The AODA Alliance’s Party-By-Party Analysis of the 2018 Election Disability Accessibility Commitments of the Major Ontario Political Parties

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE

The AODA Alliance’s Party-By-Party Analysis of the 2018 Election Disability Accessibility Commitments of the Major Ontario Political Parties

May 16, 2018

Introduction

This is the AODA Alliance’s party-by-party analysis of the election commitments on disability accessibility that we have received. In providing this analysis, we emphasize that we are a non-partisan coalition. We do not urge voters to support or defeat any party or candidate. We provide this information for voters to use as they wish. We offer our analysis of these election commitments, based on our knowledge in this area, and our involvement on the front lines in advocacy on accessibility.

All the parties who wrote us demonstrate a commitment to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act and its goals.

Analysis of the Green Party’s Election Commitments

The Green Party gives the broadest commitments on the AODA. It is the only party that states that it supports all the specific commitments that we seek. In the rest of its letter, it makes a number of more general commitments along the themes and issues that the AODA Alliance has raised. It specifically commits not to weaken any or repeal any legislation that has been passed.

Analysis of the Ontario New Democratic Party’s Accessibility Commitments

The Ontario NDP gives by far the second strongest set of commitments on accessibility. These are second only to the Green Party. The NDP commitments are stronger than those of the Liberal or Conservative parties.

The NDP specifically committed to stand behind previous accessibility commitments it has given. As such, its May 5, 2018 letter to the AODA Alliance is supplemented by commitments it earlier gave, for example, in the NDP’s August 24, 2011 letter to the AODA Alliance (setting out the NDP’s pledges on accessibility in the 2011 election), and the NDP’s May 11, 2014 letter to the AODA Alliance (setting out the NDP’s 2014 accessibility election pledges in the 2014 election). These include the following earlier commitments:

2011

From the August 24, 2011 letter from NDP leader Andrea Horwath to the AODA Alliance

* The Ontario NDP recognizes the vital importance of building a truly accessible Ontario. That is why we have worked to strengthen the AODA and other legislation with accessibility implications, whenever possible. New Democrats are committed to fully implementing the AODA and related initiatives.

* In addition to the full implementation of the AODA, New Democrats also support the timely enactment of the Built Environment Accessibility Standard and the accompanying amendments to the Ontario Building Code. We are committed to working with the AODA Alliance and other stakeholders to develop additional accessibility standards in the next session of the Legislature.

* Losing rights and protections for persons with disabilities goes against the goal of full accessibility. Therefore, New Democrats do not support any measure that would weaken accessibility protections in Ontario. Charles Beer’s 2010 Report on the AODA included recommendations that, if acted on, would ensure Ontario is able to achieve full accessibility by 2025. New Democrats support the implementation of Beer’s report, especially the recommendations that do not require legislative amendments.

* Coordination and clear expectations for the whole of government and the Public Service are necessary for achieving the goals of the AODA. The McGuinty government has ignored recommendations to designate a lead Minister and Ministry and this has come at a cost (i.e. the proposed elimination of the Employment Accommodation Fund). As noted above, the Ontario NDP supports the recommendations of the Beer report and understands the importance of a coordinated approach to fulfilling the requirements of the AODA. Ontario’s New Democrats will oppose any weakening of protections for persons with disabilities and this includes accommodation programs.

* New Democrats are committed to the full enforcement of the AODA. The AODA Alliance’s recommendation to allow existing government inspectors to enforce the AODA is a sensible proposal that is supported by the Ontario NDP.

* The Ontario NDP is committed to working with all stakeholders to find opportunities to strengthen accessibility requirements in Ontario. Including these requirements in Ontario’s Ten-Year Infrastructure Plan was a step forward. New Democrats would maintain and look for opportunities to strengthen these standards by partnering with the AODA Alliance and other relevant stakeholders.

* The Ontario NDP worked closely with the AODA Alliance to bring forward numerous amendments to Bill 231 that would have strengthened its accessibility provisions. We remain committed to these issues and ensuring full accessibility in elections for both voters and candidates. The NDP would be supportive of introducing legislation that implements the substantive issues addressed in our amendments to Bill 231.

* A comprehensive review of all Ontario laws for accessibility barriers is long overdue. The Ontario NDP remains committed to this important undertaking, including the introduction of an omnibus Bill, and would accelerate the current review process.

* Designating a Minister responsible for accessibility issues in Ontario is a necessary first step in developing a coordinated education strategy.  The public education campaign you described would require input and buy-in from multiple stakeholders. We will engage all relevant stakeholders in order to develop a comprehensive education strategy and meet the goals outlined in your letter.

* The Ontario NDP had very serious concerns with the Liberal government’s overhaul of the Human Rights System in Ontario. We will continue to work to improve access to legal services and other human rights protections for persons with disabilities.

* The Ontario NDP is committed to fostering our relationship with the AODA Alliance. We would be pleased to meet with your group, as requested in your letter.

2014

From the May 11, 2014 letter from NDP leader Andrea Horwath to the AODA Alliance

* The Ontario NDP understands that building a truly accessible Ontario is crucial. That is why we have worked to strengthen the AODA and other legislation with accessibility implications, whenever possible.

New Democrats have pushed for amendments to strengthen the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act since it was tabled in 2005. We have also pushed for the creation of new accessibility standards in the areas of health, education and residential housing.

We remain committed to this and will strengthen the implementation of the AODA and related initiatives.

* B. Ensure that all enforceable requirements under the AODA are effectively enforced.

Andrea and the Ontario NDP don’t believe that enforcement should happen only when the media is looking. New Democrats are committed to the full enforcement of the AODA and will ensure that all agreements are enforced.

A NDP government will make it a priority to issue an enforcement plan that ensures action.

* C. Develop the new Accessibility Standards under the AODA needed to achieve full accessibility by 2025

The next government will need to determine all accessibility standards to achieve full accessibility in Ontario. New Democrats are committed to doing this as quickly as possible and making Ontario fully accessible for people with disabilities by 2025.

* D. Ensure taxpayers’ money is never used to create or buttress disability barriers.

New Democrats do not support any measure that would weaken accessibility protections in Ontario. Further, we believe it’s the role of government to reduce barriers, not create more. Public dollars should be spent in ways that promote and ensure accessibility for all Ontarians and always in accordance with provincial legislation and standards.

Andrea and the Ontario NDP believe that accessibility for all Ontarians is important. We are committed to meeting with the AODA Alliance and working together to ensure disability barriers are never created.

* E. Ensure accessibility of provincial and municipal elections

The Ontario NDP brought forward numerous amendments to Bill 231, the Liberal amendment to the Election Act, which would have strengthened its accessibility provisions. We remain committed to the issues raised and to ensuring full accessibility in elections for both voters and candidates. The NDP would introduce legislation that implements the substantive issues addressed in our amendments to Bill 231.

* F. Substantially improve how the Ontario Public Service ensures the accessibility of its services, facilities and workplaces

Achieving the goals of the AODA requires coordination and clear expectations for the whole of government. Consecutive Liberal governments have ignored recommendations to designate a lead Minister and Ministry to be responsible for accessibility issues in Ontario.

Designating a Minister responsible for accessibility issues in Ontario is a necessary first step in developing a coordinated strategy to improve accessibility issues in the Ontario Public Service and in program and service delivery.

* The Ontario NDP supports the recommendations of the Beer report and understands the importance of a coordinated approach to fulfilling the requirements of the AODA.

* G. Complete the overdue promised review of all Ontario laws for accessibility barriers

Andrea and the Ontario NDP believe that a comprehensive review of all Ontario law for accessibility barriers is long overdue.

In September 2013, the Liberals made appointments to lead a review of the province’s Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. It was made clear when the review will be complete. The Ontario NDP remains committed to this important undertaking and will accelerate the review process.

* H. Foster our ongoing relationship with your party

Andrea and the Ontario NDP hope to continue working with the AODA Alliance and other stakeholders to ensure Ontarians can access services and businesses in their communities.  We would be pleased to meet with your group post-election, regardless of the outcome, to continue working on accessibility issues.

New Commitments in 2018

Specific new actions that the NDP commits to in its May 5, 2018 letter include meeting with the AODA Alliance within the first 100 days of forming Government, establishing strong AODA enforcement (which may include more inspectors and certifying inspectors under other legislation to enforce the AODA), and publicizing ways for the public to report AODA violations.

The NDP also commits to reform and speed up the development of accessibility standards under the AODA, and requiring ministries to audit themselves on their progress towards accessibility. The NDP calls for a Built Environment Accessibility Standard. It should deal with new construction, major renovations, retrofits and elevators.

On education for students with disabilities, the NDP says in part:

“We understand that the Ministry of Education has been a major barrier to effectively meeting the needs of students with disabilities, and that the responses and supports that students and families receive have varied wildly across the province. We are committed to ensuring that students with disabilities are no longer treated as an afterthought. We will review the funding formula for special education, and will re-structure the way that the Ministry of Education approaches accessibility.”

The NDP commits to ensuring that people with disabilities have full access to government services. As part of a broader process of election reform, the NDP commits to an accessible election action plan, supported through legislation, at the provincial and municipal levels.

Analysis of the Ontario Liberal Party’s 2018 Election Commitments

The Liberal Party makes the second weakest set of 2018 commitments on accessibility, of the four major parties. In some earlier elections, it made stronger commitments than it offers in 2018. Of course, credit goes to the Liberal Party for having developed and enacted the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act in 2005, and for having gotten a good start on its implementation in the years right after that.

We have more to say about this letter than about the letters from the other parties, in part because the Liberals have been in power since they passed the AODA in 2005. As such, their letter needs to be read in light of their record on the AODA’s implementation and enforcement, to which they refer in their 2018 letter.

It is good that the Liberal Party commits to focusing on barriers in the built environment. However, it does not commit to any specific action, beyond further consultation.

The Liberal Government has known for years that there is a real need for new action in this area. For example, this was identified as a priority three and a half years ago in the report of the Mayo Moran AODA Independent Review, which the Government received in November 2014.

It is good that the Government has agreed to ask existing AODA Standards Development Committees to give advice on measures needed to address barriers in the built environment. In the past, the Government had been reluctant to have this addressed. For example, it initially planned to direct the Health Care Standards Development Committee away from considering any built environment barriers in the health care system. We had resisted that position.

On new Government projects, the Liberals confirm that they aim to fulfil the Ontario Building Code and AODA standards. The Liberals wrote:

“Standards for AFPs differ project to project, but all Project Companies are required to comply with all legislation on AFP projects, including the AODA and accessibility requirements in the Ontario Building Code. This is the de facto minimum standard.”

This falls far short of building Government buildings to the standard of universal design or the Ontario Human Rights Code. We have shown the Government that the Ontario Building Code and AODA standards fall far short of those higher requirements.

The Government commits to treat this entire issue in “the next review of the standard”. That would thereby require the Liberals, if re-elected, to treat the next mandatory review of the Public Spaces Accessibility Standard, enacted in 2012, in a way that would address all built environment barriers, and not just those in areas like recreation trails, parking lots, and public service areas, to which that 2012 accessibility standard now is limited.

On the need for a Residential Housing Accessibility Standard, the Liberals only commit to consult, before it decides what to do. The Liberals wrote:

“Given the complexity of housing construction, building modification, and renovation, we will also work with builders, developers, architects, and other experts before committing to a path forward on residential housing and retrofits.”

Yet in July 2009, the Liberal Government committed to address residential housing through the standards development process, once it had addressed new construction and major renovations.

It is good that the Liberals promise to work with professional bodies on training on accessibility in the design area. The Liberals wrote:

“Getting to an accessible Ontario requires that we also ensure that the professionals most connected to design and construction know about accessibility. To this end, we will work with regulatory bodies, colleges, universities, and professional organisations to ensure that accessibility is included throughout the process. ”

The Liberals earlier promised action on this back in the 2007 Ontario election. In his September 14, 2007 letter to the AODA Alliance, Dalton McGuinty wrote:

“The Government of Ontario does not set the training curriculum for professional bodies such as architects, but we commit to raising this issue with the different professional bodies.”

We have repeatedly tried without success to get the Government to take action on that commitment over the past 11 years.

On AODA enforcement, the Liberals commit to ” work with obligated organizations and stakeholders to determine what is needed to improve both reporting and compliance rates.” The only specific new enforcement action the Liberals identify is hiring new AODA inspectors (Ontario now only has 3 for the entire economy). It commits to “certify other government inspectors to conduct necessary accessibility enforcement audits while on site.” We have pressed for this for over 7 years. The Liberals promised to explore this four years ago, in its May 14, 2014 letter, which set out its 2014 election pledges. It then wrote:

“5. With respect to additional enforcement activities, we commit to investigating the possibility of having government inspectors and investigators enforce the AODA within the context of existing resources and as training capacity exists.”

In her 2016 Mandate Letter to Accessibility Minister Tracy MacCharles, Premier Wynne directed the minister to increase by 50% the compliance rate under the AODA of private sector organizations. Yet in 2017 there was no increase in this rate.

Also on enforcement, the Liberals promised to “publicize new and existing reporting mechanisms, such as our phone line and social media channels.”

In the 2014 election, the Liberal promised action on “establishing and publicizing an accessible toll-free phone number to report violations of AODA requirements.” Yet we have seen no such publicity in the past four years. It has mainly been the AODA Alliance that has publicized the Government’s toll-free AODA violations reporting number.

It is good that the Liberals again commit not to use public money to perpetuate barriers. Yet the Liberals also state:

“Though there is work to be done to ensure universal application, our success at working together with the AODA Alliance on provincially-funded transit projects and other infrastructure builds shows a path forward.”

Yet as the AODA Alliance’s newest online video shows, the Ontario Government has created serious new disability barriers in new Toronto area public transit stations.

On improving the standards development process, the Liberals commit that they “look forward to making the process more open and transparent to ensure all voices are heard without compromising necessary privacy and accountability measures.” Standards Development Committee members, taking on the role of serving on a Standards Development Committee, cannot assert that their views on policy issues like accessibility barriers are protected from public scrutiny by privacy concerns.

On education for students with disabilities, the Liberals won’t commit to any significant reforms until they receive the advice of the Education Standards Development Committee, appointed under the AODA. That is at least 18 months away.

The Liberals commit to none of the other measures in the education context that we requested. Those other measures need not and should not await the final report of the Education Standards Development Committee. The Liberals do agree to continue to review the education funding formula. The Liberals wrote:

“We are committed to engaging with our education partners to continue reviewing the funding model for special education to ensure it is responsive to the needs of students, families, school boards, and educators.”

The Liberals state: “We care deeply about student mental health and well-being…” Yet they do not commit to reform Ontario’s outdated special education legislation, which does not include students with mental health issues as entitled to special education, unless they become a behaviour problem. This is one of the issues that must await 18 months, while the Education Standards Development decides what it will recommend for inclusion in the promised Education Accessibility Standard.

The Liberals are incorrect, in so far as Ontario’s special education legislation is concerned, where they state:

“All students with disabilities must be supported by our public education system based on individual assessments of strengths and needs. Specific needs are addressed through students’ Individual Education Plans. The categories of exceptionalities in the Education Act were designed to address the range of conditions that may affect a student’s ability to learn, rather than by condition or diagnosis.”

The definition of “exceptionality” in Ontario’s special education does not include all students with disabilities. Moreover, as operationalized in Ontario schools, special education is defined in terms of condition or diagnosis, despite the Liberals’ claim to the contrary.

On the need to provide technical advice to obligated organizations, the Liberals commit to strengthen the Government’s internal activity for providing AODA information to obligated organizations, to include technical expertise. This appears to recognize that those within the Government who provide AODA information now do not have technical expertise.

On accessibility of provincial and municipal elections for voters with disabilities, it is good that the Liberals state: #

“We are committed to safeguarding the interests of Ontarians with disabilities through ease of access to their right to cast a ballot.”

The Liberals do not specify what they will do towards this goal, if re-elected. The Liberals say that since 2014, they have made “significant strides” towards accessible elections, indicating:

“Since 2014, we made significant strides toward accessible elections by testing new technology in by-elections and the forthcoming increased use of voting machines in June.”

As the lead community coalition advocating on accessibility in Ontario generally, including on accessibility of elections, we have not seen or heard anything from the Government about this topic over the past four years. We do not know anything about the “significant strides” towards accessible elections, to which the Liberals refer. The Wynne Government has not consulted us over the past four years on this topic.

On the issue of accessible all-candidates debates in this election, it is good that the Liberals commit:

“Every effort will be made to help hosts of All Candidates’ Meetings understand the need to choose accessible venues.”

The Liberals commit to no new action to tear down the barriers within the Ontario Public Service. They incorrectly claim that the Ontario Public Service is a “world leader” in accessible employment.

Contradicting this claim, the 2014 final report of the Mayo Moran AODA Independent Review identified the need for significant accessibility reforms within the Ontario Government. Since then, the Wynne Government has announced no major strategy on that front.

On the issue of instructing her ministers and senior officials on the Government’s accessibility commitments, it is good that the Liberals promise:

“Continuing with her commitment to transparency and open government, Premier Wynne will include accessibility in the mandate letters to her Ministers and make those letters public.”

In the Liberals’ May 14, 2014 letter to the AODA Alliance setting out their 2014 election pledges, they committed:

“If we win the honour of re-election, our government will continue to implement our accessibility obligations and commitments.  This includes directing Cabinet Ministers and senior public officials to implement accessibility obligations and commitments.”

However, when Premier Wynne made public her 2014 Mandate Letters to her ministers, the AODA Alliance publicly documented that they left out many if not most of the Government’s accessibility commitments. If one reads the Liberals’ 2016 Mandate Letters, these suffer from the same deficiency.

On the Government’s 2007 promise to review all Ontario laws for accessibility barriers, the Liberals say this:

“Earlier this year, the government appointed the Honourable David C. Onley to lead the next review of the AODA. As part of this review, we are asking Mr. Onley to include in his advice the best way forward to both complete the review and provide solutions to accessibility barriers in legislation in a practical and responsible way.”

Before receiving the Liberals’ May 14, 2018 letter, the Government had never told us it was deferring action on this, pending the next AODA Independent Review. This delay is a backwards step, that will only further delay action on a 2007 election commitment that was already long-delayed.

Eleven years ago, in the 2007 election, Dalton McGuinty promised this in his September 14, 2007 letter to the AODA Alliance:

“Review all Ontario laws to find any disability accessibility barriers that need to be removed.

The Ontario Liberal government believes this is the next step toward our goal of a fully accessible Ontario. Building on our work of the past four years, we will continue to be a leader in Canada on accessibility issues. For Ontario to be fully accessible, we must ensure no law directly or indirectly discriminates against those with disabilities. To make that happen, we commit to reviewing all Ontario laws to find any disability barriers that need to be removed.”

The Government delayed getting started on this review for four years, and only made amendments to a small number of statutes in 2016. Since then, it has announced no plan for further action. In her September 2016 Mandate Letter to the Accessibility Minister Tracy MacCharles, Premier Wynne gave this priority:

“Building on work with the Attorney General and the Minister of Government and Consumer Services, lead the ongoing review of legislation and regulations across government with the goal of eliminating barriers for persons with disabilities and update government on your progress in 2017.”

In the following two years, the Government announced no action on this, and reported no progress on it.

To now tell Ontarians with disabilities that they must wait another year, for the next AODA Independent Review to finish its work, for the Government to get advice on how to proceed further, serves no purpose except further delay.

We have repeatedly given the Government advice on how to proceed. Had the Wynne Government wanted Mr. Onley’s advice on how to proceed with the conduct of its promised review of Ontario laws for accessibility barriers it could have asked Mr. Onley at any time from late 2014 to late 2017. Throughout that period, the Government employed Mr. Onley as its Special Advisor on Accessibility.

Analysis of the Ontario Progressive Conservative party’s Election Commitments

The PC Party makes the weakest and least specific commitments on accessibility of the four major parties. A number of its key lines appear to be taken verbatim from the May 12, 2014 letter to the AODA Alliance by then-Conservative leader Tim Hudak. That letter set out the PC Party’s 2014 election pledges on accessibility.

It is good that the Conservatives commit to working with the AODA Alliance on AODA implementation and enforcement, and voice a commitment to the AODA and its goals. They recognize that people with disabilities face too many disability barriers in various aspects of life. They agree that people with disabilities should be able to cast their own ballot and get a job, without disability barriers.

They acknowledge the need for a clear strategy on the built environment, and a need to substantially improve the training of design professionals on accessibility. They recognize the need to remove barriers impeding students with disabilities in our education system. However they do not spell out what specifically they will do in these areas.

The Conservatives do not commit that they will not cut back on or repeal any gains we have made under the AODA.