Monday, May 22, 2000
For Immediate Release
LOCAL MPPs TARGETTED IN MAJOR PUSH
TO BREAK DISABILITY LAW LOGJAM
ON FIFTH ANNIVERSARY OF
BROKEN HARRIS ELECTION PROMISE
Monday, May 22, 2000 - On Wednesday, May 24, 2000, people with disabilities across Ontario will mark the five year anniversary of Premier Harris' broken promise to enact new disability legislation, by visiting, phoning and faxing the offices of their local MPPs, rallying around the theme "Half a Decade is Long Enough"
On May 24, 1995, Premier Harris promised in writing that if elected, his Government would enact the Ontarians with Disabilities Act (ODA) in his first term, a law needed to achieve a barrier-free province for 1.5 million Ontarians with disabilities. He also pledged that he would work together with a broad-based disability coalition, the ODA Committee, to develop it. Yet the Harris Government did not enact this promised legislation in his first term, or in his second term's first year. Harris has repeatedly refused to even meet with ODA Committee representatives. (See chronology below)
Frustrated with the Government's delays, stalling and excuses, individuals with disabilities and others who share their concerns will synchronize their grassroots pressure on this anniversary of inaction to try to break this seemingly-endless log-jam. "The ODA is Premier Harris's biggest, longest, clearest and cruelest broken promise," says David Lepofsky, chair of the province-wide ODA Committee, now organized in 19 regions of Ontario. "One and a half million Ontarians with disabilities continue to face enormous barriers when trying to get a job, an education, an apartment, or just a bus ride to a friend's place. We need this new law to tackle these barriers and to prevent new ones from being created.
But instead of keeping his promise, Premier Harris is now spending billions of our tax dollars on new infra-structure programs without a solid legislative guarantee that these will be barrier-free. It costs little or nothing to prevent barriers. Our Government should not use our taxes to create even more barriers."
Six months ago, the Ontario Legislature unanimously passed a resolution, sponsored by Liberal MPP Steve Peters, calling for a strong and effective ODA to be enacted within two years. But there
has been no progress since then. "The Government promised in the 1999 election to hold more consultations, but five years is more than enough time for this," said Lepofsky. "This is their latest
excuse for more delay, but they're just holding more secret, closed-door, invitation-only consultations, and the Government won't reveal their invitation-list or what feedback they are hearing. Yet while the Government stalls, the media reports that the Harris Government is short on new legislation to introduce."
ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT
- BACKGROUND CHRONOLOGY
* May 24, 1995 Mike Harris makes written election promise to enact the ODA in his first term and to personally work with the ODA Committee to develop it.
* May 16, 1996 Ontario Legislature unanimously passes first resolution sponsored by NDP MPP Marion Boyd calling on Harris Government to keep its ODA election promise.
* April 22, 1998 ODA Committee delivers comprehensive brief to the Legislature including a blueprint for strong and effective legislation.
* July 13 to September 1998 Ontario Government conducts closed, invitation-only consultations in 8 cities on what to include in the ODA.
* October 22, 1998 citizenship Minister Bassett presents results of her consultations, using overhead slide presentation, to ODA Committee representatives,3 of whom are blind or vision impaired. When ODA Committee is later forced to resort to the Freedom of Information legislation to compel the Minister to reveal documents from her consultation process, it discovers that the Minister's presentation gave an inaccurate and misleading report of the feedback received.
* October 29, 1998 Ontario Legislature unanimously passes second ODA resolution, sponsored by Liberal MPP Dwight Duncan. The resolution calls for ODA to be passed which embodies 11 principles to make it strong and effective.
* November 23, 1998 Citizenship Minister Basset introduces Bill 83, a 3-page bill which was completely voluntary, limited to government and did not require any barriers to ever be removed.
* December 17, 1998 Bill 83 allowed to die on the order paper after only one reading, after it is widely-condemned across Ontario.
* April 22, 1999 Pre-election Throne Speech announces Bill 83 will not be re-introduced due to criticisms of it. New consultation promised to be held before new bill to be introduced.
* May - June 3, 1999 Ontario election Campaign - Harris Government promises strengthened ODA after more consultations. Liberals and NDP promise to enact strong and effective ODA which complies with the Legislature's October 29, 1998 resolution.
* September 10, 1999 ODA Committee presents three parties with proposal, prepared at request of new Citizenship Minister Helen Johns, that new ODA public consultation take the form of an all-
party Select Committee of the Legislature to hold public hearings before a bill is drafted.
* September 11, 1999 London Free Press quotes new Citizenship Minister Helen Johns as stating that a new strong disabilities act is a "huge priority for me".
* September 20, 1999 NDP accepts ODA Committee proposal for Select Committee on the ODA to hold province-wide public hearings.
* September 21, 1999 Liberal Party accepts ODA Committee proposal for Select Committee on the ODA.
* September 28, 1999 ODA Committee Delegation meets with new Citizenship Minister Helen Johns to discuss ideas for ODA public consultation process. Minister makes no commitments on format, content or timing of public consultations. She is still consulting on how to consult.
* October 21, 1999 Throne Speech says Government's "goal" is to introduce a "new action plan" this session and that consultations "continue."
* October 27, 1999 ODA Committee writes Minister Johns asking what is meant by an "action plan". No answer received.
* October 27, 1999 In Question Period, Citizenship Minister Johns contended that the Government kept its promise to enact the ODA because it had introduced Bill 83, which was later withdrawn.
* November 23, 1999 On one-year anniversary of Bill 83's introduction, Liberal Disability Critic MPP Steve Peters proposes third resolution on the ODA during Liberal Opposition Day. Legislature unanimously passes this resolution, which calls for a strong and effective ODA to be passed within two years, ie. no later than November 23, 2001.
* Late January, 2000 Minister Johns reveals during meeting with Liberal Disability Critic Steve Peters that she is already conducting consultations.
* January 31, 2000 ODA Committee writes Minister Johns expressing serious concerns about Minister's holding closed, invitation-only consultations. ODA Committee asks for details of who is invited, and urges that the process be opened up. Minister does not answer these inquiries.
* January 31, 2000 Liberal Disability Critic Steve Peters announces that because the Government will not hold open hearings on what to include in the ODA, the Liberal Party will hold a province-wide
public consultation tour to get input from the public on what a strong and effective ODA should contain.
* March 2000 Steve Peters' Public ODA Consultation Tour holds public forums open to all in 15 cities across Ontario.
* March 31, 2000 Premier Harris does not personally respond to the most recent ODA Committee letter requesting a meeting with him. Instead, the Premier's Director of Tour and Public Events turns
away the request to meet the Premier, and suggests that the ODA Committee deal with Citizenship Minister Helen Johns, who had for months refused to answer the ODA Committee's inquiries.
* April 24, 2000 ODA Committee writes Citizenship Minister Helen Johns to request a meeting. She does not reply. ODA Committee's follow-up telephone request of her staff for a meeting before May
24 is rejected because the minister is too busy.
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