From Question Period at Queen's Park on April 23, 1997

Ms Frances Lankin (Beaches-Woodbine): My question is for the Minister of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation. This question is about broken promises. In a recent article in the Hamilton Spectator, staff from your office indicated with respect to your government's promise to enact an Ontarians with Disabilities Act, and I'm quoting from that article, "that the government is not sold on the value of an overarching act and that the legislation might be impractical," and further, "that instead of a law, the government is looking at general policy." This is despite Mr Harris's kexplicit, in-writing commitment to persons with disabilities that there would be an Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

Today I received further evidence of this broken promise, and this is a leaked cabinet document from your ministry. It's entitled "Overview of Citizenship Directions." It forms part of your ministry's submissions to Management Board for estimates. In that, with respect to access, it indicates that you're moving from barrier-free access to community services for seniors and persons with disabilities to barrier-free within the equal opportunity plan, voluntary. Why are you breaking your promise to enact a law, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act? Hon Marilyn Mushinski (Minister of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation): In answer to the honourable member's question, let me remind the honourable member what the Premier did say. What the Premier said was that we as a government are willing to enact an Ontarians with Disabilities Act within the financial goalposts of this government and that we would be willing to do it in our first year. We have not broken any such commitments; in fact, we are still working with the disabled community to bring some kind of framework forward to protect the interests of Ontarians with disabilities.

Ms Lankin: Well, I have a letter here from the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee to you which doesn't indicate that they think you're working with them, and I have a leaked cabinet document in which your priorities for 1996-97 and 1997-98 are set out. Nowhere does it mention that you are working on an Ontarians with Disabilities Act. It is not in your priorities. It is not in your ministry work plan as set out here. Furthermore, it indicates that you are looking at moving away from things like distinct programs targeted on prevention of violence against women with disabilities and also racial minority women, where you had two distinct programs. That says you're moving to program rationalization. Despite the fact that the minister responsible for women's issues said there would be no cuts, you're going to move away from distinct programs.

Also, we've had a court ruling in the last week that has questioned what is going on with the declaration of mental incompetence for persons with disabilities, because you have done away with rights advisers. There's nowhere in this work plan and in your priorities that says that you're going to help get rights advice for these people.

Why are you abandoning persons with disabilities? It is clear throughout this leaked document. Minister, stand up for those- Hon Ms Mushinski: Let me reassure the honourable member that my government remains committed to removing barriers for persons with disabilities. The latest initiative we have undertaken is to contract with the Roeher Institute to conduct an evaluation study of the overall impact to date and the implementation costs of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Once we get the results back to that, we'll have a better idea of how to framework an Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

The Speaker (Hon Chris Stockwell): Final supplementary. Mr Tony Silipo (Dovercourt): Minister, you can continue not to answer the questions, but I think that speaks volumes. I remind you that this leaked document that comes from your own ministry is entitled Overview of Citizenship Directions. It sets out your priorities in the ministry for the next two years. My colleague from Beaches-Woodbine has already mentioned what's been missing or what is missing from that document.

I want to refer you to another thing that is also very clearly missing from the citizenship priorities, and that is that there is no reference to any anti-racism activities which have traditionally been within your ministry. We know that your government has ended the Anti-Racism Secretariat. There's nothing to replace it. There's no reference to anti-racism, the programs, to any kinds of initiatives. There is nothing that deals with how you are going to carry out your responsibility to fight racial discrimination.

The document, quite frankly, Minister, lays bare the depth of your government's commitment to anti-racism initiatives. It just isn't there. There is no commitment. So can you tell us why there's nothing in your priority document on anti-racism? Hon Ms Mushinski: In response to the honourable member's question, let me tell you that racism and discrimination are against the law in this province. The Ontario Human Rights Commission is the body to deal effectively with incidents of racism and discrimination, and we are strengthening the role of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. If anyone is committed to eradicating racism and discrimination from this province, this government is.