May 2, 2014
With a real possibility of a spring 2014 Ontario general election in the air, the Ontario Government unveiled its 2014 Ontario Budget in the Legislature on May 1, 2014. How does this Ontario Budget look when viewed through a disability accessibility lens? We regret that this is yet another glaring example of opportunities missed.
The May 1, 2014 Ontario Budget includes nothing specifically targeted at or even mentioning accessibility for persons with disabilities. It refers several times to an over-arching Ten-Year Plan for Ontario’s jobs and economy to grow. Yet there is no indication in the Budget that the Government is taking this huge opportunity to ensure that removing and preventing barriers against persons with disabilities is a core part, or even a small part, of that Plan.
This flies in the face of the 2011 election pledge by then-Premier Dalton McGuinty. His August 19, 2011 letter to us stated: “We are integrating accessibility as a fundamental principle when it comes to making vital decisions that affect the daily lives of Ontarians.”
The Budget never says that the Government’s Plan will ensure that disability accessibility will be incorporated throughout infrastructure spending. The Budget refers to focusing on spending on infrastructure with special mentions of public transit and hospital construction. It also refers to investing in technology in schools.
We get no assurance in this Budget that all new schools, hospitals and public transit facilities and stations, built as a result of the Government’s massive new infrastructure program, will be fully disability-accessible. We get no assurance in this Budget that any new information technology acquired for schools will be usable by teachers and students with disabilities.
The Budget does not commit that the new billion dollar Jobs and Prosperity Fund will only be available to companies that have accessible workplaces and that produce goods and services that are accessible for persons with disabilities.
Neither new accessibility reforms to the Ontario Building Code nor all the accessibility standards enacted under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act will ensure that this will occur, even if the Government effectively enforced them to the letter. We have seen no concrete action to keep the Government’s 2011 commitments to us that disability accessibility will be a requirement in all infrastructure spending, including information technology infrastructure.
The Government must at long-last keep its commitments about ensuring that accessibility is part of all vital Government decisions.
Below we set out key excerpts from the Ontario Budget speech, from a disability accessibility perspective. Each is glaring for its omissions. It is not too late for the Government to fill this gap. It requires no new spending. It just requires the Government to actively plan to spend the allocations from this Budget in a smarter way.
We know from painful past experience with the Government that this will not happen, unless the Government makes disability accessibility a large, highly visible, prominently profiled requirement. The May 1, 2014 Ontario Budget does just the opposite.
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Key Excerpts from the May 1, 2014 Ontario Budget Speech
* “Mr. Speaker, our government’s plan is threefold. We will create jobs and grow the economy by investing in our people. We will build modern infrastructure. We will support a dynamic and innovative business climate.”
* “Our government is making Ontario’s schools and hospitals among the best in the world. We will continue to make the investments necessary to strengthen them because they are a top priority.
And our collective energy, talent and resources as a government will continue to be spent creating opportunity and jobs. That includes strategic investments in our schools and in our hospitals… Our social services .. And of course … transit, roads, bridges, highways and other important infrastructure throughout the province.”
* “Mr. Speaker, going forward, to help secure new investments, we are creating a new $2.5 billion Jobs and Prosperity Fund. This 10-year fund will help Ontario attract investment in new and growing sectors.”
* “Mr. Speaker, that is why we are investing over $130 billion in total in infrastructure over the next 10 years. Whether it’s a light rail transit line in Ottawa… Or the expansion of Lakehead University in Thunder Bay … Or a new hospital in London … Or roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects throughout the province.”
* “Fostering a Fair Society
Mr. Speaker, 60 years ago my parents came to this country for the opportunity that it brought. They could start their own small business … and provide a more secure future for their children. But it went further than that. Like many new Canadians, they were grateful and wanted to give back … especially to others who needed support. And I’m here today because I think it is the job of government to provide the ladder and a steady hand to help people climb up and achieve their full potential.
Beginning in July 2014, we are increasing the maximum annual Ontario Child Benefit (OCB) per child to $1,310, enhancing the incomes of half-a-million families. As part of our plan to ensure that all Ontarians have the opportunity to succeed, and share in the benefits of a strong economy, we will also propose to index the OCB to inflation. Mr. Speaker, it is expected that the number of seniors in Ontario will almost double over the next two decades.
As part of this Budget, we are making it easier for seniors to stay safe, active and engaged in their communities by doubling the size of the new Seniors Community Grant Program. This program helps seniors continue their learning in areas like technology and develop a stronger sense of social inclusion.
And Mr. Speaker, improved economic opportunities are essential to ensuring that Aboriginal people can work and thrive. In this Budget, we are introducing a new Aboriginal Economic Development Fund, which will include an investment of $25 million. The fund will support Aboriginal communities in the development of long-term economic strategies, and provide grants for Aboriginal businesses and fund regional skills-training programs.
Mr. Speaker, we are also expanding low-income health benefits for children and increasing social assistance benefits. And to help our youngest, we are expanding the Student Nutrition Program so that more children in school have access to a healthy, balanced breakfast to start their day.
Our government has also made changes to the tax system to help low- to moderate-income people with their expenses. We have enhanced property and sales tax credits … And combined the payment of credits into the Ontario Trillium Benefit.
Mr. Speaker, our Province has a progressive Personal Income Tax structure where higher tax rates apply as taxable income increases. To continue funding programs in a fair and balanced way, the Province proposes that those with the greatest ability to pay contribute more through their taxes. In this Budget, we are proposing further tax changes that would affect only the top two per cent of Ontario tax filers — those individuals with taxable incomes over $150,000.We propose that, beginning in January 2014, the taxable income threshold for the top tax rate be lowered to $220,000, and a new one percentage point higher tax rate for incomes between $150,000 and $220,000 be introduced. Ninety-eight per cent of tax filers in Ontario would see no change in their taxes as a result of these changes.
Mr. Speaker, this Budget will contain measures to help all Ontarians. Including francophone Ontarians. Measures that provide opportunities … and celebrate culture by commemorating 400 years of francophone presence in Ontario. And we also have to be fair.
We now have more Early Childhood Educators … We have more people accessing developmental services …And we’ve invested heavily in home care … Which has expanded the need for Personal Support Workers in Ontario… The people doing these jobs are critically important. In this Budget, we are investing in them. To ensure that those who care for our children, our elderly and our most vulnerable will be properly supported in return.”
* “We will invest in new technology in the classroom to support improved student achievement … And by 2025, we will have an education system that seamlessly integrates learning from early years to adulthood.”
* “Mr. Speaker, we are committed to a health care system that puts patients first and responds to their needs.”
* “We are investing in health care services in the home and the community so more options are available to patients close to home and where they are most comfortable.
And we are investing more than $11 billion in major hospital expansions or redevelopment projects over the next 10 years. This will support more than 40 projects currently underway or being planned.”