May 7, 1998
The Hon. Mike Harris, Premier of Ontario
Legislative Building Room 281
Dear Premier Harris,
RE: Ontarians with Disabilities Act
I am writing on behalf of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee. We were pleased to see a reference in your Government's Budget speech to the Ontarians with Disabilities Act. We urge you to move as quickly as possible to start the public consultations on this legislation. As we explained to both the previous Citizenship Minister, Marilyn Mushinski, and the current Minister, Isabel Bassett, our membership needs adequate time to respond to any discussion paper that the Government may circulate. Time is fast running out for this activity.
We also wish to bring to your attention a comment attributed to a member of your caucus in an article in the Globe and Mail dated April 18, 1998, entitled "Deaf lament lack of access to education". That article states: "Mr. Stewart also said he expects the government will launch a broad consultative process with the disabled community this summer, which will include having a well-known "disabled person" lead a review of the provincial Disabilities Act."
As you know from our correspondence with the Citizenship Minister, we have always taken the position that the consultation must be public and be conducted by MPPs not private consultants. It is the Legislature, and not a public official or private consultant, which must vote on and pass the Ontarians with Disabilities Act. It is the Legislature that must learn about the barriers we face so that the Legislature can ensure that the law which it passes is truly effective at removing those barriers, and preventing the creation of new ones.
We are therefore very concerned that this article suggests that the government may be taking an approach which puts barriers between people with disabilities and the government itself. We have offered to work with the Minister and her staff to design an effective public consultation process that meets the needs of both people with disabilities and the government. We again urge that the Government take us up on this offer. People with disabilities across Ontario do not need you to provide a process for them to talk to another person with a disability about the many barriers we face. We need to talk to members of the Legislature directly. Absent this, the public consultation will not be effective.
Since you promised during the last election to enact the Ontarians with Disabilities Act in your first term, and to work together with us to develop it, we have been asking for a meeting with you to ensure that both the process and the law are effective. To date you have refused our requests for meetings and have not had a member of your caucus attend any of the all- party events at Queen's Park that we have convened in the past. If the newspaper article reflects the government's plan for the public consultation, then we fear that this signals an unwillingness on your part to actually listen directly to the people themselves. Given the recent Throne Speech's commitment to take a new approach to listening to the people, we urge you to ensure that the public consultation on the Ontarians with Disabilities Act is conducted by members of the Legislature, and that it gets underway as quickly as possible.
We again offer any help that we can provide to make the Ontarians with Disabilities Act as strong and effective as possible.
M. David Lepofsky, C.M., Co-Chair
cc: Hon. Isabel Bassett
MPP Dalton McGuinty,
MPP Howard Hampton,
MPP Marion Boyd,
MPP Gilles Morin,
MPP Frances Lankin,
MPP Dominic Agostino,