July 16, 1998
The Honourable Isabel Bassett
Minister of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation
6th Floor, 77 Bloor Street West
Re: Ontarians with Disabilities Act
I am writing to urgently request changes to the proposed consultation meeting process about which we have just learned in detail this morning. We understand that the consultation process is still being developed and may be fixed as soon as tomorrow. It is very unfortunate that the Ministry did not consult with us sooner on these matters, and have left things to the last minute.
You will recall that we had indicated fully one year ago that the community would require a minimum of two months following the release of the Ministry discussion paper before commencing the consultation. This would permit individuals and voluntary organizations to provide a considered response to the questions the paper raises.
Based on the tentative schedule discussed today with David Baker by members of your staff and that of Mr. Shea, it would appear that the first hearings will commence only three weeks following the paper's release. And just over two weeks after you actually let people know when and where they will be occurring. The ODA Committee believes that there was no need to have delayed the consultation for three years. However, since the delay has occurred, it is necessary that persons with disabilities be given a minimum of four weeks following the Discussion Paper's release before consultations commence. In practical terms, that would mean pushing back the commencement of the hearings by one week until August 10th, and announcing their times and places immediately. I would note that you and your predecessor tried to explain the protracted delay for the start of this consultation process by telling the public that you were working on developing an inclusive consultative process. This last-minute, short notice approach would undoubtedly be contrary to the desires of anyone from the community with whom you would have spoken.
Our other serious concern concerns the fact that the you are apparently considering planned consultation meetings that will be "invitation only" events with very limited numbers of people participating. There is also no opportunity for people to let your office know that they want to participate in these meetings. This means that the broader participation by those interested in being heard from the disability community is in effect being curtailed. For example, if there is only one 90-minute session for people with disabilities to participate and there is a limit on the number of people attending any given session this will significantly limit the number of people with disabilities who can participate. It would also leave only 8 minutes of discussion for each of the very important questions you pose in the discussion paper. This is clearly inadequate.
The process of consultation meetings should be open and flexible enough to permit all individuals with disabilities and disability organizations to speak directly to those conducting the consultation if they wish. For many, a written format for input, which is all you offered the broader public, is not an appropriate accommodation of their disability or literacy level. Many others have special needs or concerns which may affect a relatively small segment of the disability community, but whose concerns are valid and worthy of inclusion in an ODA. As we have said throughout, the consultation process should be inclusive and open. Those who are prepared to take the time during the summer months to prepare a presentation and offer you the benefit of their viewpoint in person should not be prevented from speaking directly to you.
These are both points which we have communicated to you in the past. However, the preliminary indications are that time lines are not only far shorter than what we had requested, but shortened to the point where the consultation becomes meaningless. Likewise, a closed meeting process will create barriers preventing people with disabilities from much-needed real and meaningful participation.
We hope and trust that you share our concerns in this regard. We hope that you will agree to postpone the consultation meetings by one week, a reasonable request after your three year delay. We It is vital that this be announced along with the dates, times and places of these meetings immediately, so others can make the required plans. We also hope that you will adopt an open format that solicits others from the disability community to come and make presentations if they wish. What is required is a format that is inclusive and not exclusive. We would welcome a chance to speak with you about this. Given the shortness of time, we would be pleased to make ourselves available at your convenience.
David Lepofsky Co-Chair ODA Committee
cc: Hon. Premier Mike Haris
Dalton McGuinty, MPP
Howard Hampton, MPP
Marion Boyd, MPP
Gilles Morin, MPP
Frances Lankin, MPP
Dominic Agostino, MPP