In this Close Election, Will Erin O’Toole Stand By the Tories’ 2018 Pledge in the House of Commons to Strengthen the Accessible Canada Act?

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE

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In this Close Election, Will Erin O’Toole Stand By the Tories’ 2018 Pledge in the House of Commons to Strengthen the Accessible Canada Act?

September 8, 2021 Toronto: Will Erin O’Toole’s Tories keep their three-year-old pledge to six million people with disabilities in Canada to strengthen the 2018 Accessible Canada Act? Voters with disabilities await an answer from all the federal parties except the NDP on whether they would strengthen that legislation, enacted to make Canada accessible to people with disabilities by 2040.

When Bill C-81, the Accessible Canada Act, was before Parliament in 2018, the NDP and Conservatives proposed lists of much-needed amendments to strengthen it, at the request of disability advocates including the non-partisan AODA Alliance. The governing Liberals used their majority in the House to defeat most if not all of those amendments.

During those debates, the Conservatives, including Erin O’Toole himself, argued that Bill C-81 was too weak, and commended disability advocates’ criticisms of that bill, including those from the AODA Alliance. (See quotations below) Tory MP John Barlow resolutely pledged during Third Reading debates on November 22, 2018 that if the Tories form the next Government, they will strengthen it. Among the key excerpts, set out below, Tory MP John Barlow said this:

Therefore, my promise to those Canadians in the disabilities community across the country is that when a Conservative government comes into power, we will do everything we can to address the shortcomings of Bill C-81. I know how much work they have put into this proposed legislation. I know how much time and effort they put in working with us on the committee. I know what their vision was for Bill C-81. Unfortunately, this falls short. We will not make that same mistake in 2019.

With this election looming, On August 3, 2021, the non-partisan AODA Alliance wrote all party leaders, seeking 12 commitments on accessibility for people with disabilities, including the passage of those defeated amendments. On September 4, 2021, the NDP wrote the AODA Alliance, promising to pass all their amendments to the Accessible Canada Act, proposed in 2018. None of the other party leaders have responded so far.

“In such an extremely close election, all party leaders have even more reason to promise to strengthen the Accessible Canada Act and to speed up its sluggish implementation,” said David Lepofsky, chair of the AODA Alliance, a grassroots disability accessibility advocacy coalition. “It was great that in 2018 the Tories including Erin O’Toole pressed to get the Federal Government to strengthen the Accessible Canada Act. We’re eager for Mr. O’Toole to now reaffirm the solemn pledge his party made three years ago to strengthen this legislation if the Tories are elected.”

The non-partisan AODA Alliance does not support or oppose any party. It is campaigning to get all the federal parties to make strong commitments on disability accessibility. So far, the federal Liberals, Conservatives, Green Party, and Bloc Quebecois have not made any of the 12 disability accessibility pledges that the AODA Alliance requested of them in its August 3, 2021 letter.

Contact: David Lepofsky, aodafeedback@gmail.com Twitter: @aodaalliance

For background, check out:

The AODA Alliance’s August 3, 2021 letter to all federal party leaders.

The New Democratic Party’s September 4, 2021 letter to the AODA Alliance.

The AODA Alliance’s August 24, 2021 news release slamming the Federal Government’s grant of up to 7.5 million dollars for the Rick Hansen Foundation’s problem-ridden private accessibility certification and training program.

The AODA Alliance website’s Canada page, setting out its efforts since 2015 to secure the enactment and effective implementation of the Accessible Canada Act.

Excerpts from Parliamentary Debates on Bill C-81, the proposed Accessible Canada Act

Second Reading Debates in the House of Commons on September 24, 2018

Originally posted at https://www.aodaalliance.org/whats-new/read-what-was-said-during-the-second-day-of-second-reading-debates-in-the-house-of-commons-on-bill-c-81-the-proposed-accessible-canada-act-september-24-2018/

Hon. Erin O’Toole (Durham, CPC):

Madam Speaker, the member from the NDP mentioned David Lepofsky. He has been a leading advocate for a barrier-free Canada and is probably one of the best examples of thoughtful advocacy I have seen in my time in public life. I recall him teaching, in my bar admission course in Ontario, through the Law Society of Upper Canada, issues related to people facing disabilities. I want to thank Mr. Lepofsky. He is also quite tenacious on social media in making sure that these issues are not forgotten.

The member highlighted a number of the areas where this falls short. All parties, I think, want to see fewer barriers, more engagement and more opportunities for people. The fact is, and this is what Mr. Lepofsky’s group has also highlighted, the government provides the ability for itself to set standards or regulations but sets no timeline for the government to lead by example with respect to future plans for its infrastructure in future federal jurisdiction areas, such as ports, airports and these sorts of things. Is that lack of a timeline and a commitment to federal leadership something the member feels is a bit of a shortcoming in Bill C-81?

Third Reading Debates in the House of Commons on November 22, 2018

Posted at https://www.aodaalliance.org/whats-new/transcript-of-the-2nd-and-final-day-of-third-reading-debates-on-bill-c-81-the-proposed-accessible-canada-act-in-the-house-of-commons-on-november-22-2018/

Erin O’Toole Durham, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am concerned by the comments from the Liberal parliamentary secretary suggesting my colleague and friend is misleading people. I spoke to my friend just yesterday about the conversation I had last week with David Lepofsky, probably the most prominent Canadian in terms of disability advocacy. He has the Order of Ontario and Order of Canada, as a constitutional lawyer and disability advocate.

What my friend is saying to the House today is exactly what is being said by people like David Lepofsky. One of the things I heard from him was the fact that there is no end date for accessibility within Bill C-81, no timeline. Ontario has set a 20-year goal of making sure accessibility is paramount. The other thing I heard from him was that there is no clear commitment in Bill C-81 to ensure no infrastructure dollars would go to new projects unless accessibility is at the centre of the project. There are no timelines and no teeth.

The Liberal member is suggesting that my friend is misleading Canadians. This is what disability advocates are asking for. Will my friend comment on the fact that we have an opportunity with Bill C-81 to get it right, if only the Liberals will listen?

Alex Nuttall Barrie—Springwater—Oro-Medonte, ON

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I want to commit to the member that we will get it right, right after the next election. This will be among the first things we ensure we put right, because it is concerning the most vulnerable Canadians. It is interesting the member brought up Mr. Lepofsky, because he said the following:

…the bill that is now before you is very strong on good intentions but very weak on implementation and enforcement…When you come to vote on amendments before this committee and when you go back to your caucuses to decide what position you’re going to take, we urge you not simply to think of the immediate political expediency of today; we do urge you to think about the imminent election a year from now and the needs of the minority of everyone, for whom no party or politician can go soft.

Those are the words of Mr. Lepofsky. It is unfortunate that the Liberal Party did not listen to them.

John Barlow Foothills, AB

We mentioned David Lepofsky today who is with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance. I really want to put in his comment here today. He said:

The bill that is now before you is very strong on good intentions but very weak on implementation and enforcement…When you come to vote on amendments before this committee and when you go back to your caucuses to decide what position you’re going to take, we urge you not simply to think of the immediate political expediency of today; we do urge you to think about the imminent election a year from now and the needs of the minority of everyone, for whom no party or politician can go soft.

Mr. Lepofsky was speaking for Canadians across the country asking us as parliamentarians to not get cold feet. This is an opportunity to make some substantial, historic change for Canadians with disabilities, and we failed.

I have to share a little of the frustration on this, as we will be voting in support of Bill C-81. For those organizations, those stakeholders listening today, the reason we are voting in support of Bill C-81 is certainly not because we agree with it. In fact, I have outlined today in my speech the many reasons why we are not. We heard from the stakeholders time and time again of their disappointment. But their comments were always that, although it fell well short of what they wanted, it was a start, and I will grant them that, it is a start.

I know they were expecting much more from the minister, the Liberal government and from us as members of that committee. Therefore, my promise to those Canadians in the disabilities community across the country is that when a Conservative government comes into power, we will do everything we can to address the shortcomings of Bill C-81. I know how much work they have put into this proposed legislation. I know how much time and effort they put in working with us on the committee. I know what their vision was for Bill C-81. Unfortunately, this falls short. We will not make that same mistake in 2019.