ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE

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United for a Barrier-Free Ontario

Ten Years Ago Tomorrow, the Ontario Government Introduced Bill 118, Its Proposed Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, Into the Ontario Legislature for First Reading

October 11, 2014

Summary

Tomorrow marks yet another anniversary of an important milestone on the road to a fully accessible Ontario for over 1.8 million people with disabilities. Ten years ago tomorrow, on October 12, 2004, the Ontario Government under Premier Dalton McGuinty, introduced Bill 118 into the Legislature for First Reading. This is the bill which, once passed in May 2005, became the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. It requires the Ontario Government to lead Ontario to become fully accessible to people with disabilities by 2025.

Below we set out the Government’s two speeches in the Legislature on First Reading in support of this bill. The first speech was by Premier McGuinty. The second speech was by the Minister of Citizenship, Marie Bountrogianni. Minister Bountrogianni was in charge of developing this bill and steering it through the Legislature. We also set out the responding speeches by the two opposition parties, the Conservatives and New Democrats.

First reading of this bill was the first chance for all Ontarians, including those of us who fought for ten years for this legislation starting back in 1994, to see what details would be included in this bill. Reading these speeches reveals the excitement of a new Government, in power for just one year, after it had been spending thirteen years in opposition.

The Premier chose to make the first speech on the bill’s introduction, which is very rare. He also chose for this to be the first bill of that session of the Legislature. Both were strong signals that the Government then thought of this as a major event and huge priority for the Government.

Ten years later, we have seen progress on implementing this legislation get off to a good start in the earliest years. However, later on, and especially since the 2011 summer, that, progress has unjustifiably ground down to a virtual snail’s pace. This was most recently demonstrated when the Government systematically left out many if not most of its accessibility pledges from the marching orders it gave its Cabinet Ministers, in Mandate Letters that the Government recently made public. As a result, Ontario now remains woefully behind schedule for reaching full accessibility by 2025.

On this Thanksgiving weekend, we are thankful for the many people and organizations across Ontario that have helped us press the Government for action on accessibility. We are also thankful  for all those in our province who have worked on removing barriers that impede people with disabilities. We also voice our thanks to those politicians of any political stripe who have taken this issue seriously, and tried to press for action.

At the same time, we now reaffirm our intention to tenaciously press the Government to get Ontario back on schedule for full accessibility by 2025. We call on the Government to show by its actions that same spirit that is reflected in the speeches set out below, and that has been so demonstrably missing since the 2011 summer. All the members of the Legislature who spoke in the speeches set out below have since left public life as MPPs. Many current members of the Ontario Legislature today were not in the Legislature during the period of 1994 to 2004 when we fought so tirelessly and tenaciously to reach the historic day which we commemorate tomorrow.   

Even on this Thanksgiving weekend, the accessibility clock ticks on. A disturbing 327 days have now passed since we revealed that the Ontario Government was not enforcing the AODA, and that there have been rampant AODA violations in the private sector. The Government still has not made public its promised plan for the AODA's effective enforcement. Two hundred and thirty-three days have passed since the Toronto Star reported on February 20, 2014 that the Government would be publicly posting that new enforcement plan "in short order." One hundred and fifty days have passed since Premier Wynne promised to establish a toll-free line for members of the public to alert the Government to accessibility barriers against people with disabilities in the community. None has been announced. 

To read our November 18, 2013 revelation that the Government was failing to effectively enforce the Disabilities Act despite knowing of rampant private sector violations, and funds on hand for enforcement.

To read the Government's February 20, 2014 pledge to publish in "short order" its plan for enforcing the Disabilities Act.

To read the Government’s May 14, 2014 election promise to establish a toll-free line to report disability accessibility barriers.

As well, 409 days have passed since the Government unveiled its plans for the legacy of the 2015 Toronto Pan/ParaPan American Games. Yet it has still not released details and specifics of a comprehensive disability accessibility legacy for the Games. Only 272 days remain until the 2015 Games begin. Time is running out!

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MORE DETAILS

Text of the Introduction for First Reading of Bill 118 in the Ontario Legislature, the proposed Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act

ONTARIO HANSARD October 12, 2014

Hon Dalton McGuinty (Premier, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs): Mr Speaker, allow me to welcome you and all members of this Legislature back to this august chamber on this, a very proud day for Ontario.

I say that because today this government introduces the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2004. This is landmark legislation. It will improve access to workplaces and public spaces, employment, customer service, communications and transportation.

L'Ontario devrait être fier de ce projet de loi. Tout le monde mérite la possibilité d'apprendre, de travailler et de jouer dans toute la mesure de son potentiel. Ce projet de loi devrait rendre l'Ontario plus productif. Ce sont tous les résidents et résidentes de l'Ontario qui bénéficient des possibilités offertes à chacun et à chacune d'entre eux.

This bill should make Ontario proud. Every person deserves the opportunity to learn, work and play to his or her full potential. This bill will help make Ontario more productive. All Ontarians benefit when we tap into the potential of each Ontarian. I often say that Ontario succeeds when we all work, dream and build together, and "all" must certainly include in every way the 1.5 million Ontarians with a disability.

Before the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration tells us more about this bill, I briefly want to acknowledge the work that has gone into it. I especially want to acknowledge the efforts of several advocates for people with disabilities, and specifically mention one: David Lepofsky.

We've all heard it said that someone is made of Teflon when nothing seems to stick to them. I suspect that David is made of Velcro. In fact, he will virtually attach himself to you if you have any carriage, in any way whatsoever, over this file. His passion and determination are a testament, I believe, to the desire of Ontarians with disabilities to have the opportunity to fully contribute to life in this great province of ours.

I want to acknowledge as well the members of the Legislature who have taken a consistent interest in this issue, particularly members of my own caucus who, as critics for this area while in opposition, and now as government members, have made a real and lasting contribution.

Finally, I want to say directly to our fellow Ontarians with disabilities:  We need your work. We need your buying power. We need your contributions to this economy and this society that we all share. We need you and all Ontarians to realize your full potential so this great province can fulfill its potential as a place with an appreciation of life and a quality of life that are truly second to none.

Hon Marie Bountrogianni (Minister of Children and Youth Services, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration): Mr Speaker, may I welcome you and all honourable members back to the Legislature for this first day of our autumn sitting and the first day after Thanksgiving.

Ten years ago, a group of 20 Ontarians with disabilities forged a committee with the sole intent of making Ontario barrier-free for people with disabilities. They understood that the aisle of a store may be too narrow to accommodate someone with a wheelchair; a playground may have an insurmountable curb around it; an elevator may have no Braille markings on the buttons; and an on-the-spot job application may be impossible for someone who has dyslexia. An Ontarian who has mental health problems may face stigma in any number of ways, particularly in the workforce.

Even though there has been progress to eliminate barriers for those with disabilities, there is so much more work to be done. That is why today I'm honoured to introduce legislation to meet the dreams and aspirations of those Ontarians who have worked so long and so hard to make Ontario fully accessible. I am honoured to introduce the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act because we need to allow all Ontarians to participate fully in the life of our province.

Making Ontario truly accessible for the 1.5 million Ontarians with disabilities is a matter of vital importance. We want Ontario to lead, not lag, in accessibility. Together, Ontarians have worked, and are working, to build a province of full inclusion. That is how it should be, and yet for any Ontarian with a disability, discrimination and lack of accessibility are very real: real physical barriers; real technological, communications, bureaucratic barriers, barriers that limit the hopes of young people to achieve their full potential and barriers that deprive senior citizens of their integrity.

Ten years ago, those Ontarians with disabilities put together a simple statement of principles for making our province barrier-free. Those principles are at the heart of the legislation that the government is introducing today. Most significantly, the final principle states that new legislation "must be more than mere window dressing.... It must have real force and effect." This Legislature unanimously adopted that resolution. The disability community supported this approach.

I happen to believe that the earlier legislation, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, was introduced with good intent and good faith, but it was just too weak. It did not comprehensively cover the private sector. It did not include standards and timelines to eliminate and prevent barriers. The previous legislation did not make a difference in the way that really matters to people with disabilities, like access to stores, restaurants and medical offices. It was opposed by many in the disability community. It was opposed by the opposition parties in the Legislature.

Over the past several years, a number of Liberal members have pushed very hard for the new legislation that I am introducing today. They met with Ontarians with disabilities. They listened to them and they have pushed our government to act. The honourable member for Windsor-St Clair, now the Minister of Energy and House leader, led the way. The now Minister of Agriculture and Food held hearings in every part of the province, and the honourable member for Prince Edward-Hastings has done invaluable work for the disability community for many years. The late Dominic Agostino, our party's first critic on disability issues, was a champion of the first order for this legislation.

I must also recognize the honourable member for Burlington and the honourable member for Trinity-Spadina, who care deeply about this issue, and, of course, the Accessibility Advisory Council of Ontario, who have tirelessly promoted accessibility for people with disabilities. Their support during our province-wide consultations has been essential.

I would like to acknowledge the Premier, who is a forceful advocate for people with disabilities, as was his father before him in this Legislature.

The Premier wrote last year, "We believe that the Harris-Eves government's Ontarians with Disabilities Act does not even begin to adequately address the needs and rights of countless Ontarians. We will introduce ... a strong and effective ... act."

That is precisely what we are doing today. The legislation is very much crafted and fine-tuned by what we have heard from the disability community and those in other sectors.

Throughout the first part of this year, my former parliamentary assistant, Dr Kular, and I heard from thousands of Ontarians. I want to thank the member for Bramalea-Gore-Malton-Springdale for his tireless efforts, and I wish him well in his new responsibilities.

I also want to welcome my new parliamentary assistant, the member from London-Fanshawe, who has already approached this legislation with diligence and enthusiasm.

Throughout those consultations this spring, we met with disability organizations; individuals with disabilities; the private sector, including business people of enormous goodwill and determination; leaders from retail businesses, hospitals, colleges and universities, transportation services; and students.

In fact, we had a Webcast that received more than 2,000 hits across the province. Some of those people have joined us today.

I would like to ask my colleagues to acknowledge my friends in the gallery who have so willingly shared their time and knowledge to help us make Ontario accessible: David Lepofsky, who was already mentioned by the Premier, and the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee -- thank you; the Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario; the Ontario March of Dimes -- thank you very much for your efforts; and many others.

This legislation, if passed, will incorporate all 11 principles enunciated by the disability community and agreed to by the Legislature six years ago.

Of course, the government has already moved forward on complementary fronts: expansion of funding for mental health services, major new investments in children's health programs, new housing for Ontarians with developmental disabilities, the first increase in Ontario disability support program payments in 11 years, and increased rebates for vehicles to transport people with physical disabilities.

To make truly comprehensive progress, though, we need legislation that will deliver fundamental changes -- real change -- to the way we think and act as a society.

This legislation would make us an international leader in accessibility for people with disabilities.

The bill would call for strong action by the provincial government, the broader public sector and, for the very first time, the private sector.

Standards to be met every five years or less to achieve measurable long-term goals could be adopted as regulations, requiring all sectors and people with disabilities to develop them together.

I'm talking about standards in areas that affect people in their day-to-day lives; standards that would address barriers related to physical and mental health, sensory -- the full range of developmental and learning disabilities, visible and invisible; standards that would be given the force of law through regulation and enforcement and that would require affected persons and organizations to comply with tough penalties for violators.

Taking tough measures requires people of honour and commitment, and it takes leadership from the business community. Many business leaders have already seen the true value of accessibility in terms of expanded markets for their products and services -- an estimated $25 billion a year, according to a Royal Bank report.

I thank in particular such business organizations as the Retail Council of Canada, the Greater Toronto Hotel Association, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, the Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association, Dofasco and the Canadian Standards Association.

Every Ontarian should have the opportunity to learn, work, play, participate and contribute to the maximum of their talents, desires and dreams. That is essential to the social and economic vibrancy of this province.

There was a time in this province's history, Mr Speaker, when I would not have been able to address you because women were denied their democratic rights. I personally remember a time when, as a student, engineering co-op placements were limited because some companies did not have washrooms for women. They were deemed an unnecessary expense. Today that is unimaginable.

I want that same inclusive thinking when it comes to disabilities. I want people in this province to say, "Can you imagine there was a time when people complained about the cost of a ramp? Can you imagine there was a time when menus were not available in alternate formats? What were they thinking?"

Through public education we can change attitudes, one of the biggest barriers people with disabilities face. We need to raise a generation of Ontarians who are acutely aware of accessibility, who are determined to create a truly accessible and barrier-free society.

The creation of an accessible Ontario is a vision and a job for all of us. That's our challenge, that is our responsibility and, most importantly, that is our extraordinary opportunity.

As we return here from Thanksgiving, let us give thanks not just for what we have but for what we can become. In that spirit of reaching out for our potential, in that spirit of inclusion, I would like to thank those who assisted me to finish this statement in American Sign Language. Full accessibility benefits us all. It is the cornerstone for strong communities and a strong economy.

The Speaker (Hon Alvin Curling): Responses?

Mr Cameron Jackson (Burlington): It's my pleasure today to rise, on the first day back in the Legislature, to greet this new legislation. I say in all fairness, like many members of this Legislature who have ever grown up in a house with a disabled member, they know how important this legislation is. So in the true spirit of this legislation, we can only express our appreciation for anything that advances the cause for disabled people in our province.

This province has a proud reputation. It was the first jurisdiction in North America to have a human rights code and a human rights commission. This province was the first, with Bill 125 from our government, to have comprehensive disability legislation, the first disability support program on the continent. So it is fitting that this province today makes an effort to move the yardsticks forward for full citizenship for all of its citizens.

I too would like to acknowledge the presence of a few of the groups who were very supportive and instrumental in advising the former government in terms of developing the first disability legislation in our province. I recognize Dean LaBute, a member of the accessibility council who's in the Legislature today. I certainly encourage the minister to retain this valuable asset of volunteerism for moving forward the agenda, as well as the construction of the disability directorate which was part of that legislation.

As always, these issues are measured in terms of legislation, but they're also measured by financial commitment. Clearly our government was pleased with its $6-billion investment over eight years to enhance services in accessibility in our province. During the debate on Bill 125, all members made references to the incredible amount of investment required. Today's announcement and legislation has not been costed; I understand that media questions earlier today were not satisfied. But I recall vividly, during the debate on Bill 125 when it was tabled by our government, the member for Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Aldershot very clearly saying, "I don't care what it costs. We should just spend all the money necessary." Although that's a very Liberal view of the world, the member for St Catharines, participating and laying out the official position for the Liberal Party at the time, indicated that any action similar to the legislation being passed today would amount to downloading and therefore the province should pay for all of these costs. Now, if that still remains the official position of the Liberal Party and therefore the government of the day now, if that is the case, then we need to have a full costing of the implications of this legislation.

It's interesting to note that about 80% of Bill 125 has been retained in this legislation. It has been modified. You are dismantling the old legislation. However, what's fascinating to me is that for the first time in my 20 years in this building, you're saying you're going to repeal the bill but you have to repeal it in sections over the next 10 years because it has within it the accessibility planning framework, unique anywhere in North America, that we have here.

Briefly, Minister, I want you to be aware that the largest single resistance I got as Minister of Citizenship was from AMO and from municipalities. What occurred in Bill 125 was to empower disabled persons in their own municipalities to literally not allow a building to be built unless it was compliant to the standards set in that community -- minimum standards set by the province, but even better standards. I notice that your legislation confirms that and takes it even further. I notice that your penalty provisions in the act take the fine for filing false documents, whereas in the previous legislation those were outright fines of $50,000 for non-compliance.

We will participate in the discussions and the debates. It was frustrating for me as the Minister of Citizenship that the Liberal Party never participated in amendments or in bringing forward ideas. I want to reassure you that you can count on the Progressive Conservative Party.

Interjection.

Mr Jackson: Not one amendment was tabled by your critic. That is a fact.

You can count on the Progressive Conservative Party, under the leadership of John Tory, to work with you, Minister, to make this the best legislation in the country. Thank you.

Mr Michael Prue (Beaches-East York): It is indeed a privilege and an honour to be here on this day, the opening of the Legislature, and a privilege and an honour that the first bill introduced is the Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

It has taken many long years, over three successive governments, over four or five terms of office now, for an act to come before us. I have to tell you, Gary Malkowski was introduced earlier to the Legislature. He is sitting there. He was the author of the first Ontarians with Disabilities Act. He was there trying to do what I think was the right thing all those years ago.

We saw, after his act failed to pass and employment equity failed to pass, that a new government came along and tried their best, I think, to bring in an Ontarians with Disabilities Act, but it was severely watered down. It was pretty bad, I have to say. Even though Cam Jackson, the member from Burlington, spoke and was very passionate about it, it was a watered-down bill that did not get the support of the opposition parties and indeed did not pass. It was withdrawn because many, many people, including the opposition parties and the disabled community, saw that it was not as good as the original bill introduced by then member Malkowski from York East.

I have to say I'm a little disappointed in what we have today. It's sad to see how minimal the commitment to the disabled actually is. It has been reintroduced today. You know, I go back to that hallowed day, I guess, October 29, 1998, when all parties in this Legislature passed the motion. I want to read just a little bit of what you promised, members on that side of the House who were here. You promised to "seek to achieve a barrier-free Ontario for persons with disabilities within as short a time as is reasonably possible, with implementation to begin immediately upon proclamation." That's what was promised six years ago.

Today we have to look at what has actually happened, and I look only to section 1 of the bill. Section 1(a) says,

"The purpose of this act is to benefit all Ontarians by

"(a) developing, implementing and enforcing accessibility standards in order to achieve accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities with respect to goods, services, facilities, occupancy of accommodation, employment buildings, structures and premises" -- all of which are good, but then the kicker -- "on or before January 1, 2025" -- 21 years from now; not as soon as reasonably practicable but 21 years from now.

That is a whole generation of Ontarians who will grow up and not see total equality. Yes, they may see marginal improvements that you're promising, but they are never going to see total equality until 2025. This whole generation has been waiting 10 years and now they are expected to wait another 21 years.

The reality is that what you are setting up here is little more than a study group. The reality is that the standards you are going to set by regulation -- you are going to do that only after you consult with the affected businesses and the affected municipalities who have shown in the past that they are often very reluctant to spend money where they need to spend it.

How are you going to begin immediately? That's the question I have of you. Where are the standards in this bill? I can't find them. Where is the money for enforcement? There's no money for enforcement. In fact, the minister responsible for the budget has openly mused about laying people off. Where is the funding for churches, for community centres, for non-profits, for municipalities? Who is going to pay for all this?

This is a big announcement today. In your first budget you promised many things and you have not delivered those for the disabled. You promised to help them but you eliminated the 8% provincial tax on the vehicles that carried them around. You are fighting in court parents with autistic children. Even though you've given some 3% to ODSP as a payment increase, that is really quite pitiful in the grand scheme of things.

To reiterate: There is no intervener funding, the regulations are not spelled out, and the 2025 date is certainly not acceptable to us or to the people who are working on this bill.