Outpouring of Media Coverage of the Passing of Former Lieutenant Governor David Onley Focuses on His Legacy for Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

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


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Outpouring of Media Coverage of the Passing of Former Lieutenant Governor David Onley Focuses on His Legacy for Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities


January 16, 2023




The passing of former Lieutenant Governor David Onley this past weekend has spawned an out-pouring of public attention and media coverage. Media reports focus on David Onley’s commitment to and work in support of accessibility for people with disabilities. The AODA Alliance is honoured to have been invited to add our comments in these retrospectives on David Onley.


These media reports have emphasized the fact that the best way for Ontario to honour his legacy is for the Ontario Government to at last fully implement the final report of the Independent Review of the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, which David Onley submitted to the Ontario Government four years ago this month. Ontario Accessibility Minister Raymond Cho told the Legislature in 2019 that David Onley did a “marvelous job”, but has not in fact implemented Onley’s comprehensive roadmap for reform.


As a sample, we set out:


  • An article in the January 16, 2023 Toronto Star.
  • A January 15, 2023 CTV news report.
  • Two January 15, 2023 reports on CBC.
  • A January 16, 2023 blog on TVO Today by Steve Paikin.


In addition to that coverage, you may want to check out some of the following, which may or may not be accessible, depending on the media organization’s website:



Finally for a trip down memory lane, watch a captioned 2.5 minute video of a news report by David Onley back on June 2, 1995, interviewing David Lepofsky. That is where the two first met. Themes discussed there carried forward for both of them over the following 28 years.


In the second of the two CBC reports set out below, the Ontario Accessibility Ministry talked about how it has been collaborating since 2018 with the disability community and others. Yet since taking office in June 2018, Premier Ford, unlike his two most recent predecessors, has refused to even meet with us. Similarly, Premier Ford’s Accessibility Minister, Raymond Cho, has refused to meet with us since he was reappointed to this post after the June 2022 Ontario election. His Minister’s Office has not responded to any of our attempts to communicate for well over a year.





Toronto Star January 16,2023


Originally posted at https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2023/01/15/david-onley-leaves-a-memorable-legacy-of-advocacy.html



‘He gave us permission to speak up’

Disability advocates remember former lieutenant-governor’s role in championing accessibility


Bruce DeMara Toronto Star


Disability advocate David Lepofsky remembers first meeting reporter David Onley in May 1995 as a provincial election was underway.


Onley had heard that then-Conservative leader Mike Harris had made an off-the-cuff reference to the employability of people with disabilities and headed up to CFRB, where he knew Harris was at the time, asked him to clarify his remarks and filed a story for Citytv.


Lepofsky, new to his role as an advocate in 1995, said Onley’s decision as a reporter and later as an on-air anchor to be visible about his disability (Onley had polio as a child) “communicated a message and it’s a message that’s still important today.”


“What happened with David on Citytv back then is something we wish we saw a heck of a lot more across the media today when we’re talking about equity, diversity and inclusion,” Lepofsky said.


In 2005, after a 10-year struggle and due to the work of Onley and other activists, the Ontario government passed the Accessibility to Ontarians with Disability Act, pledging a barrier-free province by 2025.


Onley was appointed the province’s lieutenant-governor in 2007, a post he held for seven years and one in which he was required to stay out of politics, although one of his first acts was to champion accessibility as his social cause, Lepofsky said.


After his term, Onley became a special adviser to the provincial government on accessibility and disability issues. In 2017, Onley – tasked with undertaking a mandated review of the act – issued a report that Lepofsky recalled was scathing in its assessment of the province’s progress.


“It is a blistering report and it really is the culmination of David’s experience. He basically said the goal of fully accessible Ontario (in 2025) is nowhere in sight because the progress on accessibility has proceeded at a glacial pace. He said that Ontario is a province full of soul-crushing barriers,” Lepofsky said.


Thea Kurdi, president of DESIGNable Environments, a company that designs accessible work spaces, tagged Onley in 2017 tweet and the two struck up an enduring friendship.


“It’s hard to properly capture the magnitude of this loss to the disabled community and to all of Ontarians and Canadians alike.


“Onley was a classy, kind, dynamic speaker who was not only an amazing advocate himself but also made the job of advocating for accessibility by others easier to do. He gave us hope and permission to speak up,” Kurdi said.


“I cannot stress enough how much it helped when he (Onley) first started calling out inaccessibility as being not just bad design but discrimination. Before that people were very reluctant to use that word despite the truth of it,” Kurdi said.


NDP MPP Lise Vaugeois, the party’s seniors and disability issues critic, said among Onley’s many achievements is Queen’s Park itself.


“Queen’s Park is a rabbit’s warren, it takes a map, but it is accessible. I’m sure it wasn’t when he (Onley) first got there,” Vaugeois said.


Vaugeois said, while she didn’t know Onley personally, all of the people in the disability community that she has met remember him for his personal accessibility.


“I know for many people in the disability community, he (Onley) was very open to meeting with people and sharing ideas and that’s an important thing. He advocated to recognize many people with disabilities want to work and to be seen as important contributors to the economy,” Vaugeois said.


Both Lepofsky and Kurdi agree that Onley was frustrated by the slow pace of change.


“He (Onley) was so kind and smart and so fed up with the ableism (and) so fed up with what he called the virtuous signalling, people looking like they’re trying to do something, trying to say the right things but not actually getting off their butts to change anything,” Kurdi said.


“He (Onley) went from being a journalist who covered the story … to the impartial role of a lieutenant-governor to, in the end, someone who very publicly declared ‘here’s how we’re doing and it’s not good and we better call it what it is’ and then giving a road map about how to fix it,” Lepofsky said.


“And his legacy is not just the road map he left but our obligation to honour that legacy by implementing that road map,” he added.



Ontario passed the Accessibility to Ontarians with Disability Act in 2005 – due in large part to the work of David Onley and other activists – which pledged a barrier-free province by 2025. Lucas OleniukToronto Star file photo


 CTV News January 15, 2023



Originally posted at https://toronto.ctvnews.ca/tributes-pour-in-for-former-broadcaster-and-lieutenant-governor-david-onley-1.6231515


Tributes pour in for former broadcaster and lieutenant governor David Onley


Joshua Freeman

CP24 Web Writer


Broadcaster and former Ontario lieutenant governor David Onley, who passed away this weekend at age 72, is being remembered as a bold advocate for disability issues whose warm character endeared him to many.


Onley went on to become Ontario’s 28th lieutenant governor in 2007 following a long career in television.


David Onley, former broadcaster and Ont. lieutenant-governor, dies at age 72

Toronto television pioneer Moses Znaimer, who hired Onley to work as a reporter and anchor at City TV in the 80s, remembered him as someone whose insights made the organization richer.


David Onley, former broadcaster and Ont. lieutenant-governor, dies at age 72

“Almost everyone remembered for their greatness has had to overcome obstacles in their path. If they suffered weakness in one area, that’s called forth compensation in another. As exceptional as David Onley was, he would be the first to tell you there are many more just like him. Any community is only as strong as it is diverse,” Znaimer wrote.


“The perspective and tenacity that people with disabilities need to succeed often lead to original insights and society would be well served to foster this resource. RIP ol’ friend.”


Onley would also go on to anchor on CP24 when the station launched.


In an interview with CP24 Sunday, Newstalk 1010 host John Moore remembered Onley as someone who served as a mentor to new journalists and who had a way of making anyone he spoke to feel special.


“I mean, aside from his groundbreaking work as a journalist and as lieutenant governor, he was just a model of a person who was always more curious about you than any question you could ever bring to him,” Moore said.


Moore said that while it was important for Onley to highlight disability issues, he “never let any of that hold him back” and went on to have an amazing career.


“I think also worth emphasizing… is how many young reporters he mentored because I don’t think it can be overemphasized, first of all that he was a tremendous journalist, but he was also one of the nicest people I’ve ever met,” Moore said. “I mean, he’s the kind of guy who’s just so sweet and enthusiastic in disposition, that you begin to feel shame yourself for ever having a moment of negativity.”


Outgoing Ontario Lieutenant-Governor David Onley, centre, laughs as he and his wife Ruth Ann, left, are greeted by staff while arriving for his final full day in office at Queen’s Park in Toronto on Monday, September 22, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese


While he was known for his kindness and warmth, he still had an “edge” when it came for fighting for the rights of those with disabilities, former Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne said.


“He was impatient that we as a society do the right thing,” Wynne told CP24 in an interview Sunday.


She recalled first meeting Onley in the 1990s when he was a reporter and she was a parent advocate in the school system.


“He was a journalist, and he was often very agitated about not being able to get to the top floor of a school or into building in order to be able to be part of the press scrum. And it was that anger, I think, that fueled his activism.”


When he was appointed to lead a committee to review accessibility in the province, he “didn’t sugarcoat” his reports, Wynne recalled. But she added that he was bipartisan and willing to work with anyone to make things better for those with disabilities.


She said his reports were plain and helped others see what should have been obvious.


“I remember thinking we should have had these here all along,” Wynne said, recalling the moment when the government added ramps at the grand staircase in Queen’s Park at Onley’s recommendation. “You know, it was self-evident that nobody who used a scooter or who had mobility issues would be able to mount those stairs.”


He also helped serve as a role model for others who would go on to fight for greater accessibility.


Outgoing Ontario Lieutenant-Governor David Onley laughs while speaking with reporters on his final full day in office at Queen’s Park in Toronto on Monday, September 22, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese


Speaking with CP24, Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Chair David Lepofsky said that Onley helped bring him to public advocacy.


He said he first met Onley 28 years ago after Mike Harris, who was then running to be premier, made comments about the disabled community.


“Onley grabbed the story, interviewed me about this – I was totally new with this kind of public community advocacy,” Lepofsky recalled. “But then he tracked down Mike Harris and waited in front of a radio station until he emerged and hit him up for an interview to get him to respond. So it wasn’t just that he symbolized what we could do, but he put it into action.”


He said the message that Onley helped send with his work still resonates now.


“David Onley’s message to Ontarians and indeed all Canadians is a message that resonates to this day and it is the message that we have to tear down barriers which unfairly impede people with all kinds of disabilities from fully participating in what our great country has to offer,” Lepofsky said.


In a statement released early Sunday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he was sad to learn about Onley’s passing.


“Mr. Onley served the province with honour and distinction from 2007 until 2014. As Lieutenant Governor, and throughout his life, he worked tirelessly to raise public awareness about accessibility issues, encouraging people ‘to see the ability, rather than the disability,” Ford said. “He was also a great champion of expanding reconciliation efforts with Ontario’s Indigenous peoples in his role as representative of the Crown, work that continues to this day.”


Toronto Mayor John Tory also posted a statement to Twitter, calling Onley “gracious and committed” and a “champion” for disability issues who contributed to the community in many ways.


“Starting with his time as a respected broadcaster he remained down to earth and as such maintained the respect and affection of people everywhere,” Tory wrote. “He will be missed.”


Tory said flags will fly at half-mast at Toronto City Hall and at Toronto civic centres until a state funeral is held for Onley at a yet-to-be-announced date.



 CBC News January 15 2023 1st report


Originally posted at https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/david-onley-ontario-lieutenant-governor-1.6714571


David Onley, former lieutenant-governor of Ontario, dead at 72


Onley was the first person with a physical disability to hold the post


David Onley is shown when he was Ontario’s lieutenant-governor delivering the throne speech in the legislature, in Toronto on Feb. 19, 2013. On Saturday, his death was announced by current Lt.-Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell. (The Canadian Press)


David C. Onley, who served as Ontario’s 28th lieutenant-governor, has died at the age of 72, the lieutenant-governor’s office said Saturday evening.


Serving from 2007 to 2014, Onley was the first person with a physical disability to hold the post, a statement from Lt.-Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell reads.


“Whenever Mr. Onley entered a room, those present saw beyond physical limitations. They saw a person they liked and admired,” she said. “There is no doubt that his legacy has positively impacted the lives of people across Ontario.”


Onley had disabilities stemming from a childhood bout with polio, and he used a motorized scooter. Before taking office, he had a career in television journalism, which included a focus on science and technology reporting, Dowdeswell said.


He then served as chair of the Accessibility Standards Advisory Council and was a member of the accessibility councils for the Rogers Centre and the Air Canada Centre, she said, describing Onley as an “active advocate” for improved access to employment for people with disabilities.


3 years after Ontario accessibility report, ‘little progress’ made, former lieutenant-governor says

Ontario nowhere near goal of full accessibility by 2025, review finds


During his term, Dowdeswell says, Onley also channelled his passion for access to opportunities into expanding literacy and education programs for Indigenous people in Ontario while “emphasizing the importance of reconciliation.”


Later in life, Dowdeswell said, he acted as a special adviser on accessibility within the Ontario government and as a senior lecturer at the University of Toronto Scarborough.


Onley is survived by his wife, Ruth Ann, and children Jonathan, Robert, and Michael, Dowdeswell said.


‘A man of dignity’

Politicians and colleagues remembered Onley’s character and advocacy upon the news of his death.


“He was such a man of dignity and so respectful of the political process and the need to analyze what was going on. I have such a deep respect for him,” former Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne told CBC News Network on Saturday.


“It was so clear that he was thrilled to be in the role of lieutenant-governor, but his passion was to demonstrate that everyone should have a chance to live to their fullest,” Wynne said of his advocacy for people with disabilities.


Ontario Premier Doug Ford issued a statement Sunday saying he was “deeply saddened” to hear about Onley’s death.


“As Lieutenant Governor, and throughout his life, he worked tirelessly to raise public awareness about accessibility issues, encouraging people to ‘see the ability, rather than the disability,”‘ the statement reads.


“His contributions to the province and his unwavering commitment to public service will long be remembered and celebrated.”


Onley was a “proud” graduate of the University of Toronto Scarborough, where he returned as a lecturer upon vacating his post as lieutenant-governor.


University president Meric Gertler said the school was honoured to have Onley as its special ambassador for the 2015 Pan American and Parapan American Games.


“We send our deepest condolences to the Onley family at this very sad time. We will miss this true gentleman,” reads a statement from Gertler posted on Twitter.


Toronto Mayor John Tory said he was “so sad” to hear of Onley’s death, calling him a “gracious and committed” lieutenant-governor even after his period in office.


“We are all thankful for his legacy of championing disability issues and fighting for accessibility for everyone,” Tory said in a statement.


Onley’s political legacy

Onley “made history” throughout his seven years in office, the advocacy group Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) Alliance said in a statement.


“David Onley was a good friend, trusted advisor and comrade in arms in the campaign for accessibility for people with disabilities,” said David Lepofsky, the chair of the alliance.


Just a few months ago, Lepofsky says Onley helped campaign for AODA Alliance to give testimony on Bill C-22, the proposed Canada Disability Benefit Act.


A man is seen looking at the camera for a headshot.


‘He was such a man of dignity and so respectful of the political process and the need to analyze what was going on. I have such a deep respect for him,’ former Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne, speaking of Onley, told CBC News Network on Saturday. (Maayan Ziv, provided by Lieutenant Governor of Ontario’s office)


In early 2019, Onley delivered his review of the AODA. The report described Ontario as “mostly inaccessible” and criticized the current Ford government, as well as previous Liberal administrations, for failing to follow through on the 2005 law’s promise of making the province fully accessible by 2025.


“This is a matter of civil rights, and people with disabilities are being discriminated against on a daily basis in multiple ways,” he said at the time.


When commenting on the Ontario government’s progress on his report in February, Onley made note of the lack of firm dates and commitments in the Advancing Accessibility in Ontario framework, which aims to improve accessibility in the province and was informed by the recommendations in Onley’s report.


“These governments do not exist to solve problems. They create offices, positions and ideas. But they’re not solutions,” Onley said.


With files from The Canadian Press


 CBC News 2nd report January 15, 2023


Originally posted at https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/david-onley-late-lieutenant-governor-1.6714846


Honour late lieutenant-governor David Onley by making Ontario accessible, advocates, friends say




Onley remembered as inspiring advocate and beacon of hope for people with disabilities


Vanessa Balintec · CBC News · Posted: Jan 15, 2023 5:41 PM EST | Last Updated: January 15


A man on a motorized scooter can be seen with a person saluting next to him.


David Onley served as Ontario’s 28th lieutenant-governor from 2007 to 2014. He was the first person with physical disabilities to take on the role, he was partially paralyzed from the neck down at age three by polio and used leg braces, a cane and his motorized scooter to get around. (CBC)


An inspiring mentor. A humble friend. A trusted advisor and advocate.


To colleagues, friends and members of the disability community in Ontario, David Onley was all those things. To the broader Ontario public, he was the province’s 28th lieutenant-governor — the first with a physical disability to hold the post — known for making accessibility and inclusion a central theme in his seven years in office.


He died Saturday at the age of 72. Now, friends and advocates say it’s up to the Ontarians to carry the torch he left behind.


“There is a lot of work to do. And what he did so well was invite people to be part of the solution,” said Maayan Ziv, a disability activist and friend of Onley.


“It’s up to us now to hear that call and to move forward, to act on the things that he cared so much about.”


Ziv says honouring Onley’s legacy is not only about remembering the “larger than life” man that he was, but taking on his fight for increased accessibility in the province and Canada at large.


David Onley, former lieutenant-governor of Ontario, dead at 72

3 years after Ontario accessibility report, ‘little progress’ made, former lieutenant-governor says

The former broadcast journalist left behind a critical review of the province’s progress in implementing its main accessibility legislation that aims to make Ontario fully accessible by 2025 — something those in the disability community say the province is not at all on track to meet.


“The intention was to be fully accessible by January 1st, 2025 and quite honestly, we’re nowhere near there,” said David Lepofsky, chair of advocacy group Accessibility of Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) Alliance.


“His legacy is a powerful road map … on how to tear down the barriers facing people with disabilities. We just need government to honour that legacy.”


Building on Onley’s work

In his 2019 report to the Ford government, Onley said the “glacial pace of change” over the past 14 years has left the disability community “deeply disappointed and filled with anger.”


In Ontario, about 1 in 4 residents have disabilities and face various types of challenges accessing things in their every day life, according to the provincial government. Things are only expected to worsen in the coming years for this group, Onley has said, as the province starts to grapple with an aging population.


“This government can change that and your fellow citizens with disabilities are asking you, pleading with you to do so,” Onley wrote in his 2019 report.


“Please don’t let us down!”


A man is seen looking at the camera for a headshot.

Former Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley’s died at the age of 72 on Jan. 14, 2023. Maayan Ziv, a Toronto-based disability activist and a former friend of Onley, says he asked her to take his final portrait while in office. (Maayan Ziv, provided by Lieutenant Governor of Ontario’s office)

Onley left 14 recommendations for the Ford government to implement, including making accessibility a responsibility shared by all ministries, introducing tax incentives for accessibility retrofits to buildings and establish a complaint system for reporting accessibility violations.


While progress has been made since then, in February, Onley made note of the lack of firm dates and commitments in the Advancing Accessibility in Ontario framework, which aims to improve accessibility in the province and was informed by the recommendations in Onley’s report.


Ontario nowhere near goal of full accessibility by 2025, review finds


Ontario Premier Doug Ford issued a statement Sunday saying he was “deeply saddened” to hear about Onley’s death, making note of his tireless work to raise awareness of accessibility issues.


“His contributions to the province and his unwavering commitment to public service will long be remembered and celebrated,” reads the statement.


In a statement Sunday, a spokesperson for the Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility said it will continue to “regularly” review the AODA and consider new accessibility standards or amend existing ones beyond 2025.


“Since 2018, Ontario has collaborated with the disability community, businesses and other partners to develop skills-based training and job placement opportunities, including through the Ontario Employment Assistance Services program,” it reads.


“Achieving accessibility is an ongoing and collaborative effort and this government is working with our partners to achieve our goal to make Ontario more accessible.”


Former Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario, David Onley, was disappointed with a lack of progress he saw in making the province more accessible for people with disabilities when CBC spoke with him last February. (Kelda Yuen/CBC)

Anthony Frisina of the Ontario Disability Coalition says he met Onley when he first became lieutenant-governor, and later got to know him more last year when he got the chance to interview him for a community cable program in Hamilton.


“He really just gave me the confidence to know that I was doing things correctly, pushing things in the right direction and continuing to be an advocate,” said Frisina, who said he lifted everyone up, not just those with disabilities.


“We may not be able to achieve full accessibility by January 1st, 2025. But in his honour and his memory, I think we need to continue to build that momentum.”




Vanessa Balintec



Vanessa Balintec is a reporter for CBC Toronto who likes writing stories about labour, equity and community. She previously worked for stations in New Brunswick and Kitchener-Waterloo. You can reach her at vanessa.balintec@cbc.ca and on Twitter at @vanessabalintec.


With files from Clara Pasieka


 TVO Today January 16, 2023


Originally posted at https://www.tvo.org/article/remembering-david-onley



Remembering David Onley


He was a lieutenant-governor unlike any other. And he made his mark on his province unlike anyone else, too


Written by Steve Paikin


Jan 16, 2023


Over the course of four decades of watching events at Queen’s Park, I’m sometimes asked: What was the most dramatic thing you’ve ever seen there?


You’d think that would be a tough call, given that I’ve had the honour of seeing nine different premiers at work and 11 different election campaigns and covered myriad important issues that have percolated through the place over those years.


But it’s not a tough call at all. The event that stays with me the most as a demonstration of sheer guts, determination, dignity, and grace was watching a man walk up a few stairs and sit in a chair.


You read that correctly.


The moment was utterly memorable because it was no ordinary man. And it was no ordinary chair.


David Charles Onley was being sworn in as Ontario’s 28th lieutenant-governor. It was September 5, 2007. Having been stricken with polio at the age of three, Onley needed a motorized scooter to get around because walking was a challenge of herculean proportions for him.


two suited men, one with a cane, stand together laughing

Outgoing lieutenant-governor David Onley is saluted while arriving for his last full day in office at Queen’s Park on September 22, 2014. (Darren Calabrese/CP)


The swearing-in ceremony had been completed, and rather than seeking assistance to mount the few stairs from the main floor of the legislative chamber to the Speaker’s chair from which he could give his inaugural address, Onley insisted on doing it on his own.


If you’ve ever been to Queen’s Park, you’ll know the chamber is never quiet. Someone’s either speaking or heckling — or, more likely, both.


This was different. I’ve never seen hundreds of people be so quiet and hold their collective breath so powerfully as in that moment. Onley grabbed the railing and, with all his strength, began to drag himself up those few stairs. Onlookers watched with a mixture of trepidation and amazement. It looked as if Onley might not make it. The threat of his crashing to the floor was always there. He moved slowly but with determination to begin his lieutenant-governorship with this simple act of achievement — mounting three stairs and sitting down.


We waited. And waited. And waited some more. But the man who had no doubt been told too many times in his life that he simply couldn’t do it would not be denied.


We watched. Onley struggled. But he made it. And with that seemingly simple, but, for him, hugely difficult task, Onley showed the audience both in that room and across the country that even some of the hardest challenges can be achievable if you’re determined enough.


Onley made it to the chair. The crowd exhaled and thanked him for his demonstration of courage with a massive ovation. Hands down, it was the most dramatic and awe-inspiring thing I’ve ever seen at Queen’s Park.


Today is a good day to remember the courage Onley showed day to day. After recently suffering from a cascading number of health issues, Onley died on Saturday. He was only 72.


I first met Onley when we were both “street reporters” back in the 1980s — he for Citytv and me for CHFI. He was almost certainly the first broadcast journalist with a physical disability to regularly appear on the air, and his personable approach struck a chord with his audience.


“Early in his media career, camera shots often focused only on his upper body, but Mr. Onley insisted that he be shown in his mobility device,” said Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Onley’s successor as lieutenant-governor, in her official statement. “Not content to simply lead by example, he was an active advocate on disability issues, particularly in the area of making the economic case for improved access to employment for people with disabilities.”



Agenda segment, February 2, 2015: Champions for the disabled


Onley spent much of his career championing issues of concern to people with disabilities. But he did it in his own way. While he burned with indignation away from the cameras at the way Ontario’s disabled citizens were often treated, his approach was to try to influence decision-makers rather than shame them. But that didn’t mean Onley wouldn’t call BS when he saw it.


Onley shared in the joy of seeing the legislature unanimously pass the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act in 2005. But he did become despondent as the years went on and regular progress reports (one of which he was tasked with completing) consistently showed a province lagging in fulfilling its legal commitments.


In fact, in a 2014 “exit interview” for The Agenda, Onley revealed that, on a couple of occasions, he hadn’t hesitated to tell then-premier Dalton McGuinty that things weren’t where they needed to be on disability issues. As Onley reminded me, the lieutenant-governor has “the right to be consulted and has the power to encourage and warn. I’m seeing something go off the rails.”


Onley confessed that he “went up to the line” in that conversation with McGuinty. “But, in baseball terms, I didn’t reach over the fence to take back the home run. But it was right to the fence.”


Former social-services minister Charles Beer (1989-90) regularly met with Onley as he, too, was responsible for one of the AODA reviews.


“I feel a sense of real loss,” Beer emailed me yesterday. “He was a very decent person who cared deeply about his community at all levels. He will certainly be missed.”


David Lepofsky, perhaps Ontario’s most renowned gadfly in pestering governments to improve the lives of people with disabilities, saw Onley’s advice to decision-makers change as the years went on, particularly when Onley was appointed to do an official review of the AODA in 2018.


“The gloves came off,” Lepofsky observes. “He realized that he had to deliver a no-holds-barred report. He proclaimed that progress on accessibility had proceeded at a ‘glacial’ pace. He blamed successive premiers. He came to realize that the only way to achieve an accessible province is through effective implementation and enforcement of strong legislation.”


Lepofsky adds: “The question facing Ontarians is whether our political leaders will honour his legacy by implementing the wise roadmap for reform that he delivered four years ago this month.”


One of the stickiest moments on Onley’s watch came in 2012, when McGuinty asked the lieutenant-governor to prorogue the minority parliament that the premier thought was becoming too fractious. Critics thought the premier wanted prorogation to kill a legislative committee investigating his government. Onley received hundreds of emails from people demanding that he decline McGuinty’s request or even remove him as premier and make the opposition leader the new premier. Onley had to break the news to everyone that, constitutionally speaking, he simply didn’t have that authority.


After McGuinty retired from politics in 2013 and Kathleen Wynne took over as premier, the polls among the three main parties became increasingly tight. Who would win government was anyone’s guess. So I asked Onley in that 2014 interview: “Be honest: Wouldn’t you love to be the guy on the hot seat if a constitutional crisis over a spring election were to happen?


I thought Onley would duck the question. He didn’t.


“Oh, sure!” he smiled. “Very candidly, certainly I would.”


Onley’s quasi-serious hopes were dashed when Wynne recaptured a majority government for the Liberals in June 2014.


When he left office, Onley was, at seven years, the longest-serving Ontario lieutenant-governor since World War II. His tenure has since been bested by the current LG, Elizabeth Dowdeswell, at eight and a half years.



Onley must have shaken tens of thousands of hands and attended thousands of events during his tenure. When I asked him whether he ever got tired of it all, he brushed me back.


“What is there to get tired of?” he asked. “You meet interesting people, and then you get to give them an award for something that’s unique or inspiring or that’s contributed to the quality of life in Ontario.” Onley well understood the gravitas he and his office could bring to any ceremony he attended.


I can tell you from personal experience that Onley was close at hand for one of the most memorable ceremonies I ever attended. In 2013, he was the lieutenant-governor who handed me my Order of Ontario. When he did, the two of us grinned at each other, as if to say, “Can you believe what two kids from Scarborough and Hamilton are doing right now?” We often joked about that moment over the ensuing years.


I once asked Onley what he’d learned from being Ontario’s vice-regal representative that he might not have fully appreciated before getting the gig. His answer:


“That we have a remarkable democracy and a remarkable province. It truly is a unique place.”


Made even better because David Onley was among us for 72 years.



Steve Paikin


Steve Paikin is the host of TVO’s flagship current affairs program, The Agenda with Steve Paikin. He co-hosts the weekly provincial affairs #onpoli podcast and contributes columns to tvo.org. Paikin was born and raised in Hamilton, which explains his love of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the Toronto Maple Leafs. We’re still trying to figure out his obsession for the Boston Red Sox.