July 15, 1998
The Hon. Mike Harris Premier of Ontario
Legislative Building, Room 281
Dear Premier Harris:
RE: Ontarians with Disabilities Act
I am writing on behalf of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee as a follow-up to this past Monday's release of the long-overdue Government discussion paper regarding the Ontarians with Disabilities Act. While we are happy that the protracted delay in this Government's public consultation process has finally come to an end, we are seriously concerned that before the consultation has even started your government has made key policy decisions that will limit the opportunity for people with disabilities to have real input into this important legislation.
Our specific concerns are with the sections of the discussion paper which state that no new agency will be created to enforce the ODA and that in the important area of employment only voluntary measures will be considered.
In your written promises to us during the 1995 election campaign, you not only committed to passing an Ontarians with Disabilities Act, but you also promised to work with the ODA Committee in developing it. Yet, despite your Government's public commitment during the last Throne Speech to listen to people, when it comes to people with disabilities you first make your policy decisions and only then offer to listen. You continue to refuse to meet with the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee, and you started the consultation process having predetermined the outcome in some critical areas. In effect you have created a new barrier that will prevent people with disabilities from having a say in making these important policy decisions.
The consultation process is an important step leading up to an Ontarians with Disabilities Act. It should be designed to educate the Minister and other decision-makers in your government about the barriers people face and the options available to remove existing barriers and prevent new barriers. The need for this education component is already apparent. In the Minister's response to questions about why the area of employment is limited to voluntary measures she seems to equate "mandatory legislation" and quotas". There is nothing in the extensive documentation that we have provided to you to date that suggests that the legislation should establish quotas. There are many different types of mandatory legislation that may be effective. By closing the door on hearing about these ideas you will silence people with disabilities and will deprive yourself of getting the best possible advice on how to truly make Ontario a barrier-free society.
We are writing to ask you to remove these important barriers to an effective public consultation process. Specifically, we ask you to withdraw the two policy decisions described above, from the Discussion Paper, and open the public consultation process to a full and free debate and discussion on these central issues. We ask you to listen to what the people have to say before making any policy decisions.
Finally, we have concerns about the consultation process itself. We note that while the Citizenship Ministry has posted this Discussion Paper on its Web Site and has mailed it to a select list of recipients, there does not seem to have been any further effort by the Minister to actively reach out to the broader community and solicit input. Many people with disabilities do not have access to the Internet and will not be aware of the release of the discussion paper. This is especially worrisome since you have chosen to delay the consultation until the middle of the summer when many are away on vacation. In addition, you have imposed time restrictions that fail to take into account the needs of our community as we relayed to your Government fully one year ago. Moreover, you have not yet announced the time, date and format for the consultation meetings that we heard are to occur in August. We do not know whether these will be "invitation-only" events, or whether they will truly be open to full public participation, something we believe is vital if they are to be successful.
Taken together, this all suggests to the reasonable observer that your Government is going through the motions of a public consultation without the commitment to truly listen or structure needed to make it work. In sharp contrast, we have been very active since Monday trying to encourage people to participate in the process, no matter how flawed it is.
We urge you and the Citizenship Minister to actively solicit input from the broader public. We further request that you and the Minister announce the details of the August meetings immediately, and that these sessions be open for full public participation, not "invitation only" events.
M. David Lepofsky, C.M., Co-Chair
cc: Hon. Isabel Bassett
Dalton McGuinty, MPP
Howard Hampton, MPP
Marion Boyd, MPP
Gilles Morin, MPP
Frances Lankin, MPP
Dominic Agostino, MPP