An extraordinary month of March 2000 is now behind us, on the road to a strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act. During that month, Liberal Disability Critic Steve Peters organized and held 15 tremendously successful public consultation forums on what to include in the Ontarians with Disabilities Act right across Ontario. Each had fantastic turnouts. These culminated with the March 27 Queens Park consultation forums, with two jam-packed hearing rooms running simultaneously. Right on the heels of these events, the ODA Committee's Durham Region held its first community event on the Ontarians with Disabilities Act in Ajax on Wednesday, March 29, with a great crowd in attendance.
These activities have had a real and significant impact.
- The local media right across Ontario has given the ODA record-breaking attention.
- Our award-winning ODA Committee web-site had an unprecedented number of visits in March, exceeding 5,000 before the month was even over.
- A new, 19th ODA Committee Region was kicked off in Sault Ste. Marie.
- ODA Committee Regions and others did a fantastic job of rallying at the grassroots level to help spread the word and build on these initiatives, and now have more people than ever wanting to get involved.
We extend a huge thank you to all who contributed to this incredible effort. We are more active, effective and organized than ever before. Regrettably, the Ontario Government is not yet showing any signs that they are taking this issue seriously. They have announced nothing new regarding their plans for an Ontarians with Disabilities Act. The Premier and Citizenship Minister Helen Johns refused to attend any of the ODA public consultation forums, even though they were invited. Only one Conservative MPP, Brenda Elliott, attended one of these 15 events.
Moreover, Minister Johns seems to now take the extraordinary position that persons with disabilities she has heard from (whom she won't identify), and those that Liberal Disability Critic has heard from (at public events she did not attend), do not really want legislation, and are not talking about legislation at all! On a TV interview on the London "New PL" Station's Inquiry program which aired on Saturday, March 25, 2000, on which she appeared along with Steve Peters and journalist Lynn Swanson, Minister Johns stated:
"When I talk to people with disabilities they're not always concerned about this legislation. They're concerned about getting the right programs that allow them to get access to their community so that they can work, live and raise their families. And so that's really important to recognize that the programs are a very integral part of this and that's one of my commitments to the people with disabilities is I'm going to make sure that these programs are the right programs for them in the province. And I see that when I talk to the people and when I read the reviews in the paper that Steve is getting. I see that as the issue. They always talk about, I need more transit, I need more accessibility to a thing. They're not talking about legislation, they're talking about being able to go to work in the morning, being able to lead a full life where they can go out and do things like you and I can and not have the barriers of a restaurant."
It clearly appears that the Minister is trying to back away from the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, a law which she had declared to be a "huge priority" for her in the London Free Press on September 11, 1999. She appears to want to focus on "programs" of some sort, rather than the legislation that her Government promised.
In light of this, we need to now turn our attention to the public. We need to get our message out further and wider that this province has too many barriers facing persons with disabilities, and that this province needs a strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act. People who hear from us about this overwhelmingly support this message.
We need your ideas! We welcome any and all ideas you may have on how our members can reach the public and get our message out even further than ever before, whether they are working on their own or they are working together with others in their communities at the grassroots level right across Ontario. Please forward your ideas on ways to help out with the campaign for a barrier-free Ontario to firstname.lastname@example.org as soon as possible. We want to circulate action ideas soon. The more public support we can win, the quicker the Government will have to enact an Ontarians with Disabilities Act which is truly strong and effective!