ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE

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MCGUINTY GOVERNMENT INTRODUCES BILL 231 INTO LEGISLATURE TO REFORM PROVINCIAL ELECTIONS – AODA ALLIANCE CALLS FOR STRONGER DISABILITY ACCESSIBILITY PROVISIONS

December 18, 2009

SUMMARY

On December 8, 2009, the McGuinty Government introduced Bill 231 into the Legislature for First Reading. It amends legislation governing Ontario provincial elections. It includes limited provisions addressing some barriers facing voters and candidates with disabilities. To see Bill 231 click on: http://www.aodaalliance.org/docs/1209-Bill-231.doc

Bill 231 gives us and the entire disability community a platform to try to ensure that provincial and municipal elections are fully barrier-free for voters and candidates with disabilities. On December 18, 2009, the AODA Alliance wrote to Premier McGuinty as well as Community and Social Services Minister Meilleur and Municipal Affairs Minister Watson (copy of letter set out below). We asked the Government to strengthen Bill 231 to:

a) Make it effectively ensure the removal and prevention of all barriers impeding voters and candidates with disabilities in provincial elections;

b) Make comparable provision requiring removal and prevention of the barriers which impede voters and candidates with disabilities in municipal elections. These are typically the same barriers; and

c) Provide effective monitoring and enforcement to ensure that there is full compliance with these accessibility requirements.

We also called on the Government to work with us on this, and to hold public hearings on Bill 231. We will have more to say on this in the New Year.

To learn more about what we have said in the past on the need for new legislation to ensure the accessibility of elections in Ontario, visit:
http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/07272009.asp

Send us your feedback on Bill 231. Write to us at: aodafeedback@rogers.com

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ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE
1929 Bayview Avenue,
Toronto, Ontario M4G 3E8

December 18, 2009

Hon. Premier Dalton McGuinty
Room 281, Legislative Building
Queen's Park
Toronto, Ontario
M7A 1A1
Facsimile: (416) 325-9895
Email: dmcguinty.mpp.co@liberal.ola.org

Hon. Madeleine Meilleur, Minister
Community & Social Services
Hepburn Block
6th Floor, 80 Grosvenor Street
Toronto, Ontario
M7A 1E9
Facsimile: (416) 325-3347
Email: madeleine.meilleur@ontario.ca

Hon. James Watson, Minister
Municipal Affairs & Housing
17th Floor, 777 Bay Street
Toronto, Ontario
M5G 2E5
Facsimile: (416) 585-6470
Email: jim.watson@ontario.ca

Dear Premier and Ministers,

Re: Accessibility of Provincial and Municipal Elections to Voters and Candidates with Disabilities

I write on behalf of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance. We, preceded by our predecessor, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee, have led a decade-long campaign to make provincial and municipal elections in Ontario fully accessible to voters and candidates with disabilities.

Ontarians with disabilities still encounter too many barriers when seeking to take part in the democratic electoral process at the provincial and municipal levels. Elections Ontario’s report on the 2007 election found, based on an independent survey of voters with disabilities, that: “Forty-four percent of voters with special needs said they experienced problems at their voting locations, and 15 percent said they had problems casting their ballots, a stark contrast to eight percent and one percent respectively for electors in general.”

That intolerable situation confronting Ontarians with disabilities must not be repeated. Voters without disabilities would never put up with that level of difficulties in exercising so fundamental a democratic right. Those barriers fly in the face of the Ontario Human Rights Code, the Charter of Rights, and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

We were heartened when Premier McGuinty promised us in writing in the 2007 election that your Government, if elected, would establish an accessible elections action plan. Both the Conservative Party and the NDP commendably made comparable election promises in the 2007 election. We have been trying for the past two years since that election to help the Government keep this election promise.

An important opportunity to fulfil this election promise has been created by the Government’s introduction of Bill 231 into the Legislature for First Reading on December 8, 2009. That bill includes some limited, though weak provisions addressing the accessibility needs of persons with disabilities in provincial elections.

We are very eager to work with the Government on strengthening Bill 231’s disability accessibility provisions. We would like to see this bill amended to:

a) make it effectively ensure the removal and prevention of all barriers impeding voters and candidates with disabilities in provincial elections

b) Make comparable provision requiring removal and prevention of the barriers which impede voters and candidates with disabilities in municipal elections. These are typically the same barriers, and

c) Provide effective monitoring and enforcement to ensure that there is full compliance with these accessibility requirements

We ask you to expand Bill 231 to cover the accessibility of both provincial and municipal elections to voters and candidates with disabilities. We know that Bill 212, the Good Government omnibus bill, passed on December 3, 2009, included some very limited and weak provisions in a preliminary effort to address some barriers impeding voters and candidates in municipal elections. We wrote the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, James Watson, on December 15, 2009, emphasizing the need for stronger provisions to be enacted on that score. We have urged him to work on including stronger provisions in Bill 231. From our discussions with Minister Watson and his office, we understand that the municipal elections accessibility provisions in Bill 212 were not meant as the final legislative word on making municipal elections accessible. Those limited provisions were rushed through on Bill 212’s tight time lines, to enable there to be some new provisions in force in preparation for the 2010 municipal elections.

We ask for two immediate actions regarding Bill 231:

First, we request full public hearings on Bill 231. These would let persons with disabilities present their needs and recommendations to the Legislature. There have been no public legislative hearings on this issue, open to the broad disability community. When the Select Committee on Elections was studying elections reform last spring, our coalition secured an opportunity to present to it. However that Select Committee did not hold hearings open to presentations from the full public including the broad disability community.

We therefore ask you to commit to sufficient public hearings on this bill. We would be pleased to work with you to assist in publicizing the availability of these public hearings via our broad network for reaching out to many in the Ontario disability community.

Second, we would like to meet early in the New Year with the Cabinet Minister or ministers and other public officials with lead responsibility for this legislation. Regrettably, until now, despite our best and repeated efforts over the past two years, we have not been able to be pointed to a cabinet minister and/or public official with lead responsibility for keeping this important election promise. We understand that the Honourable Chris Bentley, who introduced Bill 231 into the Legislature, has only a formal or symbolic role in this regard, and is not responsible for the development of this legislation.

Regrettably, after the Select Committee on Elections rendered its report last summer, no one from the Ontario Government consulted with us on the disability accessibility provisions to be forthcoming in Bill 231. Indeed, no one told us Bill 231 was introduced into the Legislature. We learned this from outside sources. This is all the case, despite the fact that it was our coalition that secured the Premier’s 2007 election commitment to implement an accessible elections action plan, and despite the fact that we have been repeatedly seeking a chance to have input into measures to make elections in Ontario fully accessible for persons with disabilities.

We therefore ask you to tell us with whom we should meet at the political and Public Service level with lead responsibility for this issue.

We know that there has been extensive research on making elections accessible to persons with disabilities in the U.S. In working on amendments to Bill 231, we urge the Government to now investigate that work, in order to find effective solutions to the barriers that persons with disabilities continue to face.

We look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.

Sincerely,

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

cc: 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 via facsimile (416) 212-1025, via email gsorbara.mpp@liberal.ola.org

Greg Essensa, Chief Elections Officer via facsimile (416) 326-6200, via email greg.essensa@elections.on.ca

Marguerite Rappolt, Deputy Minister, Community & Social Services via facsimile (416) 325-5240, via email marg.rappolt@ontario.ca

Ellen Waxman, Assistant Deputy Minister, Accessibility Directorate via facsimile (416) 325-9620, via email Ellen.Waxman@ontario.ca

Fareed Amin, Deputy Minister, Municipal Affairs and Housing via facsimile (416) 585- 7211, via email Fareed.Amin@ontario.ca

Shelly Jamieson, Secretary of Cabinet, via facsimile (416) 314-8980, via email shelly.jamieson@ontario.ca

Ernie Bartucci, Assistant Deputy Minister, Health, Social, Environmental & National Institutions, via facsimile (416) 325-4788, via email ernie.bartucci@ontario.ca

Tim Lewis, Director, Democratic Institutions Policy, via facsimile (416) 325-4773, via email tim.lewis@ontario.ca

Tim Hudak, Leader of the Official Opposition, via facsimile (416) 325-0491, via email tim.hudakco@pc.ola.org

Andrea Horwath, Third party leader, via facsimile (416) 325-8222, via email

ahorwath-qp@ndp.on.ca

Hon. Monique Smith, Government House Leader, via facimile (416) 325-7755, via email monique.smith@ontario.ca

Bob Runciman, Conservative House Leader, via facsimile (416) 325-1493, via email info@bobruncimanmpp.com