ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE

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MCGUINTY GOVERNMENT PASSES LEGISLATION TO MAKE MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS BARRIER-FREE FOR VOTERS AND CANDIDATES WITH DISABILITIES – BUT REJECTS AODA ALLIANCE PROPOSALS NEEDED TO MAKE THE BILL STRONG AND EFFECTIVE

December 17, 2009

SUMMARY

On October 27, 2009, the McGuinty Government introduced Bill 212, the “Good Government” bill, into the Legislature for first reading. It passed third reading on December 3, 2009. This massive bill included amendments to a large number of different laws. Among these, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing James Watson included amendments to the laws governing municipal elections, to try to remove some of the recurring barriers that impede voters and candidates with disabilities. We set out these excerpts from Bill 212 below.

Shortly after Bill 212 was introduced into the Legislature, Minister Watson’s office told us about this development. We sent a delegation to meet with Municipal Affairs Minister James Watson on November 2, 2009. We commended the Government for legislating in this area, but expressed serious concerns that the proposed amendments were very weak. The Minister invited us to send him a short list of proposed amendments within two weeks. The time lines were very short for this legislation.

We sent the Minister a letter dated November 18, 2009, set out below. It included a two-page list of proposed amendments. We had to prepare these proposals in an extreme hurry, because of the Government’s short time lines. We drew on past submissions by the AODA Alliance on elections accessibility issues.

We later learned from the Minister’s office that all of our proposals were rejected. We were told, however, that the Government would be open to reconsider this issue after the fall 2010 municipal elections.

We wrote the Minister a follow-up letter dated December 15, 2009, also set out below. In it we repeat in detail our concerns regarding the weak amendments in Bill 212. We also urged the Government to try to implement as many of our proposed amendments as possible for the 2010 election, even if those amendments were not incorporated into law. Finally, we urged the Minister and his Government to include further disability accessibility requirements in another bill now before the Ontario Legislature, Bill 231, which addresses (among other things) barriers in provincial elections impeding voters and candidates with disabilities. A future update will tell you more about Bill 231.

We commend the Government for trying to do something to improve the accessibility of municipal elections, and Minister Watson for using Bill 212 as a vehicle to try to get something happening on this agenda. However, we find this entire exercise very frustrating. The AOADA Alliance and its predecessor, the ODA Committee, have been trying for over a decade to make elections in Ontario fully accessible to voters and candidates with disabilities. We have encountered many Government statements of good will and good intentions, but far too little action. We were heartened in the 2007 election when Premier McGuinty made an election promise to us to establish an accessible elections action plan. Over two years later, this still has not happened. We have no commitment from the Government on when it will happen. We have encountered enormous frustration to even find out who was in charge of this issue.

We have repeatedly urged the Government to address both provincial and municipal elections at the same time, so that we do not need to chase down two different ministers and two different government departments to get two separate elections accessibility laws enacted to address the very same barriers that occur at both levels. Regrettably, we have had no success. Elections accessibility is being addressed in isolated silos in the Ontario Government, to the detriment of Ontarians with disabilities.

Send us your feedback. Write to us at: aodafeedback@rogers.com

To learn more about our efforts on elections accessibility, visit:
http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/07272009.asp

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BILL 212 EXCERPTS REGARDING DISABILITY ACCESSIBILITY TO MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS

Introduced first reading October 27 2009
Passed on Third Reading December 3, 2009
(Note: These amendments refer to amendments to legislation governing Municipal Elections)

(8) The Act is amended by adding the following section:

Electors and candidates with disabilities

12.1 (1) A clerk who is responsible for conducting an election shall have regard to the needs of electors and candidates with disabilities.

Report

(2) Within 90 days after voting day in a regular election, the clerk shall submit a report to council about the identification, removal and prevention of barriers that affect electors and candidates with disabilities.

Accessibility

(2) In establishing the locations of voting places, the clerk shall ensure that each voting place is accessible to electors with disabilities.

8.1 Expenses relating to a compliance audit.

8.2 Expenses that are incurred by a candidate with a disability, are directly related to the disability, and would not have been incurred but for the election to which the expenses relate.

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MINISTRY OF MUNICIPAL AFFAIRS BACKGROUNDER ON BILL 212 PROVISIONS REGARDING MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS

BACKGROUNDER

Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing

Reforming Municipal Elections in Ontario

October 27, 2009

A bill introduced in the Ontario Legislature today would, if passed, streamline local government elections.

The proposed legislative changes would:

Proposed Reforms

Specifically, the legislation would:

The financing of municipal elections would be reformed through these measures:

If the legislation passes, there would be strengthened compliance and enforcement measures:

Review

Stakeholders and the general public were consulted as part of a review of the 2006 municipal election and the Municipal Elections Act, 1996.

The Act is reviewed after each municipal election.

To learn more about the proposed reforms see Schedule 21 of the proposed Good Government Act.

LEARN MORE

Adam Grachnik, Minister's Office, 416-585-6492
Ralph Walton, Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, 416-585-6320
ontario.ca/mah-news
Disponible en français

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AODA ALLIANCE’S NOVEMBER 18, 2009 LETTER TO MUNICIPAL AFFAIRS MINISTER JAMES WATSON

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE
1929 Bayview Avenue,
Toronto, Ontario M4G 3E8
(Fax) 416-480-7014

November 18, 2009

The Hon. James Watson
Minister of Municipal Affairs
17th Floor, 777 Bay Street
Toronto, Ontario M5G 2E5

Dear Minister Watson,

Re: Accessibility of Municipal Elections for Voters and Candidates with Disabilities

We appreciate your effort to include in Bill 212, the proposed Good Government bill, measures to address the barriers that impede voters and candidates with disabilities during municipal elections. When we met with you on November 2, 2009, we discussed our concerns that your proposed amendments are too weak to make a significant impact on this significant problem.

We also appreciated your listening to our concerns, and your invitation for us to submit a two-page proposal for amendments to Bill 212, to more effectively address accessibility of municipal elections for voters and candidates with disabilities. As promised, I am attaching our proposals.

Our proposals have been carefully designed to fit within the framework of the bill, and to qualify as amendments to the bill. In accordance with your suggestion to us, we aim to address efforts that can be legislated quickly so that they can be in place for next year’s municipal elections. Our proposal is not intended as a comprehensive, all-inclusive, long term solution to all disability accessibility barriers in municipal elections. Rather, as per your discussion, we are proposing this now for speedy enactment, with a view to later developing a long term solution.

We would welcome the opportunity to discuss our proposal with you, and to a longer-term discussion once Bill 212 is finalized.

Sincerely,

David Lepofsky, CM, O.Ont.
Chair AODA Alliance

cc: Hon. Dalton McGuinty, Premier, email dmcguinty.mpp.co@liberal.ola.org
Hon. Madeleine Meilleur, Minister, Community & Social Services, email madeleine.meilleur@ontario.ca
Greg Sorbara, Chair, Select Committee on Elections email gsorbara.mpp@liberal.ola.org

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AODA ALLIANCE PROPOSED AMENDMENTS TO BILL 212

AODA ALLIANCE’S PROPOSED AMENDMENTS TO BILL 212 ON ACCESSIBILITY OF MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS TO VOTERS AND CANDIDATES WITH DISABILITIES

(8) The Act is amended by adding the following section:

Electors and candidates with disabilities

12.1 (1) A clerk who is responsible for conducting an election shall ensure that the election is fully accessible to electors and candidates with disabilities, for the purpose of promoting their full participation in that election, and without limiting the generality of the foregoing, shall:

a) Make public no less than six months before the date fixed for the election the proposed locations for voting places, including posting this information on an internet site that is accessible to persons with disabilities, and shall invite public feedback on whether these proposed locations are sufficiently accessible;

b) Establish and publicize an elections accessibility hotline during the period before and during 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 problems;

c) Review the proposed locations of voting places in light of feedback received and make a final determination no later than 30 days before the election of the location of polling places;

d) In any event, ensure that all advanced polling locations of voting places are fully accessible to electors with disabilities, in accordance with subsection (2);

e) Ensure that all ballots are printed in large font (get precise details from CNIB)

f) Ensure that an accessible voting machine will be available to enable voters who cannot read printed ballots, or who cannot independently mark a printed ballot, to independently and privately mark their ballot and verify their selection, at one advanced polling location on all advance polling dates, and at one location on the date of the election, such location to be as central as possible, and to be publicized in advance of those voting dates;

g) Ensure that the Clerk’s office is accessible to persons with disabilities, and provides TTY services for callers with hearing loss.

(2) In establishing the locations of voting places, the clerk shall ensure that each voting place is fully accessible to electors with disabilities, including, without limiting the generality of the foregoing that:

a) there is unobstructed level access to a plainly visible public entrance to the building in which the voting place is to be located, without needing to ascend or descend any stairs, and that there is level access within 25 meters from the road to that entrance to that building;

b) There is level unobstructed access from the accessible entrance to the building to the voting place within the building, without needing to ascend or descend any stairs;

c) Any doorway from the outside of the building, and inside the building on the route to the voting place within the building is sufficiently wide to enable a person using a mobility aid to pass through;

d) a building where a voting place is to be situated is, to the extent feasible, located within 100 meters of a regular route stop for an accessible public transit vehicle on a conventional bus route, and within 100 meters of designated accessible parking for persons with disabilities;

e) An elector need not travel more than 50 meters after entering the building to reach the voting place within the building;

f) Any walking route to access the voting place will be unobstructed, including being free of any signs.

g) The voting place will have sufficient lighting to accommodate the needs of persons with low vision.

Report

(3) Within 90 days after voting day in a regular election, the clerk shall submit a report to council and to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, and shall post on the municipality’s internet site in a format that is accessible for persons with disabilities, about the identification, removal and prevention of barriers that affect electors and candidates with disabilities, which shall include:

a) The steps that the Clerk took to ensure that the election was accessible for electors and candidates with disabilities;

b) A survey of candidates and electors with disabilities on any barriers or difficulties they experienced when taking part in the election;

c) A summary of any complaints or feedback received from electors or candidates with disabilities during the election regarding the accessibility of the election, and steps taken to address these, and

d) Recommendations of any steps that need to be taken to ensure that the next election will be fully accessible to electors and candidates with disabilities;

(4) The Minister shall make public in an accessible form on an internet site the reports under subsection 3 that he or she receives, and shall submit a report to the Legislature no more than six months after the election on barriers which electors or candidates with disabilities encountered during the election, and recommendations on any steps that will ensure that the next election will be fully accessible to persons with disabilities.

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ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE
1929 Bayview Avenue,
Toronto, Ontario M4G 3E8
(Fax) 416-480-7014

December 15, 2009

The Hon. James Watson
Minister of Municipal Affairs
17th Floor, 777 Bay Street
Toronto, Ontario M5G 2E5

Dear Minister Watson,

Re: Accessibility of Municipal Elections for Voters and Candidates with Disabilities

We have learned that on December 3, 2009, (which happens to be the International Day for Persons with Disabilities) the Legislature passed Bill 212, the Good Government bill. It includes amendments you put forward to address barriers impeding voters and candidates with disabilities from fully participating in municipal elections.

Your office advised us prior to the enactment of Bill 212 that you did not accept any of the proposed amendments that we sent to you at your request on November 18, 2009. We commend you for attempting to address the recurring barriers to accessibility in municipal elections that impede voters and candidates with disabilities. However, we very much regret that your Government did not accept any of our proposals to strengthen your proposed legislation. Our proposals all clearly fit within the framework of Bill 212. They would far better serve the goal of fully accessible municipal elections than do the weak amendments that your Government passed.

We commend your amendments for requiring a municipal clerk, overseeing a municipal election, to “have regard to the needs of electors and candidates with disabilities.” However, your amendments do not identify any of those needs. Your amendments do not address a wide range of barriers that can and do impede people with various disabilities from fully participating in municipal elections on a footing of equality. Your amendments leave it to each municipal clerk in each municipality around Ontario to re-invent the same wheel, trying to figure out what those needs are from scratch.

Moreover, your amendments fall far short of the requirements of the Human rights Code and the Charter of Rights. Those laws require the municipal clerk to actually accommodate the needs of voters and candidates with disabilities, not to merely “have regard” to them. When your Party was in opposition in 2001, it commendably criticized the previous Harris Government for using such weak wording as merely having regard to the needs of persons with disabilities in other contexts in the Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2001. Those criticisms were correct in 2001. They are still correct in 2009. They are right as well, now. The amendments we proposed would have strengthened this provision to make it more meaningful and effective.

Your amendments require a municipal clerk to submit a report to their municipal council about the identification, removal and prevention of barriers that affect electors and candidates with disabilities. This is helpful. However, it does not require the clerk to make this report public in an accessible format on the internet, or to submit that report to you, as Minister of Municipal Affairs. It does not require the report to be comprehensive. It does not require the clerk to take any steps to obtain the views of voters or candidates with disabilities on barriers they encountered.

As we discussed with you when we met on November 2, 2009, Elections Ontario submitted a report on disabilities barriers in the 2007 provincial election. That report made it look as if Elections Ontario had done a great job addressing such accessibility concerns, up to the point where it referred to actual feedback from voters with disabilities. Then the picture became quite bleak, with over 40% of those surveyed reporting problems. To see our review of that report, visit: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/04272009.asp

We commend your amendments for providing that “In establishing the locations of voting places, the clerk shall ensure that each voting place is accessible to electors with disabilities.” However, your amendments do not provide any standards or criteria for accessibility of polling stations. It is unreasonable to assume that each and every municipal clerk around Ontario has expertise in this area. It is also wasteful to expect each municipal clerk to have to research this himself or herself, again, re-inventing the same wheel. We had proposed amendments to set helpful provincial standards for polling station accessibility. We regret that you rejected those amendments.

Finally, your amendments provide for no effective monitoring or enforcement of any of these new requirements. That makes them functionally voluntary measures. Your Party, when in opposition, roundly and wisely criticized the previous Harris Government when it put forward weak, unenforceable accessibility measures in the Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2001. In the 2003 election, Dalton McGuinty promised to enact a new disability law with effective enforcement.

We were somewhat heartened to learn from an official in your office that you and your Government were prepared to reconsider this issue after the next municipal elections in 2010, and that these amendments were not intended to be your Government’s final word on municipal elections reform for addressing the needs of voters and candidates with disabilities. We welcome the chance to follow up on this early in the new year, even in advance of the next municipal election. We ask your Government to adopt the measures in our proposed amendments, sent to you on November 18, 2009, even if they are not enacted in legislation. For example, your Ministry could now:

None of these measures involves significant cost. Each would greatly assist working towards new, effective legislation in this area.

We have also learned that on or about December 8, 2009, your Government introduced separate legislation which addresses accessibility issues in provincial elections, namely Bill 231. As we discussed with you when we met on November 2, 2009, your Government pledged in the 2007 Ontario election to establish an accessible elections action plan. We have been urging your Government for over two years to adopt a coordinated strategy to address accessibility of provincial and municipal elections for persons with disabilities, and to bring forward a single omnibus bill that would amend both provincial and municipal elections legislation to address the barriers that keep recurring in both levels of election. We regret that to date, your Government has instead dealt with municipal and provincial elections in separate silos.

Bill 231 now provides an excellent opportunity to comprehensively and effectively address accessibility of provincial and municipal elections. We would welcome the chance to meet with you and any other cabinet colleagues that are appropriate for this, to develop amendments to Bill 231 that would both strengthen its provisions for provincial elections, and at the same time, strengthen requirements for the accessibility of municipal elections. We also ask you to urge your Cabinet colleagues to work together on a comprehensive accessible elections strategy for both municipal and provincial elections. In the next weeks, we will be bringing forward proposals to strengthen Bill 231 both in connection with provincial and municipal elections.

We look forward to hearing from you and would welcome the chance to meet with you early in the new year to discuss this.

Yours sincerely,

David Lepofsky, CM, O.Ont
Chair, AODA Alliance

cc: Hon. Dalton McGuinty, Premier, via facsimile (416) 325-3745, via email dmcguinty.mpp.co@liberal.ola.org
Hon. Madeleine Meilleur, Minister, Community & Social Services, via facsimile (416) 325-5191, via email madeleine.meilleur@ontario.ca
Hon. Chris Bentley, Attorney General, via facsimile (416) 326-4007, via email cbentley.mpp.co@liberal.ola.org
Greg Sorbara, Chair, Select Committee on Elections email gsorbara.mpp@liberal.ola.org