October 29, 2016
Today, October 29, 2016, is the 18th anniversary of an extremely important event in the decade-long battle, from 1994 to 2005, for the enactment of strong Ontario accessibility legislation, to achieve a barrier-free Ontario for persons with disabilities. What was accomplished by Ontario’s grassroots disability advocates back then continues to send out waves of impact in Ontario and across Canada fully 18 years later.
On October 29, 1998, during the first term of the Conservative Mike Harris Government, the Ontario Legislature unanimously passed a resolution, on the urging of the predecessor to the AODA Alliance. It called for the promised Disabilities Act to implement 11 important principles to make it strong and effective. Those 11 principles were crafted by the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee, the predecessor to the AODA Alliance. You can read those 11 principles.
The events of that dramatic day are summarized in a three-page excerpt, set out below, from David Lepofsky’s detailed articled that summarizes the Disabilities Act movement’s history from 1994 to 2003. To read the debates in the Ontario Legislature on October 29, 1998, leading to the passage of this resolution.
There is so much about October 29, 1998 that remains important to Ontarians with disabilities. First, this stunning achievement was the result of hard work by Ontarians with disabilities and their friends, families and other supporters, from right across Ontario at the grass-roots. They tenaciously visited, phoned, faxed and wrote to their members of the Ontario Legislature to urge them to support this important resolution. This was achieved before there was any social media like Twitter or Facebook to help spread the word.
Our hard work paid off. Our supporters waged this battle with determination, in the face of the brick wall they kept slamming into, whenever they tried to discuss a Disabilities Act with the ruling Mike Harris Conservative Government. In the 1995 provincial election, Mike Harris had promised that he would pass the Ontarians with Disabilities Act (ODA) in his first term. Yet for the next years, his Government showed no real interest in taking this promise seriously.
Second, eighteen years later, we still measure the legislation we’ve won, the McGuinty Government’s Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2005, against the 11 principles the Ontario Legislature adopted on October 29, 1998. We also continue to measure any accessibility standards and other actions taken under the AODA 2005 against the 11 bedrock principles which the Ontario Legislature adopted 18 years ago today.
Third, it was on that autumn day eighteen years ago, right after this resolution was passed, that then-Opposition leader Dalton McGuinty first attended a Queen’s Park news conference, to pledge to fulfil this resolution if he were to become premier. He went on to become Ontario’s Premier for nine years. In 2005, he passed the AODA to turn that resolution into binding legislation. For nine years, he had the power to ensure that this legislation was implemented, in a way that fulfils the October 29, 1998 resolution’s 11 principles.
When running for leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party to succeed Dalton McGuinty, Kathleen Wynne promised the AODA Alliance in writing on December 3, 2012 that she would keep all Dalton McGuinty’s disability accessibility commitments. As such, Ontario’s current Premier, Kathleen Wynne, is on the record as pledging to fulfil the 11 principles that the Ontario Legislature adopted 18 years ago today.
Fourth, the MPP who championed this resolution 18 years ago was Opposition Liberal MPP Dwight Duncan. That day he became a lifelong hero to Ontario’s disability community for spearheading this effort on the Legislature’s floor and in his party’s caucus. Years later, Mr. Duncan became Ontario’s Finance Minister, not an Opposition member in the Ontario Legislature. He was in the best position of any Cabinet minister to allocate the much-needed new public funding needed to make a fully accessible Ontario, and the effective implementation and enforcement of the AODA a reality, not just a dream in the distant future.
Like the majority of the MPPs who voted for that landmark resolution in the Ontario Legislature 18 years ago today, Dwight Duncan has since then left the Legislature. Our ongoing challenge remains to get their replacements in the Ontario Legislature as fired up about disability accessibility as the MPPs were who passed that resolution 18 years ago today, and the MPPs who unanimously passed the AODA in 2005 to put that resolution into action. Stay tuned to our AODA Alliance Updates for action tips on how you can help us with this effort.
Fifth, the principles which the AODA Alliance’s predecessor coalition wrote, and which the Ontario Legislature unanimously adopted 18 years ago today, have had a huge impact beyond Ontario’s borders. Manitoba’s grassroots accessibility movement, Barrier-Free Manitoba, drew on them when it crafted its principles for the Manitoba accessibility law that they fought for and won in 2013, the Accessibility for Manitobans Act. Our 11 principles are echoed in the 13 principles that a one-year-old British Columbia grassroots movement, Barrier-Free BC, has rallied around, when advocating for a BC Disabilities Act. Finally, our 11 principles are substantially reflected in the 14 principles for the promised Canadians with Disabilities Act that Barrier-Free Canada has formulated. The AODA Alliance is the official Ontario affiliate for Barrier-Free Canada.
A guest column by the AODA Alliance’s David Lepofsky ran eight years ago today, in the October 29, 2008 Toronto Star, to mark this important day. See this article below). As you read it, think of how much its words still resonate today, including the concrete action it urged upon the Ontario Government. We still need that action now, so many years later.
How can you help mark this important anniversary on the road to a barrier-free Ontario? We encourage you to circulate this update widely. Encourage others to come up with creative ways to mark this anniversary in your community. Let your local media know what progress has been made in the past 18 years, and what progress still must be made, to make Ontario fully barrier-free to over 1.8 million Ontarians with disabilities.
Remember to attend one of the upcoming grassroots Accessibility Public Forums near you. They are in St. Johns Newfoundland on November 4, Burlington Ontario on November 6 and Whitby Ontario (for Durham Region) on November 12, 2016. We were delighted to learn that Ontario’s first almost-full-time Accessibility Minister, Tracy MacCharles, will attend and speak at the Durham Region AODA Alliance Public Forum in Whitby Ontario on November 12, 2016. Details on upcoming Accessibility Public Forums are available.
There are only 8 years, 2 months and 3 days left for the Ontario Government to lead Ontario to full accessibility for all people with disabilities, the deadline that the AODA imposes.
You can always send your feedback to us on any AODA and accessibility issue at firstname.lastname@example.org
Have you taken part in our “Picture Our Barriers campaign? If not, please join in! You can get all the information you need about our “Picture Our Barriers” campaign by visiting www.www.aodaalliance.org/2016
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We encourage you to use the Government’s toll-free number for reporting AODA violations. We fought long and hard to get the Government to promise this, and later to deliver on that promise. If you encounter any accessibility problems at any large retail establishments, it will be especially important to report them to the Government via that toll-free number. Call 1-866-515-2025.
Please pass on our email Updates to your family and friends.
Why not subscribe to the AODA Alliance’s YouTube channel, so you can get immediate alerts when we post new videos on our accessibility campaign.
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Please also join the campaign for a strong and effective Canadians with Disabilities Act, spearheaded by Barrier-Free Canada. The AODA Alliance is proud to be the Ontario affiliate of Barrier-Free Canada. Sign up for Barrier-Free Canada updates by emailing info@BarrierFreeCanada.org
Excerpt from The Long, Arduous Road To A Barrier-Free Ontario For People With Disabilities: The History Of The Ontarians with Disabilities Act — The First Chapter
(2004, 15 National Journal of Constitutional Law)
By David Lepofsky
8) FALL 1998: THE ONTARIO LEGISLATURE DECLARES WHAT THE ODA MUST INCLUDE AND THE GOVERNMENT BRINGS FORWARD ITS FIRST ODA BILL
a) Enshrining The ODA Yardstick – The Legislature’s Second ODA Resolution Adopts Our Eleven Principles
Perhaps the most significant milestone in the first chapter of our campaign came in October 1998. In the Fall of 1998, after the Government’s 1998 ODA closed consultations ended, we turned our attention to a next big challenge. A Government ODA bill could come at any time. We had no reason to expect that the Government would forewarn us of the date when it would introduce an ODA bill into the Legislature. The Government hadn’t forewarned us of the July 1998 release of its ODA discussion paper.
We wanted to publicly set a clear benchmark or yardstick against which any Government’s ODA bill could be measured. We had no reason to expect that a Government ODA bill would be any better than its weak policy framework in its ODA discussion paper.
Early in the Fall of 1998, we were approached by Liberal Windsor MPP Dwight Duncan. Until then, Hamilton Liberal MPP Dominic Agostino had been the lead Liberal MPP championing the ODA in the Legislature. Agostino had announced at one of our news conferences that his father had been an injured worker. From this, he well understood the barriers persons with disabilities faced. He had brought a personal passion to the ODA issue.
Mr. Duncan told us he wanted to introduce a private member’s ODA bill in the Legislature for us. We welcomed his support. However, we were still very reluctant to put massive work into researching and drafting a private member’s bill, for the reasons discussed earlier. We also feared that the Government could skilfully focus a barrage of criticism on some minor, distracting target in a bill that we would crank out, such as some obscure inconsequential wording problem. It could thereby transform a red herring into the central public issue. This could drag us off our message.
Accordingly we asked Duncan to instead introduce another private member’s ODA resolution into the Legislature. This tactic had worked so well for us in May 1996, when NDP MPP Marion Boyd had successfully brought forward the first ODA resolution to the Legislature. If Duncan were to bring forward another ODA resolution, this could help increase the Liberal Party’s support for the ODA. It was very important for our coalition to be, and to be seen as non-partisan. Rotating our activities among both opposition parties helped us achieve this.
Duncan was open to our idea. We then had to decide what this second ODA resolution should say. It needn’t replicate the first ODA resolution. That had called on the Ontario Government to keep its 1995 ODA election promise. We again didn’t want the resolution to be a partisan attack on the Conservative Government. As in 1996, we didn’t want to give the Government an easy excuse to use its majority in the Legislature to defeat this resolution.
We came up with an idea which would move the ODA cause forward, and which would put all of the political parties to the test. We proposed to Duncan that his resolution call on the Ontario Legislature to pass an ODA which complies with our 11 principles. A legislative debate over those principles took the ODA discussion far beyond the realm of just discussing in the abstract whether a law called the ODA should be passed. Such a resolution would make the parties either vote for or against our core principles on what that legislation should contain.
Dwight Duncan agreed to introduce the resolution we proposed. He also secured the Liberal Party’s support for the resolution. The NDP also notified us that it would support the resolution. We did not know whether the Conservatives, who commanded a majority of votes in the Legislature, would support it. We had no reason in advance for any optimism.
The resolution was scheduled for a debate and vote in the Legislature on October 29, 1998. This was one week after our meeting with Citizenship Minister Bassett, where we had been treated to the overhead slide show. The date for the resolution’s debate and vote also came a mere two days before Hallowe’en. Carole Riback, an inspired and inspiring ODA activist, dreamt up a clever Hallowe’en slogan around which we rallied. This resolution vote raised the question: “Would the ODA be a trick or treat?”
In Fall 1998, the ODA movement made its main focus getting this resolution passed. We urged ODA supporters to lobby MPPs from all three parties to vote for it. We also urged them to go to their local media to publicize this issue. We were learning more and more that the ODA movement was increasingly effective when it channelled its energies over a period of weeks on one concrete short-term goal.
The ODA Committee again quickly pulled together a major event at the legislative building at Queen’s Park for the morning of the resolution’s debate and vote. ODA supporters came to the legislative building and met in committee rooms. We planned to break into small teams to each go to MPPs’ offices, door to door, to “trick or treat,” canvassing them for their support on the resolution.
All hurried planning for this event went well, until we were contacted the night before by the office of the Speaker of the Legislature. It confronted us with a huge problem. The Speaker would not let us go to any MPP’s office unless we had a prior appointment. We were told that there is a blanket rule that provides that no one can get near the MPPs’ offices without an invitation. We were threatened with all being refused admittance to the legislative building. Since the Conservatives had taken power in 1995, Queen’s Park building security had increased extraordinarily.
This threatened to eviscerate our plans. We explained to the Speaker’s office that we planned an informal door-to-door canvass. It was impossible for us at that late hour to call then, the very night before our event, to try to book meetings with each MPP. We feared that if asked, Conservative MPPs would not agree to meet with us. They had refused to come to most of our prior events, and had so often resisted meeting our supporters in their local communities. If we could even get through to their offices at that late hour (which was unlikely), we would likely be told that appointments cannot be booked on such short notice.
We hurriedly negotiated a solution with the Speaker’s office. Small groups of our supporters could go to MPPs’ offices without a prior appointment, if each group was escorted by one Queen’s Park security officer, one MPP staffer, and one ODA committee representative. We had to agree to immediately recall all groups if any complaints about their conduct were received.
Having removed this last-minute roadblock, October 29, 1998 was a dramatic day. We had no idea in advance whether the resolution would pass. The Conservative majority held the power to decide this. Our teams carried out their door-to-door trick or treat canvass without any complaint.
One group was larger than authorized. We persuaded the Queen’s Park security staff not to complain. That group was composed entirely of deaf people. They made no noise, and needed our sign language interpreters. Queen’s Park security officials who travelled with our teams seemed to be enjoying the process.
An ODA supporter on one of our “trick or treat” teams reported that a Conservative MPP happened to be quickly leaving his office as the ODA team approached. The MPP called out that he had no time to meet, but he would vote for us, whatever it was we wanted him to vote for. While behind a glass door, another Conservative MPP turned to a staff member and mouthed that he did not know what the Ontarians with Disabilities Act was all about. That MPP hadn’t foreseen that among those on the other side of the glass door was a hard-of-hearing ODA supporter who can read lips.
The trick or treat teams finished their tours of MPPs’ offices. They then converged in Queen’s Park legislative committee rooms to watch the MPPs debate Dwight Duncan’s resolution in the Legislature, again on video monitors. We again brought our own sign language interpretation. As in the past, the Legislature’s public galleries remained almost totally inaccessible to persons with mobility disabilities.
During the debate in the Legislature, Liberal and NDP MPPs predictably spoke in favour of the resolution. The governing Conservative MPPs boasted of their Government’s record, and sounded as if they would vote against the resolution. However, when the vote came, our second ODA resolution in the Ontario Legislature passed unanimously.
Immediately afterward, we held a triumphant news conference at the Queen’s Park media studio. Both opposition parties had MPPs in attendance. The Government again declined our invitation to participate.
As another important step forward for us, the new Liberal leader, Dalton McGuinty attended our news conference. He announced on the record that if his party were elected, they would commit to passing an ODA which complies with Dwight Duncan’s resolution.44
Later that day Citizenship Minister Bassett was asked in Question Period whether her Government would honour the resolution that the Legislature had unanimously passed that morning. Minister Bassett had not attended the debate in the Legislature that morning when the resolution was under consideration, even though it directly related to legislation for which she had lead responsibility for the Government. In her evasive answer to the opposition’s question put to her in Question Period that afternoon, Minister Bassett condemned the resolution as calling for job hiring quotas.
It was self-evident from the resolution’s text that it did not call for job hiring quotas or even hint at them. When we realized that the Government was going to use the hot-button “job quotas” accusation to try to whip up public opposition against us, we immediately launched a province-wide letter-writing campaign addressed directly to Minister Bassett and Premier Harris. We proclaimed that we sought no job hiring quotas. We called on the Government to desist in their inaccurate claims. Within a short time, Minister Bassett candidly conceded on a CBC radio interview that we were not seeking quotas. The Government thereafter dropped that tactic.
The Legislature’s passage of Dwight Duncan’s October 29, 1998 resolution was likely the most critical victory for the ODA movement in its history to that date. From then on, we no longer referred to the 11 principles as simply “the ODA Committee’s 11 principles for the ODA.” From then on we could, and did point to them as “the 11 principles for the ODA which the Ontario Legislature unanimously approved by a resolution on October 29, 1998.” We were indebted to Duncan for spearheading this resolution in a non-partisan way. His resolution served to become the yardstick by which any future legislation would be tested. It was also the catalyst that brought the Liberal and New Democratic Parties officially on the record in support of our 11 principles for the ODA. Both parties would go on to campaign for these 11 principles in the 1999 and 2003 provincial elections, and would actively press the Conservative Government to live up to them.
In the end, October 29, 1998 was a decisive, indeed towering milestone on the road to a barrier-free Ontario. Ironically, we got no media coverage that day, despite our best efforts. This cannot be explained on the basis that this story wasn’t newsworthy. The story had all the hallmarks of newsworthiness. We have learned that this is an unfortunate fact of community advocacy life. It did not deter our tenacity.
The Toronto Star October 29, 2008
Rocky road for the disabled; 10 years after landmark resolution in Legislature
disabled Ontarians still face too many barriers
Ten years ago today, a momentous but little-known event occurred at Queen’s Park. After months of tireless grassroots advocacy, people with disabilities convinced the Legislature to unanimously pass a landmark resolution. It called for a new law’s enactment to tear down the many barriers blocking Ontarians with disabilities from fully participating in Ontario life. This resolution detailed principles that law must fulfill.
Why was this historic? People with disabilities showed what tenacious non- partisan grassroots advocacy from Kenora to Cornwall can do to build a better Ontario. More than 1.5 million Ontarians with physical, mental or sensory disabilities face physical barriers, such as steps to enter a bus when accessible vehicles can be bought; technological barriers, such as websites that lack simple features to make them compatible with adapted computers for blind and dyslexic people; and bureaucratic barriers, such as government offices not equipped with phone lines that let deaf people call in.
Removing these barriers helps everyone. Everyone gets disabilities later in life. Some years ago I won a case, forcing the TTC to announce bus and subway stops for us blind people. Announcing bus stops also helps sighted passengers.
What progress have we made in 10 years? Here’s the good news. The resolution passed a decade ago helped pressure a recalcitrant Mike Harris in 2001 to keep his promise and pass a Disabilities Act, though it was weak. Our efforts redoubled. In 2005, Premier Dalton McGuinty passed a stronger Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). It requires Ontario to become fully disability-accessible by 2025. The resolution passed a decade ago is our yardstick for measuring progress.
Some initiatives have produced tangible increased accessibility. Voices from Ontario’s business community and municipalities have supported this agenda. Why not? Who can disagree with making Ontario disability-accessible? We’ll all need it for ourselves. Accessibility is also good for business. Businesses want more customers and a wider pool of skilled workers. Becoming disability-accessible accomplishes both.
Yet the news isn’t all good. Ontario isn’t on schedule to becoming fully accessible by 2025. The government’s faulty implementation of the AODA since 2005 is far behind schedule. It has squandered the first 3 1/2 years of the 20 mandated for this with little to show for it.
Ontario is required to develop comprehensive, strong accessibility standards for the economy’s different sectors. Yet only a grossly inadequate one on customer service has been enacted. Last year a second, on transit, was circulated for public comment. The Human Rights Commission slammed it for falling far short of the Human Rights Code’s requirements. The government ignored the advice of its own hand-picked disability advisory council on these two accessibility standards.
For example, under a Human Rights Tribunal order, within weeks TTC started announcing all bus stops to help blind passengers. The proposed transit accessibility standard had given transit authorities an outrageous 18 years to comply!
We don’t know if other accessibility standards under development look any better. It will be months or years before they’ll go into effect.
Happily, divisions between Ontario’s political parties have vanished. Harris’s Tories opposed strong, enforceable legislation. Later, in 2005, John Tory’s Tories joined the Liberals and NDP in unanimously supporting a strong AODA. In last year’s election, each party pledged to beef up the AODA’s implementation.
I believe McGuinty and his caucus want their legacy to include much more progress on this. In opposition, the Liberals hammered the Tories for insufficient action on accessibility. Ten years ago, Liberal Dwight Duncan (now finance minister) sponsored the resolution in the Legislature. Also, a decade ago today, then opposition leader McGuinty stood at my side and pledged at a news conference that, if elected, he’d fulfill Duncan’s resolution.
Since passing the AODA, McGuinty’s Liberals appear to have moved on to other issues, unintentionally dropping the ball on this one. We need some at the centre – we need the premier – to take charge of this issue. Now, it’s scattered in isolated silos around the government. That slows progress.
A few steps can put Ontario back on track. The government should recognize that more attention and action are needed. It should commit that any new AODA accessibility standard will at least meet the Human Rights Code’s requirements.
Ontario needs a comprehensive disability strategy, including a timetable for concrete action up to 2025. It should set specific targets for what it will accomplish during the government’s current mandate. It should ensure that, by the next election, Ontario will be at least one-third of the way to full accessibility.
Commendably, the government is preparing an anti-poverty strategy. This must include measures targeting poverty’s distinctive impact on persons with disabilities. People with disabilities are over-represented among the poor. The poor are over-represented among persons with disabilities. McGuinty’s laudable focus on poor kids largely leaves out persons with disabilities, since most people with disabilities are older.
I applaud Lieutenant Governor David Onley’s declaration of disability accessibility as his ceremonial office’s theme. We need new substance to match that inspiring symbolism. Tough economic times needn’t preclude progress on this multi-year project. Achieving accessibility creates employment and saves money.
Moreover, preventing new barriers from being created costs little.
Ten years ago today, Dalton McGuinty showed visionary leadership when Liberals spearheaded the resolution that’s been our beacon ever since. He showed courageous leadership in 2005 by passing a promising AODA. We need him to show that leadership again, to get Ontario on schedule to the full accessibility by 2025 to which he legislatively committed.
David Lepofsky is a Toronto lawyer and activist for reforms to protect the
rights of persons with disabilities.
44 This was Mr. McGuinty’s first public commitment to this effect. Of great importance to the as-yet unwritten second chapter of the ODA saga, five years later, Mr. McGuinty would be elected Premier of Ontario in the October 2, 2003 provincial election. His 2003 election platform included a pledge to fulfil the commitment he first gave at our news conference on October 29, 1998.