Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update
United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
1,000 Days After Receiving The Onley Report’s Call for Major New Actions to Make Ontario Accessible to People with Disabilities, the Ford Government Responds to Questions in the Legislature with Non-Answers and Evasions
October 29, 2021
1. Good Questions on Accessibility in the Ontario Legislature, But What Answers?
Earlier this week, on Wednesday, October 27, 2021, NDP disabilities critic Joel Harden pressed the Ford Government during Question Period about its failure to take effective action on the final report of the David Onley Independent Review of the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, which the Ford Government had received 1,000 days earlier. Neither Premier Ford nor Accessibility Minister Raymond Cho were in the Legislature to answer. Answers came from Conservative House Leader Paul Calandra. Mr. Calandra has had nothing to do with the accessibility file during the term of this office, and has never reached out to the AODA Alliance to learn anything about it.
Mr. Calandrea’s answers were not informative. On the Government’s behalf, he did agree that people with disabilities’ needs are not red tape.
Over two years ago, back on May 30, 2019, the Ford Government used its majority to defeat a resolution in the Ontario Legislature about Ontario’s Disabilities Act, that was proposed by NDP MPP Joel Harden. Worded in measured terms that tracked Doug Ford’s 2018 election pledges on disability accessibility, that resolution called on the Government to create a plan to implement the report of David Onley’s Independent Review of the implementation and enforcement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).
On May 30, 2019, the Ford Government repeatedly claimed that the measures proposed in Joel Harden’s resolution were wasteful, duplicative red tape that threaten to seriously harm businesses and impose high costs on them, with a particular emphasis on small business. This false claim revives old, ugly and harmful stereotypes about people with disabilities.
Achieving accessibility for 1.9 million Ontarians with disabilities by effectively implementing the AODA is not red tape! It is helpful that Mr. Calandra now agrees that our needs are not red tape. It is unknown whether he realized on October 27, 2021 that he was contradicting his Government’s rhetoric in the Legislature two years earlier on May 30, 2019. We have seen no indication that there has been a change in Government policy or priorities regarding disability accessibility since then.
MPP Harden filed an objection that the Government’s answers in Question Period were insufficient. That entitled the MPP to raise this again at the evening sittings in the Legislature that day. We also set out below the exchange in the Legislature that resulted.
Speaking for the Ford Government, Conservative MPP Daisy Wai said nothing new. She said nothing about strengthening or speeding up the implementation and enforcement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. She said The Government has a plan. However, that “plan” announced over a year ago at earlier news conferences, includes very little if anything that was new. Rather, it re-announced existing activities, some which date back as far as to the NDP Government under Premier Bob Rae in the first half of the 1990s.
Read AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky’s guest column in the Toronto Star’s local Metroland newspapers on the significance of October 27, 2021, being 1,000 days since the Ford Government received the David Onley Report.
2. A Memorable 23rd Anniversary Today
It might seem like we are facing an uphill battle. We’ve faced and stared down many. Today, we can reflect back with pride on one of them.
Twenty-three years ago today, on October 29, 1998, with the Conservative Mike Harris Ontario Government was in office, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee (the predecessor to the AODA Alliance) convinced the Legislature to unanimously pass an historic resolution. We set it out below. It called for the enactment of a disability accessibility law that puts into effect the 11 principles that grass roots disability advocates had formulated.
That day’s events are described in a three-page excerpt, set out below, from AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky’s article that summarizes the Disabilities Act movement’s history from 1994 to 2003. To read the debates in the Ontario Legislature on October 29, 1998, leading to the passage of this resolution, visit http://www.odacommittee.net/hansard18.html
Twenty-three years later, we still measure the legislation we’ve won, the McGuinty Government’s Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2005 and any accessibility standards enacted under it, against the 11 principles that the Ontario Legislature adopted on October 29, 1998.
Learn more about the AODA Alliance’s campaign since 2005 to get the AODA effectively implemented and enforced.
3. Time Marches On!
There have now been 1,002 days since the Ford Government received the ground-breaking final report of the Independent Review of the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act by former Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley. The Government has announced no comprehensive plan of new action to implement that report. That makes even worse the serious problems facing Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.
Ontario Hansard October 27, 2021 (Day Session)
Protection for people with disabilities
Mr. Joel Harden: My question’s for the Premier. It’s been exactly a thousand days since the government received the report on the third review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act written by the Honourable David Onley. The Onley report is scathing in its indictment of Ontario’s glacial progress on accessibility. Onley writes in the introduction, “Ontario is full of soul-crushing barriers for 2.6 million Ontarians with disabilities. They confront those every day.”
But instead of treating the Onley report like the wake-up call it is, the government has let this report collect dust on the shelf. They haven’t released a plan to implement its recommendations, including building accessibility standards, accessibility training for design professionals and making sure that public money is never again used to create barriers for people with disabilities.
But most insultingly, Speaker, when I tabled, a May 2019 motion to create an action plan, this government members called that plan red tape. People with disabilities remain insulted by the lack of momentum on this report. Can we expect an imminent and urgent plan to implement the Honourable David Onley’s recommendations?
The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Government House leader.
Hon. Paul Calandra: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I appreciate the question from the honourable member. It’s an important question. It is something that I know the minister has been seized with since day one. It again highlights, as so many of the questions today have done, the ineptitude of 15 years of Liberal government that preceded this government and amount of hard work that has to be done to bring Ontario back to a place where we can all be proud of what we’ve accomplished.
I agree with the honourable member. David Onley, in particular, was a Lieutenant Governor who broke boundaries in this province. The report is a very important one. We all want to ensure that we do better for those persons with disabilities.
Again, as I said, the minister has been working very closely with the community. I know he values the advice of the honourable member opposite. My understanding is that he has reached out to him often.
Again, it’s not really a partisan issue. I know the member would agree with that. It’s something we have to work on together as a Legislature, and it has to involve partnerships with our friends at the municipal level, as well as the federal level.
The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Supplementary question.
Mr. Joel Harden: I appreciate that response, but the government has an opportunity today to clear up a glaring problem, and that is the last time we had a fulsome debate on this in this House. In May 2019, members of this government called a task plan, a plan of action, red tape.
I invite the government today to clarify that that was a mistake, to clarify that having an action plan on the Honourable David Onley’s recommendations is essential, and to make sure that it’s important to say yes to people with disabilities. So, not no in making people on ODSP continue to live in poverty; not no for refusing to mandate accessible housing in our marketplace, not no in telling people with disabilities they have to shelter in their homes because their apartments and their living conditions are not accessible.
We need yes for people with disabilities. Can I please have a clear, certain and absolute answer from this government that people with disabilities and their needs are not red tape?
The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Government House leader.
Hon. Paul Calandra: Yes, Mr. Speaker.
The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Pursuant to standing order 36(a), the member for Ottawa Centre has given notice of his dissatisfaction with the answer to his question given by the government House leader concerning the Onley report. This matter will be debated today following private members’ public business.
There being no further business at this time, this House stands in recess until 3 p.m.
Ontario Hansard October 27, 2021 Evening session
PROTECTION FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES
The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bill Walker): The member for Ottawa Centre has given notice of dissatisfaction with the answer to a question given by the government House leader. The member has up to five minutes to debate the matter, and the minister or parliamentary assistant may reply for up to five minutes.
The member for Ottawa Centre.
Mr. Joel Harden: I want to be clear as I start here on the reason why I asked for a continuation of the discussion on this and why I was dissatisfied with the answer I got from the government House leader. I actually want to note off the top that there was some progress. We had a one-word answer this morning, but it was the right word. I asked the House leader—actually the whole government; the House leader responded. Does the government regret the fact that the last time, as disabilities critic for this province, I was urged by disability advocates to bring forward the necessity of a timeline and an action plan to implement the findings of this path-breaking report by the Honourable David Onley, many members of the government referred to that as “red tape provisions”?
Ever since that debate, I have been hearing from disability advocates across the province in Ontario who were deeply, deeply disappointed. So this morning, when the government House leader rose—does he agree with that connotation? The member said no, but that’s all we got.
But do you know what? Sometimes, Speaker, change happens in fits and starts. Sometimes change moves along at different paces. So I want to ask my friends in government tonight, as we pursue this debate—because that’s what I wanted to do—whether they can insist upon the leader of this province, the Premier of this province, to actually meet in person. I know the minister responsible, Minister Raymond Cho, has met with grassroots disability leaders, in particular the AODA Alliance and their leader, David Lepofsky, but I would like the Premier to sit down with David Lepofsky and the AODA Alliance, so that he can realize the gravity of the situation here.
We have a situation in which section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Ontario’s Human Rights Code—explicitly, since 1982, both of those statutes have prevented discrimination on disability grounds, but we have a situation in which that continues in the province of Ontario, because we are not meeting our accessibility targets.
We’re continuing to build—Speaker, if you can imagine it—public infrastructure that is not accessible to people with disabilities. What do I mean by that? Well, consider the Ryerson Student Learning Centre. It was built in 2015, not decades ago, and Mr. Lepofsky demonstrated through a video how, as someone who is sight-impaired, he could not climb the stairs of this particular facility without bumping into columns which had been placed in the middle of stairs; how it was also dangerous for dyslexic folks; how it was dangerous for people with mobility concerns. This was built in 2015, and the statute responsible for this—
Mr. Joel Harden: Members, I guess, find this humorous. I don’t find this humorous.
The statute responsible for this, the AODA, says that we need to make sure that built infrastructure in this province doesn’t discriminate. Something built under the previous Parliament did, and there needed to be a standard development committee on the built infrastructure by 2017. It didn’t happen.
Did the minister responsible in this government ensure that it did happen under the mandate of this Parliament? No, and that is why the minister, Minister Cho, recently found himself in court—which is not where anybody wants to be as a disability rights advocate, but Mr. Lepofsky took Minister Cho to court about whether or not it is a blemish on this government, a human rights infraction for people with disabilities, that we don’t have significant momentum and movement to make sure that we can do what the AODA asks us to do: have a fully accessible Ontario by 2025.
So we had some progress this morning. The rights of people with disabilities should not be understood as red tape—fantastic. What’s the action plan? How do we know that the standards development committees that are responsible for so many different aspects of the application of the AODA are going to meet, are going to design frameworks and give this government advice, so that we can actually implement something in the last eight months of this particular Parliament that will make us proud; that will show us on customer service, health care, education, built environment and recreational spaces that we’re making Ontario more accessible.
It’s worth noting, Speaker, one of the things Mr. Onley says in his report is that people with disabilities are “the only minority group in our society that faces blatant, overt discrimination and whose civil rights are infringed upon every day from multiple directions.” This theme goes on throughout the report. Mr. Onley went around the province of Ontario and heard this first-hand from persons with disabilities.
As the official opposition, we held our own town hall with people with disabilities so they could tell us what they thought. We need to hear from this government more than “people with disabilities are not red tape.” We need to know what the plan is. Where’s the action plan? That’s what I’m being asked to ask of you—
The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bill Walker): Thank you.
Mrs. Daisy Wai: I appreciate the question from the honourable member. The short answer is yes, we have a plan. In response to the feedback the government received from many stakeholders, including Mr. Onley’s legislative review, we announced the Advancing Accessibility in Ontario framework. This framework continues to guide our actions across the entire government as we move towards a more open and accessible province.
There are four areas of particular focus for our government. They are: (1) breaking down the barriers in the built environment; (2) government leading by example in its role as a policy maker; (3) service provider and employer increasing participation in the economy for people with disabilities; (4) improving understanding and awareness about accessibility. We started announcing this framework more than a year before the member opposite introduced his private member’s bill.
Let us be clear, we appreciate the report provided by the Honourable David Onley. Our government believes everyone should have an equal opportunity to participate in the Ontario dream. That is why we are partnering with other levels of government, as well as not-for-profit and private sectors as, together, we continue the ongoing journey towards a fully accessible Ontario.
The Onley report highlights many interwoven areas where accessibility can be advantaged in our province. One of the elements he highlights is the importance of ensuring that people with disabilities are able to find meaningful employment. We know that people with disabilities have faced increased social and economic challenges, especially due to COVID-19. We also know that many businesses and organizations all across our province are actively seeking individuals with the skills which people with disabilities possess. That is why our government is helping job seekers to develop new skills and connect them with potential employment. We find this is the most important thing that they need as well.
What we have done includes the Employment Ontario programs and services that have expanded under the leadership of Minister McNaughton. We have been helping people get training, upgrading their skills and connecting them with meaningful employment. This is helping to ensure that Ontarians who are willing to work can find good jobs. Businesses that are accessible and inclusive can benefit from tapping into these deep talent pools. It also helps them to tap into new customers, unlocking the doors to a more diverse clientele overall. In fact, it will boost their profits.
When people with disabilities find meaningful jobs, they can more fully participate in our communities and our economy. So now, let’s work together to make workplaces more accessible and inclusive.
Thank you very much.
RESOLUTION UNANIMOUSLY PASSED BY THE ONTARIO LEGISLATURE OCTOBER 29, 1998
In the opinion of this House, since persons with disabilities in Ontario face systemic barriers in access to employment, services, goods, facilities and accommodation;
and since all Ontarians will benefit from the removal of these barriers, thereby enabling these persons to enjoy equal opportunity and full participation in the life of the province;
And since Premier Harris promised in writing during the last election in the letter from Michael D. Harris to the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee dated May 24, 1995 to:
- a) enact an Ontarians with Disabilities Act within its current term of office; and
- b) work together with members of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee, amongst others, in the development of such legislation.
And, since this House unanimously passed a resolution on May 16, 1996 calling on the Ontario Government to keep this promise, therefore this House resolves that the Ontarians with Disabilities Act should embody the following principles:
- The purpose of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act should be to effectively ensure to persons with disabilities in Ontario the equal opportunity to fully and meaningfully participate in all aspects of life in Ontario based on their individual merit, by removing existing barriers confronting them and by preventing the creation of new barriers. It should 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.
- The Ontarians with Disabilities Act’s requirements should supersede all other legislation, regulations or policies which either conflict with it, or which provide lesser protections and entitlements to persons with disabilities;
- The Ontarians with Disabilities Act should require government entities, public premises, companies and organizations to be made fully accessible to all persons with disabilities through the removal of existing barriers and the prevention of the creation of new barriers, within strict time frames to be prescribed in the legislation or regulations;
- The Ontarians with Disabilities Act should require the providers of goods, services and facilities to the public to ensure that their goods, services and facilities are fully usable by persons with disabilities, and that they are designed to reasonably accommodate the needs of persons with disabilities. Included among services, goods and facilities, among other things, are all aspects of education including primary, secondary and post-secondary education, as well as providers of transportation and communication facilities (to the extent that Ontario can regulate these) and public sector providers of information to the public e.g. governments. Providers of these goods, services and facilities should be required to devise and implement detailed plans to remove existing barriers within legislated timetables;
- The Ontarians with Disabilities Act should require public and private sector employers to take proactive steps to achieve barrier-free workplaces within prescribed time limits. Among other things, employers should be required to identify existing barriers which impede persons with disabilities, and then to devise and implement plans for the removal of these barriers, and for the prevention of new barriers in the workplace;
- The Ontarians with Disabilities Act should provide for a prompt and effective process for enforcement. It should not simply incorporate the existing procedures for filing discrimination complaints with the Ontario Human Rights Commission, as these are too slow and cumbersome, and yield inadequate remedies;
- As part of its enforcement process, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act should provide for a process of regulation- making to define with clarity the steps required for compliance with the Ontarians with Disabilities Act. It should be open for such regulations to be made on an industry-by-industry basis, or sector-by-sector basis. This should include a requirement that input be obtained from affected groups such as persons with disabilities before such regulations are enacted. It should also provide persons with disabilities with the opportunity to apply to have regulations made in specific sectors of the economy;
- The Ontarians with Disabilities Act should also mandate the Government of Ontario to provide education and other information resources to companies, individuals and groups who seek to comply with the requirements of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act;
- The Ontarians with Disabilities Act should also require the Government of Ontario to take affirmative steps to promote the development and distribution in Ontario of new adaptive technologies and services for persons with disabilities;
- The Ontarians with Disabilities Act should require the provincial and municipal governments to make it a strict condition of funding any program, or of purchasing any services, goods or facilities, that they be designed to be fully accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities. Any grant or contract which does not so provide is void and unenforceable by the grant- recipient or contractor with the government in question;
- The Ontarians with Disabilities Act must be more than mere window dressing. It should contribute meaningfully to the improvement of the position of persons with disabilities in Ontario. It must have real force and effect.
Excerpt from The Long, Arduous Road To A Barrier-Free Ontario For People With Disabilities: The History Of The Ontarians with Disabilities Act — The First Chapter
Citation: (2004, 15 National Journal of Constitutional Law)
By David Lepofsky
8) FALL 1998: THE ONTARIO LEGISLATURE DECLARES WHAT THE ODA MUST INCLUDE AND THE GOVERNMENT BRINGS FORWARD ITS FIRST ODA BILL
- a) Enshrining The ODA Yardstick – The Legislature’s Second ODA Resolution Adopts Our Eleven Principles
Perhaps the most significant milestone in the first chapter of our campaign came in October 1998. In the Fall of 1998, after the Government’s 1998 ODA closed consultations ended, we turned our attention to a next big challenge. A Government ODA bill could come at any time. We had no reason to expect that the Government would forewarn us of the date when it would introduce an ODA bill into the Legislature. The Government hadn’t forewarned us of the July 1998 release of its ODA discussion paper.
We wanted to publicly set a clear benchmark or yardstick against which any Government’s ODA bill could be measured. We had no reason to expect that a Government ODA bill would be any better than its weak policy framework in its ODA discussion paper.
Early in the Fall of 1998, we were approached by Liberal Windsor MPP Dwight Duncan. Until then, Hamilton Liberal MPP Dominic Agostino had been the lead Liberal MPP championing the ODA in the Legislature. Agostino had announced at one of our news conferences that his father had been an injured worker. From this, he well understood the barriers persons with disabilities faced. He had brought a personal passion to the ODA issue.
Mr. Duncan told us he wanted to introduce a private member’s ODA bill in the Legislature for us. We welcomed his support. However, we were still very reluctant to put massive work into researching and drafting a private member’s bill, for the reasons discussed earlier. We also feared that the Government could skilfully focus a barrage of criticism on some minor, distracting target in a bill that we would crank out, such as some obscure inconsequential wording problem. It could thereby transform a red herring into the central public issue. This could drag us off our message.
Accordingly we asked Duncan to instead introduce another private member’s ODA resolution into the Legislature. This tactic had worked so well for us in May 1996, when NDP MPP Marion Boyd had successfully brought forward the first ODA resolution to the Legislature. If Duncan were to bring forward another ODA resolution, this could help increase the Liberal Party’s support for the ODA. It was very important for our coalition to be, and to be seen as non-partisan. Rotating our activities among both opposition parties helped us achieve this.
Duncan was open to our idea. We then had to decide what this second ODA resolution should say. It needn’t replicate the first ODA resolution. That had called on the Ontario Government to keep its 1995 ODA election promise. We again didn’t want the resolution to be a partisan attack on the Conservative Government. As in 1996, we didn’t want to give the Government an easy excuse to use its majority in the Legislature to defeat this resolution.
We came up with an idea which would move the ODA cause forward, and which would put all of the political parties to the test. We proposed to Duncan that his resolution call on the Ontario Legislature to pass an ODA which complies with our 11 principles. A legislative debate over those principles took the ODA discussion far beyond the realm of just discussing in the abstract whether a law called the ODA should be passed. Such a resolution would make the parties either vote for or against our core principles on what that legislation should contain.
Dwight Duncan agreed to introduce the resolution we proposed. He also secured the Liberal Party’s support for the resolution. The NDP also notified us that it would support the resolution. We did not know whether the Conservatives, who commanded a majority of votes in the Legislature, would support it. We had no reason in advance for any optimism.
The resolution was scheduled for a debate and vote in the Legislature on October 29, 1998. This was one week after our meeting with Citizenship Minister Bassett, where we had been treated to the overhead slide show. The date for the resolution’s debate and vote also came a mere two days before Hallowe’en. Carole Riback, an inspired and inspiring ODA activist, dreamt up a clever Hallowe’en slogan around which we rallied. This resolution vote raised the question: “Would the ODA be a trick or treat?”
In Fall 1998, the ODA movement made its main focus getting this resolution passed. We urged ODA supporters to lobby MPPs from all three parties to vote for it. We also urged them to go to their local media to publicize this issue. We were learning more and more that the ODA movement was increasingly effective when it channelled its energies over a period of weeks on one concrete short-term goal.
The ODA Committee again quickly pulled together a major event at the legislative building at Queen’s Park for the morning of the resolution’s debate and vote. ODA supporters came to the legislative building and met in committee rooms. We planned to break into small teams to each go to MPPs’ offices, door to door, to “trick or treat,” canvassing them for their support on the resolution.
All hurried planning for this event went well, until we were contacted the night before by the office of the Speaker of the Legislature. It confronted us with a huge problem. The Speaker would not let us go to any MPP’s office unless we had a prior appointment. We were told that there is a blanket rule that provides that no one can get near the MPPs’ offices without an invitation. We were threatened with all being refused admittance to the legislative building. Since the Conservatives had taken power in 1995, Queen’s Park building security had increased extraordinarily.
This threatened to eviscerate our plans. We explained to the Speaker’s office that we planned an informal door-to-door canvass. It was impossible for us at that late hour to call then, the very night before our event, to try to book meetings with each MPP. We feared that if asked, Conservative MPPs would not agree to meet with us. They had refused to come to most of our prior events, and had so often resisted meeting our supporters in their local communities. If we could even get through to their offices at that late hour (which was unlikely), we would likely be told that appointments cannot be booked on such short notice.
We hurriedly negotiated a solution with the Speaker’s office. Small groups of our supporters could go to MPPs’ offices without a prior appointment, if each group was escorted by one Queen’s Park security officer, one MPP staffer, and one ODA committee representative. We had to agree to immediately recall all groups if any complaints about their conduct were received.
Having removed this last-minute roadblock, October 29, 1998 was a dramatic day. We had no idea in advance whether the resolution would pass. The Conservative majority held the power to decide this. Our teams carried out their door-to-door trick or treat canvass without any complaint.
One group was larger than authorized. We persuaded the Queen’s Park security staff not to complain. That group was composed entirely of deaf people. They made no noise, and needed our sign language interpreters. Queen’s Park security officials who travelled with our teams seemed to be enjoying the process.
An ODA supporter on one of our “trick or treat” teams reported that a Conservative MPP happened to be quickly leaving his office as the ODA team approached. The MPP called out that he had no time to meet, but he would vote for us, whatever it was we wanted him to vote for. While behind a glass door, another Conservative MPP turned to a staff member and mouthed that he did not know what the Ontarians with Disabilities Act was all about. That MPP hadn’t foreseen that among those on the other side of the glass door was a hard-of-hearing ODA supporter who can read lips.
The trick or treat teams finished their tours of MPPs’ offices. They then converged in Queen’s Park legislative committee rooms to watch the MPPs debate Dwight Duncan’s resolution in the Legislature, again on video monitors. We again brought our own sign language interpretation. As in the past, the Legislature’s public galleries remained almost totally inaccessible to persons with mobility disabilities.
During the debate in the Legislature, Liberal and NDP MPPs predictably spoke in favour of the resolution. The governing Conservative MPPs boasted of their Government’s record, and sounded as if they would vote against the resolution. However, when the vote came, our second ODA resolution in the Ontario Legislature passed unanimously.
Immediately afterward, we held a triumphant news conference at the Queen’s Park media studio. Both opposition parties had MPPs in attendance. The Government again declined our invitation to participate.
As another important step forward for us, the new Liberal leader, Dalton McGuinty attended our news conference. He announced on the record that if his party were elected, they would commit to passing an ODA which complies with Dwight Duncan’s resolution.44
Later that day Citizenship Minister Bassett was asked in Question Period whether her Government would honour the resolution that the Legislature had unanimously passed that morning. Minister Bassett had not attended the debate in the Legislature that morning when the resolution was under consideration, even though it directly related to legislation for which she had lead responsibility for the Government. In her evasive answer to the opposition’s question put to her in Question Period that afternoon, Minister Bassett condemned the resolution as calling for job hiring quotas.
It was self-evident from the resolution’s text that it did not call for job hiring quotas or even hint at them. When we realized that the Government was going to use the hot-button “job quotas” accusation to try to whip up public opposition against us, we immediately launched a province-wide letter-writing campaign addressed directly to Minister Bassett and Premier Harris. We proclaimed that we sought no job hiring quotas. We called on the Government to desist in their inaccurate claims. Within a short time, Minister Bassett candidly conceded on a CBC radio interview that we were not seeking quotas. The Government thereafter dropped that tactic.
The Legislature’s passage of Dwight Duncan’s October 29, 1998 resolution was likely the most critical victory for the ODA movement in its history to that date. From then on, we no longer referred to the 11 principles as simply “the ODA Committee’s 11 principles for the ODA.” From then on we could, and did point to them as “the 11 principles for the ODA which the Ontario Legislature unanimously approved by a resolution on October 29, 1998.” We were indebted to Duncan for spearheading this resolution in a non-partisan way. His resolution served to become the yardstick by which any future legislation would be tested. It was also the catalyst that brought the Liberal and New Democratic Parties officially on the record in support of our 11 principles for the ODA. Both parties would go on to campaign for these 11 principles in the 1999 and 2003 provincial elections, and would actively press the Conservative Government to live up to them.
In the end, October 29, 1998 was a decisive, indeed towering milestone on the road to a barrier-free Ontario. Ironically, we got no media coverage that day, despite our best efforts. This cannot be explained on the basis that this story wasn’t newsworthy. The story had all the hallmarks of newsworthiness. We have learned that this is an unfortunate fact of community advocacy life. It did not deter our tenacity.
44 This was Mr. McGuinty’s first public commitment to this effect. Of great importance to the as-yet unwritten second chapter of the ODA saga, five years later, Mr. McGuinty would be elected Premier of Ontario in the October 2, 2003 provincial election. His 2003 election platform included a pledge to fulfil the commitment he first gave at our news conference on October 29, 1998.