ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE
Premier Wynne and Economic Develop Minister Duguid Respond to AODA Alliance’s Detail Proposals to Get Ontario Back on Schedule for Full Disability Accessibility by 2025 – But the Government’s Responses Largely Trumpet Insufficient Past Government Action Instead of Adopting Our Action Recommendations – There’s No Government Plan in Effect that Will Ensure Full Accessibility By 2025 and fulfill the Government’s Unkept Accessibility Promises
January 20, 2015
Only 9 years and 345 days remain before January 1, 2025. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act AODA requires the Ontario Government to have led Ontario to become fully accessible to people with disabilities by that mandatory legal deadline. Ontario is now behind schedule for reaching full accessibility by 2025, as the AODA Alliance showed in a 368-page brief it made public on June 30, 2014.
Yet over six months after winning a new majority government, it appears the Wynne Government still has no effective plan that will get Ontario back on schedule for becoming fully accessible to over 1.8 million people with disabilities by 2025. That’s the worrisome conclusion of a detailed 33-page analysis, which we just made public, of Premier Kathleen Wynne’s December 23, 2014 letter and Employment Minister Duguid’s December 8, 2014 letter, both addressed to the AODA Alliance.
On December 3, 2012, when running for the Ontario liberal leadership, Kathleen Wynne promised Ontarians with disabilities that she’d ensure that Ontario is on schedule to reach full accessibility by 2025. In last spring’s Ontario election, Premier Wynne pledged to instruct her cabinet ministers and senior officials to implement the Government’s disability accessibility promises and obligations.
The Premier demonstrably ignored these pledges in September, 2014, when she sent “Mandate Letters” to each cabinet minister, listing their work priorities. Those Mandate Letters systematically left out most of the Government’s accessibility promises and duties.
The AODA Alliance also makes public today the December 2014 letters it received from Premier Wynne and Economic Minister Duguid (the minister with lead responsibility to implement and enforce the AODA). These letters were to respond to the list of action proposals and inquiries the Alliance offered the Government last summer, to aid the Government in fulfilling its disability accessibility promises and duties. (See links to those summer 2014 letters from the AODA Alliance at the end of this Update.)
The AODA Alliance hoped that the Government’s December 2014 correspondence would set out a detailed plan of new Government action that would honour the Government’s accessibility promises and duties. Sadly, they did not. To our incredible frustration, the Government’s two December 2014 letters offer little if anything new. They mainly re-announce Government activities that, for the most part, have been public for some time. While helpful, those activities won’t get Ontario back on schedule for full accessibility by 2025.
According to the AODA Alliance’s 32-page Analysis of the Government’s December 2014 letters (fuller summary set out below):
* The Government continues to abdicate its duty and promise to effectively enforce the AODA. Many AODA obligations have gone unenforced. A significant majority of private sector organizations are still left entirely free of any AODA enforcement, despite the Government knowing of rampant AODA violations in the private sector. The Government has not established its promised toll-free number for the public to report AODA violations.
* The Government keeps dithering over other key decisions, like deciding which accessibility standards to make next, a decision that has languished on its plate for over three and a half years, or what it will do to effectively address the massive unemployment of people with disabilities.
* The Government has ample funds on hand (budgeted, but unused) to beef up its lagging efforts on disability accessibility. Since 2005, the Government has failed to use fully 26.2 million dollars appropriated for the Economic Development Ministry’s Accessibility Directorate of Ontario. In 2013-2014 alone, the Economic Development Ministry failed to use fully 2.4 million dollars of that accessibility budget.
* The Government’s two new December 2014 letters to the AODA Alliance announce little if any new real action on the series of constructive recommendations the AODA Alliance sent the Government last summer. The Premier chose instead mainly to trumpet what the Government has done in the past – despite the Alliance’s clear request for straight answers on its proposals for new action.
* What little the Government offers in the way of new action is offers to consult more, or to make needed and overdue decisions on accessibility initiatives some unspecified time in the future. This is just a formula for more delays.
* The Government will therefore cause Ontario to lag even further behind schedule for reaching full accessibility by 2025, while the remaining time before that deadline keeps shrinking.
“We call on Premier Wynne to show the bold leadership she promised Ontarians, and keep her word to us on accessibility,” said David Lepofsky, chair of the non-partisan AODA Alliance that has spearheaded the grassroots province-wide campaign to get Ontario’s accessibility law effectively implemented and enforced. “It’s time for the Premier to direct her cabinet ministers to fulfil all the Government’s disability accessibility promises and duties. It’s time for her to make public a comprehensive plan that will ensure the Government leads Ontario to become fully accessible by 2025, as she promised.”
Despite having to deal with a seemingly-endless revolving door of four successive ministers and three successive deputy ministers in four years, the AODA Alliance is undeterred. We will just accelerate action to get the Government to keep its word to us. Stay tuned in the next days and weeks for action tips.
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Summary of the AODA Alliance’s January 19, 2014 Analysis of Premier Wynne’s And Economic Minister Duguid’s December 2014 Letters to the AODA Alliance, Entitled “Where’s the Wynne Government’s Plan of Action to Ensure that Ontario becomes Fully Accessible by 2025?”
The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) requires the Ontario Government to lead Ontario to become fully accessible by 2025. Ontario now lags behind schedule for reaching that goal. Ten years have passed since that law was passed. Fewer than ten years are left before the legal deadline for becoming fully accessible.
In the 2014 Ontario election, we asked Premier Kathleen Wynne to promise that if re-elected, she would direct her cabinet ministers and senior public officials to keep the Government’s disability accessibility duties and commitments. On May 16, 2014, she gave that pledge in writing.
To help the Premier and her Government, last summer the AODA Alliance separately wrote Premier Wynne and ten cabinet ministers, to ask for their specific plans to fulfill the Government’s accessibility pledges and duties that fall within their mandates. The AODA Alliance gave each politician a specific list of needed actions.
As another way to help the Government, last June, the AODA Alliance made public a detailed 368-page brief. It shows that the Government’s past and current actions on accessibility to date are far too little to ensure that Ontario becomes fully accessible by 2025, or indeed, at any future time. That brief gave the Government recommendations to get Ontario back on schedule for full accessibility, and to keep its accessibility promises.
Despite our efforts, Premier Wynne has not kept her promise to direct her cabinet and senior officials to keep the Government’s accessibility promises and to fulfill its accessibility duties. On September 25, 2014, the Premier sent detailed “Mandate Letters” to each cabinet minister to list their priorities, totalling 100 pages. She snubbed over 1.8 million Ontarians with disabilities, by systematically leaving out most of the Government’s accessibility pledges from those Mandate Letters.
In December 2014, after waiting for months, the AODA Alliance finally received responses from the Government to our letters sent the previous summer. We received a December 23, 2014 letter from Premier Wynne and a December 8, 2014 letter from Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid (who is responsible for implementing and enforcing the AODA).
To read Premier Wynne’s December 23, 2014 letter to the AODA Alliance, visit http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/01192015a.asp
To read Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid’s December 8, 2014 letter to the AODA Alliance, visit http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/01192015.asp
These letters were offered to answer all our inquiries. This gave the Government a chance to set out a clear and effective plan for concrete action to keep its promises and to get Ontario back on schedule for full accessibility.
Instead, the Government’s two December 2014 letters are little more than a polished public relations response. They give Ontarians with disabilities real cause for concern.
To our immense frustration, the Premier and Economic Development Minister offered no comprehensive plan of new action to get Ontario back on schedule for reaching accessibility by 2025. This is a cruel irony. In our letters to each minister last summer, we tried to prevent this from happening, cautioning:
“We have often written Ontario cabinet ministers, to make constructive proposals for specific actions on accessibility. Too often our letters have simply been routed to a communications branch official for a "public relations" response. We too often end up receiving a letter, authored by communications officials, that thanks us for writing, praises our advocacy on accessibility, and voices support for making Ontario accessible. Such letters then simply repeat lists of things the Government has already done or promised. Too often these responses do not actually answer our inquiries or proposals.
Please don't let that happen here. We are eager to know what you are open to doing from among the proposals we here set out. We would be happy to discuss our ideas with you. Your Ministry officials have been brief over and over on these issues, so they should be able to bring you and your office up to speed in very short order.”
Today we make public our detailed issue-by-issue analysis of the Government’s two December 2014 letters to us, measured against the letters we sent the Premier and ten of her cabinet colleagues last summer. We also provide links to the Premier’s and Economic Development Minister’s letters, to our letters to which they are responding, and to other key documents.
In summary, Premier Wynne’s and Minister Duguid’s new letters announce virtually nothing new. They almost entirely re-announce things the Government has already done. What little that is new in these letters is so vague as to add very little. What is found in those letters will not get Ontario back on schedule for full accessibility by 2025.
This flies in the face of Kathleen Wynne’s pledge to us in a December 3, 2012 letter, when she was running for the Ontario Liberal Party’s leadership. She pledged that she would ensure that Ontario is on schedule for full accessibility by 2025.
Our analysis of the Government’s two December 2014 letters shows that the Premier’s and Economic Development Minister’s letters leave unkept too many key Government election promises on disability accessibility. They sidestep important accessibility promises and questions from us.
For example, after reading these new letters from the Government at the highest level, we have no idea:
* what number of organizations the Government will investigate, audit or inspect to keep its promise to effectively enforce the AODA.
* when the Government will at last take the simple step of establishing its promised toll-free number for the public to report AODA violations.
* when the Government will end its 3.5 year dithering over which accessibility standards it will next create.
* what the Government will do to keep its promise to increase private sector employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
* what the Government will do to ensure that the 2015 Toronto Pan/ParaPan American Games leave a strong legacy of improved accessibility of tourism and hospitality services, as well as public transit, for tourists and Ontarians with disabilities.
* what the Government will do to remove the barriers that still prevent voters and candidates with disabilities from fully participating in provincial and municipal elections in Ontario.
To explain away its continued lethargy and dithering on accessibility, the Government cannot blame the provincial deficit, or a lack of funding for the office charged with implementing and enforcing the AODA, the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario.
Minister Duguid’s December 8, 2014 letter reveals that the Economic Development Ministry’s Accessibility Directorate left unspent a staggering $2.4 million of its 2013-2014 budget. This happened while the Government remained systematically derelict in fulfilling its duty to enforce and effectively implement the AODA. Minister Duguid’s December 8, 2014 letter states:
“Lastly, for 2013-2014, the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario’s budget was $16.1 million, with actual expenditures being $13.7 million.”
As the data set out near the end of this Analysis shows, in each year since 2005 (the year when the AODA was enacted), the Government has failed to fully use the funds it gave itself to implement and enforce the AODA. Taken together, a stunning 26.2 million of budget for the Accessibility Directorate over the years since 2005 has languished, unused.
In November 2013, we revealed and the media widely reported that the Government was breaking its promise to effectively enforce the AODA. The Government knew that fully 70% of private sector organizations with at least 20 employees were violating the AODA. Yet the Government had not inspected any of those organizations, or imposed any compliance orders or monetary penalties on them. Blasted in news headlines and editorial coverage for this, the Government announced in November 2013 that it was immediately taking enforcement steps for 2,500 of the known 36,000 law-breaking organizations.
From new statistics in Minister Duguid’s December 8, 2014 letter, we discover that since that initial flurry of new enforcement efforts, the Government has only issued Notices of Proposed Order against a mere additional 750 of the remaining 33,500 organizations which the Government knows were violating the law. That drop in the bucket trivializes the AODA.
Minister Duguid’s new letter revealed that up until the start of this year, the Government has still done nothing whatsoever to enforce any requirements for the private sector in the important areas of accessibility of transportation, employment or information and communication. There are obligations in those areas that have already been in effect. The Government already gave public and private sector organizations extravagantly long time lines before those duties kicked in.
Minister Duguid’s December 8, 2014 letter shows that the Government still only has a tiny staff to do full time AODA enforcement. Under the AODA, the Government must appoint one or more directors and inspectors to audit and inspect public and private sector organizations across Ontario, and to impose monetary penalties. Back in November 2013, Government records revealed that to oversee the hundreds of thousands of public and private sector organizations in Ontario, the Government then had a mere two directors and one inspector, to enforce the entire AODA. According to Minister Duguid’s December 8, 2014 letter, this has been marginally increased to four directors, up from two, and two inspectors, one full time and one temporary (up from one). We have no idea what, if anything the Government plans to do now to deputize other Government inspectors with AODA inspection mandates.
In her letter, Premier Wynne made palpably exaggerated claims about the Government’s progress on accessibility. Prominent among these, she claimed that
“Hospitals, and all members of the broader public service, are 100 per cent compliant with current AODA standards.”
Our analysis of these two Government letters explains that Premier Wynne had no basis for making such a claim.
The Premier’s December 23, 2014 letter's description of the Government’s work on disability accessibility lists some helpful past efforts on accessibility. However, these have been proven to be insufficient.
The Premier’s letter clouds the fact that the Government has treated disability accessibility issue as a sidelined low priority on the front lines. Over the past four years, we have had to deal with a revolving door of four different cabinet ministers and three different deputy ministers shuffled in and out of lead responsibility for the AODA. Ministers in other portfolios appear not to have been directed to treat this issue as a real priority.
We have no voice at the cabinet table. At her cabinet table, Premier Wynne has appointed a Minister Responsible for Women's Issues, a Minister Responsible for Seniors Affairs, a Minister Responsible for Aboriginal Affairs, a Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs, and a Minister of Citizenship responsible for needs of newcomers to Ontario. Yet there remains no Minister Responsible for People with Disabilities. The Economic Development Minister is responsible for implementing and enforcing the AODA. However, he is not responsible for overall oversight of all disability issues across Government.
This is certainly not the first time the Government has responded to our offers of detailed proposals for concrete action with evasive “public relations” letters that mainly trumpet the Government’s past actions. On December 2, 2011, right after the 2011 Ontario election, we wrote seven cabinet ministers to offer recommendations for action on accessibility, and asked each minister for their plans. Over the next weeks, we received answers from each minister. Those responses, like the Government’s December, 2014 letters to us, avoided most of our proposals and instead requests, and recited past Government actions on accessibility.
On May 28, 2013, the previous minister responsible for the AODA, Eric Hoskins, told the Legislature that accessibility for persons with disabilities is a top priority for you and your Government. He also said that “Talk is important, but it will only get us so far. We need action." The letters from Premier Wynne and Minister Duguid do not demonstrate that that needed action will be forthcoming.
We urge Premier Wynne to keep her promise to direct her cabinet ministers and other senior officials to implement the Government’s disability accessibility and duties. We need the Government to actually answer our proposals for action set out in our summer 2014 letters to the Premier and ten of her cabinet ministers. We need the Government to come forward with a bold plan of new action to get Ontario back on schedule for full accessibility by 2025, under ten years from now.
Here is how to find all of the AODA Alliance's letters to the Ontario Government in August and September 2014, listing proposed accessibility priorities:
To read the AODA Alliance's September 16, 2014 letter to the Training, Colleges and Universities Minister Reza Moridi (who is also responsible for Training and Innovation).
Here are links to key letters to the AODA Alliance from the Ontario Government, setting out disability accessibility election pledges: