Open Letter to Premier Mike Harris
ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT COMMITTEE
c/o Marg Thomas
1929 Bayview Avenue, Toronto ON M4G 3E8
Tel: (Voice direct) 416-480-7686 Fax: 416-480-7014 Voice mail: 416-480-7012
TTY: Care of Deborah Thynn 416 964-0023 ex. 251
December 3, 1998
Dear Premier Harris,
December 3 is the International Day for Persons with Disabilities. As you know, our membership and people across the Province are very concerned with your Government's fatally-flawed Bill 83 because it does not comply with even one of the 11 principles which the Legislature unanimously approved by resolution on October 29, 1998. At public forums we held in Guelph and London after Bill 83's introduction, our members raised their urgent and pressing concerns directly with members of your caucus. The message from our members across the Province is clear: withdraw the widely-denounced Bill 83 and introduce a real Ontarians with Disabilities Act - one that is strong, effective and meaningful.
We have closely watched your Government's responses to Opposition and media questions about the Ontarians with Disabilities Act. The Minister of Citizenship, Isabel Bassett, has now finally admitted, on behalf of your Government, that the disability community is not seeking job hiring quotas. This overdue acknowledgement, during a November 25, 1998 interview on CBC Radio, is welcome. We hope and trust that you will ensure that members of your Government will not again spread false information about us.
However, you and your Government have still not answered the specific, serious issues that we have raised with you in writing, and that the Opposition parties have raised in the Legislature. Your main response is to say that Bill 83 is better than anything any prior Ontario Government or any other provincial government across Canada has ever done for people with disabilities. We strongly disagree. You have also implied that there would be hearings on Bill 83 at which time amendments could be made. This is not good enough for people with disabilities. They are hurt and shocked that you would claim that the short, empty Bill 83 fulfills your written election promise to the ODA Committee.
It is traditional for the provincial government to make some sort of statement in the Ontario Legislature on December 3, the International Day for Persons with Disabilities. This will provide you with an excellent opportunity to fix the serious and substantial concerns regarding Bill 83 that are resonating right across Ontario. If you are truly committed to listening to people with disabilities and to respect what we have to say we would urge that your Government's statement to the Legislature on the International Day for Persons with Disabilities commit to the following:
- That you will meet with representatives of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee within the next week to discuss our specific concerns about the Legislation and proposed solutions.
- That by January 1, 1999, sign language interpreters will be available to people who are deaf when they use the health care system as required by a unanimous decision of the Supreme Court of Canada more than one year ago in the Eldridge case. In addition, your Government will immediately implement the other actions required as a result of the Eldridge decision.
- That you will give at least two weeks notice to the ODA Committee and to the disability community of the date on which the Legislature debates Bill 83 for second reading and third reading so that people with disabilities may make arrangements for transportation and be present in the legislature.
- That you will hold public hearings on Bill 83 around the Province with at least four weeks notice for people to prepare; that the hearings will be completely public and accessible and that anyone who wants to participate in person will be given an opportunity to do so.
- That your Government will accept and allow for full debate on all amendments to Bill 83 which are consistent with the principles contained in the October 29, 1998 resolution which was passed unanimously by the Legislature and, that when the legislation is passed in this term it will comply fully with the resolution.
We deserve action now. Given your Government's three and a half years of inaction we fear that time is rapidly running out. One and a half million Ontarians with Disabilities have faced too many barriers for too long. There is no excuse for any further delay. We hope that December 3, the International Day for Persons with Disabilities, will mark a fresh new approach by your Government to the important goal of achieving a barrier-free Ontario for people with disabilities via strong and effective legislation.
M. David Lepofsky, C.M.
Co-Chair Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee
cc: Hon. Isabel Bassett, MPP
Dalton McGuinty, MPP
Howard Hampton, MPP
Marion Boyd, MPP
Gilles Morin, MPP
Frances Lankin, MPP
Dwight Duncan, MPP
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