November 19, 1997
The Hon. Mike Harris,
Premier of Ontario
Main Legislative Building, Room 281
Toronto, Ontario M7A 1A1
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 our October 15, 1997 letter requesting a meeting with you, to which you have not yet responded. Since that letter we have had discussions with the new Minister of Citizenship which make our request for a meeting with you even more urgent.
We have made a number of attempts to meet with you since the election to discuss ways to carry out your promise to work together with our committee to introduce and pass a strong and effective ODA and to channel new resources to meet the accommodation needs of persons with disabilities. To date there has been virtually no real progress on these election promises.
You have consistently refused to meet with us, referring us instead to the Minister of Citizenship. We followed-up on your suggestion. Finally this summer, after two years, Ms. Mushinski, the former Minister of Citizenship, seemed at last to be prepared to start to deal seriously with this issue. After ongoing discussions with Ms. Mushinski and the Ministry staff we were pleased to see that a public consultation process was included in the Ministry's Business Plan for this year. At our last meeting with her, in August 1997, Ms. Mushinski made a commitment that the target date for the introduction of the legislation was late Fall 1998. We had constructive discussions with both the Minister and her staff about the form of public consultations and were led to believe that public consultations were forthcoming, and that the plan for the public consultation process would be released this fall.
On October 10, 1997 Isabel Bassett replaced Ms. Mushinski as Citizenship Minister. At that time we wrote to you asking for your assistance to ensure that this change did not further delay the process. We also wrote to the new Minister, and subsequently met with her, to discuss how she planned to carry out the commitments made to us by the previous Minister and related important matters. For example, we wanted assurances that you were prepared to fulfill your election promise to increase funding to the Human Rights Commission by restoring funding already cut and by providing it with additional funds. We have also notified Ministry staff that we wanted assurances from the Minister that there would be no changes made to the duty to accommodate under the Human Rights Code. We hoped that the new Minister would not only confirm the commitments made to us by the previous Minister, but that we could begin to discuss with her the most efficient way of working cooperatively to carry out these commitments. To this end we asked that she arrange a meeting with members of the caucus as well as a caucus committee that was apparently going to work on the Ontarians with Disabilities Act. We thought such meetings would provide a good opportunity to answer questions arising from your caucus and to help them better understand the types of barriers faced by people with disabilities.
We were optimistic at the time of the initial meeting on October 27, 1997 since Ms. Bassett expressed support for the Ontarians with Disabilities Act. However, as has been your Government's pattern in the past, these declarations are not followed by any real action. In fact, during a telephone conversation on November 12, 1997, Ms. Bassett took the position that she cannot at the present time confirm any commitments or decisions made by her predecessor with respect to the Ontarians with Disabilities Act. She also indicated that she intends to review all of the matters relating to the ODA including whether or not there will even be a public consultation process before the legislation is introduced.
In addition to the delay caused by this review, she also indicated that she was unable to answer core questions about this project that we previously raised with her and with her staff, without first speaking to you. These questions relate to the launch of the public consultations, the target date for introduction of the legislation, the Government's broken election promise to increase funding for the Human Rights Commission and the need to ensure that there will be no opening up of the duty to accommodate persons with disabilities, enshrined in the Ontario Human Rights Code. The answers to these questions are critical to us, since they relate directly to your election promises to us.
Despite our continued attempts to work co-operatively and constructively with your government to assist you in fulfilling your important election promises to us, we find ourselves in an impossible predicament. Having followed your suggestion that we work with the Citizenship Minister, we now find that the Minister is now unable to make the commitments necessary to ensure that a strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act is passed in your first term. She cannot address our core concerns without speaking to you first. Even if one Minister makes commitments, the next one seems to feel free to revisit them. It is clear to us that you are the only person in the position to make the necessary commitments. As you can well understand, this is an extremely frustrating state of affairs which leaves people with disabilities in a very precarious state. Our Committee is made up of volunteer members from Toronto and elsewhere in Ontario who are willing to take time out of their day and travel to Toronto from various parts of the province at their own expense, to meet with your successive Ministers. They find that it devalues their time and energy when we are forced to meet with someone who, regardless of her personal commitment, does not have the necessary authority to move forward.
Our membership has made it clear to us that a full and open public consultation prior to the drafting of this law is necessary and must get underway very quickly. Unless the Ontarians with Disabilities Act is developed and introduced into the Legislature no later than late fall next year, as Ms. Mushinski committed, it is difficult to see how you will be able to keep your promise to enact this law in your first term without severely restricting the opportunity for people with disabilities to play a meaningful part in the process to develop this legislation.
We believe that you must show strong leadership by meeting with us to make clear how you intend to carry out your election promise and to give clear direction to the Minister. This is necessary so that we can continue to work with her with some confidence that ministerial commitments will actually be carried out. If, as appears to be the current Minister's view, each Cabinet shuffle dissolves commitments made by the previous Minister, and new actions must await your personal approval, it is unreasonable of you to ask us to deal only with the Minister. Precious time, that could be spent in constructive consultation and policy work to develop the new legislation, is now quickly slipping away. We respectfully propose that the only appropriate action is for us to meet with you, along with the Citizenship Minister, to get this project back on the rails.
We look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience, and again offer to work together with you, as you promised you would do with us, to develop this much-needed legislation.
M. David Lepofsky C.M.,
Co-Chair Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee
cc Hon. Isabel Bassett
Hon. Marilyn Mushinski