Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee
c/o Deborah Thynn, 271 Spadina Road
Toronto, Ontario M5R 2V3

August 6, 1997

Ms Karen Cohl
Assistant Deputy Minster
Citizenship & Corporate Policy Division
Ministry of Citizenship, Culture & Recreation
77 Bloor Street West, 7th Floor
Toronto, Ontario
M7A 2R9

Dear Ms Cohl

Re: Ontarians with Disabilities Act

I am writing as a follow-up to our telephone conversation on Friday, August 1, 1997 during which I presented the position of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee on the consultation process required to develop the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, and our subsequent telephone discussions elaborating on this matter.

As you recall, during our meeting on July 22, 997, which was also attended by our legal counsel, David Baker, as well as other Ministry of Citizenship staff, you presented some ideas about the consultation process and requested our feedback. Since this information will be used to prepare for our scheduled August 20,  1997, meeting with the Minister of Citizenship I wanted to ensure that you were clear as to our position on the consultation process.

Before proceeding I want to assure you that we understand that the ideas for the consultation process which you shared with us are just suggestions that your Ministry now has under consideration and that no decisions have yet been made as to the process which the Government shall ultimately employ.

After our meeting with you in July, we sought input from our regional representatives for their feedback on the sugestions or ideas for the consultation process that you said was under consideration. As we understood your description the consultation would involve three phases. The first phase, would incorporate a series of one day workshops in various parts of the province. Each workshop would focus on one issue eg. employment, transportation, and education. Those invited to these workshops would include experts from the disability community, the government, and the industry or service delivery sector affected by the particular area under discussion.

It was our understanding that one of the aims of these workshops would be to try to deliver options for ingredients that might be included in the Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

The second phase of the consultation process would be the preparation of a discussion paper based on the workshops. This would be prepared by Ministry staff. The paper would list options for areas to be included in the Ortarians wth Disabilities Act.

The final phase would then be held, which would involve wide public consultations on the options proposed for an Ontarians with Disabilities Act, based on the Discussion Paper. Public input would not be limited to the options set out in the discussion paper.

Based on our understanding as outlined above, this is the position of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee that I presented to you during our August 1 phone call, and which I elaborated upon in subsequent discussions:

1. We are seriously concerned about the tremendous delay in getting this public consultation process started. We are as close as two years before the next election. Half of the government's mandate has already gone by and the process has still not begun. It is, therefore, vital that the public part of the consultation process start as soon as possible.

2. For the Ministry to embark on the proposed phase 1 workshops would create even more delay. Similarly, the preparation of a discussion paper containing options would also add to the unacceptable delay in the consultation process. It would also give the reasonable impression that the consultation process was not completely open, but was instead restricted to decisions made before there was an opportunity for public input.

3. The proposed three-phase process would mean that the public would not likely have its first chance for input before May of  1998. That is fully three years after the Premier's Ontarians with Disabilities Act election promise, two years after unanimous passage of the legislative resolution supporting the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, and one year after our commemoration of the anniversary of inaction on that resolution and election pledge. This would leave almost no time for public hearings and the passage of the Ontarans with Disabilities Act.

4. The public consultation process should be consistent with the guiding principles for public consultation which we delivered to the Minister of Citizenship at our only meeting with her to date, held last June 14, 1996. In summary, these require the consultations to be entirely open, accessible, barrier-free, and fully available to local communities across the province. They must be undertaken without any preconditions which could impede the scope of public input.

5. In addition to the public consultation prior to the introduction of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, there must also be province-wide public legislative committee hearings on the legislation once it is introduced for debate into the Legislature. These hearings must also meet the same criteria for accessibility and openness, as the earlier consultation.

6. We think that the third phase of the suggested consultation process could be designed to be consistent with these principles provided that there will be no restrictions on the scope of the submissions that can be made. Our guiding principles would also require later accessible provincewide legislative committee hearings as well, after the bill is drafted and introduced.

7. The first two phases you described are not consistent with our guiding principles. We strongly urge you to move directly to phase 3.

8. We are very seriously concerned that your proposed first phase of this process would involve expert workshops which may not be wideopen to full public participation. The people who know best about the barriers which people with disabilities face - the experts in this area - are people with disabilities themselves across the province. They can inform your Minister, her Cabinet colleagues and the government more effectively than anyone else about the reality of the impediments that persons with disabilities face, and which the Ontarians with Disabilities Act must effectively rectify.

9. We are also concerned that these workshops could have the effect of foreclosing or limiting the subsequent public consultations. We fear that they will give the impression that the real policy decisions were going to be debated and largely made in closed sessions by socalled experts. By deferring public input until months later, public consultation would occur only after the major policy deliberation is already completed.

10. If the government sincerely wishes to include people with disabilities in such workshops, it will add to the cost of the process since it would be necessary for the government to pay all of the expenses for people with disabilities from every part of the process to be represented at each of the workshops.

11. With regard to your proposed phase two  the preparation of a discussion or options paper  we are seriously concerned that as contemplated, this could delay this process even more. Even if the phase one workshops were completed on time there is no assurance that such an options-based discussion paper would be produced and circulated with the speed necessary. Given that it has taken the government two years to even get started on substantive discussions with us about the consultation process format, we can not be optimistic that the discussion paper including options would be finalized by the Government for public circulation any more quickly. Moreover, we have a similarly serious concern that if the discussion paper were intended to include options, then we run the risk that the Government will only approve those options that are prepared to enact without waiting to hear from the public before making those decisions. This would dilute the content of the discussion paper. The whole purpose of public consultation is for the government to learn from the public. It is better for the government to go into the public consultation process wthout closing its mind on any issues of substance. It is better to consult on the issues first, and decide on the issues only afterward, in our view.

12. We entirely agree that to facilitate public consultation, it is desirable for the Ministry of Citizenship to circulate some sort of discussion paper or introduction paper. However, we wish to ensure that this paper facilitates rather than limits input from the public.

The paper should be very bref. It should not include legal terminology or specific legislative options. It would be preferable if it included a list of questions which the public could direct their attention to, with a clear indication that they are not limited to the answenng of those specific questions.

It would be seen as a very positive move if the government also clearly acknowledged in the paper that the aim of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act is to achieve a barrier free society in Ontario by the year 2000, by removing and preventing barriers impeding people with disabilities from participating fully in Ontario society. It would similarly be very appropriate for the government to openly acknowledge that these barriers exist now and cause harm not only for people with disabilities but for society as a whole. The government should make it clear that it is urgent that these barriers be removed as quickly as possible, and steps taken immediately to prevent the creation of new barriers. We encourage the government to consider including other principles that we set out in our 1995 brief in the discussion paper.

13. It is fundamentally important that the public consultation process be conducted by the government directly, and not by outside consultants. As  explained in subsequent discussions, it is important that elected members of the govenment hear directly flom people with disabilities about the barriers they face, and about the impact of these barriers on their lives. It is important for the goverrunent to openly and actively support this legislation while expanding their own knowledge about the barriers facing people with disabilities.

14. In deciding on the timing for the first round of public consultations, it is important that people with disabilities be given enough time between your announcement of the public consultation, accompanied by your distribution of any material, on the one hand, and the date of their actual participation in the process, on the other.
15. It is vital that the contents of the consultation input received during the entire process be made available to us in a timely fashion during and after the consultation process. We would be pleased to discuss with you the most appropriate format for presenting that information to us. We wish to have access to the information which is received during the consultation process, so that we can provide the greatest assistance possible to your Minister and to the government in the development of this very important legislation.

16. I enclose a copy of a letter from a representative of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee in Thunder Bay which eloquently sets out the specific needs in the consultation process for people living in Northern Ontario. We heartily endorse the comments in that letter, and shall be giving a copy of that letter with the Minister of Citizenship at our August 20 1997 meeting.

We very much appreciate your taking the time to receive our input on the consultation process. As I indicated during our August 1 telephone call, we would appreciate it if you could review these comments and get back to us as soon as possible with any questions, comments or new suggestions for the consultation format. It would be helpful if we could consider any additional proposals that may be developed prior to our August 20, 1997 meeting.

Yours sincerely,

David Lepofsky, C.M.

cc: David Baker