Ontario’s New Lieutenant Governor Challenges All Ontarians to take Strong, Effective Action to make Ontario Barrier-Free for People With Disabilities

October 16, 2007


When Ontario’s new Lieutenant Governor David Onley was sworn in on September 5, 2007, his inaugural speech laid down a powerful challenge to all Ontarians, including Ontario’s Government, to take strong, effective action to make Ontario a fully accessible province for over 1.5 Ontarians with disabilities. His speech will be very important to the next phase of our campaign for a barrier-free Ontario – the first such speech from a Lieutenant Governor in Ontario history. The Ontario Government is in the best position to act to live up to the visionary call for action from David Onley.

Here is what David Onley said in his powerful inaugural address in the Ontario Legislature.


Speaking Notes for Installation Speech

Mr. Premier, Former Premiers, Mr. Chief Justice, Former Lieutenant Governor Lincoln Alexander, Members of the Legislative Assembly, Ontario Regional Chief and Grand Chiefs of our First Nations, Pastor Martin, Distinguished Guests, Members of the Accessibility Standards Advisory Council, Ladies and Gentlemen, Mes Chers Amis,

On behalf of my wife Ruth Ann, my sons Jonathan, Robert and Michael and through marriage, the members of the Wallace, Smithson, Mason, Wiseman, Guest and Howson families, thank you for sharing this wonderful day with us.

It is a privilege and an honour to speak to you, for the first time, as the 28th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, the Representative of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

C’est un grand honneur pour moi que de m’adresser à vous aujourd’hui en tant que représentant, en Ontario, de Sa Majesté la reine Elizabeth II.

My Father’s side of the family came to Canada from the British Isles in the 1840’s and my maternal grandmother’s family settled in the Niagara region as United Empire Loyalists. My maternal grandfather was born in London, England and came to Toronto in 1912 along with his brother, three sisters and mother.

As such, I grew up in an environment of great respect and affection for The Queen of Canada as our Head of State. As an adult, my news reporting and volunteer activities at a wide variety of functions attended by successive Lieutenant Governors over the last 22 years have given me insight into the important constitutional, community, ceremonial and other public responsibilities of this office.

In the seven weeks since the Prime Minister announced his decision to appoint me as Ontario’s 28th Lieutenant Governor, I have become even more aware of the substantive nature of this position and of the intricate protocol associated with it, but also of the tremendous respect in which the office is held by most Ontarians.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, Canada’s system of parliamentary democracy ~ a constitutional monarchy in which every act of government is carried out in the name of the Crown, but the authority for it flows from the Canadian people ~ may not be the best form of government, but it is frankly, better than all the rest. We have only to casually glance at world news to see that this is so.

Each brought new meaning and relevance to the office, discharging their responsibilities with dignity, faith and determination. Each recognized the singular privilege, as do I, of being entrusted with the responsibilities of an office that began in 1792 with our first Lieutenant Governor, John Graves Simcoe.

In their Installation Speeches, each thanked their predecessor for their contributions to this important office. I am happily compelled to do likewise as I have the great good fortune to follow the Honourable James Bartleman into office.

Je désire remercier publiquement M. Bartleman et son épouse, Marie-Jeanne, pour l’immense générosité qu’ils nous ont témoignée, à Ruth Ann et à moi. Grâce à leur aide et à leurs sages conseils, le processus de transition s’est avéré une aventure fascinante.

I wish to thank Mr. Bartleman and his wife, Marie-Jeanne for their wonderful good humour and generosity to Ruth Ann and me. Their assistance, advice and wisdom have made the transition-process an exciting adventure.

During his term, Mr. Bartleman advanced many causes including that of the Aboriginal Youth Literacy, a program that addressed the 3rd world conditions of Aboriginal communities in our far north, where books were few, the socio-economic conditions grim and despair plentiful.

Four Aboriginal Literacy Initiatives were implemented: the collection of 2.3 million books to establish libraries in First Nation Communities across the north, as well as the building of bridges with the School Twinning Program linking nearly 150 aboriginal schools with non-aboriginal schools across Ontario and Nunavut. Thirty six Aboriginal Summer Reading Camps were established in 28 fly-in First Nations communities. ‘Club Amick’ was launched last year to provide books and newsletters four times a year to 5000 aboriginal children in Ontario’s North.

For countless children, eyes were opened, minds were stimulated and hope was reborn. A mighty work was begun!

And while historically, most projects of an outgoing Lieutenant Governor give way to those of the new one, today I break with that tradition.

As a former Education Reporter and writer, I fundamentally understand the importance of instilling in children a love of reading. Books change lives. Books enable children to overcome challenging circumstances. Books give hope.

So I am pleased to a say that with His Honour’s full support, we will work as a team to continue and expand this important project. To the Chiefs of our First Nations here today, I repeat this commitment that the Aboriginal Literacy Initiative will continue and it will grow. It will grow because books are not enough.

It is our intention, with the involvement of some new players to twin-track the program to include an Aboriginal Youth Computer Literacy Initiative. The goal is to see a computer on every school desk of every First Nations community in Northern Ontario.

It is my hope that five years from now every young aboriginal boy and girl graduating from high school will have new options. Being Computer Literate, they will be able to choose whether to move out into the world, or to stay and contribute to their communities and still remain connected to the greater Ontario community, “plugged in” as it were to the rest of the province.

When I asked Mr. Bartleman what title he wanted to describe his role in this effort, he said he would simply be one of the ‘workers in the vineyard’ and would just prefer to be known as a ‘volunteer’. Well, it will take many volunteers to continue this program but for all of us, he will be our Volunteer in Chief.

We do this because it is simply the right thing to do. We do this because it will give these young people the same opportunities of citizenship as children in the rest of Ontario. And, we do this because we are enhancing their accessibility to society as a whole and, through this, enabling them to achieve their full potential.

This is why I am committed to the Aboriginal Youth Literacy Initiative: because at its heart, it is in fact a program of Accessibility where Accessibility is defined as nothing more but nothing less than that which enables children to fulfill their potential.

As Ontario’s first Lieutenant Governor with a physical disability, this is crucial to me because it is this definition of Accessibility that will be the over-arching theme of my mandate.

Accessibility is that which enables people to achieve their full potential. It is inclusion. Accessibility is a human right and accessibility is right.

My dream is of a province where disability rights are advanced, not only for those with classically defined physical disabilities, but also for those so-called invisible disabilities. There are far too many people who suffer from mental health challenges, poverty, ill-health; people whose psyches are so damaged that the mainstream world is just as inaccessible for them as it is for the physically disabled. While we seek to improve physical access, we must not presume that disability is only represented by a white wheelchair symbol on a blue sign.

My commitment to accessibility includes all disabilities not just the visible ones.

In this, I know that I have the non-partisan support of this House. No doubt there will be changes in the composition of the Legislature after the upcoming provincial elections. Whatever those changes may be, each member of the 38 th Parliament of Ontario has earned their place in the history books, by acting together, across party lines, to ensure that the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act was unanimously voted into law. I express my personal gratitude to all members of this House for this landmark legislation.

The AODA will ensure accessibility throughout Ontario, not only for those with physical disabilities, but also for those with intellectual, mental health, sensory, hearing and learning disabilities.

I also applaud the hard work by the members of the Accessibility Standards Advisory Council of Ontario who are here today. I have had the privilege of serving as Chair of the Council. Now as The Queen’s representative in Ontario, may I encourage you with my personal support to continue your outstanding work!

As a child, I was fascinated by the stars. And, I had big dreams. The fact that I had been incapacitated by polio at age three meant that I would need more help than most to realize those dreams. I was fortunate to receive it in “full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over,” in the words of St. Luke. I was aided in ways both material and emotional, from the technical expertise of my doctors and physical therapists, to the unconditional support of my parents, brothers and sisters, and the backing of teachers, employers, and colleagues who reminded me to focus on my abilities rather than my disability.

Some of those supports were not readily apparent at the time. I remember when I was quite young, writing a letter to my hero, hockey legend Johnny Bower. Although he was not in a position to do any of the physical or medical things I needed, the autographed picture he sent me, and the letter of encouragement that he wrote, were to help me in ways no doctor or therapist could. He was in fact, a role model.

Then almost 23 years ago Moses Znaimer hired me for the position of weather specialist on Citytv. It was only after he had hired me that he asked about my disability. Obviously, what he did was important for my career. But more importantly, it sent a message to TV viewers everywhere that my physical shortcomings were irrelevant. What counted was my ability to do the job.

As one of the first visibly disabled people on television, I too have been cited as a role model for those who are disabled. But it seems to me that Moses Znaimer is a role model too. What he did for me stands as a shining example to employers, who may not realize that they have the power to change the alarmingly high level of unemployment among disabled people. I pledge to use the profile afforded by my new position to ensure that as many people as possible learn about, and are moved to do something to change, this state of affairs.

There are many other role models in this room today, some well known, some not, some disabled, some not.

What they have in common is that someone helped them and in so doing they then achieved their potential and continue to excel here in Ontario. I could mention many but let me simply refer to a few.

I look around and I see a football player from Florida who became a star in the CFL and then a coach and now runs his own charitable foundation, Pinball Clemons.

I see Tamara Gordon, who broke her back skiing but will use her wheelchair to go to law school and already is a champion of voluntarism and a Lieutenant Governor’s Award recipient. I see David Lepofsky who uses his white cane like a legal hammer in winning cases for disability rights.

There’s Brian Brumwell who daily continues his hard road of recovery from a terrible car accident to become a Councillor to others. There is Ruksana Syed of IBM who escaped oppression to head up that company’s diversity and inclusion office.

Few of us get to be what the world calls “famous”, but as these people demonstrate, we can all be role models.

For the truth is this: we are ALL role models to the person that we help!

So I ask you to do what you do can in terms of accessibility by simply reaching out. In other words, we can make our own hearts inclusive, something that no parliament can ever legislate.

Thirty years ago, when I started writing SHUTTLE, the science fiction novel that would set the trajectory of my life, I could not have imagined that Canadians could be astronauts, or that I could become Lieutenant Governor.

Yet, here we are today: living proof that anything is possible, if we try and if others offer their help!

The better part of my career has of course been in television and as such many of you may have memories of me covering a certain event or story that I did first for CTV and then for the most part Citytv and CP24.

But there is another image I would prefer you take away today, from just several minutes ago. Even after taking the oath of office, I needed the arm of my Chief Aide de Camp to navigate the final few steps to this chair.

Even as the longest journey begins with a single step, so too, the final steps to accessibility for an individual to achieve their potential may depend simply on another person’s strong arm, a helping hand and an open mind. I am asking you today, to be that person, be that role model.

In Proverbs it is said: ” Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when dreams come true at last, there is life and joy.”

So whether it is the kid from Muskoka who became the diplomat and Lieutenant Governor or the boy from Scarborough who followed him or countless other people’s stories of dreams fulfilled and those yet to be fulfilled – what we all have in common is Ontario.

For it is in this province, that generations of immigrants have fled oppression to the place where we realize our dreams.

Et c’est dans cette province que nous pouvons réaliser nos rêves, comme l’ont fait des générations d’immigrants qui ont fui leur pays pour échapper à l’oppression.

George Bernard Shaw said: “Some men see things as they are and say why, I dream things that never were, and say why not.”

It is time to dream dreams; it is time to say, “Why Not?”