October 15, 1997
Ms. Isabel Bassett
Minister of Citizenship, Culture and
77 Bloor Street West, 6th Floor
Dear Ms. Bassett
I am writing on behalf of the Ontarans with Disabilities Act Committee, a voluntary coalition of individuals and community organizations. We have united to secure the passage in Ontario of a strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act that will achieve a barrier-free society for persons with disabilities by the year 2000. We wish to congratulate you on your appointment as Minister of Citizenship, and to offer our assistance as we did with your predecessor, to work together with you to achieve this important legislation.
Premier Harris promised us in writing during the last election that his government would pass the Ontarans with Disabilities Act in its first term, and would work together with us to develop it. However, since the 1995 election, Premier Harris has refused to meet with us, and has told us to deal instead with the Minister of Citizenship. Your predecessor Ms. Mushinski in turn refused to meet with us during her first year in offce. We did meet with her twice after public pressure made it clear that we intended to make the Premier live up to his promise despite his inaction in the first two years of his mandate. Since the first two meetings with Ms. Mushinski, one year apart, the Minister did begin to show signs that she was prepared to work constructively with us to achieve our mutual goal.
We had a meeting with your predecessor scheduled for Monciay October 27, 1997, at 3 p.m. This is a critical meeting and we want to confirm that the meeting will proceed on that date, with you and your staff. The staff of your Ministry are in an excellent position to quickly bring you up to date on the issues surrounding the Ontarians with Disabilities Act. During the summer we were discussing how the government might undertake the public consultation process leading to the development of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act with Ministry staff and your predecessor.
During and before our last meeting at the end of August with the former Minister we made a number of recommendations about the format that the consultation should follow. Since then we have had no response to these proposals to date. Ms. Mushinski committed your govemment to a target date of no later than mid to late fall 1998 for the introduction of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act into the Ontano Legislature for debate. It is diffcult to see how the Premier can meet his election commitment of the introduction and passage of this legislation in his first term unless the public consultation process is finalized and launched immediately.
You and your government have much to do to complete this project by the target date which has been committed to us. The Premiers decision to shuffle the Cabinet must not in any way delay a project which has already been far too slow in getting underway.
In addition to discussing the consultation process, there are other related issues that need to be dealt with immediately. Firstly, your predecessor agreed to take action on a request that we made at our August 20, 1997, meeting with her to endeavour to arrange a meeting with the Premier. We would like to know whether the request was made to the Premier and if so, what the response was. If no action has been taken on this matter we are asking for your commitment to take whatever steps are necessary on our behalf to arrange this meeting as soon as possible.
Ms. Mushinski also agreed to present our request for a meeting with your caucus to discuss the Ontarians with Disabilities Act. We have received no indication since then on what steps she has taken, and on what results she had secured. If no action has been taken we ask that you also follow up immediately to arrange this meeting.
Second, during the 1995 election, Premier Harris promised to increase funding for the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Instead, your predecessor has done the exact opposite. She reduced funding to that important agency. In preparing to participate in public consultations on the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, we need to know when your government will restore the cut funding, and when it will give that Commission the new funding which was promised. We are keenly aware that Premier Harris has indicated a firm intention to keep all of his election promises. 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 ofthe case, Eldridge v. B.C., dealt with the right of persons who are deaf to have governmentfunded 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 government 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 outside agencies at the initiation of the government. A strong and effective Ontarians wth Disabilities Act would be a major step in meeting that obligation.
We are proceeding on the premise that our October 27, 997, meeting shall occur as scheduled, and look forward to working together with you to achieve a strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act as quickly as possible.
Co-Chair, ODA Committee
cc Hon. Mike Harris
Hon. Marilyn Mushinski