June 2, 2017
The unemployment rate facing people with disabilities is not only a national crisis – it is a national shame, according to David Onley, Ontario’s former Lieutenant Governor and now the Wynne Government’s special advisor on accessibility. What will the Wynne Government do about this?
On Monday, June 5, 2017, at 1 pm, on the 56th Floor, CIBC Commerce Court Building, 199 Bay Street, Toronto, Ontario’s Accessibility Minister Tracy MacCharles will unveil a long-awaited employment strategy for people with disabilities. Premier Wynne promised action on this fully four and a third years ago, in her February 19, 2013 Throne Speech.
The many unemployed and under-employed Ontarians with disabilities will be watching to see what concrete action and real progress in their lives will come from this new Disability Employment strategy, after it was in the works for over four years. The AODA Alliance has led the charge for years to get the Wynne Government to take prompt, strong action in this area.
The Wynne Government has not undertaken a consultation with the AODA Alliance on what to include in its promised Disability Employment strategy. We have asked to be consulted. Our leadership role on this issue is certainly well-known to the Wynne Government.
To help all prepare for this June 5, 2017 announcement, the AODA Alliance here provides a chronology of the Government’s action on this issue, since Premier Wynne committed to this as a priority in her first Throne Speech back in February 2013. We also provide links to key background documents.
Three successive ministers have been responsible for action on this: Eric Hoskins (February 2013 to June 2014), Brad Duguid (June 2014 to June or September 2016) and then Tracy MacCharles (September 2016 to the present). Under each minister, the Wynne Government has emphasized the importance of the Government educating businesses on the benefits of hiring people with disabilities and of removing accessibility barriers in their organizations. It has said that that was its lead strategy on accessibility. Throughout this period, the Wynne Government has proclaimed itself a model employer of people with disabilities that aims to lead others in Ontario by its example.
Stay tuned for more news, once the Wynne Government makes public its Disability Employment strategy on June 5, 2017, and once we have had a chance to fully review it.
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Chronology of the Long, Arduous Road to the Upcoming June 5, 2017 Announcement of the Wynne Government’s Promised Disability Employment Strategy
* On February 19, 2013, within days of becoming Ontario Premier, four and a third years ago, Premier Wynne announced in her first Throne Speech that employment for people with disabilities would be a new priority for her Government. We congratulated the Wynne Government when its first Throne Speech included:
“Your government will ensure that all individuals can find their role in this economy. And so it calls on the private sector to increase the number of people with disabilities in the Ontario workforce. As a demonstration of its commitment to this goal, your government will shift the Accessibility Directorate from the Ministry of Community and Social Services to the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment. Because men and women with disabilities deserve a level playing field.”
At that time, Premier Wynne more generally made employment for all a key priority for her Government. She created a Minister of Employment (who was also responsible for leading the implementation and enforcement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, then assigned to Dr. Eric Hoskins. Since June 2016, Ontario no longer has a minister of employment, described as such.
* On May 28, 2013, three months after the Wynne Government’s February 19, 2013 Throne Speech, Premier Wynne’s new Employment Minister, Eric Hoskins, commendably announced in the Legislature:
“Talk is important, but it will only get us so far. We need action. So I have instructed my ministry to develop a strategy for accessible and inclusive employment so that we can all work together to improve the participation rate of Ontarians with disabilities in the workforce.”
That was a hopeful signal. Yet as far as we saw, that led to no action for the next nine months, if not much longer.
* In February 2014, a year after her first Throne Speech commitment the Wynne Government took a small action on this commitment – a tiny step better described as a delay tactic. In February 2014, we made public the fact that we learned through the grapevine that the Wynne Government was in the process of appointing a Partnership Council to give it recommendations on what to do to increase employment for people with disabilities, especially in the private sector. We then responded that the Government could instead have quickly and easily done a quick review of several studies on point easily found on the internet. The Government hadn’t needed a year just to appoint a committee to give it advice, and another year or more just to wait for that advice. It took the Wynne Government until April 2014 to appoint that Partnership Council.
* A February 10, 2014 Toronto Star editorial slammed the Wynne Government for its plans to appoint this Partnership Council, rather than taking real action on disability unemployment, concluding:
“This is one area where the Wynne government shouldn’t have to strike yet another panel for discussion and debate. Some of the solutions seem obvious. What’s needed are a few basic changes to help people to thrive.”
* Over the next 16 months, and leading to fully two years and three months after the Wynne Government’s February 19, 2013 Throne Speech commitment, the Government had still announced no new targeted measures to actually assist unemployed people with disabilities get and keep jobs.
* On May 11, 2015, fifteen months after the Partnership Council was appointed, it delivered an Initial Report to the Wynne Government. Among other things, the Partnership Council recommended against the Government adopting incentives for hiring people with disabilities, as these are ineffective in the long term. Even though that Partnership Council emphasized the need for prompt action, the Wynne Government kept that report from the public for another three months.
* On June 3, 2015, two years and four months after the Wynne Government’s February 19, 2013 Throne Speech, the Wynne Government announced a modest incentive program aimed at helping 1,100 people with disabilities find private sector jobs, a tiny fraction of Ontario’s unemployed people with disabilities. We do not know what ultimately came of that announcement, or of the jobs it was to generate for people with disabilities. This announcement flew in the face of the Partnership Council’s May 11, 2015 Report, then already in the Government’s hands, which recommended against using such incentives to create job opportunities for unemployed people with disabilities. Because the Government then kept the Partnership Council’s Report from the public, the public couldn’t then know that the Government was contradicting the advice of the Partnership Council of disability employment experts it had appointed, and for whom Ontario had to wait for over a year to give its initial advice to the Government.
* On June 4, 2015, two years ago, AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky filed a Freedom of Information application to get information on the Government’s implementation of the AODA, including its efforts on disability employment. The AODA Alliance was met with a $4,250 bill to get answers to several of his questions, including about the Government’s future plans to tackle disability unemployment. The Wynne Government refused to waive that fee as a financial hardship, even though the Government has acknowledged that the AODA Alliance has no money. Lepofsky’s appeal to the Information and Privacy Commission was argued on January 31, 2017. The Wynne Government vigorously opposed Lepofsky’s appeal. We are awaiting an Information and Privacy Commission ruling. The Government had collected the documents Lepofsky requested in the summer/early fall of 2015, but has not disclosed them.
* On August 28, 2015, two and a half years after the February 19, 2013 Throne Speech commitment, and over three months after receiving the Partnership Council’s Initial Report, the Wynne Government made that initial Report public, along with a minister’s responding statement and backgrounder, on a Friday late in the summer, when many were on holiday. Even though the Government then claimed it was “moving on many” of the Partnership Report’s recommendations, it did not announce any new measures that the Council recommended. Over the period of almost two years since then, we have seen none announced. As indicated above, the one modest measure the Government had earlier announced back on June 3, 2015, is one which the Partnership Council warned against as ineffective. In its response to the Partnership Council’s interim Report, the Government in effect re-announced measures it had already decided on, most of which took place before the Partnership Council had submitted its Initial Report.
* On February 19, 2016, to mark the third anniversary of the Wynne Government’s February 19, 2013 Throne Speech announcement on disability employment, the AODA Alliance released a detailed analysis of the partnership Council’s May 11, 2015 interim report. The AODA Alliance agreed with the Partnership Council’s strong findings: People with disabilities face unfair and undeserved excessively high rates of unemployment, more than double the national average. This inflicts serious hardships on them and harms Ontario’s economy. Among the several causes of this unacceptable situation are actions of the Ontario Government itself, as well as problematic treatment of students with disabilities in Ontario’s education system.
The AODA Alliance endorsed many of the Partnership Council’s recommendations for action. These point to important ways that the Wynne Government can show leadership and create real positive change in Ontario’s economy. Yet we concluded over a year ago that much more is needed than the actions the Partnership Council proposed.
The AODA Alliance’s February 19, 2016 analysis of the Wynne Government’s August 28, 2015 response to the Partnership Council’s Initial Report showed that the Government’s response says little if anything new, but was crafted to read as if it offered much more. The Government’s withholding from the public the May 11, 2015 covering letter from the Partnership Council could only have been meant to avert public scrutiny of the Wynne Government’s inaction. That covering letter emphasized the need for the Government to promptly make the Report public and to act on it quickly. The Government did neither of these. The Partnership Council’s covering letter emphasized the need for new Government leadership on this disability unemployment issue.
* The Wynne Government’s February 2016 budget, one and a third years ago, included a commitment to create a Disability Employment strategy. The Partnership Council’s final report described that budget commitment as follows:
“According to the budget, the provincial employment strategy will:
• establish a cohesive made-in-Ontario vision with goals, priorities and desired outcomes to ensure Ontarians have access to a continuum of employment and training services
• provide a better service experience through streamlined access to employment and training services that recognize the varied needs and employment goals of individual clients, and
• engage employers as active partners in breaking down employment barriers for people with disabilities and promoting inclusive workplaces”
* On April 29, 2016, the Partnership Council submitted its final report to the Wynne Government. That report largely echoed what the Partnership Council said in its initial report a year earlier, amplified with some more details. Many of its recommendations can be helpful in the longer run. Yet it placed too much emphasis on the proposal of a Government public education campaign aimed at employers, and not enough emphasis on enforced and enforceable actions that will ensure that workplaces become barrier-free for workers with disabilities.
* On June 13, 2016, Premier Wynne shuffled her Cabinet. Responsibility for the AODA’s implementation and enforcement, including responsibility for the Government’s Disability Employment Strategy, was shifted to Ontario’s first-ever Accessibility Minister, Tracy MacCharles.
* On September 23, 2016, Premier Wynne sent Accessibility Minister MacCharles her Mandate Letter, setting out her priorities. That letter included the following priority:
“Delivering a provincial employment strategy for people with disabilities that builds on the Partnership Council on Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities by the end of 2016, in partnership with the Ministry of Community and Social Services, the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development, and the Ministry of Economic Development and Growth.”
* On January 13, 2017, the AODA Alliance again wrote the Accessibility Minister, to set out priorities for her, and to offer to work together with her. That letter included:
“7. Quickly Consult on and Implement an Effective Employment Strategy for People with Disabilities
In her September 23, 2016 Mandate Letter to you as Accessibility Minister, Premier Wynne assigned you to develop an employment strategy for people with disabilities. This is very important and long overdue. Your Government’s Special Advisor on Accessibility, David Onley, has said many times that the unemployment rate facing Canadians with disabilities is not only a national crisis – it is a national shame.
Almost four years have passed since Premier Wynne made increased private sector employment for people with disabilities a new priority, in her first Throne Speech, back in February 2013. In the intervening time, all the Government did was appoint an expert panel in 2014 to give advice, and then to announce a small pilot incentive program in 2015. The Government’s expert panel had advised the Government against such an incentive program, saying these are relatively ineffective.
The Government has not itself consulted us on what to include in an employment strategy. We are happy to offer input.
We would like to know what you have done on this issue. Please act fast to get a disability employment strategy in place. Premier Wynne’s September 23, 2016 Mandate Letter to you directed you to have one in place by the end of 2016.”
* On March 16, 2017, the AODA Alliance once again wrote Accessibility Minister MacCharles. The Minister has not answered that letter. There have been 78 days since the Government received that letter. The AODA Alliance asked her what her Ministry had been doing, and for its plans for action for the Government’s final year, in a series of priority areas, including the promised Disability Employment strategy. That letter included:
“Creating a Disability Employment Strategy
9. When will your Government announce its new Disability Employment Strategy, and what has been done to date to develop it?”
* On May 30, 2017, the AODA Alliance received an email invitation to attend the Accessibility minister’s June 5, 2017 announcement of its Disability Employment strategy.
Links to Key Information
To read the April 29, 2016 final report of the Partnership Council on Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities.
To read the May 11, 2015 covering letter from the Partnership Council to the Wynne Government (which the Wynne Government did not disclose to the public until we later pressed for it).
To read the AODA Alliance’s analysis of the final report of the Mayo Moran AODA Independent Review Part 1, and the AODA Alliance’s analysis of the final report of the Mayo Moran AODA Independent Review Part 2