Message from the Chair
April 23, 1999
To: All Supporters of a Strong Ontarians with Disabilities Act
From: David Lepofsky, Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee Chair
Date: April 23, 1999
April 22,1999 was a breakthrough day for the ODA Committee at Queen's Park. As a result of our hard work three important things happened:
- The ODA was referred to in the Throne Speech for the first time since this Government was elected. This is a major breakthrough. The actual text is below.
- Thanks to your letters, calls and meetings with MPPs, the Government has finally realized that Bill 83 is not good enough and they announced that it would not be reintroduced. As recently as a few weeks ago they were still saying it was good legislation, now they have admitted it wasn't enough.
- There are signs that our strategy of making the voices of people with disabilities heard in the election is paying off. Following the Throne Speech, Isabel Bassett, the Minister of Citizenship, Janet Ecker, the Minister of Community and Social Services and Elizabeth Witmer, Minister of Health, all came down to the room at Queen's Park where our members were watching the Throne Speech. NDP MPP Frances Lankin and Liberal MPP Dwight Duncan also came down. The Minister of Citizenship took questions from our members about her Government's record and plans relating to the ODA.
Because these events are so important to our efforts and because you all played and will play such an important role in making these things happen, I want to report in detail what happened and what it all means. While there is still alot of work to be done, this is proof that all of our efforts are making a real and important difference.
What happened yesterday?
Despite the uncertainties of public transit leading up to that date, members of the public who have disabilities came to join us at Queens Park for the Throne Speech. As has been the case over the past four years, we had to observe the proceedings in a Legilsative Committee room on TV monitors, rather than sitting with the rest of the public in the public gallery. This is because the public gallery only has a few accessible seats.
Things took a dramatic turn right near the start of the Throne Speech. As its first reference to specific policy matters, the Government announced the following, which is the first time the ODA has ever been mentioned in any Throne Speech by this Government:"The people of Ontario also value freedom and human rights. Today, we pray for all the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces, especially those risking their lives to protect minorities in other countries.
Our thoughts are with all peoples on earth seeking refuge from persecution.
Events half a world away remind us that our province has been shaped by the contributions of men and women from around the globe.
This time of year is important to many different members of the Ontario family, including those of the Jewish faith commemorating Passover, Baha'is recognizing the holy period of Ridvan, Christians celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, Sikhs and Hindus marking Vaisakhi, Muslims commemorating Eid-ul-Adha, and Buddhists marking Vesakha.
These - and other - religious observances, remind us that, whatever our background, we are united by common principles of family, tolerance, responsibility and compassion.
These principles led your government to conduct province-wide consultations on barriers to accessibility faced by persons with disabilities. Last fall, your government introduced legislation - the first of its kind in Canada - aimed at breaking down those barriers.
Concerns expressed about this pioneering legislation, however, have been heard. In response, your government will take the time necessary to gather additional input, and will consult further before reintroducing a bill for consideration by the Legislature."
What does this mean for an Ontarians with Disabilities Act?
Well, one thing for sure is that it means is that Bill 83 itself is dead. All of your efforts across Ontario since that bill was introduced last November have paid off. The Government has finally realized that that bill was defenceless. This shows that Ontarians with disabilities are a force to be recognized and respected in Ontario.
The question now is what positive steps will the Government take if any and when will they take them? The news here is not good. The Throne Speech only says that there will be further consultation before a new bill is introduced. While the Government did refer in the Throne Speech to its plans to introduce in this session various pieces of legislation into the Legislature, there was no such commitment about an ODA.
While we were pleased that the Government considered our issues important enough that at least three Ministers came down to the room where we were watching the Throne Speech as soon as the Throne Speech was over, the Minister's responses to questions suggest that the Premier is not prepared to make a commitment to keep his campaign promise to us to pass an ODA in his first term.
Our members asked tough but fair questions of the Minister trying to find out specifically what the Government planned to do. The Minister was also pressed for details by NDP MPP Frances Lankin and Liberal MPP Dwight Duncan, both of whom have advocated for a strong ODA.
Here's the substance of what Minister Bassett had to say: She could not commit that the ODA would be drafted, introduced and passed before the election is called. When confronted with the fact that Mike Harris had promised to pass this law in his first term, Ms. Bassett said that she was not sure that that was what he promised, and that he had just promised to introduce a bill.
Just so we are clear, the Premier's exact words in writing to us on May 24, 1995 were as follows: "As I indicated to you in my response of May 11th, 1995 to the Advocacy Resource Centre for the Handicapped questionnaire, a Harris government would be willing to enact an Ontario with Disabilities Act in the first term of office within the economic goalposts of The Common Sense Revolution." This is far more than just introducing the bill. Its a clear promise to pass the law in their first term.
Minister Bassett was not able to give any details on the proposed new consultations on the ODA. She could not say when they would begin, or when they would be finished, or what they would look like. In fact, she could not even say whether the proposed new consultations would be done before the election is called.
Frustrated, members of the disability community present for this event then expressed the firm view that this new consultation process was just a stalling tactic, and that the Government was still not prepared to keep its promises to us, and to pass an ODA which is strong and meaningful.
The Opposition Parties present challenged Minister Bassett to sit down with them and with us right away, and to start hammering out an acceptable ODA. They said we could finish the job of writing it in the next week. They suggested that we all work together non stop until it is finished, and make sure it is passed into law before the upcoming election. Minister Bassett gave no commitment that this would happen.
Minister Bassett suggested that the Government is doing these new consultations before tabling a new bill because that was what we had asked them to do. She was trying to place responsibility for their strategy on the ODA Committee. We made it clear to her that this was not correct. We plainly stated that what we wanted was a strong and effective law passed before the election, and that she should not try to claim that by their current plans, she is doing what we had asked. In fact we emphasized that had the Government accepted our repeated efforts to meet and deal with this issue since the death of Bill 83 last December, they would not have to start now to talk about more consultations.
The ODA Committee has made a number of presentations to the Government outlining the core elements of legislation and outlining the barriers it needs to address. While hearings will be important once legislation is introduced, if the Government were prepared to work with us and draft legislation based on the submissions made by the ODA Committee and all of our members during the last three years, we would have legislation that could be introduced. Hearings could be used to fine-tune that legislation. We emphasized to the Minister that we had made it very plain and clear what we were looking for, and that the Legislature had unimously approved the very principles we had put foward - principles she still would not agree to accept.
It is important to know that in contrast to the vague Throne Speech references to the ODA, the Throne Speech contained a great deal of detailed proposals on other issues. They even made specific commitments in addressing other kinds of barriers, not those facing persons with disabilities, such as "efforts to reduce red-tape and other barriers to job-creation" and "barriers to internal trade".
Further proof that your efforts over the past months and years have paid off jump out from the media over the 24 hours since the Throne Speech. This issue has secured important news coverage, heralding the fact that it indeed will be an important election issue. This is not the product of one single event alone, but it is the result of all your work in building support for the ODA across Ontario, and showing the public, the media and politicians how much support there is for this important new law.
Where do we go from here?
- Keep pressing your local MPPs, especially Conservative MPPs, to ask the Premier to meet with us immediately and to make a commitment that no election will be called until a strong and effective ODA is passed.
- Keep working on the election strategy making sure that the election is accessible and that people with disabilities get out to vote.
- Make sure as many voters as possible, both those with disabilities and those without disabilities, know about this ODA issue, and the different positions of the parties on this issue. Circulate our ODA Election Factsheet and Guide to Voters with Disabilities as widely as you can.
Congratulations on making a difference and helping to make the voices of people with disabilities heard.
Email Premier Harris directly
Addresses of Conservative MPPs
Regional Contacts of the ODA Committee
previous Action Act (New Year's Action Kit)
previous Action Act re: Bill 83
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Last updated Monday, April 26, 1999