March 25, 2008
On March 25, 2008, Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan brought forward this year’s Ontario budget. What does it offer Ontarians with Disabilities?
Beyond a 2% increase in social assistance, it provides little to address the distinctive needs of Ontarians with disabilities, including those pertaining to improving accessibility. The Budget provided a number of good opportunities to incorporate accessibility, but unfortunately appears to have so far missed those opportunities.
At the Budget Lock-Up, AODA alliance learned new, hitherto-undisclosed information about the McGuinty’s plans for financing the enforcement of the Human Rights Code. Unfortunately, this information leaves many important questions still unanswered mere weeks before Bill 107 kick into effect privatizing human rights enforcement.
FUNDING FOR ENFORCEMENT OF THE ONTARIO HUMAN RIGHTS CODE
We have been trying for two years to find out what kind of funding the McGuinty Government will provide to enforcing human rights under Bill 107. For last year’s budget announcement on this, visit:
Although the Finance Minister’s budget speech doesn’t address this, we learned at the budget Lock-Up that this year, the Government is adding a one-time funding increase to the system, over previous commitments, of about 10.5 million dollars. We were advised that the 2008-09 budget for the human rights enforcement system will break down as follows:
Human Rights Tribunal: $9.9 million
Human Rights Legal Support Centre: $4.6 million
Human Rights Commission: $13.6 million.
We asked what the funding envelopes for these agencies will be next year. We were told that this hasn’t been determined. We asked what level of staffing we can expect at the Human Rights Legal Support Centre. We were told that this hasn’t been determined.
These figures exceed the increase in funding for the human rights system that we asked the McGuinty Government to commit to in the 2007 election. The McGuinty Government refused our request at that time. However, this one-time increased funding must be seen in light of the unique financial situation this year. The Ontario Human Rights Commission will continue investigating and prosecuting cases up until the end of this year. We have no idea how substantially their budget will be cut after the end of 2008-09. The Human Rights Legal Support Centre is getting more funding this year than last year’s budget anticipates. However that funding will apply primarily to delivering legal services during the second half of this year, when its mandate comes on line. Even with a start-up budget of $4.6 million, it is impossible to see how the Human Rights Legal Support Centre can fulfill the McGuinty Government’s commitment of a free publicly-funded lawyer for each discrimination victim at the Human Rights Tribunal. It is hard to see how it could handle the investigation/litigation functions that the Human Rights Commission previously discharged with a budget much higher than that given to the Legal Support Centre.
Because we cannot find out what the permanent base funding will be for the human rights system after this year, or how it will be divided among the Human Rights Tribunal, Commission and Legal Support Centre, we still cannot get a clear picture of what kinds of delays, back-logs and line-ups to expect in the future.
FUNDING FOR THE ACCESSIBILITY DIRECTORATE OF ONTARIO
We were advised at the Budget Lock-Up that for each of the next four years, starting in 2008-09, the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario will have an annual budget of $4 million. This funding will go to developing new accessibility standards, and to developing a compliance framework for AODA requirements.
We couldn’t find out if this involves any new money being allocated to this, or whether this is what the Government had previously budgeted from the AODA’s implementation.
ACCESSIBILITY IN THE ONTARIO GOVERNMENT
There is no new funding announced for the Ontario Government to make its own workplace and its services for the public accessible for persons with disabilities.
FUNDING FOR THE ONTARIO DISABILITY SUPPORT PROGRAM
The only announcement in the budget speech of particular significance to Ontario’s most impoverished persons with disabilities is the announcement of a 2% increase this year in Ontario Works and in the Ontario Disabilities Support Program (ODSP) for basic adult allowance and maximum shelter allowance. This constitutes only a $36 million increase in total benefits paid out in 2008-09 and an additional $87 million in 2009-10.
The information we received didn’t say when in 2008-09 this increase will kick in. Those benefiting from this increase will include among others, families receiving temporary care assistance and assistance for children with severe disabilities, and the “comfort allowance” for people living in long-term care homes.
FUNDING FOR IMPROVING FACILITIES FOR CHILDREN AND VULNERABLE ONTARIANS
The budget documents included with this budget announce a $30 million fund to help pay for capital projects to support community agencies that provide services to children and vulnerable populations.
This money can be used to expand or renovate buildings, including improving accessibility to them. However, it will be spread, likely quite thinly among a wide range of community agencies, including those who provide child care, those who serve abused women, adults and children with developmental disabilities and youth with emotional or behavioural problems. Programs like this have existed in some form or other in the past.
OTHER KEY BUDGET HIGHLIGHTS
Here are some of the other key budget highlights viewed through a disability lens:
- The Government announced a series of new major infra-structure funding initiatives, e.g. for schools, public transit and other areas. It didn’t announce any new measures to ensure that none of that funding will be used to create inaccessible infra-structure, or to erect barriers impeding persons with disabilities.
- The budget announced new funding for an environmental curriculum. Yet it announced no funding for creating a disability accessibility curriculum. In the 2007 election, Premier McGuinty promised to implement a new disability school curriculum. Visit:http://www.www.aodaalliance.org/whats-new/newsub2011/liberal-party-writes-aoda-alliance-with-election-commitments-regarding-disability-accessibility/
- The budget commendably announced funding for the new Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs. This builds on the McGuinty Government’s appointment of a stand-alone Aboriginal Affairs Minister. There is no comparable announcement in the disability context.
- The budget announced a new initiative, first unveiled in the McGuinty Government’s 2007 election platform to cut an existing regulation on business whenever a new regulation on business is created. This could create a problem for the cause of advancing accessibility in Ontario for persons with disabilities.
The very heart of the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act is done by creating, implementing and enforcing a series of new accessibility standards. These new accessibility standards, when created, will be enacted in the form of regulations. The price for a new accessibility standard shouldn’t be the elimination of some other worthy regulation in some other area of government activity.
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