Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update
United for a Barrier-Free Ontario for All People with Disabilities
Retrospective On Progress from October 2003 to June 2018 on Disability Accessibility Under the Ontario Liberal Government of Premiers Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne
June 29, 2018
Today, Friday, June 29, 2018, Ontario Premier Doug Ford and his new Progressive Conservative Government’s Cabinet will be sworn in. We should then know who will be the new Cabinet minister with lead responsibility for the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act’s (AODA) implementation and enforcement.
This is a good time for Ontario’s non-partisan accessibility campaign to take stock of the Ontario Government’s progress to date on accessibility for 1.9 million Ontarians with disabilities. This retrospective can help many. It will help guide the new Doug Ford Ontario Government as it takes power. It will help inform the current 3rd AODA Independent Review. It will help Ontario’s Liberal Party as it takes stock and rebuilds over the next months and years. It will also help us as we plan our efforts over the next weeks and months.
We will later provide more detail on this topic in the brief that we are now preparing for the third AODA Independent Review. That Review must report to the new Government by next February. Support for every point we made is available on our website. No doubt, we have left some points out of this preliminary overview. We welcome your feedback on this retrospective. Write us at firstname.lastname@example.org
In a nutshell, when the Dalton McGuinty Liberal Government took power in 2003, it made excellent progress on this issue in its first two to four years. While progress slowed after that, it was still engaged and made progress up to mid-late 2011. However, after that, progress gradually slowed to a virtual crawl. Over the five years from February 2013 to June 2018, when the Liberal Party continued to run the Ontario Government under its new leader, Premier Kathleen Wynne, only marginal progress was made, with far too little impact on the lives of Ontarians with disabilities. As a result, Ontario is now and has for years been clearly -behind schedule for reaching the goal of full accessibility by 2025.
The new Doug Ford Government that is about to take power is therefore in a position to grab this issue, take direct ownership of it, and do a far better job on this issue than we witnessed over the past half-decade. It was elected on an agenda of “change”. This is one major area where change is profoundly needed. The implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act must now be substantially strengthened and revitalized. The AODA Alliance will be ready to assist in any way we can, offering our constructive ideas and pointing out where action is needed from Day One.
MORE DETAILS — A Retrospective on the Ontario Liberal Government’s Efforts on Disability Accessibility
1. The Early Years- The McGuinty Government’s Accomplishments from 2003 to 2012
The McGuinty Government deserves high praise for getting right to work on taking office in October 2003, and for its very open and inclusive process for developing the AODA, from October 2003 to May 2005, when the AODA was enacted. Before introducing an AODA bill into the Legislature it held province-wide consultation meetings and round-tables. It did a good job of incorporating into its bill action based on feedback it received.
As a very positive move, the McGuinty Government introduced a solid AODA bill in the Legislature in October 2004, just one year after taking office. It then held televised public legislative hearings around Ontario on its bill. That was a first for Ontario’s Legislature.
The Government agreed to make several improvements to the bill at our request, although it did not act on all our proposed amendments. It secured all-party support for the bill, which passed unanimously in May 2005. This was quite an accomplishment.
The AODA which was passed in May 2005 was a good law. It did not include everything we wanted. Nevertheless, it was ground-breaking for Ontario and Canada. It was cause for celebration and offered a great deal of hope for people with disabilities.
The McGuinty Government deserves a good deal of credit for getting to work on implementing the AODA, right after the Legislature enacted it. The bill quickly received Royal Assent on June 13, 2005; just one month after the Legislature passed this law. The Government swiftly identified the first five AODA accessibility standards to create. It chose good areas to start, namely customer service, transportation, employment, the built environment and information and communication.
The Government moved at a reasonable speed to get Standards Development Committees appointed to develop recommendations for what each of these five accessibility standards should include. It had several Standards Development Committees running at the same time for much of the period from 2006 to 2010, even though the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario that oversaw this work had less budget and fewer staff than it now has.
It was good that in the 2007 election, just two years after the AODA was passed, the McGuinty Government made several important election promises at the AODA Alliance’s request. These aimed at strengthening the AODA’s implementation, in areas where we had already detected concerns during the AODA’s earliest years.
In June 2009 summer, the first AODA Independent Review was appointed. The AODA required this Independent Review to begin within the first four years after the AODA was enacted. The Government appointed that Independent Review on time. It made the good choice of appointing Charles Beer to conduct this first AODA Independent Review.
The Beer Review’s excellent final report, which the Government made public in May 2010, concluded that the Government had intended to do a good job when implementing the AODA, and that the AODA was regarded positively in society. However this report concluded that after the AODA’s initial launch, the Government had gone back to business as usual. Several problems ensued. The Beer report found that the Government needed to show new leadership on accessibility and needed to revitalize and breathe new life into the AODA’s implementation. The Beer AODA Independent Review reported at a time when only one accessibility standard had been enacted, and no AODA provisions were yet enforceable. Unfortunately, instead of showing the new leadership that the Beer Report called for, the McGuinty Government announced that it was already showing strong leadership. The Government took an excessive three years to act on a limited number of the Beer Report’s recommendations, and left key recommendations unimplemented.
After 2007, we were concerned that the Government took too long to develop its first accessibility standards. We were troubled that these new accessibility standards largely dealt only with preventing new barriers from being created, but not with removing existing barriers. We were concerned that the Government made the time lines in these accessibility standards too long and the requirements too weak. Even if every obligated organization complied with every requirement in that regulation, they would not thereby become fully accessible to people with disabilities by 2025, or ever.
Despite these real concerns, when the Government enacted the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation in June 2011 to address barriers in transportation, employment and information and communication, we commended it as a helpful step. We were very concerned in 2012 and following that the Government never enacted its promised Built Environment Accessibility Standard. Instead, it enacted a very limited Public Spaces accessibility standard in 2012 to deal with a tiny fraction of the disability barriers in a limited part of the built environment. In 2013, it enacted weak accessibility changes to the Ontario Building Code. It also took the Government over one year after it passed the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation in June 2011 to make available its first online guide for obligated organizations on how to implement the new accessibility requirements for transportation, employment and information and communication.
In the 2011 summer, just after the enactment of the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation, we praised the McGuinty Government for its new Ten Year Infrastructure plan. The Government had commendably embedded in that plan a requirement that new infrastructure be accessible for people with disabilities. We were concerned, however, that this Plan lacked specifics and lacked provisions for its effective monitoring and enforcement. Unfortunately, these concerns were later to turn out to be well-founded.
When Dalton McGuinty stepped down as Ontario’s Premier in early 2013, his office said that it had all the information it needed to decide which accessibility standards it would next embark on creating. It also put in place a positive reformed process for developing new accessibility standards, responsive to the Beer Report, that were aimed at making the process quicker and more effective. These steps were promising.
A disability accessibility retrospective on the McGuinty years must consider the very harmful step in 2006 of eliminating the public enforcement of the Ontario Human Rights Code. In 2006, over the objection of many including the AODA Alliance, the McGuinty Government passed Bill 107. It took away from the Ontario Human Rights Commission its decades-old mandate to investigate and publicly-prosecute human rights violations, including discrimination based on disability. As a result, people with disabilities and other victims of human rights violations must now privately investigate and prosecute their own cases before the Human Rights Tribunal.
During the controversial 2006 debates over Bill 107, the Government promised that to fill this gap, it would ensure that every human rights complainant would have free publicly-funded counsel throughout the process before the Human Rights Tribunal. The Government never kept that promise. It funded the creation of the Ontario Human Rights Legal Support Centre, to give legal advice and representation to human rights complainants. However that Centre has never been funded sufficiently to be able to represent all or even most human rights complainants. As a result, in a number of cases before the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, the complainant has had to proceed without any legal representation. This is unfair, especially when the respondent (who is accused of discrimination) can afford to have their own lawyer to represent them.
Despite our concerns that action was slowing down on the AODA’s implementation as of the end of 2012, Dalton McGuinty had much of which to be proud as he left public office. The AODA should figure centrally in his legacy. Yet in his memoir about his years in public life entitled “Making a Difference,” he made no mention of the AODA.
2. The Wynne Government Begins in 2013 with Great Potential on Disability Accessibility
When Kathleen Wynne was sworn in as Ontario’s new premier in February 2013, early indications offered Ontarians with disabilities a basis for hope and optimism. When she was running the previous year for the Ontario Liberal Party leadership, Kathleen Wynne wrote the AODA Alliance on December 3, 2012, the International Day for People with Disabilities, to make a series of strong commitments on disability accessibility. For example, she promised that she would ensure that Ontario was on schedule for full accessibility by 2025, the deadline that the AODA requires. She pledged that she’d never weaken or reduce any provisions or protections that we had earlier won under the AODA or its regulations. She committed to keep her party’s previous promises on accessibility.
In mid-February 2013, in her first Throne Speech, Kathleen Wynne announced that employment for people with disabilities would be a priority. She also took the promising step of moving the AODA’s implementation and enforcement from the Community and Social Services Ministry (where it was placed in the context of social programs for the social welfare for people with disabilities) to the Economic Development Ministry (where it would position disability accessibility as a positive economic benefit for Ontario). We applauded this move.
Yet over the five years as Ontario’s premier from February 2013 to June 2018, Kathleen Wynne’s accomplishments on accessibility for people with disabilities and on the AODA’s implementation and enforcement fell far short of her potential. The Wynne Government got early warning signs that it needed to dramatically shift gears on disability accessibility.
In February 2015, partway through Kathleen Wynne’s tenure as Ontario Premier, the second mandatory AODA Independent Review, conducted by Mayo Moran, rendered its report. Her report heard from people with disabilities that after a decade on the books, the AODA had not made a significant impact on their lives. The Moran Report repeated the recommendation in the 2010 Charles Beer Report that the Government needed to revitalize and breathe new life into the AODA’s implementation. The Moran Report called on Premier Wynne to show new leadership on this issue.
Regrettably, Premier Wynne did not live up to her potential in this regard. Accessibility never showed itself to be a priority during her term in office. This was so even though her first minister responsible for disability accessibility, Eric Hoskins, publicly proclaimed that accessibility would be a top priority for the Government.
3. Creating and Reviewing Accessibility Standards under the Wynne Government
The main way that the Ontario Government is to lead Ontario to become fully accessible by 2025 under the AODA is by enacting and effectively enforcing all the accessibility standards that are needed to get Ontario to that goal. Yet during five years under Premier Wynne, not one new AODA accessibility standard was ever enacted.
Under the Wynne Government, only one of the existing accessibility standards, earlier enacted under Premier McGuinty, was revised. That was the 2007 Customer Service Accessibility Standard. It was by far the weakest accessibility standard enacted to date. Yet, Premier Wynne’s revisions to it were, at best, only minor tinkering. They would not significantly strengthen it.
Making this worse, the Wynne Government revised the 2007 Customer Service Accessibility Standard in a way that further weakened it. This was a palpable violation of Premier Wynne’s 2012 promise that she would never weaken any AODA protections or provisions. Her Government took the backwards step of amending the 2007 Customer Service Accessibility Standard so that private sector organizations with 20 to 49 employees no longer had to keep a written policy on customer service accessibility. They had to have a policy, but no longer had to have it in writing. They still had to train their employees on that unwritten policy, but no longer had to keep written records of the training conducted.
These harmful amendments made that accessibility standard virtually impossible to effectively enforce for private sector organizations with 20-49 employees. The Wynne Government did this despite the fact, addressed further below, that it knew of rampant private sector violations of that very accessibility standard. In other words, the Wynne Government rewarded rampant law-breaking by amending that law to make that very law harder to enforce.
To its great credit, the Wynne Government agreed to create two new accessibility standards. The AODA Alliance had requested the Government to agree to develop accessibility standards in both areas. One would deal with disability barriers in Ontario’s health care system. The other would deal with accessibility barriers in Ontario’s education system.
However, the Wynne Government took so long to decide that these were areas that needed an accessibility standard, and then took so long to then get started on their development, that neither accessibility standard is anywhere near ready to be enacted in June 2018, when the Wynne Government left office. As early as 2011, if not over the year or two before then, the AODA Alliance had asked the Ontario Government to agree to create new accessibility standards in the areas of education and health care. The Wynne Government took to February 2015 just to decide that it would create a Health Care Accessibility Standard. It took the Wynne Government to December 2016 to decide that it would create an Education Accessibility Standard.
Under the AODA, the first step a government must take to start to develop a new accessibility standard is to appoint a Standards Development Committee. That committee includes representatives from the disability community and from the relevant sector of the economy. That committee then creates non-binding recommendations for the Government on what the promised accessibility standard should include.
After the Wynne Government announced in February 2015 that it would create a Health Care Accessibility Standard, it took around two more years just to appoint a Health Care Standards Development Committee to start to create recommendations. After the Wynne Government announced in December 2016 that it would create an Education Accessibility Standard, it took over one year just to appoint an Education Standards Development Committee. In other words, the Wynne Government took longer to decide whether to start creating a Health Care Accessibility Standard or an Education Accessibility Standard than it took the McGuinty Government to draft an entire AODA bill to introduce into the Legislature for debate. As well, it took the Wynne Government longer just to appoint a Standards Development Committee in either the areas of health care or education than it took the McGuinty Government to create its entire AODA bill to introduce into the Legislature. During these delays, more disability barriers were being created in Ontario’s health care and education systems.
When the Wynne Government finally got around to appointing its Health Care Standards Development Committee, it wrongly tried to substantially hog-tie that committee. Its Mandate Letter to that committee focuses on disability barriers in the hospital sector. Yet most Ontarians get their health care in other parts of the health care system. With the 2025 deadline for full accessibility looming ever closer, Ontario cannot afford to first create a Health Care Accessibility Standard to deal only with hospitals. The Wynne Government should not have just put off to another day, or year, the many disability barriers in the rest of our health care system, outside the hospital sector.
The Wynne Government also fulfilled its duty under the AODA to appoint Standards Development Committees to review the transportation, employment and information and communication provisions of the 2011 Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation. However, by the time Kathleen Wynne’s term as premier came to an end, only one of those Standards Development Committees had delivered its final recommendations to the Government, the Transportation Standards Development committee. That committee’s final recommendations were very weak. If implemented, they will leave Ontario’s transportation system replete with accessibility barriers.
During its five years in office, the Wynne Government did nothing effective to address the many disability barriers in Ontario’s built environment, be they existing buildings or new buildings. Minor amendments were made to the Ontario Building Code in 2013 on accessibility. These fell miles short of what Ontarians with disabilities need, and only deal with new buildings and major renovations to existing buildings. No comprehensive Built Environment Accessibility Standard was ever enacted under the AODA. This is so despite the fact that in the 2011 election, Premier McGuinty promised that his Government would enact a Built Environment Accessibility Standard “promptly”. In late 2014, the Moran Report of the 2nd AODA Independent Review had emphasized the need to address the many continuing barriers in Ontario’s built environment, even a decade into the AODA’s implementation, including the area of retrofitting existing buildings (which neither the Wynne Government or the earlier McGuinty Government had addressed).
It was only in March 2018, in its final weeks, that the Wynne Government finally started to turn serious new attention to barriers in the built environment, including the topic of retrofitting existing buildings. In March 2018, the Wynne Government convened a very good experts’ discussion forum on the built environment. At that forum, the Wynne Government heard what people with disabilities had told the Government for years – that the Ontario Building Code and AODA accessibility standards don’t ensure an accessible built environment. A new building can fully comply with those laws, and still have serious accessibility barriers. In 2016, 2017 and 2018, the AODA Alliance has released a series of online videos that demonstrate this in living colour. These vividly demonstrate this serious problem. The media has given then great coverage.
The AODA Alliance had been asking the Ontario Government for over seven years to create a Residential Housing Accessibility Standard under the AODA. The Ontario Government never did so, nor did it ever appoint a Standards Development Committee to make recommendations for one. This was so even though in the 2009 summer, the Ontario Government committed that it would address accessibility in the residential housing area, as well as the area of retrofits to the built environment in existing buildings, through the standards development process once the promised Built Environment Accessibility Standard was enacted to address accessibility in new construction and major renovations.
Looking at the bigger picture, whether under Dalton McGuinty or Kathleen Wynne, the Ontario Government never comprehensively identified all the accessibility standards that need to be created in order to ensure that Ontario reaches full accessibility by 2025. The AODA Alliance had asked the Government to do so, time and again. The AODA requires the Ontario Government to create all the accessibility standards needed to reach its goal.
4. AODA Enforcement
Both Premier McGuinty and Premier Wynne promised that the AODA would be effectively enforced. Enforcement is not the only way to get obligated organizations to remove and prevent barriers. However, it is an essential part of it. The Government agreed when it brought the AODA forward that absent effective enforcement, the needed changes in society would not take place.
The Wynne Government’s record on the AODA’s enforcement was deeply troubling. It led the Government to be blasted in newspaper editorials after the AODA Alliance revealed its deficiencies, year after year, starting in 2013.
For the first months in 2013 after the AODA became enforceable in the private sector, the Wynne Government refused to give the AODA Alliance any information about its actions on enforcement, or the rates of compliance. The AODA Alliance had to resort to a Freedom of Information application and pressure in the media and during Question Period in the Legislature to extract information from the Wynne Government on this important topic.
After getting information on this topic from the Wynne Government, the AODA Alliance revealed that the Government had not issued any AODA monetary penalties or issued any AODA compliance orders in the private sector. This was so even though the Wynne Government knew of rampant AODA violations in the private sector, and even though the Government had ample unspent budget at the Accessibility Directorate that could be used for AODA enforcement.
After the AODA Alliance revealed this situation to the public in November 2018, the Wynne Government promised to do better. It ramped up enforcement somewhat in late 2013. However, in February 2015, after a cabinet shuffle brought Brad Duguid to this portfolio, the Wynne Government then cut back on the number of obligated organizations it would audit by over one third. It revealed this in a letter to the AODA Alliance just one week after the Government had made public the Mayo Moran AODA Independent Review’s report. That report had called for AODA enforcement to be strengthened.
Four months later, in June 2015, after the Wynne Government received more bad press on its lax AODA enforcement, the Government announced on the AODA’s ten year anniversary to media fanfare that it would crack down on AODA violators. Starting in 2016, it would ramp up the number of obligated organizations it would annually audit. This was to eventually reach 4,000 organizations per year. Yet another AODA Alliance Freedom of Information application later revealed that no such crackdown plan existed, nor did the promised action ever happen. With hindsight, it appears to have been smoke.
The AODA Alliance kept up the pressure on AODA enforcement. This culminated in the 2018 spring, weeks before the Wynne Government’s term in power came to an end. An AODA Alliance five-year report on AODA enforcement revealed that the pattern of poor AODA enforcement had continued. Rampant AODA violations continued. The Government knew of it throughout. Unspent funds remained on hand. Paltry numbers of organizations were audited.
These AODA audits were mostly if not all mere “paper audits”. The Government inspected an obligated organization’s records of what it said it did on accessibility. However in these cases it did not inspect what the organization actually did on accessibility.
Despite the large numbers of ongoing, known rampant AODA violations, the Wynne Government only imposed a paltry three monetary penalties on AODA violations in 2017, and two monetary penalties on AODA violators in 2016. It did not report to us imposing any in 2015. The implicit message was out to obligated organizations: don’t worry about AODA enforcement.
The Wynne Government promised to be the most open and transparent government in Canada. Despite this, as noted above, the AODA Alliance had to resort to a series of Freedom of Information applications to get the information needed to reveal the state of AODA enforcement. Only in some cases did the Government voluntarily provide the requested information.
The Government threw roadblocks in the AODA Alliance’s path in other cases. It tried imposing steep search fees for requested information in 2013 and 2015. This was so, even though the Freedom of Information legislation allows the Government to waive its fee if this would be a financial hardship.
The Government knew that the AODA Alliance had no money to pay any fee. AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky in one case had to appeal the fee to the Information and Privacy Commission. To defend its $4,250 fee, the Wynne Government sent an armada of fully five lawyers and one law student to oppose David Lepofsky. The Information and Privacy Commission nevertheless ruled that the fee was more than five times what was justified.
To justify its paltry AODA enforcement, the Wynne Government took the public position that its prime aim was to get obligated organizations to comply with the AODA by its efforts at public education on the AODA. It was good that the Government funded quite a number of projects to reach out to and educate obligated organizations. A number of these efforts were conducted on the Government’s behalf by the Chamber of Commerce.
However what this all proved was that even with this Government focus on public education, AODA compliance remained far too low. Until the Government made it clear to obligated organizations through the Government’s enforcement actions that non-compliance had real consequences, compliance rates were not going to significantly improve. The Wynne Government also proved through its own enforcement actions that when it focused enforcement efforts on an obligated organization, that organization was far more likely to bring itself into compliance on the issues on which enforcement focused. It was simply wrong for the Ontario Government to keep pointing to public education as the way to solve the issue, after ten years of the Government trying that, and a resulting sorry track record of non-compliance.
At the AODA Alliance’s suggestion, the Wynne Government did some sort of pilot project or projects, involving the Government in assigning AODA enforcement powers to inspectors under other legislation. It also engaged a private organization to discharge enforcement powers. The Government never reported to the public in a detailed way on these pilot projects, nor announced any specific plans to continue them in the future.
5. Using Other Levers of Government Power to Promote Disability Accessibility
There are a number of other important ways that the Ontario Government can advance the cause of accessibility for people with disabilities, in addition to creating and enforcing AODA accessibility standards. We need the Ontario Government to use every lever of power at its disposal to make progress. In this regard, the Wynne Government fell short on several fronts.
First, an easy and effective way a government can make real progress on accessibility is to ensure that public money is never used to create or perpetuate disability barriers. The Ontario Government spends billions of public dollars every year on procuring goods and services, on capital infrastructure, and on loans and grants to public and private sector organizations.
It was good that in the 2014 election, at the AODA Alliance’s request, Premier Wynne promised that public money would not be used to create or perpetuate disability barriers. However, the Ontario Government’s track record was quite poor, both before and after making this promise.
For example, new AODA Alliance online videos, referred to above, show examples of new Ontario public infrastructure, such as a new university building and new public transit stations, with serious accessibility problems. As well, the Ontario Government created and promoted the new Presto Smartcard for paying public transit fares. It promised it would be accessible. It wasn’t. Yet before fixing these accessibility problems, the Government used its leverage to pressure local public transit authorities to deploy the Presto fare-payment system.
In 2015, Ontario hosted the Pan/ParaPan American Games. Other cities hosting such international sports events have been known to use this as a good lever to generate more accessibility in the broader community, such as in the tourism and hospitality sector. The Wynne Government promised that these would be the most accessible games in history. Premier Wynne directed her relevant minister to use the Games to create more accessibility in the tourism and hospitality sector in Ontario.
Yet this legacy of greater accessibility in the broader community never materialized, due to the Wynne Government’s failure to act. A huge opportunity for progress was lost. The fact that the stadiums where the games were played had accessibility features was not enough. Of course, a stadium hosting para-sports must be accessible.
The Government said it was making accessibility a consideration in the procurement of goods and services. Yet we saw no indication that this was made mandatory, or that it was monitored or enforced, or that there were any consequences for those who don’t comply.
A second lever of power that was open to the Ontario Government was the way it operated the Ontario Public Service. The Government promised over and over that the Ontario Government would lead by example on accessibility. Yet the AODA Alliance pointed out instance after instance where the Ontario Government led by a poor example.
In February 2013, the Wynne Government transferred to the Economic Development Ministry, the responsibility to lead the AODA’s implementation and enforcement. The AODA Alliance applauded this at the time. However it turned out to be an utter failure. In 2016, we commended the Wynne Government for eventually taking this responsibility away from that ministry.
It had been hoped that by transferring this responsibility to the Economic Development Ministry, the Wynne Government would embed accessibility in its spectrum of economic development programs, plans and strategies. It promised to do so. Yet we never saw any indication that it did anything about this, beyond making promises. The Wynne Government resisted Freedom of Information applications that tried to unearth information about the Government’s actions on this front. We later learned that that ministry turned out to be an unreceptive place for the accessibility portfolio to be situated.
In June 2016, once the Economic Development Ministry had proven to be an inappropriate place to situate the leadership for the AODA’s implementation and enforcement, the Wynne Government commendably created a new Accessibility Ministry, to be a stand-alone authority in this area. Tracy MacCharles was appointed as Ontario’s first Accessibility Minister. We applauded this step. It comported with the recommendations of both the first and second AODA Independent Reviews. Even though the minister would not be assigned full-time to this file, because she also had responsibility for women’s issues, this was a major improvement.
Yet a mere seven months later, this was significantly counteracted. In a subsequent cabinet shuffle, Accessibility Minister MacCharles was also made the Minister of Government and Consumer Services. Her two roles were hopelessly conflicted. She was both the lead AODA enforcer, and was responsible for the biggest organization in Ontario against which enforcement action could be taken. She could end up prosecuting herself.
It might have been argued that because Minister MacCharles was so strongly committed to accessibility, it would be beneficial for her to lead the Ontario Public Services efforts to become barrier-free. Yet in the period when she had both roles, we saw no measures that averted this conflict problem. We also saw no material progress on accessibility within the Ontario Public Service.
The Ontario Public Service had no chief accessibility officer with lead responsibility for ensuring accessibility within the Ontario Public Service. For a time, it had an Assistant Deputy Minister with responsibility for accessibility within the Ontario Public Service. The 1st AODA Independent Review report, by Charles Beer, called that fulltime position “vital”. Yet months later, the Ontario Government downgraded it to a part-time position. In the 2011 election, Dalton McGuinty promised in writing to make it a fulltime position. Nothing happened on that front for at least half a decade.
In 2011, while Dalton McGuinty was still Ontario premier, the Government quietly and wrongly abolished its commendable 25-year-old internal fund for financing workplace accommodations for Ontario public servants with disabilities. It did so without even notifying the public servants with disabilities who had depended on that fund for years that it had been abolished.
The AODA Alliance swung into action. It confronted senior Government officials with the fact that that Ontario legislation requires the Government to keep that fund, and not abolish it. Within days of our shining the spotlight on this, the Government retreated, and restored that fund. We are not aware of anyone ever being held accountable for trying to abolish that fund.
Yet one more illustration of the Wynne Government leading by a poor example came shortly after it took power. Under the AODA’s terms, the Government was required to appoint the 2nd AODA Independent Review by May 31, 2013. It unjustifiably failed to meet that deadline.
It took the Wynne Government up to early September, over 100 days after that legal deadline, to appoint Mayo Moran to conduct the 2nd AODA Independent Review. The Wynne Government had no excuse for setting such a poor example for all obligated organizations on the importance of meeting AODA deadlines for action. We had given the Government, including the relevant minister, ample warning that the deadline was approaching. The Government should not need warnings about this from a community coalition.
A third lever of power open to Premier Wynne was to make effective use of the Mandate Letters that she sent to each cabinet minister, instructing them on their priorities. We learned from our experience with the Ontario Government that cabinet ministers and their senior staffs won’t treat accessibility as a priority unless the premier gives specific directions to do so in the Mandate Letter.
In the 2014 Ontario election, it was very good that Premier Wynne, at our request, promised to direct her ministers to fulfil the Government’s commitments and duties on accessibility. However, she did not keep this promise.
Premier Wynne was Ontario’s first premier to make public her Mandate Letters to her ministers. Our detailed review of those Mandate Letters revealed that she failed to instruct her ministers on many if not most of her Government’s commitments and duties on accessibility. For example, in 2014, she never instructed Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid to effectively enforce the AODA, as her Government had promised to do. He got the implicit message from this resounding silence. As noted above, in 2015, he cut AODA enforcement in effect by over one third.
In compelling instances where Premier Wynne included in her Mandate Letters a direction on accessibility, her ministers did not fulfil them. In her Mandate Letter to the minister responsible for the 2015 Pan/ParaPan American Games, she set as a priority the achievement of a legacy on accessibility for people with disabilities in the tourism and hospitality sector. No such legacy was created. In her 2016 Mandate Letter to Ontario’s first Accessibility Minister, Tracy MacCharles, she directed the minister to increase AODA compliance in the private sector by 50% in the next year. The minister did not do so.
A fourth lever of power open to the Government is to ensure that all Ontario laws, statutes and regulations, do not require or authorize the creation of barriers against people with disabilities. It was very good that all parties in the 2007 election promised that if elected, they would review all Ontario laws for accessibility. In the eleven years since then, the Ontario Government has only reviewed a mere 55 or so of its 750 statutes and has reviewed none of its regulations. As for the small number of statutes that it reviewed, it finished that review in 2014. In 2016 it made very minor amendments to those laws. These left in place many of the serious disability barriers that the disability community pointed out to the Government.
Since then, the Government announced no specific plans on how it would complete the rest of this review of Ontario laws. Yet in her September 2016 Mandate Letter for Ontario’s first Accessibility Minister, Premier Wynne set as a priority this accessibility review of Ontario laws. Yet no new plan, steps or deadline were ever announced by or under Accessibility minister Tracy MacCharles. In the 2018 election, the Wynne Government said for the first time that it would ask the current AODA Independent Review for advice on how to do this – which would have only added another year of delay.
A fifth lever of power open to the Government was to use its top leadership as a bully pulpit to get the word out on accessibility. It did hire former Lieutenant Governor David Onley to advise the minister on accessibility and to make public speeches on this topic. However neither the premier nor other leading ministers, such as the Finance Minister, were noticeable as making major high-profile public speeches on accessibility to capitalize on this bully pulpit.
A fifth lever of power is the Ontario Government’s control over the municipal and provincial election process. Even in 2018, voters with disabilities still face too many voting barriers. In 2010, the McGuinty Government passed limited legislation to address this. In the past eight years, those measures have been proven to be insufficient. Yet since then, the Ontario Government did nothing to make real progress on this front.
A sixth lever of power open to the Ontario Government is its ability to try to influence the training of key professionals, like architects, to ensure that this includes needed training on accessibility. In the 2007 election, Dalton McGuinty promised to make efforts on this. In the ensuing eleven years, we saw no action. As a result, for example, Ontario’s universities produce generation after generation of new design professionals (like architects) who lack needed training on accessible design.
A seventh lever of power open to the Government is to battle persistent problem areas with a dedicated action plan beyond the AODA. It was very good that Premier Wynne’s first Throne Speech in February 2013 promised action in the vital area of employment for people with disabilities. People with disabilities continue to face cruel and unfair high rates of unemployment.
Yet it took the Wynne Government at least one year just to appoint a volunteer part-time advisory committee to give recommendations for a new disability employment strategy. With one exception, the Government did not announce a disability employment strategy until June 2017, fully four years after committing to action in this area. That employment strategy was itself very “high level”. It needed many details to be flushed out. In 2018, the plight of rampant unemployment continues to plague Ontarians with disabilities.
The only earlier action on disability employment was announced in June 2015 – a small program of time-limited incentives for employers to hire people with disabilities. Yet when it announced this, the Wynne Government did not make public the fact that its own advisory council on disability employment had advised against such incentives, as they are ineffective in the long term.
A final and very important lever of power open to the Ontario Government is the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario. It leads the AODA’s implementation and enforcement. While it has a number of good and dedicated staff, it needs substantial reform. As one example of concern, it has been inappropriately interposing itself in the work of Standards Development Committees. This exceeds the Directorate’s proper role, and hampers the effectiveness of Standards Development Committees.
Up to 2013, the Accessibility Directorate’s leadership was very open to a constructive and proactive mutual engagement with the AODA Alliance. Since then, this has largely vanished. The Directorate has maintained a courteous but far less effective relationship with the AODA Alliance. The approach of the Directorate’s management requires significant improvement.
Before leaving this topic, it is worthwhile to consider an option for buttressing the AODA that the Wynne Government actively considered, but commendably dropped. It is the idea of establishing a private accessibility certification process in Ontario. In 2015 and early 2016, Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid had tried to press forward with this idea. It would involve a private for-profit or non-profit organization, offering to certify an organization’s building as meeting some standard of accessibility. It was supposed to be modeled after the LEEDS certification process for environmental issues.
While well-intentioned, a private accessibility certification process is a bad idea. Fortunately the Wynne Government eventually backed away from this idea. We continue to strongly recommend against any public endorsement or investment in it.
We objected to creating a private accessibility certification process for several reasons: A private “certification” is not a certification at all. It cannot give an obligated organization a defence to any accessibility legal proceedings, whether under the Ontario Human Rights Code, the AODA or the Charter of Rights. A self-appointed private certification organization has no authority to grant any such “certification”. It is no substitute for proper enforcement of the AODA.
A private self-appointed certifier has no accountability to the public for its choice of when or whether to certify an organization or building, or its choice of what accessibility standard to use. The very choice of buildings as a target for certification can create an unfair hierarchy among different disabilities. For example, it can make people with physical disabilities unfairly a priority over people with mental health issues.
6. Concluding thoughts
There is no doubt that as a result of the enactment of the AODA, and the limited steps which the Ontario Government took to implement it from 2005 to June 2018, accessibility in Ontario has improved for people with disabilities. However, it is also clear that progress has been far too slow.
For years it has been obvious to most if not all that Ontario is behind schedule for reaching accessibility by 2025. The AODA Alliance presented this concern over and over to the Ontario Government. The 2014 final report of the 2nd AODA Independent Review, conducted by Mayo Moran, identified a series of important steps that needed to be taken if Ontario was to reach that deadline. The Ontario Government did not implement many of those recommendations.
Instead, the Wynne Government claimed to be a global leader on accessibility. That claim is contradicted by the experience of Ontarians with disabilities in their daily lives, as well as the briefest examination of accessibility features in the US.
As a result, Premier Wynne broke her promise to ensure that Ontario is on schedule for full accessibility. The Ontario Government does not have a multi-year plan in place to ensure that Ontario reaches full accessibility by 2025.
The only measure that the Ontario Government ever adopted that purported to be such a plan, was unveiled on the AODA’s 10th anniversary. On June 3, 2015, to much fanfare, the Wynne Government announced its “Path to 2025” plan. However, rather than being a 10 year plan (as its title suggests it is), the minister responsible for it, Brad Duguid, accurately admitted to the media the very next day that it was in reality a 12 month plan. He also admitted that AODA implementation had flagged in recent years before then.
The fact that Ontario’s Liberal Government leaves office in June 2018 with far too little progress under the AODA, traces itself to some extent to events under Dalton McGuinty. However in large part, it is due to action or inaction on this issue during the tenure of Premier Wynne.
Within the Ontario Government were public servants who wanted to do more, and who had the expertise to make this happen. The Government was for the most part open to speaking to representatives from the disability community. To its credit, the Liberal Government from 2003 to 2018 had many, many meetings and discussions with the AODA Alliance, among others. However, the Wynne Government failed, time and again, to show the needed leadership and to act on wise advice that it received from many sources. Had it devoted more effort to the AODA’s effective implementation and enforcement, had the Premier instructed her ministers to fulfil their duties and the Government’s commitments on accessibility, and had the Government devoted less effort to trying to simply look good on this issue, Ontario would have seen much more progress than it has.
Ontario’s new Government that takes office at the end of June 2018 is well-positioned to turn this issue around and to get things back on track. It has the chance to take ownership of this issue, to effectively implement and enforce the AODA for which its MPPs unanimously voted in 2005, to show the strong leadership from the top that two successive AODA Independent Reviews have wisely recommended, and to do a better job with the AODA than had the Liberal Government that enacted it. The AODA Alliance remains ready and willing to help.
7. For More Background
The AODA Alliance gives a detailed analysis of the efforts of the McGuinty Government’s actions to implement the AODA from 2005 to the end of 2009, in its brief to Charles Beer’s 1st AODA Independent Review, available at
The AODA Alliance gives a detailed analysis of the efforts of the McGuinty Government’s actions to implement the AODA from 2010 to the end of 2012, and the efforts of the Wynne Government to implement the AODA from early 2013 to June 2014, in its brief to Mayo Moran’s 2nd AODA Independent Review, which is available at: