New Federal Liberal Party Platform Offers None of the Commitments on Disability Accessibility that the AODA Alliance Requested – The New Democratic Party Added One Requested Commitment in Its Response to the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities

Web: www.aodaalliance.org

Email: aodafeedback@gmail.com

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New Federal Liberal Party Platform Offers None of the Commitments on Disability Accessibility that the AODA Alliance Requested – The New Democratic Party Added One Requested Commitment in Its Response to the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians

September 2, 2021

        SUMMARY

Here’s a rapid response to announcements we learned of yesterday by the federal Liberal and New Democratic Parties regarding accessibility for people with disabilities.

The three major parties mention needs of people with disabilities several times in their platforms. This is a step forward from some past elections. However, they fall well short of what people with disabilities need. No party leader has yet answered the AODA Alliance’s August 3, 2021 letter, seeking commitments on disability accessibility.

We encourage you to learn more about the federal parties’ disability commitments. Urge them to make the 12 accessibility pledges that the AODA Alliance sought in its August 3, 2021 letter to the party leaders. Below we set out a summary of the commitments we seek.

We remind you that the AODA Alliance is non-partisan. We do not support or oppose any party or candidate. We aim to get the strongest commitments we can get from all parties on achieving accessibility for people with disabilities in Canada.

We comment here only on party commitments addressing the issue of making Canada accessible for people with disabilities. This election has other important disability issues as well. We encourage a careful review of the party platforms on all issues important to people with disabilities.

1. The Liberal party of Canada

Yesterday, the Liberal Party of Canada released its full election platform. It includes a “Disability Statement.” Below we set out excerpts from the platform that make commitments on accessibility for people with disabilities.

On the accessibility issue, in substance this new platform includes little or nothing new that is positive. The Liberals make none of the 12 commitments that we requested in the AODA Alliance’s August 3, 2021 letter to the federal party leaders. It mainly restates promises it made two years ago, in the 2019 election, promises it failed to keep. It also makes one new commitment that is a source of serious concern.

All federal parties had ample time to consider our requests. We also made 11 of the 12 requests in the 2019 election.

In so far as the issue of achieving accessibility for people with disabilities is concerned, the Liberal platform mainly repeats what it promised two years ago, namely promising a disability lens on all Government decisions and pledging the timely and ambitious implementation of the Accessible Canada Act. The Government’s record over the past two years on both commitments is unimpressive. As AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky wrote in his August 31, 2021 guest column in the Toronto Star’s Metroland newspapers:

No national accessibility standards have been enacted to require specific actions to remove and prevent disability barriers. The federal government has not even hired the national accessibility commissioner or the chief accessibility officer, pivotal to lead the ACA’s implementation.

There was no disability lens when the federal government released the ArriveCan app for people entering Canada, replete with accessibility barriers for blind users. The federal government pours billions into infrastructure projects without requiring their disability accessibility.

That column was written before the Liberal Party released its new September 1, 2021 platform document. We regret that nothing in that new platform document reduces the guest column’s concerns.

Making this worse, we are very concerned about the Liberal Party’s commitment to the “the harmonization of accessibility standards across Canada.” “Harmonization” initially sounds great. Yet there is a real danger that this could lead accessibility standards across Canada being reduced to the lowest common denominator. That would hurt people with disabilities. The Liberal Party needs to immediately rescind this platform pledge.

New Democratic Party of Canada

Yesterday, the New Democratic Party of Canada sent the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC) a response to its request for election commitments. We set it out below as well.

The New Democratic Party’s response to the Questions from the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians makes one of the 12 commitments that the AODA Alliance requested of all the major political parties. It commits the NDP to:

… ensuring that all government spending, whether it is on infrastructure, transfer payments, research grants, or contracts, neither creates nor perpetuates barriers for people living with disabilities.

So far, the NDP commitments on accessibility are stronger than those from the other parties. However, the NDP commitments fall well short of what that party committed to us on the same issues two years ago in the NDP’s September 16, 2019 letter to the AODA Alliance during the 2019 federal election campaign. We have no idea why the NDP hasn’t gone as far in this election as it did in the last one.

It is not too late for all parties to do better before voting day.

What We Requested of the Federal Parties

Here is a summary of the 12 commitments that the AODA Alliance asked each party to make in its August 3, 2021 letter to the leaders of the six major federal parties:

  1. Enforceable accessibility standard regulations should be enacted within four years of the enactment of the Accessible Canada Act.
  1. The ACA should be effectively enforced.
  1. Federal public money should never be used to create or perpetuate barriers.
  1. The ACA should never reduce the rights of people with disabilities.
  1. Section 172(3) of the ACA should be amended to remove its unfair and discriminatory ban on the Canadian Transportation Agency ever awarding monetary compensation to passengers with disabilities who are the victims of an undue barrier in federally-regulated transportation (like air travel), where a CTA regulation wrongly set the accessibility requirements too low.
  1. The ACA’s implementation and enforcement should be consolidated in one federal agency, not splintered among several of them.
  1. No federal laws should ever create or permit disability barriers.
  1. Federal elections should be made accessible to voters with disabilities.
  1. Power to exempt organizations from some ACA requirements should be eliminated or reduced.
  1. Federally controlled courts and tribunals should be made disability-accessible.
  1. Proposed Opposition amendments to the ACA that were defeated in the House of Commons in 2018 and that would strengthen the ACA should be passed.
  1. Ensure that the National Building Code meets the accessibility requirements in the Charter of Rights, the Canada Human Rights Act and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and commit that any efforts to harmonize federal and provincial building codes will never reduce or dilute accessibility protections for people with disabilities.

For More Background

For more background, check out:

  • The AODA Alliance’s August 3, 2021 letter to the major federal party leaders, seeking election commitments on tearing down barriers impeding people with disabilities.
  • The AODA Alliance’s August 24, 2021 news release, explaining why it was wrong for the Federal Government to give up to 7.5 million dollars to the Rick Hanssen Foundation for its problem-ridden private accessibility certification and training program.
  • The AODA Alliance’s July 3, 2019 report and its August 15, 2019 supplemental report that each details serious problems with the Rick Hansen Foundation’s private accessibility certification and training program.
  • The August 27, 2021 AODA Alliance Update that sets out the commitments of the major federal parties as of that date on accessibility for people with disabilities, in their publicly-posted platform documents.
  • As a helpful point of comparison, read the AODA Alliance’s October 17, 2019 issue-by-issue comparison of the commitments that the federal parties made in that election on disability accessibility.

        MORE DETAILS

 Excerpts from the Liberal Party of Canada September 1, 2021 Platform

  1. a re-elected Liberal government will… Undertake a comprehensive review of access to the Disability Tax Credit, CPP-Disability and other federal benefits and programs to ensure they are available to people experiencing mental health challenges. (page 5)
  1. a re-elected government will… Double the Home Accessibility Tax Credit, to $20,000, putting up to $1,500 back in the of Canadians who need it. (page 17, helping seniors and people with disabilities live at home)
  1. a re-elected Liberal government will…
  • Develop and implement an employment strategy for Canadians with disabilities. This strategy will be focused on supports for workers and employers and creating inclusive and welcoming workplaces. It will also include an investment in the Ready, Willing and Able inclusive hiring program to support individuals with intellectual disabilities and autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
  • Create a new stream of the Youth Employment and Skills Strategy Program (YESS) to support 5000 opportunities a year for young people. This would help young Canadians with disabilities gain the skills, experience, and abilities they need to make a successful transition into the labour market and build successful careers (page 39)
  1. (from the Liberal Party Platform’s “Disability Statement”)

Moving forward, there is much more work to be done. A re-elected Liberal government will build on our previous investments through the implementation of the first-ever Disability Inclusion Action Plan, in consultation with the disability community.

The objectives of the Disability Inclusion Action Plan are to:

Improve the social and economic inclusion of Canadians with disabilities.

Reduce poverty among Canadians with disabilities.

Contribute to the realization of a barrier-free Canada.

Improve access to federal programs and services for persons with disabilities and ensure that disability inclusion is considered in all government programs, policies, and services.

Foster a culture of inclusion and a shift away from attitudes of disablism and discrimination.

As part of our Disability Inclusion Action Plan, a re-elected Liberal government will re-introduce and implement the Canada Disability Benefit Act, which will create a direct monthly payment for low-income Canadians with disabilities ages 18-64. This will reduce poverty amongst persons with disabilities in the same way the Guaranteed Income Supplement and the Canada Child Benefit have reduced poverty among seniors and families with children.

A Liberal Government will also develop and implement an employment strategy focused on supports for workers and employers, creating inclusive and welcoming workplaces, and building business disability confidence.

This strategy will include an investment in the Opportunities Fund and the Ready Willing and Able inclusive hiring program to support employment for persons with disabilities.

We will also commit to making permanent funding to support services that ensure equitable access to reading and other published works for Canadians with print disabilities so that more Canadians are able to fully participate in these activities.

We will proceed with the timely and ambitious implementation of the Accessible Canada Act and the harmonization of accessibility standards across Canada. We will work across federal departments and agencies to uniformly adopt the definition of “disability” in the Accessible Canada Act. We will adopt a consistent approach to disability inclusion across the federal government. We will put a disability lens on decision making. This will specifically include our child care and infrastructure commitments. We will assume a more prominent role within the international disability inclusion community.

Only a re-elected Liberal government will build on the foundational work to date to support persons with disabilities in the post-pandemic recovery, by continuing to build back better, for everyone.

Response of the New Democratic Party of Canada to the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians

  1. It is well recognized that there are barriers in Canadian society that people with disabilities are facing on a daily basis. People who are blind, deafblind or partially sighted face barriers such as transportation accessibility, access to the built environment and access to print materials. What is your party prepared to do to reduce and eliminate these barriers?

We can do much more to make Canada an inclusive and barrier-free place. As a start, New Democrats will uphold the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and strengthen the Accessibility Act to cover all federal agencies equally with the power to make accessibility standards in a timely manner. We will also ensure that these accessibility standards are vigorously enforced.

We will make sure that the federal government is a leader in removing barriers, applying a disability lens to government decisions, policies, and regulations, and ensuring that all government spending, whether it is on infrastructure, transfer payments, research grants, or contracts, neither creates nor perpetuates barriers for people living with disabilities.

  1. Since many Canadians were eligible for the CERB (up to $38,000), and disabled Canadians receiving the Disability Tax Credit were given a paltry one-time payment of $600, what is your party prepared to do to reduce the chronic level of poverty among blind, deafblind, partially sighted and otherwise disabled Canadians? If elected, when can we expect this to happen?

Far too many Canadians living with disabilities are living in poverty. The Liberals have been promising a new Canada Disability Benefit since 2020, but with no plan to implement the benefit before 2024. Then they chose to cynically introduce Bill C-35, a bill that provides no details on benefit amount or eligibility and no timeline, right before the legislature adjourned for the summer, knowing full well the bill would never be debated.

An NDP government will not play politics with the livelihood of people living with disabilities. An NDP government will move quickly to lift all persons living with a disability above the poverty line as part of our plan to build towards a basic guaranteed livable income for all Canadians. We will not make people with disabilities wait three years to receive an unknown amount of money but will take action immediately.

  1. Many medical devices are currently not usable by blind, deafblind and partially sighted Canadians. Will your party require Health Canada to approve only devices that are usable by blind, deafblind and partially sighted Canadians? Will you commit to working with the provinces and territories to ensure all prescription and other healthcare information is made accessible?

New Democrats want to build a society in which all of our citizens are able to participate fully and equally. We will uphold the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and apply a disability lens to all of the decisions, policies, and programs of the federal government, including regulatory decisions. We will also apply this same lens to negotiations and management of shared programs with the provinces and territories to ensure that we are doing everything we can to remove barriers and promote full inclusion of people living with disabilities.

  1. As you know, job creation and “building back better” are major preoccupations for Canadians and, as you are aware, our community suffers from an approximate unemployment rate of 75%, what is your party prepared to do to increase the level of employment for those of us who are blind, deafblind or partially sighted?

The many barriers to employment that still exist are one reason why so many Canadians with disabilities are living in poverty. An NDP government will work to dismantle barriers and expand employment opportunities for people living with disabilities. We will uphold the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and strengthen the Accessibility Act to ensure that accessibility is real, meaningful, and enforced. Finally, we will invest in training programs that will help workers with disabilities gain the skills they need to find employment.

  1. The National Housing Strategy requires that a mere 20% of new housing starts be accessible. As this is woefully inadequate, given the fact that our population is aging, by how much is your party committed to increasing this target?

Far too many Canadians don’t have access to affordable, accessible housing. But under the Liberal government, funding for affordable housing for low income Canadians has been declining and very few new homes have actually been built. An NDP government will get to work immediately to construct, repair, and preserve 1.7 million homes over the next decade. This will include investments in new, affordable, accessible housing for people living with disabilities and seniors in communities across the country. It will also include repairs to existing homes to make them more accessible and energy-efficient. We will also support innovative solutions for people living with disabilities and seniors such as co-housing.