Our Campaign for Strong, Effective Implementation of the AODA

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE

TRANSPORTATION STANDARDS DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEE CHAIR URGES MCGUINTY GOVERNMENT TO BREAK ITS ELECTION COMMITMENT TO ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES - SIGNALS TROUBLING RESISTANCE TO STRENGTHENING THE WEAK PROPOSED TRANSIT ACCESSIBILITY STANDARD

January 8, 2008

SUMMARY

On December 13, 2007, the chair of the Transportation Standards Development Committee, Mr. Al Cormier, wrote a very troubling letter to the McGuinty Government. He urged it to break an important recent election pledge to Ontarians with disabilities. (See text of that letter below.)

By way of background, under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, the Transportation Standards Development Committee (TSDC) is responsible to create an enforceable accessibility standard that will make public transportation in Ontario fully accessible to persons with disabilities no later than 2025. Last summer, the TSDC proposed a very weak and inadequate transportation accessibility standard. It addressed too few transportation barriers, let transit providers delay for too long before fixing these, and didn’t impose strict enough accessibility requirements. To see what’s wrong with that proposal, visit: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/08132007- Support-BriefOnProposedTransportationAccessibilityStandard.asp

The Ontario Human Rights Commission condemned that proposed transportation accessibility standard as falling significantly short of the Ontario Human Rights Code’s requirements. See:
http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/09052007- ACCESSIBILITYFORONTARIANSWITHDISABILITIESACTALLIANCEUPDATE.asp

During the 2007 Ontario election, all three political parties recognized that Ontario needs to strengthen its process for making accessibility standards under the AODA. For example, the McGuinty Government made a series of pledges on what they’d do to achieve this, if re-elected. Visit: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/10102007.asp

One of the serious problems with the Standards Development Committees to date has been that the disability representatives have been clearly out-numbered and over-powered by others, including government and private sector representatives. This seriously stacked the deck against the disability community. It has led to serious problems with weak proposals for accessibility standards.

To its credit, the McGuinty Government pledged last fall that it would now ensure that disability representatives constitute 50% of each Standards Development Committee. It is very troubling that in his December 13, 2007 letter to the McGuinty Government, the TSDC chair urged the McGuinty Government to break this promise. He wrote:

‘The Transportation Standards Development Committee which I chair is aware of the promise made by your Liberal Party during the recent provincial election campaign with respect to the structure and composition of the committees dealing the development of the standards under the Ontarians with Disability Act. No doubt you will be giving serious consideration to implementing these promises in the near future.

As you know, the complexities found in developing a transportation standard have resulted in my committee not meeting its initial schedule and we appreciate the timing extension you granted us. The Public Review process of our Initial Standard ended recently and we are now assessing the many comments received. My committee is resuming its meeting schedule in the New Year with the expectation to submit a final standard to your office by the end of March.

In discussing the Liberal Party promise with my Committee members, I found that while several of our members would welcome a restructuring of the membership and rules at this time, many are very opposed to such moves, citing the fact that our Committee is nearing the end of its assignment.

As Chair of the Committee, I acknowledge that a major restructuring of the Committee at this time would result in significant delays to our work. Given that we already have spent much more time than originally expected, I doubt if all of our existing members would stay the course if such delays are introduced at this stage. While adding more persons with disabilities to the Committee may well result in more committee members supporting shorter implementation time frames, such measures will not likely be supported by the carrier representatives on the committee for reasons outlined item 1 below. This may very well mean that many items now in the initial standard will not receive support by a majority of the Committee and may therefore be deferred to the next revision of the standard in 5 years.

While I support your Government’s efforts in exploring all opportunities to improve accessibility for disabled persons, it is my recommendation that our Committee membership not be altered at this time. I am however, actively working with your staff to fill two existing vacancies from persons with disabilities on our Committee. One vacancy was caused by an untimely death and the other by a disabled member’s inability to secure an attendant to allow him to attend meetings. Filling these two vacancies will bring the committee membership back to the balance we had when our work started and I am prepared to work with your staff to bring these two new persons up to speed on the Committee’s work to date.’

This entrenched opposition to an equal voice for Ontarians with disabilities at the table reflects a very troubling attitude towards the disability community. It is made worse when we are reminded that 18 months ago, Mr. Cormier wrote David Lepofsky, refusing to let him make a presentation to the TSDC on why blind passengers need all bus stops announced. Mr. Cormier then used the same excuse that the TSDC was too far into its work schedule. The TSDC later proposed a standard that let transit providers delay announcing all bus stops for 18 years. Mr. Lepofsky won a human rights case requiring TTC to start announcing all bus stops within 30 days.

It is more important that the TSDC get its work done right than for it to get its work done by March. It is doubtful that the TSDC could fix all the major problems with their proposed transit standard by the end of March, 2008. If they rush to get everything done by March, the odds are they will disregard most of the public feedback they’ve received.

To the McGuinty Government’s credit, the minister responsible for the Disabilities Act, Madeleine Meilleur, wrote to Mr. Cormier on December 27, 2007, reaffirming the McGuinty Government’s election pledge on equal representation for the disability sector. (See the text of her letter, below.)

Mr. Cormier’s letter demonstrates more problems with the TSDC. He intimates that the transit sector representatives would likely block any changes to the current, weak proposed transportation accessibility standard, if they would speed up the proposed standards’ excessive time delays for action.

As well, Mr. Cormier seems to virtually sweep aside as impossible the suggestions for improvement to the weak proposed transportation standard that the public, including the disability community, suggested during last summer’s public consultations. He wrote:

‘1. We are now in the process of reviewing the extensive comments received during the Public Review process and it is obvious that many comments favour more changes in how transportation is offered and delivered to persons with disabilities and that these changes should have shorter implementation time frames. While many of these requested changes are indeed technically possible sooner, their early implementation is not possible given current economic conditions facing many of the carriers. Our Terms of Reference were clear that we are to develop recommendations that respect existing funding envelopes and current economic realities. I would therefore appreciate your confirmation that the Terms of Reference are unchanged or otherwise in this regard.’

To the McGuinty Government’s credit, Minister Madeleine Meilleur’s December 27, 2007 letter to Mr. Cormier appears not to buy into Mr. Cormier’s attempt to cry poor on behalf of the transit sector. She wrote:

‘You also indicated in your letter that meeting accelerated timelines is not possible for many transportation carriers given their budgetary and economic concerns. In passing the AODA, the government understood that to achieve accessibility, there will be a need for investment from all organizations covered by the standard. Ensuring equal access to transportation services is not a new obligation. The needs of persons with disabilities must be considered as investments in transportation services are made. As part of setting implementation timelines, the committee is to consider costs and also build upon current plans and practices in the area of accessibility.

As you know, the Ontario government remains committed to public transportation and is providing support for public transit infrastructure through ReNew Ontario. Two cents per litre of the provincial gasoline tax is provided to municipalities as a long-term sustainable source of transit funding. The new Ontario Bus Replacement Program, a multi-year vehicle funding program, provides municipalities with $50 million annually to replace buses over time to make transit more accessible. Last June, we also committed $11.5 billion toward the Move Ontario 2020 plan for transit projects, the largest investment of its kind in Canadian history.’

In sum, Mr. Cormier’s letter raises the troubling specter that he, and those members of the TSDC on whose behalf he was writing, still don’t recognize the Human Rights Commission’s damning findings about the proposed transportation accessibility standard, referred to above. They also don’t recognize the need and the right of persons with disabilities to have an equal voice in these standards. We emphasize that it is our understanding that the minority of TSDC members who are from the disability sector don’t share the views that Mr. Cormier’s letter voices.

There is thus and even more pressing need for the McGuinty Government to take major, prompt action to get the TSDC back on track. The Transportation Standards Development Committee and the other Standards Development Committees under the AODA should not resume their work until the McGuinty Government implements all the important improvements to which it pledged in last fall’s election. While we regret any delay from this, it is needed for the greater good.

Send us your feedback at: aodafeedback@rogers.com

*****

Cor Al Services
Suite 309, 15 - 6400 Millcreek Road,
Mississauga, Ontario, Canada
L5N 3E7
Tel: 416 970 9242
Fax: 905 858 9291
Email: alcormier2@sympatico.ca

December 13, 2007

The Honourable Madeleine Meilleur
Minister of Community and Social Services
80 Grosvenor St, Hepburn Block, 6th Floor
Toronto, ON M7A 1E9

Copy via email: Madeleine.meilleur@ontario.ca

Dear Madam Minister,

Re: Transportation Standards Development Committee (T-SDC)

The Transportation Standards Development Committee which I chair is aware of the promise made by your Liberal Party during the recent provincial election campaign with respect to the structure and composition of the committees dealing the development of the standards under the Ontarians with Disability Act. No doubt you will be giving serious consideration to implementing these promises in the near future.

As you know, the complexities found in developing a transportation standard have resulted in my committee not meeting its initial schedule and we appreciate the timing extension you granted us. The Public Review process of our Initial Standard ended recently and we are now assessing the many comments received. My committee is resuming its meeting schedule in the New Year with the expectation to submit a final standard to your office by the end of March.

In discussing the Liberal Party promise with my Committee members, I found that while several of our members would welcome a restructuring of the membership and rules at this time, many are very opposed to such moves, citing the fact that our Committee is nearing the end of its assignment.

As Chair of the Committee, I acknowledge that a major restructuring of the Committee at this time would result in significant delays to our work. Given that we already have spent much more time than originally expected, I doubt if all of our existing members would stay the course if such delays are introduced at this stage. While adding more persons with disabilities to the Committee may well result in more committee members supporting shorter implementation time frames, such measures will not likely be supported by the carrier representatives on the committee for reasons outlined item 1 below. This may very well mean that many items now in the initial standard will not receive support by a majority of the Committee and may therefore be deferred to the next revision of the standard in 5 years.

While I support your Government’s efforts in exploring all opportunities to improve accessibility for disabled persons, it is my recommendation that our Committee membership not be altered at this time. I am however, actively working with your staff to fill two existing vacancies from persons with disabilities on our Committee. One vacancy was caused by an untimely death and the other by a disabled member’s inability to secure an attendant to allow him to attend meetings. Filling these two vacancies will bring the committee membership back to the balance we had when our work started and I am prepared to work with your staff to bring these two new persons up to speed on the Committee’s work to date.

I would also like to take this opportunity to seek clarification on the following points:

1. We are now in the process of reviewing the extensive comments received during the Public Review process and it is obvious that many comments favour more changes in how transportation is offered and delivered to persons with disabilities and that these changes should have shorter implementation time frames. While many of these requested changes are indeed technically possible sooner, their early implementation is not possible given current economic conditions facing many of the carriers. Our Terms of Reference were clear that we are to develop recommendations that respect existing funding envelopes and current economic realities. I would therefore appreciate your confirmation that the Terms of Reference are unchanged or otherwise in this regard.

2. Throughout our deliberations, concern has been expressed on the need to harmonize all AODA standards with each other and with existing legislation and regulations. I would appreciate confirmation that this is the intention of your Government to carry out such harmonization after receipt of the standards.

3. Finally, as we face our final few meetings, our Committee would appreciate hearing from your Government if you have specific new issues or directions you would like the Committee to consider that have not been communicated to the Committee to date.

I would be pleased to meet with yourself or your staff to discuss this further.

I look forward to your early response.

Yours truly,

Al Cormier, Chair
Transportation Standards Development Committee

*****

Ministry of Community
and Social Services
Minister’s Office
Hepburn Block
Queen's Park
Toronto ON M7A 1E9
Tel.: (416) 325-5225
Fax: (416) 325-3347

DEC 27 2007
Mr. Al Cormier
Cor Al Services
15-6400 Millcreek Road, Suite 309
Mississauga, Ontario
L5N 3E7

Dear Mr. Cormier:

Thank you for your letter regarding the government's commitments around the restructuring of the standards development committees (SDCs) and the impact this will have on the development of an accessible transportation standard. I recognize the complexities of developing a transportation standard and appreciate the effort demonstrated by the transportation SDC throughout the development process.

The government remains committed to the goals of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) and to advancing accessibility across the public transportation sector through standards so that all Ontarians can benefit from public transportation. Transportation was selected as one of the first standards to be developed because Ontario has already made significant progress in providing accessible transit. Standards can build on the progress, practices and commitments already in place.

The process used to develop effective accessibility standards is critical to achieving this goal. It continues to be a sound process with healthy debate. It has also been a learning process. People with disabilities have pointed out some barriers within the standards development process that we must address to make sure that the voices of people with disabilities are heard. If we are to be a truly accessible province by 2025, then the standards must clearly reflect solutions to barriers experienced by people with disabilities.

We are proceeding on our election promise to strengthen the standards development process. This promise included the commitment to ensure 50 per cent membership from the disability community on all SDCs. I look forward to providing further details in early 2008.

In your letter, you identified the committee's concerns about harmonization across AODA standards, and with other legislation and regulations. Standards development is a dynamic process. The AODA provides for harmonization through a phased process that provides for continuous improvement and regular review of standards. As standards are being developed, the Accessibility Directorate will work with you and your committee on mechanisms to achieve harmonization across standards (e.g. terms and definitions, phased timelines). As well, I ask that the committee continue to be alert to areas of potential intersection with other regulations and legislation, and advise me of these areas when you submit your final proposed standard.

You also indicated in your letter that meeting accelerated timelines is not possible for many transportation carriers given their budgetary and economic concerns. In passing the AODA, the government understood that to achieve accessibility, there will be a need for investment from all organizations covered by the standard. Ensuring equal access to transportation services is not a new obligation. The needs of persons with disabilities must be considered as investments in transportation services are made. As part of setting implementation timelines, the committee is to consider costs and also build upon current plans and practices in the area of accessibility.

As you know, the Ontario government remains committed to public transportation and is providing support for public transit infrastructure through ReNew Ontario. Two cents per litre of the provincial gasoline tax is provided to municipalities as a long-term sustainable source of transit funding. The new Ontario Bus Replacement Program, a multi-year vehicle funding program, provides municipalities with $50 million annually to replace buses over time to make transit more accessible. Last June, we also committed $11.5 billion toward the Move Ontario 2020 plan for transit projects, the largest investment of its kind in Canadian history.

Thank you again for your commitment to the Transportation Standards Development Committee. I encourage your continued participation in developing proposed standards to make public transit in Ontario accessible for persons with disabilities.

Sincerely,

Madeleine Meilleur
Minister