Letter To Premier Harris
April 26, 1999
April 26, 1999
The Hon. Michael Harris
Rm. 281 Legislative Building
Toronto ON M7A 1A1
Dear Premier Harris,
I am writing on behalf of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee as a follow-up to your Government's April 22, 1999, Throne Speech mapping out your Government's plans. As you know, we are a province-wide non-partisan coalition united to achieve a barrier-free Ontario for one-and-one-half million persons with disabilities by the enactment of a strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
In your recent Throne Speech your Government announced:
"These - and other - religious observances, remind us that, whatever our background, we are united by common principles of family, tolerance, responsibility and compassion. These principles led your government to conduct province-wide consultations on barriers to accessibility faced by persons with disabilities. Last fall, your government introduced legislation - the first of its kind in Canada - aimed at breaking down those barriers.
Concerns expressed about this pioneering legislation, however, have been heard. In response, your government will take the time necessary to gather additional input, and will consult further before reintroducing a bill for consideration by the Legislature."
This is a long-overdue acknowledgement by your government that the three-page Bill 83 you introduced last November was entirely inadequate. Five months ago, when you introduced Bill 83, Ontarians with disabilities right across this province immediately called on you to replace the Bill with a strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act. We also asked you to meet with us immediately to work on developing this replacement legislation so that you could keep your written promise to enact this important legislation in your first term.
You did not agree to meet with us nor did you acknowledge that the Bill was flawed. Instead, right up to the date of the Throne Speech, your government persisted in defending Bill 83, long after it died on the order paper on December 17, 1998. In addition, you have still not responded to any of the four letters that we have sent to you since you first introduced Bill 83 last November. In each of those letters we urged you to meet with us so that new legislation could be ready on a timely basis. These letters were dated December 3, 1998, January 4, 1999, March 16, 1999, and March 28, 1999. Despite our repeated requests in those letters and in previous correspondence starting soon after your election almost four years ago, you have continued to refuse to meet with us. We are the very group with whom you pledged in writing to work with to develop the Ontarians with Disabilities Act when you were seeking the public's votes in the last election.
We are deeply concerned by the fact that your Throne Speech makes no commitment whatsoever to develop and pass the promised Ontarians with Disabilities Act in your first term in office. We could obtain no further specifics from your Government when your Minister of Citizenship, Isabel Bassett, came to meet with and answer questions from those of our members who were able to be present at Queens Park immediately after the Throne Speech on April 22. Although accompanied by at least three of her Cabinet colleagues, including the Ministers of Health, Community and Social Services, and Long-term Care, and her senior staff, Minister Bassett could not commit to anything about what a revamped bill would include. For example, she could not say whether a new bill would comply with any of the 11 fundamental principles that the Legislature unanimously adopted by resolution last October 29. Speaking on behalf of your Government, Minister Bassett could not say when the Government's new consultations, announced in the Throne Speech, would begin, when they would end, or what they would look like. She could not commit that the promised legislation would be enacted before the impending election is called, or whether the consultations would even be completed by that time.
In short, Minister Bassett could add nothing to what the Throne Speech said. She is the Minister whom you have assigned the responsibility for this important endeavour. This will suggest to many that your Government has no real plans for moving forward with this important legislation.
It took more than three years following your 1995 election for your Government to start its first ODA consultation process, held over 6 weeks last summer. People with disabilities cannot afford to wait any longer. They deserve better. During our April 22, 1999, discussion with Minister Bassett, she claimed that by deciding to now hold further consultations before a bill is introduced into the Legislature, your Government is doing what we had asked for. We made it clear to her in response, as we have made it clear to you in writing throughout this protracted process, that further delays that would prevent a strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act from being enacted before the next election is called is not what we are seeking.
To the contrary, we have been warning you and your government for years that we feared that we would come to the end of your term, without sufficient time for a strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act to be drafted, debated and enacted. We not only urged your Government over and over again to act promptly on developing and debating the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, we also provided your government with detailed proposals outlining a framework for this legislation. We have worked hard, even when your government was not interested in hearing what we had to say, so that we could all avoid a situation where time would be cut short before this important law was enacted.
We regret that your Government chose not to accept our advice. Instead, it delayed and delayed. The very unacceptable consequences about which we forewarned you have now come to pass. We ask that you and your Ministers not claim that this unacceptable result is what we asked for. It is not. It is what we forewarned you against.
In light of your evident lack of commitment to ensure that an Ontarians with Disabilities Act is passed in this term, your Government's Throne Speech leaves Ontarians with Disabilities empty-handed. Your Throne Speech's vague largely-contentless commitment to Ontarians with disabilities stands in stark contrast to the specific commitments that the Throne Speech made to others for action in this session. This is especially striking to us, since in the Throne Speech, certain of your other commitments were expressed in terms of removing barriers - not barriers impeding people with disabilities, but barriers elsewhere on which you are prepared to act now. These include "efforts to reduce red-tape and other barriers to job-creation" and measures to deal with "barriers to internal trade." The Throne Speech included no similar detailed and specific commitment regarding removal of the barriers keeping Ontarians with disabilities from fully participating in all aspects of Ontario life, through the enactment of a strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
With an Ontario election now in full view, the only possible conclusion that voters with disabilities and other voters will be able to reach is that you intend to break your 1995 written election promises to us to enact the Ontarians with Disabilities Act in your first term, and to work with the ODA Committee to develop it. This became even more evident when your spokesperson, Minister Bassett, faced questions about that election promise from voters with disabilities at Queens Park on April 22, 1999. She suggested that your promise was not to pass the Ontarians with Disabilities Act in your first term, but merely to introduce it in your first term. This was the first time we are aware of anyone from your Government claiming that this was all you promised.
With great respect Premier, your written election pledge to us in your May 24, 1995, letter to us could not have been clearer. You promised to enact the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, not merely to go through the preliminary technical formality of introducing it. You stated: "...a Harris government would be willing to enact an Ontario with Disabilities Act in the first term of office within the economic goal posts of The Common Sense Revolution." One year later, on May 16, 1996, your party unanimously supported a resolution passed by the Legislature, calling on you to keep this promise, in these terms: "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, amongst others, in the development of such legislation."
It is well known that to "enact" a law is to pass it, not just to introduce it. A bill that is merely introduced has no force and effect. It need never be passed into law or even debated.
In light of these developments, including Minister Bassett's clear indication that your Government has no plans or timetables for introducing and passing the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, we ask for your response as soon by possible to these questions:
- Are you going to fulfil your 1995 written election promise to enact the Ontarians with Disabilities Act within your first term, and to work with the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee to develop it?
- Will you confirm that your written 1995 election pledge to Ontarians with disabilities was to enact the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, i.e. to pass it into law, and not merely to just take the very first formal, preliminary and technical step of introducing it into the Legislature for possible future debate?
- Will you ensure that all members of your government caucus are aware of the language and content of your promise, including the Minister responsible this issue, and to instruct them not to claim that you only promised to "introduce" a bill, not to enact it into law?
- Given the urgency of addressing this entire subject, will you meet with the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee immediately so that we can work together on drafting a new strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act that will be passed into law before you call the next election? We note that you are not required to call an election for another year.
- If you intend to have consultations prior to introducing new legislation, when will they begin? How long will the consultations last? Who will be able to participate? What is the goal of these consultations? Will they be completed before an election is called? Will they even be started before an election is called? Will they be fully accessible to all persons with disabilities? Will they be free of arbitrary preconditions that would impede the law from being strong and effective?
- Will your government commit that the Ontarians with Disabilities Act that it will enact will fully comply with the 11 principles included in a private member's resolution introduced October 29, 1998, which was passed unanimously by the Legislature?
In the Throne Speech your Government refers to listening to people with disabilities. We have provided your Government with ample, detailed advice for more than three years about the core requirements for the Ontarians with Disabilities Act to be effective and meaningful. The ODA Committee has made a number of presentations to the Government delineating the core elements that the Ontarians with Disabilities Act should contain, and outlining the barriers it needs to address. As but one example, over one year ago, we provided a detailed blueprint for the Ontarians with Disabilities Act that reflected input from across Ontario.
We have alerted you for some time that it will be important that the Legislature hold public hearings on the Ontarians with Disabilities Act once a new bill is introduced. If your Government were truly prepared to work with us and draft legislation based on the principles that the Legislature has unanimously embraced, we would already have appropriate legislation that could be introduced right now. Hearings could be used to fine-tune that legislation.
Ontario voters with disabilities, their friends and families listen to your statements that you make hard decisions and keep your promises. We are now waiting for a clear action from you that you will keep the promises you made to the more than 1.5 million people with disabilities in this Province before you make the decision to call an election.
M. David Lepofsky, C.M.
Co-Chair Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee
cc: The Hon. Isabel Bassett
Dalton McGuinty, MPP
Howard Hampton, MPP
Marion Boyd, MPP
Gilles Morin, MPP
Dwight Duncan, MPP
Frances Lankin, MPP
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