Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee
May 22, 1997
Hon. Premier Mike Harris
Room 281, Legislative Building
Dear Mr. Harris:
RE. ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT
I am writing on behalf of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee as a follow-up to our unsuccessful attempt on May 15, 1997, to meet with you or your representative at the Legislature to discuss ways in which we could work with you and your government to pass a strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act as you promised during the 1995 election campaign. The approximately 200 people with disabilities who attended at the Legislature were hurt, disappointed and confused about why you are still unwilling to meet with us in light of what we believed was a very clear election promise. As you know, it is difficult for people with disabilities to find transportation for meetings like this and, in some cases, difficult for them to just enter the Legislature because of the barriers. When you not only refuse to meet with us, but actively avoid having to even exchange brief greetings, it is difficult for our membership to take seriously your election commitment.
Despite our disappointment and the growing disillusionment of our membership, we are still prepared to extend an open request to you for a meeting so that we can discuss, in concrete terms, the steps your government intends to take so that next May 15, we can celebrate the introduction of an Ontarians with Disabilities Act rather than yet another anniversary of inaction. We also wish to present to you the results of a Lou Harris Public Opinion Survey, conducted for us this past March and released at the Legislature on May 15, 1997 (copy enclosed). It provides compelling, objective and independent evidence that there is very strong public support for the legislation which we seek. The survey establishes that a significant majority of the public are aware that persons with disabilities face barriers in gaining access to the mainstream of Ontario society. It documents that there is strong public support for legislation which would specifically require such barriers to be identified and removed, and for future barriers to be prevented before they occur. Moreover, the survey proves that the public substantially agrees that the cost of such is worth it.
In light of these results, and your existing commitment, we think that it is in everyone's interest for your government to proceed immediately with the development and introduction of a strong, effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Every day that goes by without this legislation means that new barriers are created.
Finally, I am requesting that you publicly correct your response to a question in the Legislature on May 15, 1997, that seriously misrepresents both the position of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee as well as me personally. Our membership was shocked when watching the proceedings in the House from the Committee Rooms in the Legislature to hear you say, in response to a question, from the Opposition about what the time table would be for the introduction of an Ontarians with Disabilities Act:
"The Minister quite frankly invited Mr. Lepofsky and the ODA Committee to participate in the development of the Equal Opportunity Plan and the Vulnerable Adults initiatives. Mr. Lepofsky, very politely I might add, declined that invitation."
The reference to the Minister is of course to Marilyn Mushinski, your Minister of Citizenship who is responsible for disability issues. This statement suggests that our Committee is unwilling to work with you, the Minister of Citizenship, Marilyn Mushinski, or your government. There is no basis for your statement, in fact the opposite is true. For the last two years we have been attempting to meet with you and your Minister in order to find constructive ways to work together. The ODA Committee is not a partisan group, its only agenda is to advance the rights of people with disabilities in the province, something all three parties say they support. To date, we have had only one meeting with the Minister of Citizenship, and that was only after the resolution passed last May. Until she received word of the event last week, we received no response to requests for a subsequent meeting.
On the specific facts of your statement, namely that we declined an invitation to consult with the Minister on the Equal Opportunity Plan, our correspondence with your government in fact proves otherwise. On Tuesday, November 14, 1995, we were contacted by Avebury Research, consultants working on behalf of the Ministry of Citizenship, to request our participation in consultation on the Equal Opportunity Plan. However, we were told that the consultation had to be completed by the end of that week. Despite this short time frame we did participate through a conference call on Friday, November 17, 1995. We were very concerned, in fact, that this consultation was not done in a way to allow meaningful participation, not only by the ODA Committee, but by other organizations representing people with disabilities. On December 14, 1995, we wrote to the Minister of Citizenship pointing out our concerns about the process and requesting further consultation. The letter said, in part:
"The ODA Committee, therefore, is asking for a meaningful opportunity to be consulted on the Workplace Equal Opportunity Plan. We wish to consult directly with you, and not with some private consulting firm. We wish to be provided with sufficient opportunity to prepare for the consultation. We wish the consultation to be entirely without preconditions, such as requirements that the plan be non-legislated and voluntary - preconditions which subvert the purposes for the consultation."
The Minister of Citizenship did not respond specifically to this letter's request, however, the issue was raised again at our first and only meeting with the Minister of Citizenship held in June of 1996. At that meeting, the Minister said very little about the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, the intended focus of the meeting. Instead, we were asked to consult on the Equal Opportunity Plan and on the Vulnerable Adults issue. We agreed to consult on the Equal Opportunity Plan, but said that we did not want our agenda item, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, to be diluted, distracted or side-tracked by any other issues. Regarding the Vulnerable Adults initiative, we indicated that at first blush, this appeared to be outside our coalition's specific mandate. However, we always recognize the importance of consulting with the disability community on such issues.
In a letter to the Minister on July 25, 1996, we confirmed that we discussed the Equal Opportunity Plan and initiative for Vulnerable Adults, as well as reform to the Ontario Human Rights Commission. It was suggested at the June 14, meeting with the Minister that the consultation process for all of these initiatives could be combined with the consultation on an Ontarian's with Disabilities Act. Although rejecting that proposal, we again said:
"We have no objection to providing you with input or feedback on the Equal Opportunity Plan and the Human Rights matters. Indeed, as we advised you in writing last fall, the opportunity which your Ministry gave us for input into the Equal Opportunity Plan was unacceptable as it was done on far too short notice, and was keyed to policy preconditions which doomed the Plan to failure. Subject to further deliberations within our Committee, I do not expect that we would be in a position to provide input on the Vulnerable Adults project, as it would appear at first impression to lie outside the mandate of our Committee. Of course, you are encouraged to consult with the disability community widely in that context. Many of our individual and organizational members will undoubtedly wish to address your Ministry and you directly."
As this correspondence illustrates, we have not only participated in consultation on the Equal Opportunity Plan, but requested additional opportunities to participate in the consultation process in a meaningful way. As I am sure you can understand, it is of great concern to us that the public record be set straight as soon as possible. As your May 15, 1997 statement was made on the floor of the House, it was widely disseminated across Ontario via television. Your statement carries a great deal of weight and it would be unfortunate if the public is left with the incorrect impression about the activities of this Coalition. We hope and trust that you will take steps to make the public record clear on this point, preferably in the House during proceedings which are as equally televised as were the proceedings in which you made your incorrect statement on May 15.
We have tried, from the beginning, to be helpful and straightforward with you and the Minister while keeping in mind the mandate of our Coalition which is to work towards legislation that can achieve a barrier-free society by the year 2000. We still believe that it is important for us to meet with you as soon as possible so that all of us are clear on what direction the government is taking and what we can do to ensure that the consultation process and eventual legislation truly meet the needs of people with disabilities in Ontario.
We look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience regarding the matters raised in this letter.
M. David Lepofsky, C.M.
Co-Chair ODA Committee
cc: Marilyn Mushinski
Encl. Lou Harris Disability Legislation Public Opinion Survey