilities.
Mr David Baker.
Mr David Lepofsky.
STANDING COMMITTEE ON SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT.
Chair / Président: Ms Annamarie Castrilli (Downsview L),
Vice-Chair / Vice-Président: Mr Dwight Duncan (Windsor-Walkerville L),
Mrs Elinor Caplan (Oriole L),
*Mr Jack Carroll (Chatham-Kent PC),
Ms Annamarie Castrilli (Downsview L),
Mr David S. Cooke (Windsor-Riverside ND),
*Mr Dwight Duncan (Windsor-Walkerville L),
*Mr Tom Froese (St Catharines-Brock PC),
*Mrs Helen Johns (Huron PC),
Mr W. Leo Jordan (Lanark-Renfrew PC),
Ms Frances Lankin (Beaches-Woodbine ND),
*Mrs Lyn McLeod (Fort William L),
Mrs Julia Munro (Durham-York PC),
Mr Trevor Pettit (Hamilton Mountain PC),
Mr Peter L. Preston (Brant-Haldimand PC),
Mr Bruce Smith (Middlesex PC).
*In attendance / présents
Substitutions present / Membres remplaçants présents:
Mrs Barbara Fisher (Bruce PC) for Mr Preston,
Mr Michael Gravelle (Port Arthur L) for Ms Castrilli,
Mr Bert Johnson (Perth PC) for Mr Smith,
Mr Gerry Martiniuk (Cambridge) for Mrs Munro,
Mr John O'Toole (Durham East / -Est) for Mr Pettit,
Mr Derwyn Shea (High Park-Swansea PC) for Mr Jordan,
Also taking part / Autres participants et participantes:
Mrs Marion Boyd (London Centre / -Centre ND),
Clerk / Greffière: Ms Tonia Grannum
Staff / Personnel: Mr Ted Glenn, research officer, Legislative Research Service
The committee met at 1533 in room 228.
FUNDING FOR PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES.
Consideration of the designated matter pursuant to standing order 125 relating to the impact of the Conservative government's funding and funding cuts on persons with disabilities and their families.
ADVOCACY RESOURCE CENTRE FOR THE HANDICAPPED.
ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT COMMITTEE.
The Vice-Chair (Mr Dwight Duncan): I call the committee to order. We have one delegation today to speak to the committee, a group called ARCH, led by David Baker, executive director, David Lepofsky, co-chair, and Steven Kean.
Gentlemen, welcome. Please read your name into the record as you begin to speak.
Mr David Baker: Thank you very much. My name is David Baker. I'm executive director of ARCH. With me, and I will explain later the relevance of their participation, are David Lepofsky, co-chair of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee, and Steve Kean from the ODA committee. We'll be referring to three documents which I hope you have before you. The first one is headed Impact of Funding and Funding Cuts on Persons with Disabilities and their Families; the second is ARCH Alert; and the third is Enact the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Before Imposing Provincial Budget Cuts.
I'll be leading off. On behalf of ARCH's president, Ron McInnes, I would like to thank the members of the committee for inviting ARCH to present. We were pleased to have been invited, notwithstanding that we had not applied to present.
ARCH is a legal centre serving Ontario's disabled community. We have 55 member organizations representing most of the provincial disability organizations in Ontario, and we have representation from all disabilities and regions across the province. Notwithstanding that membership, ARCH rarely takes a position directly on an issue. Our role, as you will see today, is to provide information to disability organizations, serve as legal counsel to them, and represent individuals.
With respect to the committee's deliberations, we know that you have already heard from a number of disability organizations represented on our board of directors and also from coalitions we serve as legal counsel. What we propose doing is raising two issues with you briefly, and then I intend to address you in a different capacity, as legal counsel to the ODA committee, which is here represented by my colleagues.
The two issues we thought it would be useful to raise with you as points of information are two areas where the government has actually increased funding in the area of disability. We thought it was important to present these, but also to present what in practice is happening in those areas.
The first one, and I'll refer to them very briefly, concerns the relationship between housing and long-term care or attendant care for people with disabilities. This is an area where the government has committed significant additional resources, and we know that there is increasing demand in this area as hospitals close and also as the population ages and the number of people who require this kind of service increases.
What we wanted the committee to be aware of was the fact that there is an organization -- it happens to be in Waterloo -- where the government has committed an additional $800,000 to provide attendant care services to people with disabilities. This organization has a long, long waiting list -- they estimate 25 years -- for these kinds of services. These are people who are in chronic care hospitals or other, often acute care, hospitals, waiting for this service.
The problem, in a nutshell, is this: With the disappearance of supported housing and rent-geared-to-income housing, there are only two people off the waiting list who are able to pay the rents that must be paid at market level in order to live in the community with the benefit of this attendant care. So these are people who, unfortunately, carry on in much more expensive forms of care because they cannot afford the rents that must be paid in order to benefit from this excellent program. The program is concerned, because they are going to have most of their budget unspent at the end of the year, that the money will be taken away on the basis that the need is not there, but the need obviously is there. There's an enormous waiting list for services of this kind. It's the kind of thing which the hospital restructuring committee recommends should be happening. A dilemma.
We present the facts; we ask you to think about the implications of that. But clearly the government policy is not working out for the people it's designed to benefit in the way the government presumably intended it should.
The other area, which commences at page 4 of the brief, concerns education. You may be aware that the funding structure for most grants to school boards is on a per-registered-student basis. There is a special education component and a general component to the amount which is transferred to each school board by the province. The amount transferred as part of the special education component has actually increased with this government. The general component of the transfer to the school boards, of course, has been substantially reduced.
Because these grants are not based on actual expenditures, there is nothing at first glance that would prevent school boards from doing what is in fact happening out there, which is that a massive, disproportionate percentage of the cuts is affecting people with disabilities. The aides that permit students to be integrated into regular classes are being cut, special classes are being cut, and specialized services such as speech and language pathologists and psychologists are being cut by school boards.
I suppose the question one might raise is, what does this have to do with the provincial government? Well, under the Education Act, subsection 8(2), the Minister of Education is responsible to ensure that each and every exceptional pupil in the province is receiving an appropriate education, with appropriate special education programs and services. Under Ontario regulation 306, the ministry is required to receive plans that will outline the programs that are to be provided and any changes in the programs, and the ministry must approve those changes.
What is happening is that while the province is pointing, justifiably, to the fact that money is being increased for special education, the reality, as could easily be determined by looking at the plans, is that the programs are being massively cut for exceptional pupils, notwithstanding the increase in funding. The question I would ask is, is the minister prepared to use the authority the minister has to insist that the provincial grants be reflected in the way in which programs are delivered to exceptional pupils?
Those points of information being over, I would like to turn to Mr Lepofsky, who is co-chair of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee. ARCH serves this committee as legal counsel, and this is the only coalition which ARCH represents in this way which has not already presented to you. Mr Lepofsky has received the Order of Canada. If I may refer to the statement made at the time, Mr Lepofsky "has used his professional knowledge to work tirelessly to protect the rights of disabled people. He has helped to educate and sensitize the general public and legislators to the obstacles faced each day by disabled persons."
Without any further ado, I'd like to turn things over to him. He'll be referring to the third brief in front of you.
Mr David Lepofsky: Thank you very much, Mr Baker, and thank you to the committee for this opportunity. I begin by indicating two things: First, although I am a public servant, I am appearing in a personal capacity, not purporting to speak on behalf of my employer. Second, while Mr Baker has indicated that I have been honoured by my country for the work that I have done in this field, I hope that today constitutes an effort at continuing the responsibility I have undertaken by accepting that award, by seeking to assist in the education of this committee about barriers that we face as people with disabilities.
Let me introduce us by indicating first what the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee, of which I am co-chair, is. We are a voluntary, non-profit, non-funded coalition of individuals and community organizations which has united together for one purpose, and that is to secure the passage in Ontario of a new law which will achieve a barrier-free society for people with disabilities, a law we call the Ontarians with Disabilities Act. In making our presentation today, we wish to draw upon the knowledge and the expertise which our coalition uniquely has, involving more than 40 of our major community disability groups as well as hundreds of individuals with disabilities from across this province.
We wish to build upon the presentations you've heard up until today and to communicate a very simple, clear message. Our message is this: The cuts which the government has imposed have had a disproportionately harmful impact on people with disabilities in this province; those cuts have hurt the most vulnerable of the citizens of this province; those cuts have been planned and implemented or will be implemented in a fashion which is not designed to avoid this adverse disproportionate impact; the harms that those cuts will impose on us are preventable; and the way in which they could best be prevented would be for the government to pass an Ontarians with Disabilities Act before it undertakes its program of cuts and restructuring so that the act we seek can achieve that which is not being achieved now, and that is a government process of reorganization in a fashion which does not create new barriers for us.
Let me turn first, to make these points, to explain what an Ontarians with Disabilities Act would be. People with disabilities, it is trite to say, face numerous barriers in seeking access to all aspects of Ontario life, whether in public transit, education, jobs, government or private services and the like. The fact of the matter is that it hurts our society that these barriers exist. It hurts the 17% of the public who have disabilities and it hurts the rest of you who during your lives will acquire a disability to have these barriers remain. Indeed, in fighting to remove these barriers we are fighting a battle not only for us but for those of you are still, temporarily, able-bodied. It also hurts our society for these barriers to remain because our society loses the advantage of the potential of people with disabilities who wish to contribute and suffers the costs of maintaining us outside the workforce, more often than not when we want to be inside the workforce as taxpayers and contributing members of society.
With this problem in place, what do we need done? We need two things done: We need old barriers that now exist identified and torn down; we need new barriers prevented before they are created. Aren't there any programs on the books to do this now? Well, we have programs and laws. We have the Human Rights Code and the Charter of Rights and the like, but 15 years of experience proven that they do not solve the problem. Many, if not most, of the old barriers are still there and many new ones are coming along. We know these programs and legislation, while important, aren't good enough. What about voluntary measures? No one with any real-life experience with a disability believes that voluntary measures work. They hadn't worked until this government was elected, and this government's program of voluntarism in this field for the past year and a half has not changed things one iota for the better.
What we need is a new law, a new law we propose to call an Ontarians with Disabilities Act. It would have as its objective the achievement of a barrier-free society for people with disabilities by the year 2000. It would achieve this by requiring old barriers to be removed and new barriers to be prevented, all in a cost-effective way. Our proposal is not novel. There is an international trend around the world in favour of such legislation. Alas, Canada and Ontario specifically are lagging woefully behind that trend.
What is the government's position on this issue? During the last election, as is included as the last page of our brief, Premier Harris made a solemn pledge in writing. He promised that his government, if elected, would pass an Ontarians with Disabilities Act in its first term, that he would work together with us to develop it, and that new funds would be devoted to accommodation of people with disabilities. We find, after the election, that this commitment is not only one of the government's but is one which is now shared by all parties. All three parties are on record as supporting it; indeed the opposition supported a resolution, unanimously passed last May, of the entire Legislature calling for this promise to be kept.
What has the government done about this promise? Sadly, none of the three elements of it has been met. The Premier has refused to meet us, and his citizenship minister, to whom we've been directed, has only agreed to one courtesy meeting, has offered a lot of vague rhetoric, but has announced no commitment either as to when an Ontarians with Disabilities Act would be introduced or indeed as to when a public consultation might begin to develop it, much less when it might end. Put simply, the Premier has not, to our knowledge, even authorized the citizenship minister to come forward with legislation, much less to support it when it is developed.
How does this affect the mandate of your committee? We say it does in two respects. First, our brief outlines seven areas in which government cuts are not only hurting people with disabilities -- and that's bad enough -- but these cuts also flatly contradict both the letter and the spirit of the Premier's solemn, written pledge to us in seeking election to his current office. Let me list these briefly.
First, an Ontarians with Disabilities Act will need a strong Human Rights Commission. The government promised to increase funding to the commission but, once elected, cut funding to the commission, and its red tape commission suggests further impediments to the enforcement of our human rights. That will undermine the capacity of the government to deliver on the Ontarians with Disabilities Act promise.
Second, the government through committing to an Ontarians with Disabilities Act knew that a core focus of that act would be accessible public services, including, as a core example, accessible public transit. Yet as you've already heard, government cuts have effectively led to a cut in paratransit services in Toronto and elsewhere, therefore working directly counter to the force that an Ontarians with Disabilities Act would have.
Third, an Ontarians with Disabilities Act would require a barrier-free workplace both in the public sector and elsewhere, yet cuts to the Ontario public service have had a disproportionate impact on government employees with disabilities and government cuts to programs within the public service have undermined the government's ability to achieve a barrier-free workplace, a workplace within the Ontario public service itself. This contradicts not only the Ontarians with Disabilities Act pledge but the Premier's promise of zero tolerance of discrimination in the Ontario public service.
Fourth, the government's plan to offload services on the municipalities without commensurate guaranteed provincial funding to support them will disproportionately impact on people with disabilities since many of those areas, such as municipal transit, social services and long-term care, are themselves of particular importance to people with disabilities.
Fifth, privatization of government services runs the risk that people with disabilities will lose jobs in the public service in favour of private employers who may well not be prepared to employ them or to provide as barrier-free an environment as the Ontario public service now provides, albeit an imperfect one.
Sixth, as Mr Baker has outlined, cuts in the area of education -- and by analogy, one could argue, to colleges and universities -- are having a direct impact on people with disabilities, yet an Ontarians with Disabilities Act would seek to remove old barriers and prevent new ones in the education and colleges and universities system, barriers which will be left in place or exacerbated by the current process of downsizing and reorganizing.
Finally, cuts to social services, while promised not to have an impact on us, have indeed had an impact on us, as our brief documents. The first six area of cuts are likely going to drive more people with disabilities out of jobs, force them on to welfare rolls and therefore make them suffer the consequences of current welfare cuts, which they were promised to be immunized from.
One area in which the budget cuts directly affect us is that they flatly contradict specific commitments which an Ontarians with Disabilities Act would seek to achieve, but there's a second and broader impact which is equally vital. You see, all of this cutting, all of this restructuring, all of this downsizing, all of this privatizing is being done without any prior government planning or commitment to ensure that in the process the needs of people with disabilities will be met, that they will not be adversely impacted, that no new barriers will be created, that in the process of restructuring old barriers will be removed. In other words, the restructuring process on the whole will likely lead to the same kind of barrier creation that we face whenever governments go about doing anything, while forgetting our needs and not making a commitment to meet them.
To that end, it is our position that the government should first enact the Ontarians with Disabilities Act and only then undertake its program of cuts, downsizing and restructuring, because then the government will have legislatively pre-committed to do precisely that which it is not now doing, which is to ensure that its activities in this area will lead to fewer, not more, barriers for us. If you do the cuts first and pass the Ontarians with Disabilities Act second, you will create barriers that you may not be able to fix after the fact, or if you are able to fix them at all, you'll be doing it only at significant public expense, a waste of public money that we can prevent now.
Therefore, we conclude with specific recommendations, as follows:
First, we ask this committee to call upon the government to keep its commitment of an Ontarians with Disabilities Act, to guarantee a date by which it will introduce that act and to direct the Premier to meet us forthwith so we can discuss how it will be done.
Second, we ask the committee to call upon the Minister of Citizenship to replace vague rhetoric with real action, to meet with us now to devise a process for public consultations which will get this process on track.
Third, we ask this committee to call on the government to put on hold its program of cuts, downsizing, restructuring and privatization until the Ontarians with Disabilities Act is enacted and enforced, to prevent the mess before it happens.
Finally, we ask this committee to call on the government to commit, first, that its cuts, downsizing and restructuring will indeed be undertaken in a barrier-free way for us, and second, that it will appoint a body to independently monitor the process so that we can be sure that it is happening in the way it ought, not as a matter of government rhetoric but independently verified reality.
With that, we thank you for your attention and we urge this committee, in a non-partisan way, to join together, as the Legislature has in the past, to call for action on the commitment of an Ontarians with Disabilities Act so that we can replace unnecessary barriers and avoidable waste of public money with equality for people with disabilities, something about which we all ought to agree.
Mrs Marion Boyd (London Centre): Thank you for coming and for all the information you've given us. I know, David Baker, that one of the things you have always expressed concern about is this multiple-impact issue that David Lepofsky raises in his whole presentation. I really thank you for giving us the ARCH Alert, because it is a way for all of us to understand the impact in many, many different areas that we obviously don't have time to talk about today.
David Lepofsky, you clearly are carrying on with your efforts to try and keep governments of whatever ilk from making the mistake of creating more barriers, especially at a time of great restructuring. Can you talk to me about some of the obvious barriers you think we're going to create with the kind of legislation the government has brought forward this term?
Mr Lepofsky: I think a couple of examples would be these: The government is undertaking restructuring of the health care system, involving shutting down some services and amalgamating others. In going through that process, even if one accepts that those cuts are appropriate -- and I'm not speaking to that; I'm simply saying even if one accepts that that is appropriate -- if the planners do not make sure that the facilities they keep open, the facilities and programs they design, are physically and programmatically accessible to us, then you're going to have a disaster before it happens.
If you offload long-term care primarily aimed at people with disabilities, social services substantially aimed at people with disabilities, on municipalities without guaranteeing funding and assured levels of service, then you're essentially ensuring that barriers will have to be created, if not due to underfunding, then due to underplanning.
Finally, if you look at the government's own internal activity within the public service, there used to be a systemic accommodation fund run by the Management Board Secretariat. It used to fund activities aimed at identifying and removing systemic barriers in the Ontario public service. That fund has been absolutely abolished. You can't find barriers and remove them if you abolish the very fund which, in its own modest way, was there to finance such activities.
Mr Derwyn Shea (High Park-Swansea): Thank you for your presentation, particularly Mr Lepofsky. I have a couple of comments and then would ask you to respond.
In terms of the OHRC restructuring, probably you will know that the previous government put $3 million in in a one-time grant to try and reduce the caseload, and that in fact did not reduce the caseload. With the restructuring of the OHRC, the backlog is now reduced from 22 months to 16 months, so at least there's a sign of moving in that direction.
But most importantly, you refer to the ODA, because I know that is an area of real concern to you. It's interesting for me to note that in your conversations, I think with the minister if not with others, you knew that the government's first initiative was to move in the area of the vulnerable adults and also for the equal opportunity plan, and then it was to move into the area of the ODA.
I know you've politely declined to be involved in the first two initiatives because you're very much focused on ODA, and I applaud that, but if I can assure that the letter of 24 May that the Premier wrote to you indicating that the ODA "in the first term of office within the economic goalposts of the Common Sense Revolution" is still a commitment that is made by the government, I hope that will bring some comfort to you. I appreciate your anxiousness to get on with the consultation process.
In that regard, I'd like your insight into why the previous government failed to enact its own private member's bill dealing with an ODA.
Mr Lepofsky: Let me begin by correcting three misstatements in your question: Firstly, the government cuts to the Human Rights Commission have perhaps reduced the backlog, but it's been done in significant part by turning away meritorious cases. In a conversation with a professional colleague and friend who acts for defendants, respondents, he laughingly told me how he can get cases dismissed now on the most technical grounds that even he didn't think were of any merit. So when you cut budget and cut cases, you reduce backlog but you don't deliver justice. That's the first mistake.
I would note that your Premier promised during the election to take money from the Employment Equity Commission, which you abolished, and put it into the Human Rights Commission. That was an election promise that has not been met -- the opposite.
Secondly, with respect to our involvement in the equal opportunity plan, you stated that your minister told us that she was going to move first on the vulnerable adults and equal opportunity initiatives. With respect, she wouldn't even meet us for the first year, so she didn't tell us anything like that. In any event, we didn't refuse to participate in the equal opportunity plan initiative. We were asked to participate in it with 48 hours' notice, on a prior understanding that it couldn't lead to new legislation. What we said was, "We'll talk to you about it, but we'll tell you that equal opportunity plans not backed by legislation are like shooting someone in the head six times and then asking them if they prefer Tylenol or aspirin to solve their headache."
Finally, with respect to the question of the prior government, I dare say that disability is easily used as political football by any party, and we don't really want to be that football. We'd rather hear about why people will come together to pass this law than why they couldn't come together in the past to deal with it. What we would like to see is the non-partisan and bipartisan support that we've seen in the Legislature at the level of rhetoric turned into action, and if the opposition parties are prepared to support this kind of legislation, as they've said they are, we'd like to see the government, which has the policy resources it does, devote them now to the process of developing the legislation so we can get on with it.
Mrs Lyn McLeod (Fort William): Mr Shea's reference to the Premier's letter suggesting that the commitment to the Ontario disabilities act still stands reminds me of an answer that was given in the House a couple of hours ago in terms of commitments to children, that those commitments still stand, and that the reason they still stand is because they haven't been met yet. Since this is the final presentation to our committee hearings, I think it summarizes what we've heard, that the only thing that has been static in the government's policies in relationship to the disabled is the commitment to bring in an Ontario disabilities act.
I think the point you make is so well taken that your recommendations in terms of what action is needed now could form the basis of the report of this committee to government. If the act were in place before any of the cuts take place or any of the downsizing or offloading takes place, then there would be an umbrella under which we could assess the impact of those changes on the disabled.
I trust that the government members on the committee will support those recommendations as recommendations from this committee to government. If they do, it would be absolutely consistent with the commitments that have been made on the part of all three parties, as you note.
I have so many questions that I've been rapidly trying to scan the brief that you didn't get an opportunity to present in the time we had, where you raise a number of questions about the shifting in responsibility for services to the municipal level. I suspect I'm only going to be able to get in one or two, so I just want to flag for the record the fact that these questions you have raised are unanswered. Some of them have answers.
I wonder whether ARCH will address their concerns based on what answers we have, for example, on long-term care, the fact that there is to be, given what we've been told by the government, a long-term-care agency that will determine the entire budget, including the budget not only for residential care but for community care in the long-term area. We don't know what the relationship of the long-term-care agency and the CCACs will be, other than that CCACs will continue to exist, but the agency will determine budgets across the province, pool the money and redistribute it. I'm hoping that ARCH will have an opportunity to address any concerns related to that process before it becomes a fact.
Mr Baker: If I may briefly respond to that, ARCH Alert raises questions because we obviously don't have answers to the kinds of questions you're pointing out that must be raised. We're hoping that you and indeed all members of the committee will ask those kinds of questions so that big mistakes are not made.
The Vice-Chair: Your time is up. Thank you very much. We appreciate your presentation today.
Mr Baker: Thank you for the opportunity.
The Vice-Chair: Ladies and gentlemen of the committee, we have one other item of business to attend to today: an amendment to the membership of the subcommittee on committee business.
Mrs McLeod: On a point of order or information, Mr Chair: Prior to moving on to the specific amendments, I understand that three briefs have been tabled for the committee today. I first of all make an assumption that these briefs will be entered for the record of the committee and I think it's important to note them in the minutes in deference of people who people who have made the effort to write and express their concerns. One is from the Ontario Prader-Willi Syndrome Association, one is from the Muscular Dystrophy Association of Canada and the other is from Marlene Crawford of Windsor, Ontario, who has submitted a personal brief.
I'm also wondering whether it was not possible for those individuals to make presentations to the committee today. Is that something they had requested?
The Vice-Chair: My understanding is that by agreement of the subcommittee, all the delegations that wanted to be heard in person were heard, that others were asked to submit written briefs and that those briefs are part of the official record.
Mrs McLeod: That's fine. Thank you, Mr Chair.
The Vice-Chair: We have two motions from the opposition with respect to the official opposition's membership on the subcommittee.
Mrs McLeod: I move that the membership of the subcommittee on committee business be amended by substituting Ms Castrilli for Mr Patten.
The Vice-Chair: Any discussion? All in favour? Opposed, if any? Carried.
Mrs McLeod: Second, I move that the membership of the subcommittee on committee business be amended by substituting Mrs Caplan for Mr Gravelle.
The Vice-Chair: Is that supported? All in favour? Opposed? Carried.
That's all of our business for today, therefore I declare this meeting adjourned. Oh, I spoke too soon.
Mr Michael Gravelle (Port Arthur): It seems to me that we had allocated a certain number of hours for witnesses. If I'm correct, a couple of groups didn't show up, which says to me that we may still have some time left for witnesses. Is that correct? I'm saying that so the subcommittee is aware of that, as we had allocated a certain amount of time for witnesses to leave enough time for the committee, but I think it should be remembered that it's probably an hour. All I know is that a couple ofgroups that were scheduled didn't show up. I just think the subcommittee should be aware of that in terms of their planning.
The Vice-Chair: It's closer to half an hour. We'll refer that matter to the subcommittee. Any other business? No? Adjourned.