ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE
Analysis of the 2014 Election Disability Accessibility Commitments of the Ontario Political Parties
In providing this analysis, we emphasize that we are a non-partisan coalition. We do not urge voters to support or defeat any party or candidate. We provide this information for voters to use as they wish.
Analysis of the 2014 Election Disability Commitments of the New Democratic Party
Overall, the NDP clearly makes stronger disability accessibility commitments than either the Liberals or Conservatives.
Only the NDP clearly commits to the three accessibility standards we need the Government to make next, namely accessibility standards to address barriers in health, education, and residential housing. Only the NDP commits to determine, in the next term of government, which other accessibility standards are needed to ensure that Ontario reaches full accessibility by 2025.
The NDP makes a strong general commitment to enforce the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) and to issue an enforcement plan. However, it does not make the commitment that the Liberals make, to establish a toll-free line to call in AODA violations. As well, the NDP does not make the commitment that the Liberals make, to annually report to the public on levels of AODA compliance and enforcement.
The NDP goes the furthest of any party to commit to a disability accessibility legacy for the Toronto 2015 Pan/ParaPan American Games.
Only the NDP explicitly states in its 2014 election commitments that it will oppose any reduction to accessibility measures now in force. However, as noted below, Kathleen Wynne made a commitment on December 3, 2012 while running for the Liberal leadership that covers this ground.
The NDP makes the most detailed commitment for reforms to ensure accessible voting for voters with disabilities. This could possibly bring telephone and internet voting (which the NDP and PCs had supported when presenting unsuccessful amendments in 2010 to a Liberal Government elections reform bill).
Only the NDP promised to designate one minister with lead responsibility for accessibility, and to accelerate the Government's review of Ontario laws for accessibility barriers.
Analysis of the 2014 Election Disability Commitments of the Ontario Conservative Party
The Ontario PC Party offers Ontarians with disabilities by far the least of the three parties regarding disability accessibility and the implementation of the AODA. The PC Party's letter also speaks to some other proposed disability-related program initiatives that are separate from the AODA's implementation and enforcement.
The PC Party voices support for the AODA, commits to dialogue with us, and to not spend public money to create new barriers against persons with disabilities. It also voices intentions favouring or support for more employment and education opportunities for people with disabilities. Beyond this, the PCs make none of the specific commitments for concrete action on the AODA's implementation and enforcement that we seek.
Of great importance, the PCs did not commit that they won't cut back any of the gains that we have won since 2005 on disability accessibility. For example, they don't commit not to repeal or reduce any accessibility standards enacted to date. This is significant since the PC Party has committed to substantially reduce Ontario regulations. We have no assurance that our accessibility regulations will be kept off the chopping block.
This is the second provincial election in a row where this issue has arisen with the Ontario PC Party. During the 2011 election campaign, we tried to get PC leader Tim Hudak to commit that he will keep our accessibility gains off its chopping block. Mr. Hudak did not then make such a commitment in unequivocal terms. He gave qualified commitments on TV Ontario's The Agenda with Steve Paikin and at a CP24 Town Hall meeting during the 2011 campaign.
Analysis of the 2014 Election Disability Commitments of the Ontario Liberal Party
The Liberal Party's third term in office since 2003 has shown a dramatic reduction of the rate of progress on accessibility, compared to its first two terms in power. Its election commitments are clearly sparser and thinner than its commitments in any of the last three elections.
The Liberal Party does not here make the commitment we requested, that it will not cut back on gains we previously made regarding accessibility. However, in her December 3, 2012 letter to the AODA Alliance, Kathleen Wynne promised to honour all previous Liberal Party disability accessibility commitments. In his August 19, 2011 letter to us, Premier Dalton McGuinty promised: "We will ensure that we maintain and/or strengthen the current provisions and protections in the AODA or any regulations enacted under the legislation." We hold the Liberals to that pledge.
The Liberal Party's enforcement commitments are very tepid and weak. They only commit to bring "more private sector organizations" into compliance. Last fall, we made public the deeply disturbing fact that the Government knew that over 70% of private sector organizations with at least 20 employees were violating the AODA. The Government could keep this new commitment by simply getting a handful of those 70% to start to comply with some AODA obligations. The Liberals' pledge to increase public sector organizations' compliance from 99% to 100% is similarly trifling.
The Liberals' letter is inaccurate where it states that the Government has created a Built Environment Accessibility Standard. It states: "We have created enforceable standards including customer service, information and communications, transportation, built environment and employment."
The Government had repeatedly promised to enact a Built Environment Accessibility Standard under the AODA. However, it later decided to instead make limited accessibility amendments to the Ontario Building Code. We fear that these may not be enforceable under the AODA. For that reason, we wrote Kathleen Wynne on June 1, 2012, when she was the Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister, to ask the Government to commit to also enact these changes as a Built Environment Accessibility Standard under the AODA. The Government has never agreed to do so, nor has it given a reason for not doing so. Our March 3, 2014 letter to the party leaders sought a similar commitment in this election . The Liberal party does not make that commitment in its recent letter to us.
In December 2012, the Ontario Government passed a limited accessibility standard to address physical accessibility barriers in such public spaces as recreation and beach trails, public parking, and sidewalks at street corners. However, this only covers a tiny fraction of the built environment. The Government has never claimed that that was a comprehensive response to all the many physical barriers that impede people with disabilities in the built environment.
In this election, the Liberals for the first time commit to investigate the possibility of deputizing Government investigators and inspectors under other legislation to also be authorized to conduct AODA inspections and audits. We have been urging the Government to do this for over three years. We sought this commitment in the 2011 election, but the Liberals refused to commit to it at that time.
The Liberals 2014 election commitment to promptly make public an AODA enforcement plan after the election seems like more of the same. On December 3, 2013, the minister responsible for enforcing the AODA, Dr. Eric Hoskins, said in the Legislature that he already had an enforcement plan. On February 20, 2014, the Toronto Star reported that the Government said that its enforcement plan would be made public "in short order."
The Liberal's commitment to establish an accessible toll-free number for the public to report AODA violations is a breakthrough. We have been advocating for this for at least two years.
It is similarly helpful that the Liberals agree to make a public annual report on levels of compliance and the effectiveness of enforcement. Last year, we had to resort to a Freedom of Information application and a ten-month delay just to get such information.
It has taken us at least three years of pressing the Liberals and two elections to finally get them to agree to say something about the next accessibility standard they will choose to create under the AODA. Their commitment that the next accessibility standard will address education and/or health is some progress. Yet here again, it is very tepid.
The Liberals still won't decide whether they will make accessibility standards to address education, or health care, or both. People with disabilities need full accessibility to both health care and education. They still face too many barriers in each.
The Liberals do not say when they will finally decide this question. They also don't say when they will decide which other accessibility standards they need to create to ensure Ontario reaches full accessibility by 2025.
As a serious setback for people with disabilities, the Liberals here for the first time announce a new and deeply troubling bureaucratic barrier to progress. The Liberals' letter states that "In order to develop a new accessibility standard, the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment has been actively working with the Ministries of Education, Training, Colleges and Universities as well as Health and Long-Term Care to examine where changes and new standards are required to make our education and healthcare systems more accessible. This important work needs to be done prior to broad consultation with the accessibility community."
This is a serious distortion of the AODA legislation that the Liberals themselves designed. Under the AODA the Ministries of Education, Health and Colleges, Training and Universities do not first develop recommendations for what an accessibility standard will contain. That is the job of an arms-length body appointed under the AODA. The Government assigned that role to the Accessibility Standards Advisory Council, as Premier Wynne's letter elsewhere states.
Only after the Accessibility Standards Advisory Council consults the public, and makes a recommendation about an accessibility standard's contents, does the Government then internally deliberate on which of ASAC's recommendations it will adopt. Yet here, the Liberals are improperly deciding what an Education and/or Health Care Accessibility Standard should contain before it asks ASAC to develop recommendations on what it should contain. This flies in the face of the AODA's carefully designed, finely-balanced process for developing accessibility standards.
This is a new bureaucratic roadblock. In 2005, the Government did not go through such extensive bureaucratic hoops before it decided to develop accessibility standards in the areas of transportation, employment, information and communication, and the built environment. Had it done so in 2005, it would have dramatically delayed progress.
Ontario is already behind schedule for reaching full accessibility by 2025. We cannot afford any additional bureaucratic delays.
It is good that the Liberals have for the first time explicitly and comprehensively committed that they will "ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used to create or perpetuate barriers against Ontarians with disabilities." It was inaccurate for the Liberals to write that they will "continue" to do this. For example, there are glaring instances where they have created new disability barriers, using public money, in the recent past.
For example, the Government recently created the new Presto Smart Card for paying public transit fares. It was designed with serious barriers that impede its use by people with vision loss or dyslexia.
The Liberal Party does not make the commitment we sought to ensure a strong disability accessibility legacy for the 2015 Toronto Pan/ParaPan American Games. In part, the Liberals talk about meeting built environment requirements under the AODA and Ontario Building Code. Yet there are no comprehensive built environment accessibility requirements yet created under the AODA, beyond such things as recreation and beach trails, public parking and new sidewalk curbs. The new Ontario Building Code accessibility requirements are not sufficient to ensure built environment accessibility, even if they apply to these structures.
Neither the AODA standards enacted to date nor the Ontario Building Code sufficiently address our major concern with existing barriers to accessibility in tourism services and facilities such as hotels and restaurants.