October 15, 1997
The Hon. Mike Harris
Premier of Ontaro
Main Legislative Building, Room 281
Re: Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee
I am writing on behalf of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee. During the last election, you promised us in writing that you would work together with us to develop and enact the Ontarians with Disabilities Act in your first term. Since being elected, you have refused to meet us, and have instead told us to work together with the Citizenship Minister. The Minister, Ms. Mushinski, refused to meet with us for her first year in office, and only met with us twice in her entire tenure at that post. It was only very recently that she showed demonstrable signs that she was prepared to get started and serious on this important, and long overdue project. Just when that glimmer of progress appeared, you have shuffled the Cabinet, and placed a new person in that portfolio.
It is vital that this Cabinet shuffle not delay this already delayed project. We urge in light of these events that you take the following steps:
1. Please agree at last to meet with us.
2. Please arrange for us to meet with your caucus.
3. Please direct the new Minister of Citizenship that the Ontarians with Disabilities Act is to be her Ministry's top priority. We had an appointment scheduled with the former Minister of Citizenship for October 27 1997. We have already written to the new Minister requesting that she meet with us on that date. Your support for this meeting is important.
4. Please direct your other Cabinet Ministers that it is vital for them to fully cooperate on the Ontarians with Disabilities Act project with the new Minister, and
5. Please personally intervene to kick-start the stalled process of getting the public consultations underway that wll lead to the development of the Ontanans with Disabilities Act, which Ms. Mushinski committed to introduce into the Ontario Legislature no later than mid to late fall 1998.
Finally, as you may be aware, the Supreme Court of Canada issued a landmark ruling on the rights of persons with disabilities on October 9, 1997. While the specific facts of the case, Eldridge v. B.C., dealt with the right of persons who are deaf to have govenment-funded sign language interpreter services when necessary for effective communication when receiving medical services, the decision has much broader implications. It is our view that the provincial govenment must now take positive steps to remove existing barriers to public services for people with disabilities, whether or not those programs are delivered directly by government or by outside agencies at the initiation of the government. A strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act would be a major step in meeting that obligation.
We look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible on these important issues.
Co-Chair Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee
cc Hon. Isabel Bassett
Hon. Marilyn Mushinski