ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE
Premier Wynne Snubs 2014 Written Election Promise to 1.8 Million Ontarians with Disabilities - Her Written Instructions to Each Cabinet Minister on Their Action Priorities Systematically Ignore Many if Not Most Government Promises on Disability Accessibility
October 7, 2014 Toronto: Premier Kathleen Wynne has failed to keep an important 2014 election written promise to 1.8 million Ontarians with disabilities, according to the AODA Alliance, a widely-recognized non-partisan disability coalition that leads the campaign for a fully accessible Ontario for over 1.8 million Ontarians with disabilities. When she wrote each cabinet minister a “Mandate Letter on September 25, 2014,” giving marching orders on their action priorities, her instructions systematically leave out many if not most Government promises on disability accessibility.
In the 2014 Ontario election, Premier Kathleen Wynne promised in writing to issue directions to cabinet ministers and senior public officials to keep the Government’s disability accessibility duties and commitments. Yet her Mandate Letters to each Minister, filling some 100 pages of text, systematically leave out many if not most of the Government’s accessibility pledges. In one stunning instance, the Premier even backtracks on and dilutes a key election promise. This is all thoroughly documented in a 32-page detailed analysis of the premier’s Mandate Letters, which the AODA Alliance makes public today. (Summary set out below, after this News Release)
“Premier Wynne made her Mandate Letters public for the first time in history due to her promise to make Ontario the most open government in Canada. She has revealed a clear implicit message to her Cabinet that disability accessibility is miles from the top priority that the Wynne Government has claimed it would be,” said David Lepofsky, chair of the non-partisan AODA Alliance, the very coalition to which the Ontario Liberal Government has made its disability accessibility pledges in the last three elections. "This tells us that the Government makes big election promises to Ontarians with disabilities, but then largely sets them aside once all votes are counted. People with disabilities deserve better than systematic second-class treatment.”
The AODA Alliance calls on Premier Wynne to now keep her word. It asks her to issue and make public letters to her Cabinet, giving specific assignments to ensure that the Government’s disability accessibility duties and promises are all kept. These directions should stand on the same footing as the September 25, 2014 Mandate Letters that the Premier sent to each Minister.
Unanimously passed in 2005, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act requires the Government to lead Ontario to become fully accessible to people with disabilities by 2025. Ontario is now behind schedule, with only 10 of the 20 years left to reach that goal. When Kathleen Wynne was running for Ontario Liberal party leader, she promised the AODA Alliance in writing that she’d ensure that Ontario is on schedule for full accessibility by 2025, and that she’d keep all her Government’s accessibility pledges.
EXTRACT FROM THE AODA ALLIANCE’S OCTOBER 7, 2014 ANALYSIS OF THE WYNNE GOVERNMENT’S MANDATE LETTERS TO EACH CABINET MINISTER
ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE
A Premier's Promise to Ontarians with Disabilities Not Kept - A Disability Accessibility Analysis of Premier Wynne's September 25, 2014 "Mandate Letters" to Each Ontario Cabinet Minister
October 7, 2014
I. Overview, Analysis and Conclusions
On September 25, 2014, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne wrote all her Cabinet Ministers to give them their marching orders. These are set out in "Mandate Letters to each Minister" that lists that Minister's work priorities. These Mandate Letters give us and the public a unique glimpse into the Government’s plans for the next months and years. In this Analysis, we show that Premier Wynne has systematically left out of these Mandate Letters many if not most of her Government's duties and commitments to Ontarians with disabilities on the subject of disability accessibility.
From the perspective of over 1.8 million Ontarians with disabilities, this is deeply troubling for four reasons. First, Premier Wynne promised in writing during the 2014 election to direct her Ministers and other senior officials to fulfil the Government's duties and commitments on disability accessibility. Second, when running for leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party, Kathleen Wynne promised in writing to keep all her Government's commitments on disability accessibility.
Third, the Ontario Liberal Government has a troubling track record of keeping only some, but clearly not all of its promises on disability accessibility. Finally, Ontario is now clearly behind schedule for becoming fully accessible by 2025. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) requires the Government to lead Ontario to full accessibility by 2025. We need the Government to speed up action on accessibility, not side-line it as a low priority.
We call on Premier Wynne to keep her word. We urge her to write each key Cabinet Minister to identify for them the key disability accessibility duties and commitments for which they have lead responsibility.
In this analysis we first summarize our findings. We then review the Premier's Mandate Letters from a disability accessibility perspective. Finally, we link to key documents that support our analysis.
1. The Frustrating Problem Facing Ontarians with Disabilities
For years, Ontarians with disabilities, numbering over 1.8 million, have faced enormously frustrating problems with the Ontario Government, especially since 2005. It has often been very difficult getting the Government to consistently and reliably keep its commitments to us and its legal responsibilities on disability accessibility.
Some of the Government's duties and commitments on disability accessibility have been commendably honoured, and in a timely fashion. Yet far too many have not been kept at all, even years after they were made. For others, action on them has been hugely delayed. Especially since 2011, we have had to fight battle after battle to secure any progress. This is documented in exquisite detail in the AODA Alliance's 368-page June 30, 2014 Brief to the Independent Review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, which the Government appointed University of Toronto Dean Mayo Moran to conduct. The AODA Alliance's June 30, 2014 brief to the Mayo Moran AODA Independent Review.
In the 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2014 Ontario provincial elections, and at various times between these elections, the Government has made a series of important promises to Ontarians with disabilities about disability accessibility. In her December 3, 2012 letter to the AODA Alliance, written while she was running to become the next leader of the Ontario Liberal Party, Kathleen Wynne pledged to keep all the Liberal Ontario Government's past promises on disability accessibility. Kathleen Wynne's December 3, 2012 letter to the AODA Alliance.
Since Kathleen Wynne became Ontario's Premier early in 2013, her Government has made additional pledges on disability accessibility, including during the recent 2014 Ontario election.
As our brief to the Mayo Moran AODA Independent Review shows, we have been concerned for years that Ontario's Premier has not consistently directed his or her Cabinet Ministers to keep all the Government's promises on disability accessibility. If this direction is not given, there is a high risk that Cabinet Ministers will not keep those promises. They will get busy with other priorities that they consider more pressing.
2. Premier Wynne's 2014 Election Promise to Instruct Her Cabinet Ministers to Take Action on the Government's Duties and Promises on Disability Accessibility
In the 2014 Ontario election, this problem led the AODA Alliance to ask the major parties to promise, if elected, to direct their cabinet ministers and senior officials to fulfil the Government's duties and promises on disability accessibility. Commendably, Kathleen Wynne promised to do this. In her May 14, 2014 letter to the AODA Alliance, setting out the Government’s disability accessibility election pledges, Premier Wynne promised:
“If we win the honour of re-election, our government will continue to implement our accessibility obligations and commitments. This includes directing Cabinet Ministers and senior public officials to implement accessibility obligations and commitments.”
3. Promise Not Kept – The Premier’s September 25, 2014 "Mandate Letters to Each Ontario Cabinet Minister
On September 25, 2014, Premier Wynne sent a "Mandate Letter" to each Minister in her Cabinet. In a Mandate Letter the Premier instructs a Cabinet Minister on which actions and issues are priorities for that Minister. The Mandate Letter is the top marching orders for that Minister and his or her Ministry. A busy Minister and Ministry can easily become absorbed in and distracted by a blizzard of tasks and issues. The Mandate Letter lets them know what issues and action must secure their top attention.
The Premier's September 25, 2014 Mandate Letters, taken together, fill fully 100 pages of text. Premier Wynne’s September 25, 2014 Mandate Letters.
It is commendable that for the first time, Premier Wynne made these newest September 25, 2014 Mandate Letters public. This lets one and all see what the Government plans to do. These Mandate Letters are chock full of detailed specifics, not mere vague platitudes. Taken together, they reveal the Government's core agenda for the next months, if not years.
To assist the Government, we recently wrote the Premier and ten Cabinet Ministers in charge of the key Ministries responsible for the Government's duties and promises on disability accessibility. For each of them, we set out a manageable clear list of priority actions for them on disability accessibility. We tried wherever possible to link these specific priorities to the requirements in the AODA, and to Government disability accessibility promises. We sent copies of these letters to Premier Wynne, so she would have the full picture. Links to each of these letters are set out at the end of this Analysis. These letters were intended to help Premier Wynne formulate her Mandate Letters.
Premier Wynne's Government has said over and over that disability accessibility is a "top priority" for it. For example, her lead Minister responsible for implementing and enforcing the AODA solemnly declared this in the Ontario Legislature on May 28, 2013, to honour National Access Awareness Week. The Government's declaration that disability accessibility is a "top priority".
This makes it especially important to take a close look at Premier Wynne's September 25, 2014 Mandate Letters to her Cabinet Ministers. Here is what we found:
a) Premier’s Mandate Letters Systematically Leave out Many if not Most of the Government's Disability Accessibility Duties and Promises
As detailed below letter-by-letter, Premier Wynne's Mandate Letter to each Cabinet Minister, systematically leave out many if not most of the Government’s duties and pledges on disability accessibility. The most substantive directions on point she gives are to the Minister of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure regarding the development of new accessibility standards under the AODA (addressed further below), and her direction to the Minister Responsible for the 2015 Toronto Pan/ParaPan American Games to develop a plan for a legacy of increased accessible tourism services after the 2015 Games.
There is nothing in these Mandate Letters about enforcement of the AODA, or to ensure that new physical or information technology infrastructure is accessible, or to ensure that public money is never used to create or perpetuate barriers against people with disabilities. There is nothing in the Mandate Letters to re-engineer the Ontario Public Service's approach to disability accessibility, to ensure that it becomes an accessible employer and service provider.
In one especially vexing instance, the Premier’s Mandate Letter explicitly diluted a key promise that she made to Ontarians with disabilities a mere four months earlier, during the 2014 election campaign. As detailed further below, in the 2014 election campaign, Premier Wynne wrote us to promise that her Government would develop accessibility standards to address barriers in education and/or health care. Later during the election campaign, speaking for her Government, one of her Cabinet Ministers, Yasir Naqvi, made a stronger commitment on the Government's behalf. He tweeted us that the Government would develop accessibility standards to address barriers in both education and health care.
Yet in her September 25, 2014 Mandate Letter to the Minister responsible for developing AODA accessibility standards, Minister of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure Brad Duguid, Premier Wynne back-tracked and diluted this. She instructed Minister Duguid to "explore options to develop new accessibility standards in the education or health sector.” We here emphasize her using the word “or,” not “and,” or even “and/or.”
If the Premier had only left out 25% of her Government's disability accessibility pledges and duties from these Mandate Letters, this could be written off as a mere oversight. In that case, it might have been justified by virtue of the Government's covering a large majority of them in the Mandate Letters. That is, sadly, not the case here.
This omission is systemic and systematic. It results either from a deliberate decision to marginalize promises to Ontarians with disabilities, or a staggering obliviousness to disability accessibility concerns. Either would be very troubling.
b) Mandate Letters Systematically Miss Other Excellent Opportunities for the Government to Fulfil its Accessibility Duties and Pledges
As is also detailed below letter-by-letter, the Premier has also systematically missed a good number of other opportunities to build accessibility into assignments she gives to her key Cabinet Ministers. For example, the Premier did not direct the Ministers of Education, or of Training, Colleges and Universities, or of Children and Youth Services, to work towards achieving a fully accessible education system in Ontario by 2025 (which the AODA requires). Similarly, the Premier's Mandate Letter to the Minister of Health does not instruct him to set as a priority ensuring that Ontario's health care system becomes fully accessible to people with disabilities by 2025 (a goal which the AODA also requires). As well, the Premier's Mandate Letter to the Minister of Transportation does not direct that Minister to ensure that Ontario's transportation system becomes fully accessible by 2025 (also required by the AODA). These instructions are systematically left out of these Mandate Letters, even though the Premier's Mandate Letters to these Ministers include directions on leadership in the development of Ontario's education system, health care system and transportation system of the future.
The Premier's Mandate Letter to the Education Minister issues directions regarding the acquisition of future technology to be used in classrooms across Ontario. Again missing an obvious opportunity for progress on accessibility, that Mandate Letter does not direct the Minister to ensure that this new classroom technology is accessible. Similarly, the Premier's Mandate Letter to the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities instructs that Minister to treat as a priority the expansion of online learning opportunities. Yet it does not instruct the Minister to ensure that these online learning opportunities are designed to be disability-accessible.
These glaring omissions ignore the Government’s 2011 election promise to ensure that future information technology infrastructure is disability-accessible. They also ignore the Government’s 2014 election promise not to use public money to create or perpetuate disability barriers. Capping this off, they ignore the Government's 2011 election promise to make incorporate disability accessibility in vital Government decisions affecting Ontarians.
If the Premier does not include these accessibility measures in her Mandate Letters, we cannot assume that Cabinet Ministers will each treat them as priorities. Our past experience shows that we must assume the opposite. As our June 30, 2014 brief to the Mayo Moran AODA Independent Review amply shows, the Ontario Government has over and over again failed to show this kind of effective leadership on accessibility, despite promising to lead by example on the issue of disability accessibility.
c) A Breath-Taking Double Standard
In these Mandate Letters, over 1.8 million Ontarians with disabilities, and the Government's duties and promises to them on accessibility, are relegated to a cruel second-class posture among Government priorities. The recurring omission or downplaying of the Government's disability accessibility duties and promises stands in marked contrast to the Government's more commendable treatment of other equality-seeking groups in these Mandate Letters.
For example, in sharp contrast to the second-class treatment of people with disabilities, in her Mandate Letters the Premier commendably told Minister after Minister that it is a specific priority for them to incorporate the needs and concerns of Ontario's First Nations in important parts of the Minister's and Ministry's work. As well, the Premier commendably directed the Minister Responsible for Women's Issues "to ensure that a gender lens is brought to government strategies, policies and programs."
At the Cabinet table, there is 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 is no Minister Responsible for People with Disabilities. For four years, The Government has ignored the recommendation of the 2010 Charles Beer Independent Review of the AODA. It had recommended that such a Minister be designated.
The Minister of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure is responsible for implementing and enforcing the AODA. However, he is not responsible for overall oversight of disability issues across Government.
Moreover, the Premier's specific Mandate Letter to the Minister of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure is especially troubling. It assigns so many other massive duties for the Minister and Ministry, while taking an impoverished approach to that Minister’s mandate regarding the AODA. There is now a high risk that our concerns will get far less attention by the Minister and Deputy Minister, whose plates are piled up to overflowing by the Premier's Mandate Letter that to that Minister.
In February 2013, we applauded the Premier's decision to move the Accessibility Directorate from the Ministry of Community and Social Services (where it had not properly belonged) to the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment. To date, that transition has not gone well. It has not served people with disabilities very well.
To make matters even more challenging, in the summer 2014 Cabinet shuffle, the Premier has added infrastructure to this Ministry's mandate. It would be great if this led the Government to far more effectively embed accessibility considerations in its infrastructure spending. However, after reading Premier Wynne’s Mandate Letter to that Minister, we now see that there is a much greater likelihood that the Accessibility Directorate and accessibility concerns will be eclipsed and dwarfed in the huge, amalgamated Ministry of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure, which Brad Duguid now leads.
The Premier's Mandate Letters include a number of helpful measures, as are referred to in our letter-by-letter analysis. We are not saying that the Government is proposing to do nothing for people with disabilities. However, we are deeply concerned that key legal duties and promises to us are being marginalized.
d) A Loud, Clear Wrong Message from Ontario's Premier
Taken together, these Mandate Letters send a loud, clear message to Ontario's Cabinet Ministers. It is a message which is very harmful and hurtful for Ontarians with disabilities.
This message is as follows: the Government's duties and promises to Ontarians with disabilities on accessibility are not a priority for the Government, no matter how many times it has said that accessibility is a top Government priority. Even if a specific Government promise on disability accessibility falls squarely within a Minister's responsibility, it is, for the most part, not a priority for that Minister or for his or her Ministry. The Government will make great pledges to Ontarians with disabilities on accessibility during and between elections. However, when the moment of truth comes -- when the Premier hands out public marching orders to each Cabinet Minister -- these promises are mostly rhetoric for public consumption, rather than plans for actual Government action.
The fact that Each Mandate Letter includes a qualification after it lists specific priorities, is no cure for this problem. Each Mandate Letter states near the end:
“The above list of priority initiatives is not meant to be exhaustive, as there are many other responsibilities that you and your ministry will need to carry out. To that end, this mandate letter is to be used by your ministry to develop more detailed plans for implementation of the initiatives above, in addition to other initiatives not highlighted in this letter.”
This does not solve the problem now facing people with disabilities, thanks to these Mandate Letters. Despite this boilerplate paragraph in each Mandate Letter, each Minister and Ministry will unquestionably dedicate their attention and priority to the measures that each Mandate Letter declares are the Government's "specific priorities." A Minister and Ministry, looking at our letters to them on disability accessibility, will look to see if the Premier's Mandate Letter directs them to take the actions we list. If the Mandate Letter from the Premier does not do so, we can expect a Minister and Ministry not to treat our listed actions as priorities, even if they happen to arise from specific written promises to us from the Government's leadership.
We have unfortunate experience with Minister after Minister ducking their disability accessibility duties and the Government’s promises. On December 2, 2011, shortly after the 2011 election, we wrote seven Ontario Cabinet Ministers to identify disability accessibility priorities for them and their Ministries. Each wrote us back over the next weeks. In virtually all responses sent to us, the Ministers ducked or ignored our requests and simply recited their Government’s past record on accessibility. To read the largely evasive responses of seven Ontario Cabinet Ministers to our December 2, 2011 letters, proposing accessibility priorities for their Ministries.
e) Ontarians with Disabilities Need Action Now
The AODA requires the Ontario Government to lead Ontario to become fully accessible to people with disabilities by 2025. Our June 30, 2014 brief to the Mayo Moran AODA Independent Review demonstrates that Ontario now lags behind schedule for full accessibility by 2025. We need the Government to take the actions we identified in writing over the last weeks for the Premier and her Cabinet, to get Ontario back on schedule.
Kathleen Wynne promised Ontarians with disabilities in her December 3, 2012 letter to the AODA Alliance that she would ensure that Ontario is on schedule for full accessibility by 2025. We need Premier Wynne to immediately write each Cabinet Minister, to direct them to take the actions we have identified on disability accessibility. She needs to make it clear that these are at least equal in priority to those measures listed in her September 25, 2014 Mandate Letters. It should be made clear that her directions on disability accessibility should not be viewed as any lower in priority by virtue of the fact that they were not included in her September 25, 2014 Mandate Letters.
She should immediately make any such letters to her Cabinet Ministers on disability accessibility public. She should post them alongside her September 25, 2014 Mandate Letters.
We also need Premier Wynne to take all the 14 other that we asked of her in our September 19, 2014 letter to her. These are set out below.
In each of her September 25, 2014 Mandate Letters, Premier Wynne pledges: “We want to be the most open and transparent government in the country." Failure to take the actions we here propose would undermine both that commitment and Premier Wynne's pledge to ensure that Ontario is on schedule for full accessibility by 2025.