ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE
BILL 231 FINISHES THIRD READING DEBATES ON APRIL 29, 2010, FOCUSING ON DISABILITY ACCESS AMENDMENTS THAT MCGUINTY GOVERNMENT VOTED DOWN – THIRD READING VOTE TO TAKE PLACE MONDAY MAY 3, 2010
April 30, 2010
On Thursday, April 29, 2010, the Ontario Legislature resumed Third Reading debates on Bill 231, the McGuinty Government’s proposed legislation to modernize elections in Ontario. Third Reading debates were concluded at that time.
The formal Third Reading vote will take place in the Legislature on Monday morning, May 3, 2010, around 11:30 a.m. It is expected that the bill will be passed at that time. That is the final step in the Legislature for this bill.
We set out below the text of the second and final day of Third Reading debates on this bill (about 19 pages). You will see that after the first couple of pages, the debate was dominated by discussion of the disability accessibility issues that we and others raised. NDP disability critic Michael Prue reviewed amendments which his party proposed at our request, which the Conservative Party often supported, and which the Government defeated.
We do not here comment in detail on the debates set out below. We note that at one point NDP MPP Michael Prue attributed to AODA Alliance chair the statement that the attitudes of some MPPs is “archaic”. He stated:
“Mr. Lepofsky, …was there. I think he was there in somewhat disbelief by the fourth day. He referred to some of the attitudes of some of the members as being archaic. “
It actually was Liberal MPP Greg Sorbara who described himself as possibly “archaic”. Mr. Sorbara is a key player within the Ontario Government on this bill, as chair of the Legislature’s Select Committee on Elections. During clause-by-clause debates on Bill 231 in the Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly on April 14, 2010, Mr. Sorbara made this statement, as he argued against permitting Elections Ontario to use accessible technologies like telephone voting and internet voting:
“For me-maybe I'm just a traditionalist-I like the idea that we do not vote at home on the Internet, that we actually have to go out and cast a ballot. Maybe I'm archaic, but I believe that we should stick with this tradition, at least within this review of the act and the work that we've done. …(and later) I feel like I'm cast too much in the role of the archaic member of the committee.”
We previously announced that there would be Third Reading debates on Wednesday, April 28, 2010. We were later informed that no debates on this bill occurred on that date.
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Ontario Hansard April 29, 2010
ORDERS OF THE DAY
ELECTION STATUTE LAW
AMENDMENT ACT, 2010 /
LOI DE 2010 MODIFIANT DES LOIS
EN CE QUI CONCERNE LES ÉLECTIONS
Resuming the debate adjourned on April 27, 2010, on the motion for third reading of Bill 231, An Act to amend the Election Act and the Election Finances Act / Projet de loi 231, Loi modifiant la Loi électorale et la Loi sur le financement des élections.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Jim Wilson): Further debate?
Mr. Michael Prue: I rise to talk about a bill that started off with so much promise and ended up giving so little.
I listened with some intent to my colleagues from both the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party who were actually in the same committee room that I was over a number of days, to hear them talk about what they had hoped or what was, in their view, accomplished during all of that debate and all of those deputations and all of the important topics that were talked about by people. Then I listened to what they actually think is contained within the body of the bill.
Before I speak, I wish to preface that I think there are a couple of good things in the body of the bill. Every bill has some good in it, and this bill is no exception. There are two things for which I commend this government-and two things only-contained within the body of the bill that will actually be an improvement to the current election law.
The first thing is that students can vote no matter where they are living in Ontario, so that if they are away at a university or college, they don't have to rush home on or about the election day in order to cast their ballot, with all the expense and all the time that that involves. When this was before the House at second reading, I believe I stood in this place and talked about my own experience, going back all those many years, in the fall provincial election of 1971. I was living with my parents at that time in the riding of Scarborough Centre and I was at Carleton University for my master's degree. I had to hop on the train the day before election day, come all the way back to Scarborough Centre, cast my vote and then go back the day after that in order that I could cast my very first vote. You see, I was 21. I was in university. I was studying political science; I was taking my master's degree. It was my first opportunity to cast a vote, and I was not about to miss it. But I wished that I could have voted there in Ottawa, during the Scarborough Centre election, because that's where I wanted to vote. I knew the candidates. I knew what I believed. I knew who I wanted to win; I knew who I wanted to vote for. But in order for me to vote there in Scarborough Centre, I had to physically be in Scarborough Centre.
It almost cost me my job at the time. You see, I was a teaching assistant as well, teaching political science to both a first-year university class and a second-year university class, and the professor of one of the classes called me to his office when I returned because he thought I had gone AWOL. I had left a note that I couldn't be there on election day in order to teach one of the classes in the evening, and that's because I had gone back to vote. When I explained to him what I had done, he asked me why I didn't vote by proxy, why I didn't do any of a number of things, but to me it was absolutely important to cast my ballot. So I am thankful that the government has allowed in this legislation that students can vote where they go to school, as well as where they live.
The second thing that I think is important, and for which I commend the government, that is contained in the body of the bill is the depoliticization of election-day workers. I do remember throughout my entire life that political parties would be asked prior to election day to submit lists of people who were favourable to them who could work as poll clerks, as DROs, as any number of workers on election day, within the bodies and the confines of the election process. And I do remember how that was done: The government in power would elect their half, and the people in the riding where you ran second to the government, if they won that seat, could put up the other half; if there was any left over, then a third party could have some of the nominations. This was important for election people, important for political parties, in the days before election finance reform came along, because people would have an opportunity to earn some money, and some of those people in turn would donate a portion of that back to the electoral process.
But we have gone far beyond that. We have a much better system of collecting monies. We have a much better system of rebates. The whole necessity of having people chosen by political parties to take these jobs that pay $100, $200 or $300 for the day is no longer economically, socially or politically acceptable. It is a very good thing that this is about to be depoliticized, and again I take my hat off to the government for this second aspect of the bill.
But this is a very timid bill. It is weak, it is ineffective, it continues unfairness and it isn't going to do a whole lot to help the political process along the road of modernization. It continues to allow third party spending limits-it doesn't rein that in, so that a third party like the National Citizens Coalition, the families coalition or any of these other groups that can amass hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars are able to influence provincial elections. It does absolutely nothing to rein them in. I know that other provinces and the federal government are trying to do something about it, but this government in its wisdom has determined that it should not be part of this act.
It continues the reliance upon corporate and union donations, and we know that other governments around this country have said that this is not what should be done in a modern electoral system. We know, if you look at some of the people who write books on this, that there is an undue influence by corporate Canada, by developers and by unions. There is that undue influence, to the point that provinces like Manitoba and Quebec and the federal government have banned this practice. We know that the city of Toronto, the largest municipality in the province, is banning this practice. But we have here a government in Ontario that doesn't want to look at that, that recognizes the inherent unfairness of the financial process around elections and just turns a blind eye to it and says absolutely nothing. It's fine by them. I guess that's because the cash is flowing in pretty well and they don't want to look out there and say, "Maybe that cash won't be there. Maybe ordinary people don't want to finance us because maybe ordinary people don't like what we're doing around issues like the HST. Oh no, we're not going to do that. We're just going to make sure that the corporate elite, some of our union friends and, more probably than not, the developers are going to come to our rescue." So there's nothing in this bill about that at all.
They are totally leaving out whole sections around municipal elections. So even though there are minor reforms around allowing students to vote and the depoliticization of election day workers, nary a word is contained within this bill that deals with the municipal election procedure. And we know that next year is municipal election year. We know that the municipalities are asking for some form of reform around this issue. We know that the city of Toronto has come forward and begged this province to change some of the election laws to make them fairer. We know that the city of Vaughan, that city above Toronto, with all of the problems that they have, has advocated for electoral reform and is trying itself to reform it. They would welcome this province stepping in and setting ground rules for municipalities. We know that of the 440 or so municipalities left in the province of Ontario, literally all of them would welcome some form of electoral change, some form of tightening up of the election rules and the election financing rules-and yet there is nary a word contained.
When I listened to Mr. Sorbara-he's not a minister, but the member from Vaughan-who was in fact the lead for the government around this entire issue, he seemed to be nonplussed. The election reform, he said, was going to be minor. It was going to be agreed. It was going to be easy. It was going to be what was doable. And he did not want to step outside the narrow confines that I think he believed he had to reside within.
There was also nothing in the entire act that dealt with advertising by third parties, not only the expenditure of the monies but the advertising by third parties. And this is a giant loophole. We saw it in the last election. My friends the Conservatives spoke about it. The member from Halton spoke quite eloquently about advertising by third parties and the Working Families Coalition, which spent a lot of money to criticize the Conservatives on behalf of the Liberal Party of Ontario. I think the bitterness he spoke with was palpable, that people understand that third parties are starting to have undue influence on our elections, so much so that other jurisdictions are dealing with it, but not the government of Ontario.
Those are all things that the government left out. What the government did not deal with-and I want to spend most of my time on this-was the whole issue of disability rights and the rights of disabled citizens to cast their vote in freedom and in the same way that people who are sighted, the same way that people who are mobile, the same way that people who do not have hearing impairments, take for granted. I sat there for four solid days, as did all the members of the committee, and watched person after person come into the committee room and speak to us about what they hoped would happen around accessibility issues. And we had some wonderful speakers who came in and talked to us. They told us about their own travails, their own difficulty in being able to vote.
We had Mr. Lepofsky, who I think was the lead for Ontarians with Disabilities, who came in and spoke brilliantly for 15 minutes, which was all the time allotted to him, about the difficulty that people who are disabled have voting. We had people on the telephone. There was a woman who was deaf-blind who talked about the impossibility of her voting at election time and how aids would assist her to cast her own vote so that she did not have to proxy someone to go out and vote on her behalf, so that she could actually go into a polling booth and vote for herself and what a liberating experience that would be for her.
We had Barbara Hall, who is the commissioner for human rights in Ontario, come and talk about the failure of past voting practices in Ontario and what we could, as a Legislature, do to ameliorate the conditions and change the law in order to allow people in wheelchairs, people who require aids in order to hear or to see-to make it better.
We had group upon group upon group come in and talk to us about their own personal experience. There was a gentleman who came in who was successful in suing the federal government and received a $10,000 payment for not being able to vote, by pointing out that he had gone to the human rights authorities in Canada the election before and had outlined in considerable detail how he could not vote because he was in a wheelchair, how you had to go down a flight of stairs in order to cast your vote, how he had to get out of the wheelchair and go down on the seat of his pants down the stairs and drag himself into a place to vote. It was found that they had done him wrong, and they awarded him some $10,000.
We had a candidate from the last by-election in Toronto Centre-Rosedale who gave us 25 or 30 full-coloured pictures of election day, showing all of the voting places that were not accessible to people in wheelchairs, all of the ones that had steps and not ramps, all of the ones that were covered with ice, all of the ones that had been changed at the last minute, taking them out of an accessible area and putting them into an inaccessible area so that a basketball or a volleyball game could be played.
We listened to all of that, and at the end of all of that, I was hopeful that the Liberal members on the committee would want to do something for the disabled, would want to say that disabled Ontarians have every bit as much right to vote and participate in the electoral process as anyone else who does not have a disability.
We know that some 15% to 20% of all Ontarians have a disability. For some, it is a slight disability; for some, it is much more marked; for some, it's invisible, like those who are deaf; for some, it is clearly visible-if you are blind, if you are in a wheelchair-that you have that disability.
We need to start thinking about our citizens. A few years ago, we passed the Ontarians with Disabilities Act. We passed it and it's not going to come into law for 25 years. I think we're five years into it now. But there it is: 25 years from now there are not supposed to be any barriers to the disabled, but this government is not willing to speed up that process for our disabled Ontarians.
On that behalf, I was hoping against hope to get some movement, and I had the member from Vaughan who had the lead and I had the parliamentary assistant, Mr. Zimmer from Willowdale, who was there, and they kept bringing forth changes that were minor. They did not satisfy any of the disabled community who were in the room. They were minor. They were grudgingly, in my view, given. In the end, I think they failed the disabled community very much.
Among my many portfolios of which I am the critic, one of them is for the disability movement here in Ontario. I take that job very seriously, to listen to disabled Ontarians and try to ameliorate their lives and their opportunities to do what the rest of us take for granted.
One of the fundamental things that they want to do is to be able to vote in an election. They want to be able to go into a polling booth and cast their own vote, not to take someone with them who can mark their ballot without them knowing what it is, but to actually cast their own vote and have it verified.
We know from experience in other jurisdictions, including other jurisdictions and municipal jurisdictions in Ontario, that this can be done. We know that a small little place like the town of Cobourg and the town of Peterborough have already set up those kinds of voting machines, understanding that the disabled citizens need to be able to mark their own ballots, so that even if you can't see, you can mark the ballot. You can push a button and the button will tell you who you voted for. You can listen to that and you can say that's acceptable and put your own ballot in the ballot box.
Isn't that something we would want for all citizens? They can vote themselves. They can understand how they voted. They can say that their ballot is correct. They can put it in the box and they can leave like you or I leave, knowing that we have cast our vote in a great democracy. But no, this government did not want to listen to that. They did not want to do anything.
Time after time after time, the member from Willowdale, the parliamentary assistant, and the member from Vaughan, who had the lead on behalf of the government, kept talking about the expense. Everything was, "How much money is this going to cost?" Yes, it might cost some money, I acknowledge that, but what is the cost of not doing that? What is the cost to the disabled community that they have to forever after say that they are second-class citizens, that they can't cast their vote in the same way, that they can't go down a hall and vote, that they can't go down those stairs into a gymnasium in the basement, that they can't work on election day because there are no disabled washrooms and you have to be there for some 12 hours, even though they may be fully competent do the job? I listened. I listened to them and listened to them, and I think we all listened to them.
In the end, we tried to do something. We put forward some 30 recommendations. I am proud to say that on almost every one of the recommendations that I tried to put forward on behalf of the disability community of Ontario, my colleagues in the Conservative Party voted for them-I think with one exception. They voted 29 times with me and with the disabled community to do the right thing, and 29 times Liberals voted no; 29 times every single hand went up on every single issue to say that the disability community could not have equal access in times of election.
I just want to read what some of those motions were, what we tried to do. To my mind, I still don't understand why they wouldn't vote for it. They simply said, "No, it's not going to happen." They gave all of the authority over to Mr. Essensa. Mr. Essensa is the Chief Electoral Officer of Ontario. In my view, Mr. Essensa does a good job. I was there on the hiring committee and I voted for him. I knew him from the city of Toronto before that. He did a good job in the city of Toronto as well. But that is not the issue. The issue is fairness to the disabled. The issue is not to leave it up to one person, who may or may not by whim do what is correct, but to put and enshrine in the legislation that every single disabled person has every bit as much right and all the rights that everyone else has: the right to go into a polling booth, the right to cast a ballot, the right to verify that ballot, the right to work on election day, the right to have access to the building itself and to the washrooms contained therein-all of those rights.
We put forward the following motions, every one of which the five Liberal members present voted against. I want everybody to understand. I'm going to read these and you're going to say, "How could you vote against that?" You're going to ask yourselves, those Liberals who were not there, "How could we vote against that?" I'll be darned if I know how they could vote against that, and perhaps some of you will ask yourselves that question.
We moved that the Election Act refers to Elections Ontario either posting information on the Internet or on a website to be required to be published in a fully accessible format, and then there's a whole bunch of language which I don't understand, "W3C WCAG 2.0 Level AA or higher," and I understand that that's a format that is accessible to people who have disabilities. We asked that all of these things be put in a format so that the disabled could read them, could understand them. It was voted down. The government doesn't want this to be in a format that they can read.
The second thing we moved was that there could be no modifications unless Elections Ontario certifies that they are fully accessible to and barrier-free for voters and candidates with disabilities. Therefore, there could not be modifications in the place where people voted unless an Elections Ontario official went in and said that they were in fact barrier-free. That was voted down. Elections officials will not be able to go in and do that. Modifications can be made that actually turn some place that is barrier-free into some place that is not. This was very strange when the government all voted against this.
Then the next one came along. We moved that, no later than the scheduled 2015 Ontario election-that's not this one but the one after that-Elections Ontario have available to voters with disabilities across Ontario accessible voting machines which will enable voters with print disabilities the ability to independently vote in privacy and to verify their choice.
We know that these machines are available throughout North America. We know that they are used extensively in the United States. We know that they are used in the city of Peterborough and in the city of Toronto, we know they are used in Cobourg, and we know that they are pretty well tamper-proof.
The government voted this down. In the 2015-never mind the 2011 election, but in the 2015 election, there will be no such machines to aid the disabled. I don't know why the government voted against this, but they did, because they never gave any rationale at any time for any of these except that, "It may be costly."
We went on to request that Elections Ontario make public by a designated date its plans for technology after consulting on it with persons with disabilities. The government voted that down. They don't want to consult with the disabled community or to make public to the disabled community and others how technology might be used-voted down as well.
We went on to say that Elections Ontario be required to make public by accessible formats, Internet sites and the media, the availability and location of accessible voting machines, because, you see, the member from Vaughan said, "Maybe these machines are expensive. Maybe we can't have them in every polling station. Maybe we can only have them in two or three places in a riding so that people would have to go to those two or three places in a riding in order to vote because these machines, of course, may cost a few thousand dollars for the day and we can't be spending that kind of money just to let the disabled vote."
We asked that this information be made public: if there were only one or two machines available in some urban ridings and the disabled were able to go from one location to another by cab or with family or anything else, that this be made independently known to them so that they would know where to go to vote so they didn't have to go down flights of stairs and they didn't have to go into places that were not generally accessible. The answer was, "No. You can't have that either. We're voting against this."
Again, I find it very difficult to understand why they don't want to make a list public. The member from Vaughan did say that it was the government's intention to try to do something for 2015, that there would be one accessible voting machine in every riding, but it would not be available on election day; it would only be available in the advance polls so that somebody in a riding could go to the advance poll and vote with this accessible machine prior to election day but not on election day. So, because there would only be one, people would have to know where it was.
When we pointed out to him that my riding in Beaches-East York, which is only about eight square kilometres-that's all it is; it's in downtown Toronto. It is a very tight and very small geographic area, and probably most of the downtown Toronto ridings or even GTA ridings are relatively easy to get around with public transit and relatively easy to get around in terms of the geographic size. "But what about ridings in northern Ontario?" we questioned. How are you going to be able to make these disability-type machines available to people in far-flung regions in Timmins-James Bay, Kenora-Rainy River, Thunder Bay-Superior North, Manitoulin? How are you going to make these people be able to use the machines? You can't just tell them, if they live in Attawapiskat, "Come and use the disabled machines in downtown Timmins." It's several thousand kilometres away by airplane. It's not going to happen. That's not what the intent was here; the intent was to make them generally available. The government shrugged its shoulders and said, "I guess, then, we're not going to do it."
We went on to talk about broadening the criteria for home visits, to remove barriers to the use of voters with disabilities where needed, and to remove the sweeping discretion given to Elections Ontario over who will receive a home visit. You see, although the government bill allows for home visits, it is the electoral returning officer in each jurisdiction who determines whether or not a person is eligible to have that home visit where a ballot and a ballot box are taken to them to allow them to vote. At the discretion of the returning officer, you may be told yes or no. If the answer is no, there is no appeal. What we tried to point out is the need to take away that discretion, so that if somebody requested it and believes they need it, it is made available to them. That too was shot down.
We went on to ask for special ballot kits and voting procedures to enable voters with disabilities to independently mark their ballot in privacy and verify their choice. It was intended as well that a special type of reading machine would be made available so that the voter would know they had voted privately and independently and would be satisfied by the time the returning officer left their home.
We went on to talk about other things that were really important: to require Elections Ontario to undertake research about voting accessibility and require that the results of their research be made public. You would think this was a bit of a no-brainer, because the Liberal members who were there said there was going to be lots of research done by Elections Ontario over the next few years, and I take them at their word that there will be. So we asked that that be made public. Do you think that was a hard thing? That was an impossible thing for the Liberals, to actually have it made public. They voted down this provision too. They can do all the research they want, but there is no provision within the law that it will ever be made public. The disability community shook their heads, those who were there, in disbelief that this government would not release the information, if it was collected, so that they would better be able to determine whether or not we were moving down that magic road, 25 years or 21 years from now, when the disabled community will have full access in Ontario.
We went on to talk about the research that the Ontario government is going to do to investigate options for ensuring election accessibility, that they should look at some of the experience in other jurisdictions, particularly and easily in the jurisdiction immediately to the south of us-that is, the United States. We know, after the disastrous election in the United States with the hanging chads and the election of George Bush and all the schmozzle in the Supreme Court and everything that happened, that there were many instances of disabled people in that country saying that they could not cast their ballot, that it was just too difficult, and that even if they cast their ballot, they don't know whether it was correct or what they intended to do with the ballot. They had no way of verifying it.
The American government took this very seriously, and they have made huge strides and modifications to ensure that the voting procedures are fairer, that they can be understood by the disabled community, that the disabled individual does not have to leave the safe confines of the voting booth until they verify themselves that the vote was as they intended. It does not cost the earth. It is being done now at reduced cost election after election, to the point that it is now well within the realm of possibility.
We merely asked that this government instruct Elections Ontario to go out and study the experience in the United States and include that in their report and make it available to the disabled community. The answer, unfortunately, as in everything else, was no.
We requested that Elections Ontario get funds to do their research. The answer was no.
We asked that there be a level access to a plainly visible public entrance to the building in which the voting place is to be located, without a voter needing to ascend or descend any stairs. The answer was no. This is what you're doing-the answer is no. So if you show up and there's no marking and there is a set of stairs and you are in a wheelchair or a scooter and you don't know where you have to go, there is no requirement in the law that it be plain, accessible and without stairs. When that motion was made, five Liberals put up their hands and said no. Can you tell me why you would say no? I don't understand why you would say no. It would seem to me that's a pretty logical thing to put into law, that you don't have any stairs when you know that up to 20% of your population has some kind of disability, and that disability can just be a bad-sight disability that makes it difficult to go up and down dimly lit stairs; it can be a wheelchair; it can be any number of disabilities. The answer was no. I don't understand that.
We went on to say that there has to be level, unobstructed access from the accessible entrance to the building to the voting place within the building without a voter needing to ascend or descend any stairs. So, once you get inside the building, even if you could walk into the building, occasionally inside you are required to go downstairs. For example, you go into the foyer of a school and you vote in the gymnasium underneath. So we had to do both. You can't go up the stairs to go into the school and you can't go down the stairs once you're inside the school-same rationale, same answer from the government: No.
We went on to say that any doorway from the outside of the building and inside the building en route to the voting place within the building is sufficiently wide to enable a person using a mobility aid to pass through. We know that, thanks to technology, many people who otherwise would have to have a wheelchair or who would otherwise have considerable difficulty walking are starting to avail themselves of motor scooters, those little scooters you see all over the roads. You see them everywhere in Ontario. No matter what town or city I go to, I see people in those mobility scooters who get around. They go to do their shopping. They go to church. They go to doctors' appointments. They go to the bank. They visit their friends. They're in these little scooters. It is liberating to them. But they're a little wide, and you know that sometimes they can't go through some of the doorways. You've all seen this happen.
We simply asked that in setting up a building, renting a building or using a building, whether it be a church, a school or anything else, the doorway has to be wide enough to allow that scooter to go in and out. The answer was no-no.
Can anybody over there tell me why you would say no to that? The answer was no. So I guess if you show up in a scooter and the doorway is too narrow, you have the choice of getting out of the scooter, if you're able to walk a few steps to go wherever you're going-
Mr. Michael Prue: No, no. The answer was no. So then we went on to say that, well, you've got a school and you can't get the scooter in, so can you at least have a provision that the elector need not travel more than 50 metres on foot after entering the building to reach the voting place? So if you can't get the scooter in but you have a cane and you can struggle as best you can, can it at least be less than 50 metres away from the place where you can't get your scooter in to where you have to vote? The answer was no. They all voted against that, too.
We went on to ask for other things-and I'm standing here and I'm smiling because I'm looking at the disbelief on the faces over there about their own colleagues and what they vote for.
Mr. John O'Toole: Who was on that committee?
Mr. Michael Prue: Mr. Sorbara was the lead, the member from Vaughan. The parliamentary assistant was the member from Willowdale, and the others took their instructions and voted as told.
Then we said that for those who have difficulty seeing, the voting place must have sufficient lighting to accommodate the needs of persons with low vision. We know there is a certain lux standard where people can see easily, and if the light is too dim, it is difficult for people to see. It is even difficult for someone who is sighted like me, who requires glasses to read, to see in low and dim light. Anybody who has glasses over there knows that's the case. If you don't have sufficient light and if the print is small, then it is difficult to read unless the light is turned up. It's one of the things you need to have.
So we asked that the Chief Electoral Officer ensure in any of the voting locations that the light is of sufficient lux and standard that a person even with low vision will be able to read the instructions and the ballots. The answer was no, that is not a requirement. It can be as dimly lit as you want. Liberals are all convinced that the dimmer it is lit, I guess, the better it is, because there is no standard and no requirement that the light be of a sufficient lux to allow.
We went on to say that we would require the cabinet to review the regulations, when they eventually make them, after further input from the public, including Ontarians with disabilities, after the 2011 election. So we said, "Go ahead with the next election. Try all your stuff out. Listen to the general public about whether or not it worked. Listen to the disability community. See what recommendations they have. And then report after the next general election. If you're not going to pass any of our things, at least try that." The answer was, "No, we're not going to do that. We're not going to report. We're not going to have the cabinet report. We're not going to have anybody report. We're not going to listen to the disability community in any meaningful way. And we're not going to publish any results after the next election." That's what this government is all about.
Then we went on to ask for simple, simple, simple things: that there be a disability parking space, a temporary parking space like you see in every city. You see those little wheelchairs? All of the pages know where those wheelchairs are. You have to have a disability permit to park in that parking space. We wanted a disability parking space set up at every major location where people come to vote, because very often, especially in urban areas, there are five or six or seven polling stations in each church or each-we're only asking for one disability space, so that if somebody shows up in a wheelchair or a scooter or with canes or whatever mobility things they have and they're disabled, they get to park close and come inside. On election day, put in a disability space to help. And the answer again, incredibly, was, "No. The disabled can park on the other side of the parking lot." There is no provision that allows the Chief Electoral Officer to put up a sign for the day that would designate that as a disabled space close to the door that would allow somebody disabled to come in and vote. I thought that was a pretty reasonable thing, but five members on the Liberal side of the committee didn't think it was reasonable at all. So we asked some more.
We asked that there be an election accessibility hotline during the six-month period before and on voting day for voters and candidates with disabilities to give feedback on proposed locations for voting places, and to give feedback and present inquiries on any accessibility programs; a hotline so that you could phone up, so you didn't have to go through the myriad of stuff and phone candidates and phone people who didn't know what they were doing, but a hotline, somebody who could pick up the phone and settle the problem leading up to and on election day. The answer was no.
We asked that the government review the proposed locations of voting places in light of the feedback that they received from this hotline and from other sources and to look at whether or not things could be done better. The answer was no. Five people voted no to all these.
We asked-this one really got me. There are only 107 returning offices in the 107 ridings in Ontario. Each one has a returning officer. Each one has an office located generally in an urban area. Even in a place like Timmins-James Bay, it's in Timmins. In my own riding of Beaches-East York in Toronto, it's generally on the Danforth. They try to find a location in a centralized location that is generally accessible to the majority of people. We asked that the returning officer's office in any riding be accessible, so that if you need to go into the returning office to file papers if you're a candidate, to get on the electoral list if your name has been left off, or any other matter that you have, we ask that it be accessible. The answer was no, no, no.
We asked that persons with disabilities, especially those who are deaf and hard-of-hearing, have a dedicated TTY line; you know how you can type in and ask questions and someone can type back to you? Very many people in the deaf community have a TTY line in their homes so that they can answer the phone and they can speak to people who are calling them. You have all had the experience, I'm sure, of using a TTY line-that every returning office have a TTY line for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. The answer was no. Five members stood there every single time and said no. So there is no requirement in law that it be accessible for people to go in and no requirement that it be accessible so that people on a TTY line can phone in if they're deaf or hard-of-hearing.
We asked a very simple question, the next one-they were all simple-for those who are hard-of-seeing. We asked that the ballots be made a little larger and the print on the ballots be made larger. I explained to my colleagues, all of whom were wearing glasses to read the fine print like me, that if I forgot my glasses, I myself probably couldn't read the ballot. So could you please make sure that it's in at least a 26-point font, the name and the place where you put the X, so that people, even if they have glasses and they're not blind-they're not that impaired, but they need glasses-if they forget their glasses, could the ballot be made large enough with 26-point font or 28-point font so that it could be read by people without glasses, so that nobody would be put out when it came time to vote? The answer was no. You can't even have a ballot that's large enough to read without glasses.
I don't understand. You're going to have two minutes each; stand up and tell me why you would do this. You vote no to everything.
We went on. I asked another couple of simple things-that there be an independent survey of candidates and electors with disabilities, particularly the candidates. We know that we've had some excellent candidates in the past who have been disabled. We know that there is a member of Parliament in Ottawa who is disabled, and he does a very good job.
Interjection: A smart man.
Mr. Michael Prue: A very smart man, very capable. We know, those of us who have been around here for a while, that Gary Malkowski used to represent the riding of York East. He was deaf. He had a signer here. But he had to be a candidate before then, and what we were saying was that the candidates who identified themselves with some form of disability should be canvassed at the end of the election, and that there should be an independent survey of those candidates with disabilities on any barriers or difficulties they experienced when taking part in the election. The answer was no-don't want to know; don't care: "There's nothing we're going to do. We're not voting for that amendment."
I asked for another thing. I said, could there be a summary of any complaints or feedback received from electors or candidates with disabilities during the election regarding the accessibility of the election and any steps the government or the elections committee would take to fix that? The answer was no.
I asked for recommendations of any steps that needed to be taken to ensure that the next election will be fully accessible to electors and candidates with disabilities and, in fact, be barrier-free. All I wanted from that were recommendations that they would make, and that the government would be forced to either say yes or no or act upon them before the 2015 election. The answer was no.
I asked that the bill be amended to require that candidates select an accessible location for his or her campaign office. Now, this was controversial, and I must admit this was somewhat controversial. It would have required the candidates from major parties in Ontario, those who were running full slates of candidates, to ensure that their office, out of which the campaign was run, was accessible, so that when they were choosing a temporary location, generally for four to six or eight weeks, they made sure that there were no barriers to entering the office and, wherever feasible and possible, that washrooms would be located on the first floor, so that people who were disabled and who wanted to participate in the electoral process beyond that of simply voting would have an opportunity, through the candidate of their choice, to go out and give some time, whether that was time on the telephones, time putting stamps on envelopes, time canvassing or interacting with the public who came through the door.
I thought that was a reasonable thing, but I do understand that of all the suggestions I made, this one might rankle some people because you were telling candidates what they had to do in an election. But I do think it's a fair thing and something that we should be striving towards. I do understand why some of the Liberal members might have said no to this, but I still think it is a good idea. They didn't tell me why they weren't voting for it, but they all voted no.
The next was that we would require each party and candidate to make available upon a request, without undue delay, their campaign literature in alternate formats, including large print, Braille and an accessible electronic format so that people who were disabled could understand what the candidate's message was going to be.
Again, this is a little controversial but I don't think that hard. If the government said that this is the desire and the will that everything be accessible, then somebody on their election team would have to be able to print the literature in larger format. Somebody on the election team would have to be able to go down to the CNIB and acquire, in whole or in part, the campaign literature translated into Braille where it was requested. I do realize that this is an expense, but I also think that it's necessary. Something could be done under the election expenses act to make this a non-campaign expense because it may involve several hundred dollars which a candidate who is running close to the line was not counting on, but I still think it was a good idea. Every single Liberal hand said no.
I then went on to ask that in television advertisements, because they're all done by the parties, not by the individual candidates-the Liberal Party will run television ads, the NDP will run television ads, the Conservatives will run television ads, and in all likelihood, in the next election the Greens will run ads too; Family Coalition, if they're running, may run ads. If you're running an ad, you have to have a signer at the bottom or a teletype that goes across. Just like here in the Legislature, you have the teletype go across, and occasionally we have signers who tell you in plain, simple American Sign Language what is being said. If you are deaf, you can watch the program and not understand what it's about, but if you have it signed or if you have it electronically read at the bottom, then you would know what it's about. We simply asked that for any major expense the political parties are making around television advertising, that that was included. It has almost no cost to the parties once the ad is prepared, almost no cost. The answer was, "No, can't do that; won't do that."
We asked that the bill be amended to prohibit the holding of all-candidates debates in a forum, in a venue that is inaccessible. Now, we know-I listened to the argument, and I know that this was controversial to some extent-that people, home and school associations, ratepayers, homeowners groups, church groups, civic-minded organizations, when they are holding an all-candidates debate, attempt to do so and understand that it has to be in a place that is accessible so that it will accommodate the greatest number of citizens who want to come out and hear and will also accommodate any of those candidates-because you don't know in advance-who may be in their own right unable to attend unless there is wheelchair access or some signing provision or others when they are running. We asked that this be done. The answer was no.
Last but not least, and one of my great disappointments here, was that this bill does absolutely nothing to empower municipalities in holding fair elections, absolutely nothing. I pointed out to the member from Vaughan, who had the lead, I pointed out to the parliamentary assistant, and I pointed out to all of those Liberals who sat there for four days: What kind of an election is it going to be in the municipal government when you are not including them in this bill, when you are not telling them what has to happen in order to make their elections fairer? Now, I don't think the municipalities need as much pushing as this government might think. The municipalities are discovering wonderful ways to include all of their citizens. They are, in some cases, light years ahead of this province. The city of Toronto is light years ahead of this province, the town of Cobourg is light years ahead of this province and the town of Peterborough is light years ahead of this province because they're already starting to make voting accessible; they're already looking at ways in which people with disabilities can be accommodated. The corporation of the town of Cobourg-and I just received this; there's a memo dated October 21, 2009, concerning the Municipal Elections Act-has passed unanimously in that council authorization for the clerk to do the following: that in 2006 the corporation provided a totally integrated electoral system for the corporation, which enabled an elector to choose from a range of voting options: (1) vote by Touch-Tone telephone, (2) Internet voting or (3) traditional attendance at a polling station.
They asked the staff, in consultation with the former municipal clerk, to investigate other available voting technologies with the objectives of making voting as convenient as possible for electors, while at the same time ensuring reliability, security and the integrity of the election procedures. As was the experience in 2006, it is anticipated that participation in the electoral process and voter turnout would increase as a result of more convenient, tried and tested methods.
They gave their own experience. This allowed for no voting locations that were inaccessible. It eliminated traditional advance voting. There were no proxies. They gave easier access. They allowed people with disabilities to vote from the comfort of their own homes and to verify how they were voting from their own homes.
The city of Peterborough spent some money, and we had a deputant who came and gave deputation on the city of Peterborough's experience with voting machines. It seemed like a very good experience and worked very well for the people of Peterborough who had disabilities.
We know the city of Toronto is experimenting with voting machines, and we know that they have used in the past and will continue to use other alternative methods of voting. We know in rural Ontario that they have mail-in ballots. We know in places around Ontario they are using technology such as computers and telephones in order to advance the cause of voting. But the province of Ontario seems to me to be totally hidebound when it comes to this very issue. The province of Ontario will not accept anything other than what the members in the committee are told to do by the parliamentary assistant. They voted down every single reasonable, rational way of allowing people who are disabled to vote with independence.
I have to say, it was not a good experience for me to sit there for four days and listen to every single good idea be shot down without explanation. But as bad as it was for me, as the NDP disabilities critic, it was worse for the people who sat there for four days full of hope. Mr. Lepofsky, who is a brilliant man, absolutely brilliant, and an advocate on behalf of the disabled, was there. I think he was there in somewhat disbelief by the fourth day. He referred to some of the attitudes of some of the members as being archaic. I corrected him. I don't think they were archaic; I think they were antediluvian-that which existed before the flood-because there was nothing in there that anybody was changing from the way we have voted in this country since 1867 and before. It's a paper ballot in an inaccessible church hall, not understanding that so many of our citizens no longer can be accommodated in such a place. It was not allowing for new technology, and it was not allowing the opportunity for people to use gifts that they have in order to be fully accessible.
I was somewhat ashamed by the end of those four days. I know that the disappointment in the room was palpable. There were statements made by every single one of the deputants that they hoped this next election would be the first one that was truly barrier-free, and if it couldn't be the first one that was truly barrier-free, that at least it should be the last one where artificial barriers were set up to those with disabilities.
In the end, nothing was done. There will be no reports. There will be no evidence gathered, save and except that which the Chief Electoral Officer wants to gather. There will be no reports by independent people. There will be no commissions. There will be nothing to ensure that access is barrier-free or that there will not be stairways that block those in wheelchairs. There will be no TTY phones in the offices. There will be nothing.
I'm looking forward to the questions and comments, if my honourable friends have been listening to all this. You've got two minutes each. You'll get two opportunities. That's four minutes to explain to me, to the disabled community and to this House why you think that this bill is accommodating the needs of 20% of our population.
I want to hear it from your own lips. I haven't heard it in committee. I haven't heard it in debate here, except to pat oneself on the back and say, "We listened to the disabled community." I want to hear why these 25 or 30 recommendations that were made were wrong and why these 25 or 30 recommendations would not have revolutionized for the disabled an opportunity to vote in this province. Liberals have to be on the record on this, and I'm asking you to do so.
I would say in my last minute or two, I thank my Conservative colleagues on the committee. They voted and spoke eloquently on the majority of these motions in favour of extending that opportunity to the disabled community, which they had not heretofore. They voted for them and you can see the recorded votes there, recorded with me.
They were enlightened on this; the government members were not. It is not too late. You can send this back. You can do the right thing, or you can all put up your hands and vote for such a seriously flawed bill, understanding that you have done irreparable harm to those who have sought your help in trying to do something in the 21st century to alleviate the problems of our disabled. If you don't do that and you accept what this is, then pat yourself on the back some more.
It is, as I said before, nothing but a weak and ineffective bill, save and except for those provisions involving students and those who get jobs on election day. Those are the only two good things that can be said about it because what you needed to do foremost and what had to be done for the benefit of all was what you needed to do for the disabled and, in that, you failed miserably.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Jim Wilson): Questions and comments?
Mr. John O'Toole: I just wanted to compliment the member from Beaches-East York on the way he went through his litany of amendments that were quite reasonable and respectable for the issue of persons with disabilities in Ontario being accommodated in an election.
What's surprising is how the government members were whipped into negative behaviour and that they bought that holus-bolus. I think it was a very good article by Jim Coyle on April 7 saying it was toothless in that section of the bill. More importantly-I'm not going to have time today because we're running out of time here-I want to talk about the third party advertising which was not in the bill.
Initially I thought the Working Families Coalition was supporting the NDP, and probably should have been. They were stealing NDP money actually. But they were clearly supporting Premier McGuinty and I think that Working Families Coalition-I've got the disclosure here and the names and the millions of dollars, almost always union money. I was surprised at how they had somehow acquiesced to this program we see that's kind of devastated Ontario; now we have 10% unemployment. I'm not sure they got what they paid for. Some of the public sector did. We saw that in the sunshine list. But I think this was a serious omission in not dealing with this third party advertising part.
The member from Beaches-East York, I think, eloquently and effectively pointed out the shortcomings in this bill that have been addressed in the media. The amendments were moved in committee, which he sat on, and I think were reasonable amendments to accommodate persons. There's no politics in that. I can't believe that the Liberal members all unanimously defeated those reasonable amendments. So, for that reason, I can't see any reason that this bill does what it's supposed to do.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Jim Wilson): Questions and comments.
Mr. Peter Kormos: Mr. Prue, the member from Beaches-East York, knows what he's talking about. He worked on that committee when they were reviewing the rather lacklustre-thoroughly lacklustre piece of legislation that the government produced.
I was substituting for Howard Hampton on the Sorbara committee that had the opportunity to consider a wide range of things, but was denied the opportunity to do so by the government, which made it very clear that any reforms around elections here in the province of Ontario were going to be the most modest of reforms.
Surely one of the key areas of interest during that Sorbara committee period-Mr. Zimmer was on there for the government-was concerns around persons with disabilities and their right to vote. You see, not accommodating persons with disabilities denies them their right to vote, and what kind of democratic society would deny a member their right to vote?
Cathy Crowe, who was the NDP candidate in Toronto Centre in this province's most recent by-election, appeared in front of the committee with the old proverbial-the Arlo Guthrie 8 by 10 glossies, circles and arrows on each one, pointing out, in the instance of three polling stations, their inaccessibility. We're not talking about 100 years ago; we're talking about 2010. We're talking about a period in time after everybody has committed themselves to ensuring access, we're talking about a period in time after the government has passed legislation that they say demonstrates their commitment to access, yet what has the government come up with in this bill? What Mr. Lepofsky described as a baby step. Mr. Lepofsky has to maintain a rapport with the government, because he's going to be advocating for the disabled, I suspect, for a good chunk of time, regrettably-not regrettable that Lepofsky is doing it, but it's going to take that long.
It's time for the members of this assembly to stand up and say no to legislation that continues to deny access to the disabled.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Jim Wilson): Further questions and comments?
Mr. Khalil Ramal: I'm honoured to stand up and comment on the speech of the member from Beaches-East York. I listened to him a little bit, off and on, speaking about this important issue.
Mr. Peter Kormos: Off and on? Every once in a while when you came to?
Mr. Khalil Ramal: Actually, I was outside listening to it on the TV because it's more clear. Honestly, when you sit outside there, we have a big TV and you can see well and you can focus on his speech.
I listened to him, and I know he brought up a lot of different important initiatives. I agree with some of it, but I think he'll agree with us-as elected officials, you know, we have an election strategy, a method that has been used for many years. I think that, over time, technology has progressed, and we have to change our way of elections. I think it's very important to create an accessibility method to allow the people of Ontario to participate in elections, whether electronically, whether we create a method so that people can go in wheelchairs to vote, and also to modify and create a new mechanism to allow more people in the province of Ontario to participate in elections, especially the youth, people with disabilities, racial minorities and many different aspects and elements of our society.
So I know he brought up many different points, but I still believe that if this bill passes, it will be an important step toward a reformed Election Act in the province of Ontario, which has not been touched for many years. I think Mr. Sorbara, as the Chair of this committee, listened to many caucus members from both sides. He listened to a lot of people, people who have been involved in elections for many, many years. They took their input, put it together and created this bill. Well, you know what? Whatever we do in life, we're not going to see the acceptance from all people. At least it's a good step forward toward reforming our elections in Ontario.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Jim Wilson): Further questions and comments?
Mr. Ernie Hardeman: I too want to commend the member from Beaches-East York for the fine-
Mr. Ernie Hardeman: -rendition, shall we say, of the elections bill.
I too was somewhat taken aback by the fact that so many amendments which would seem so simple to implement or to mandate so it would happen, particularly an issue as simple as to say that when you set up a polling station somewhere, it should have a place for the handicapped to park so they can go in and vote-it's rather interesting. I remember going to a place to vote and, in fact, when I drove up, because of what was on the side of the vehicle, I wasn't allowed to go into the schoolyard. If the vehicles aren't allowed into the schoolyard, how is someone who can't walk supposed to get in to vote? It seems almost incomprehensible that they wouldn't have included things like that to make it accessible for people to vote.
Again, on the issue of people who can't read the ballot, not everyone wants to make the mark not knowing where it's going, because in fact they may have a spoiled ballot. If they've gone to all the trouble of going to vote, I'm sure that they expect that vote to be counted. As the member suggested, if they didn't bring their glasses, they wouldn't know whether that was in fact true. Again, it seems fairly simple to change the format to make the printing just a little bit larger on all ballots so everyone could see it and it would be equal for everyone who voted.
I want to commend him for the job well done and I guess somewhat chide the government for saying no to so many good amendments that would have made this bill a better piece of legislation.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Jim Wilson): Mr. Prue has two minutes for his response.
Mr. Michael Prue: I thank the members from Durham, Welland, London-Fanshawe and Oxford, and I thank them especially for listening to what I had to say, because they did talk about those selfsame issues that I tried to bring forward.
To the member from London-Fanshawe, he was the only Liberal who stood up to speak, although there were opportunities for two. At least he stood up. He set out what the government's position is. Quite frankly, the government's position is a little tiny step forward. It's going to make some very slight, small improvement to the elections laws. We've been dealing with this for a century, and if this little change takes place, it will be just that little bit better than it has been in the past.
I acknowledge what he is saying. I accept-no, I don't accept what he's saying; I should be honest. I don't accept what he's saying because this is an opportunity for a law that only comes every 10, 12 or 15 years, when improvements are being made. This was an opportunity to embrace technology. This was an opportunity for the government to stand squarely behind the disabled community.
I stood up in my place as an opposition member and voted for the Ontarians with disabilities law that this government brought forward in its first mandate. I stood up and voted for it because I thought that in the long term, the government was heading in the right direction, requiring full access to all government services, all private services, all schools, all hospitals and all public institutions and that they would become barrier-free. I lamented that it was going to take 25 years, and I still do, but I did vote for that bill, full in the knowledge that this government-or hoping this government-was committed to, as rapidly as possible, changing the lives of the disabled.
This would have been a very easy task. This bill could have embraced the Ontarians with disabilities legislation and could have moved the yardstick, but the government has determined in its wisdom not to do so, and it is a lost opportunity.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Jim Wilson): Further debate?
Seeing none, Mr. Bentley has moved third reading of Bill 231, An Act to amend the Election Act and the Election Finances Act. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? I hear a no.
All those in favour of the motion will please say "aye."
All those opposed will please say "nay."
In my opinion, the ayes have it.
Call in the members. This will be a 30-minute bell.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Jim Wilson): I have received a deferral slip from the chief government whip. This vote will be deferred until next Monday during deferred votes.
Third reading vote deferred.