September 7, 2007
Ms Doreen Winkler, Ph.D., R.S.W.
Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance
1929 Bayview Avenue
Dear Ms Winkler;
Thank you for your letter dated August 24, 2007 and for taking the time to write to me to outline some of the important issues facing Ontarians with disabilities. I have the utmost regard for the thoughtful advocacy the AODA Alliance has provided on behalf of more than 1.5 million Ontarians who have a disability, and, as always, I find the analysis of the issues provided by your organization to be insightful and commendable.
I appreciate the opportunity to provide my straight-forward commitments to the specific questions that you outlined.
In regards to your requests to make the AODA standard development process stronger and more effective, I agree that more has to be done. In fact, I believe that the 2025 target to make Ontario fully accessible is a goal we should be seeking to exceed. Leadership is about setting aggressive targets and devoting resources to ensuring they are met. That was my practice as a business leader and it is the same practice I will continue in the Office of the Premier.
I agree that the Standards Development Committees should be constructed and operated in such a way that is fair, open, and transparent. You have suggested that we alter the allotment of representatives, open up the meetings and require public consultations. All of these are reasonable requests and I will commit to raising them as key ways to improve the process.
When Members of Provincial Parliament review a new bill, we go through a process called a ‘clause by clause’ review. This enables us to review each section of the bill separately and, ultimately, to register our support or our opposition to each section of the bill. I think that this would be a reasonable approach for the respective committees to take when dealing with the development of these important standards.
I will commit to review the manner by which individuals are compensated for their work with these committees. I cannot commit that new funding might be provided but I agree that it merits a review and we would be pleased to sit down with you and your members to discuss the kinds of supports that would be of help to the members of these committees.
I would welcome the opportunity to meet with your group to discuss these issues – including, specifically, your request to have the Ombudsman review the standards development process. As you may have seen, I am trying to enhance the role of MPPs and I would like to discuss with you using legislators to conduct reviews of this kind. I support your request that the government show leadership by reviewing its own legislation to remove barriers against persons with disabilities and by developing an action plan for provincial and municipal elections to be fully accessible to voters with disabilities. In addition, I will ask Elections Ontario to review its practices and regulations with a goal of achieving these positive changes. We will also engage our other stakeholders to pursue this
While I believe that disability accessibility training for students and those training in ‘key professions’ could help us to make significant strides in creating the kind of inclusive and accessible Ontario that we aspire to be, I would want the new Minister of Education, appropriate Ministries and key stakeholders, including teachers, to jointly review this policy in advance of making any changes to ensure that it best accomplishes our goal.
There is no doubt that Ontario’s human rights system needs improving and it will take strong leadership to make the required changes. It is this leadership that I believe has been lacking under Dalton McGuinty.
Like many in Ontario, I was disappointed that Dalton McGuinty broke his promise to people with disabilities when he and his Government voted for Bill 107. Ontarians in all parts of the province count on the Human Rights Commission to properly protect Ontarians with disabilities from discrimination and I believe that Bill 107, by removing public investigation and prosecution from the Commission, serves to weaken our human rights system overall. This change alone will mean that countless people with disabilities will have to hire their own lawyers to investigate and prosecute their own cases.
I was further disappointed when Mr. McGuinty abruptly canceled public hearings about Bill 107 last November and cut off 200 groups including the AODA Alliance and individuals who were eager to provide their advice. And, I was downright offended when Dalton McGuinty ran ads at a cost of $106,000 to inform people about these same hearings that he had cancelled, money which could have helped the Human Rights Commission meet some of its challenges.
In November 2006, I told Mr. McGuinty that if he were to allow hearings to continue, the Ontario PC Party would agree to vote on the legislation in March 2007. He refused, and his Government forced the legislation through. The irony that this betrayal of Ontarians with disabilities took place just after the United Nation’s International Day of Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Dec. 3, 2006 was not lost on our Party.
Mr. McGuinty’s subsequent promise that all cases would be heard within a year and that every complainant would have the right to publicly-funded independent legal counsel has since been proven to be false, and when the Ontario PC Party asked the McGuinty Liberals to write these guarantees into the legislation, they refused and voted in Bill 107 as is.
Ms Winkler, I have long said that leadership is about integrity and keeping the promises you make. Leadership also involves taking the right actions to correct problems. I commit to you, the AODA and to all people with disabilities in Ontario that as Premier, I will overturn Bill 107 that denies justice to Ontarians with disabilities, and, in fact, to all Ontarians who are victims of discrimination.
Further, while Mr. McGuinty denied Ontarians the opportunity to provide meaningful advice and insight on how our human rights system should function, I will undertake an open and accessible public consultation within six months of taking office.
The AODA Alliance’s request that new legislation be introduced within 18 months of taking office is both reasonable and practical. I am pleased to commit to that timeline, as well as to basing reform on the core principle that Ontario should have a public enforcement process.
Finally, I recognize that the funding provided by Dalton McGuinty and his Government amounts to less than 25 per cent of what the Commission received and, as such, virtually guarantees longer waits for justice for the estimated 3,000 complaints expected to come forward each year. I commit to you that we will reduce the backlog of complaint cases by providing meaningful additional annual funding to the Human Rights Commission.
To take real action to remedy the challenges faced by Ontarians with disabilities, leadership matters. You can count on a John Tory PC Government to provide that leadership if we are entrusted with government by the people of Ontario on October 10, 2007.
Leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party