ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE

Sign Up for AODA Alliance Updates by writing: aodafeedback@gmail.com
Learn more at: www.aodaalliance.org

AODA ALLIANCE CONTINUES TO PRESS THE ONTARIO GOVERNMENT TO ENSURE THAT NO PUBLIC CAPITAL OR INFRASTRUCTURE SPENDING IS USED TO CREATE, PERPETUATE OR EXACERBATE BARRIERS AGAINST ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES

June 20, 2010

SUMMARY

The AODA Alliance has been trying for quite some time to convince the Ontario Government to implement an effective policy and procedure to ensure that no public tax dollars are used (e.g. via capital or infrastructure spending) to create, perpetuate or exacerbate barriers against Ontarians with disabilities. The experience to date has been frustrating.

As our latest effort, we have written the Ontario Government’s Minister for Energy and Infrastructure, Mr. Brad Duguid, to request a meeting to raise this issue. Our June 16, 2010 letter to him is set out below. At the end of the letter, we give you links to earlier letters between us and the Ontario Government which we enclosed with this most recent letter.

Circulate this update to others. Send it to your local media. Send us your feedback. Write us at: aodafeedback@gmail.com


ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE
1929 Bayview Avenue
Toronto, Ontario
M4G 3E8
New Email Address: aodafeedback@gmail.com
Visit: http://www.aodalliance.org/

June 16, 2010

To: The Honourable Brad Duguid, Minister of Energy and Infrastructure
Minister's Office, Hearst Block
900 Bay Street, 4th Floor
Toronto, Ontario
M7A 2E1
Email: brad.duguid@ontario.ca
Fax: (416) 327-6754

Dear Minister,

Re: Ensuring Ontario Infrastructure Funding Promotes Disability Accessibility

I write on behalf of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance. We are a non-partisan volunteer community coalition advocating for accessibility in Ontario for persons with disabilities. We write to request an opportunity to meet with you to discuss the need for the Ontario Government to adopt an effective strategy for ensuring that Ontario Government capital and infrastructure spending is never used to create, perpetuate or exacerbate barriers against persons with disabilities.

Ontario has spent and continues to spend billions of public dollars on capital and infrastructure projects around this province. Yet it has no firm, public policy and procedure in place to ensure that these public funds are not used by either the Ontario Government, or transfer partners who receive Ontario capital and infrastructure funding, to create, perpetuate or exacerbate barriers against persons with disabilities.

It would be very helpful and timely to have an opportunity to meet with you to discuss our proposals for how to more effectively use the Government’s infrastructure and capital spending initiatives to stimulate more activity aimed at removing and preventing barriers against persons with disabilities around Ontario. This goal could easily be achieved without in any way adding to the provincial infrastructure budget. It would support your Government’s commitment to make Ontario fully accessible to persons with disabilities by 2025. There is no good reason for Ontario not to do this.

We approach you on this issue with some hope, and yet some real frustration. We have been trying to raise these matters with your Ministry’s officials for well over a year.

Over a year ago, we tried for several months to get a meeting with the Assistant Deputy Minister for Infrastructure, Bill Hughes. Finally in June 2009, we got to meet with him and several other public servants to raise this issue. Our June 25, 2009 letter to Mr. Hughes, enclosed details the strategy we proposed to the Government, and our discussion about it with Mr. Hughes and his colleagues. At that meeting and in our follow-up letter, we emphasized the need for prompt action.

Regrettably, Mr. Hughes inexplicably took fully five months to respond to our letter. His November 18, 2009 letter to us, enclosed, did little to address our proposal.

In frustration, we escalated the matter by writing to the then Deputy Minister, Mr. Saäd Rafi, on December 15, 2009. In that letter, enclosed, we asked the deputy minister to intervene in this matter to get our concern addressed. Commendably, we were notified within a few hours of our sending that letter that Mr. Rafi would meet to discuss our concerns.

On January 27, 2010, I met Deputy Minister Rafi and Associate Deputy Minister Susanna Zagar to discuss our proposal. They expressed interest in our ideas. As Mr. Hughes had done the year before, they acknowledged that the Government’s major stimulus infrastructure spending had already largely been spent. Ontario had thus lost an extraordinary opportunity to use the provincial infrastructure budget to induce more activity on accessibility around Ontario.

Deputy Minister Rafi invited us to meet with your Ministry’s front-line policy officials who review infrastructure spending proposals, with a view to our giving them some introductory training on how to incorporate accessibility considerations in their review of proposed infrastructure projects. We welcomed the opportunity to provide an hour of training to some 25 or more public officials, just two days later, on January 29, 2010. We were told that our presentation was very helpful and informative.

It was clear that no comparable training had previously been given to those public officials on this subject, and that such training, when provided, would be well-received. It was also clear that we were just scratching the surface. This one meeting was not sufficient to address the major issues we have been trying to raise with your Ministry and with the Government as a whole, on the issue of capital and infrastructure spending.

We understood from our January 27, 2010 discussion with Deputy Minister Rafi that your officials would explore options for incorporating accessibility considerations more effectively in their vetting of infrastructure projects. We later learned that a new deputy minister, Mr. Fareed Amin, had taken over from Mr. Rafi. Following up on these earlier discussions, I met with Deputy Minister Amin, along with Infrastructure Associate Deputy Minister Susanna Zagar, on March 25, 2010, to see what progress had been made on this issue in the interim. Deputy Minister Amin expressed a genuine interest in seeing how the Government could use its infrastructure and capital spending lever to stimulate more activity on accessibility around Ontario. However, I was not given to understand that there had been any significant movement on our proposal so far this year, other than our January 29, 2010 one-hour training for the public officials who assess infrastructure spending proposals.

Deputy Minister Amin told me at our March 25, 2010 meeting that he planned to explore options for putting our proposals into action. We have not heard anything further on this.

We have now learned that your Ministry has yet another new deputy minister, since Mr. Amin has left the public service. We also understand that Susanna Zagar is no longer the Associate Deputy Minister for Infrastructure. We feel as if we are back to Square 1.

We seek your intervention on this issue, as the Minister Responsible for Infrastructure. We seek your leadership to get the Government to implement a clear, strong policy and procedure to ensure that infrastructure and capital spending is never used to create, perpetuate or exacerbate barriers against persons with disabilities. We also ask your Government to give this matter significant visibility and profile, including in speeches that you, the Premier and other senior ministers make.

Our request of you is reinforced by the recent Report of the Charles Beer Independent Review of the AODA. As you know, your Government passed the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act in 2005. It commits Ontario to becoming fully accessible to persons with disabilities by 2025, less than 15 years from now. That legislation required the Government to appoint an Independent Review of the legislation to see how effectively it is working, after it had been in force for four years. In 2009, the Government appointed former Liberal cabinet minister Charles Beer to conduct that Independent Review.

The Government received the Beer Report last February and made it public on May 31, 2010. You can read the Beer Report at:
http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/05312010.asp

You can read the AODA Alliance’s analysis of the Beer Report at:
http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/06032010.asp

The Beer Report found that the Government needs to breathe life into the AODA. It found a need for the Government to revitalize the AODA’s implementation with transformative change. It also called on the Government to show new leadership in this area. More than mere tinkering with the AODA’s implementation is needed, the Beer Report found. All these steps are needed if Ontario is to achieve the required goal of full accessibility by 2025.

The Beer Report made specific reference to the Government’s failure to ensure that capital and infrastructure spending is not used to create barriers against persons with disabilities. It stated:

“While acknowledging the dedication and hard work of the government staff involved, many people consulted believe implementation of the act has become bogged down in the government’s day-to-day, “business as usual” processes. …Stakeholders sense that accessibility is being overlooked as the government goes about its everyday work. A silo mentality seems to have emerged, with little coordination among ministries and no coherent strategy. For example, disability groups were disappointed by the government’s failure to make accessibility a criterion for awarding infrastructure funding, particularly in the recent stimulus package and in the major investments in recent years to renew the capital facilities of hospitals and universities. This is seen as a huge lost opportunity.”

The Beer Report also found:

“I believe it is imperative for the government to intensify its public awareness effort, particularly with respect to the new standards. The ADO should take the lead in communicating the purpose and intent of the AODA and the role of accessibility standards, to ensure successful implementation of the legislation. To date, the government has not developed a strong communications campaign to promote the AODA, its objectives, obligations and broad application.

At the political level, in addition to the minister, it is important for the Premier and senior ministers to reinforce accessibility in their speeches and communications to the public. Over time such a strategy will help build greater public awareness and understanding and reinforce the benefits and value of achieving accessibility by 2025.”

We fully understand that you do not have lead responsibility for implementing the AODA. Nevertheless, as the minister responsible for infrastructure spending, you are in a unique position to help with the revitalization of the implementation of the AODA, to help break down the Government’s silo-approach to accessibility, and to help amplify the accessibility message to the public. In light of the problems we have had trying to get your Ministry to address our concerns described in this letter, we truly need strong, effective leadership in the area of infrastructure and capital spending. To that end, we turn to you for assistance with this.

We would welcome the opportunity to meet with you and to assist you and your Government with implementing a strategy to enable the Ontario Government to far more effectively use its infrastructure and capital spending strategies to foster more local action on accessibility around this province.

Sincerely,

David Lepofsky CM, O. Ont. Chair AODA Alliance

cc: Hon. Dalton McGuinty, Premier, Fax 416-325-9895, Email mcguinty.mpp.co@liberal.ola.org
Madeleine Meilleur, Minister, Community & Social Services, Fax (416) 325-3347, Email madeleine.meilleur@ontario.ca
David Lindsay, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure, Fax (416) 327-6755, Email, david.lindsay@ontario.ca
Bill Hughes, Assistant Deputy Minister of Infrastructure, Fax (416) 325-8851, Email bill.hughes@ontario.ca
Ellen Waxman, Assistant Deputy Minister for the Accessibility Directorate, Fax (416) 325-9620, Email ellen.waxman@ontario.ca

To see our June 25, 2009 letter to the Ontario Government, visit:
http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/07082009.asp

To see the Ontario Government’s November 18, 2009 response to us, and our December 15, 2009 answer to it, visit:
http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/12162009.asp