AODA Alliance Asks Candidates for Ontario Liberal Party Leadership for Commitments on Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update United for a Barrier-Free Ontario for All People with Disabilities
https://www.aodaalliance.org aodafeedback@gmail.com Twitter: @aodaalliance YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/aodaalliance

September 28, 2023

SUMMARY

After a break of a few weeks, we are back and ready for action. Get ready for lots of news and advocacy for accessibility for people with disabilities!

1. Asking Ontario Liberal Party Leadership Candidates for Strong Leadership on Accessibility for People with Disabilities

The AODA Alliance today wrote all five candidates who are running for leadership of the Ontario Liberal party. We ask them to make specific commitments to lead Ontario to become accessible for people with disabilities. We list the 10 commitments we seek. You can read that letter below. We will make public the responses we receive from any of these candidates.

On November 25 and 26, 2023, members of the Ontario Liberal Party will vote for their party’s next leader. The outcome of the race will be announced on December 2, 2023. As a non-partisan grass roots coalition, we will not endorse, support or oppose any candidate. Our non-partisan goal is to get strong commitments from all the leadership candidates, whatever be their party.

This is not the first such leadership race within an Ontario political party in which we have used this strategy. We did so in the last two races for leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party, and in the last two leadership races within Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party.

2. Waiting for the Ford Government to Make Public the Final Report of the Rich Donovan Independent Review of the Implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act

We are eagerly waiting for the Ford Government to make public the final report of the Fourth Independent Review of the AODA, which it appointed Rich Donovan to conduct. Mr. Donovan submitted his final report to the Government back on June 6, 2023, over three months ago. This means that the Ford Government has had more than enough time to study that report.

On March 1, 2023, the Rich Donovan Independent Review submitted an interim report to the Government. That Interim Report levelled blistering criticisms of the Government’s implementation of the AODA. The AODA Alliance’s September 28, 2023, letter to candidates for the Ontario Liberal Party leadership quotes some of its key findings. The final report of the Rich Donovan Independent Review is expected to make recommendations about the actions that the Government needs to take to substantially improve the weak implementation of the AODA that has so poorly served over 2.6 million Ontarians with disabilities.

There are only 471 days left until 2025, the deadline that the AODA set for the Ontario Government to lead Ontario to become fully accessible to people with disabilities. There have now been 1,701 days since the Ford Government received the damning final report of the Third AODA Independent Review, which was conducted by former Lieutenant Governor David Onley. The Ford Government has still not implemented its key recommendations.

Send us your feedback. Write us at aodafeedback@gmail.com

MORE DETAILS

September 28, 2023, Letter from the AODA Alliance to Candidates for the Leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance
United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
Web: www.aodaalliance.org Email: aodafeedback@gmail.com Twitter: @aodaalliance Facebook: www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

September 28, 2023

To: Candidates for Leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party

Bonnie Crombie (info@bonnieforleader.ca)
Nathaniel Erskine-Smith (team@meetnate.ca)
Ted Hsu (TeamTed@tedhsu.ca)
Yasir Naqvi (info@YasirNaqvi.ca)
Adil Shamji (adil@joinadil.ca)

Dear Candidates for Ontario Liberal Party Leader,

We ask each of you to make commitments on the important issue of making Ontario accessible to over 2.6 million Ontarians with disabilities. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) requires the Ontario Government to lead this province to become accessible to Ontarians with disabilities by 2025. We seek your commitment to show strong leadership on achieving accessibility for people with disabilities.

In the 1999 and 2003 elections, the Ontario Liberal Party promised to enact and effectively enforce strong disability accessibility legislation. In 2005, Under Premier Dalton McGuinty, the Legislature unanimously passed the AODA.

In the last two races for leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party, in 2012-2013 and 2019, most leadership candidates made written commitments to us on accessibility for people with disabilities. We urge each candidate in this leadership race to also do so.

The Problem Facing All Ontarians

Over 2.6 million Ontarians with disabilities still face too many barriers when they try to get a job, ride public transit, get an education, use our public health care system, get around in our community, or shop for and enjoy the goods, services and facilities that are available to the public. This hurts all Ontarians. Everyone either has a disability now or is bound to get one later as they age. That is why we say that people with disabilities are the minority of everyone.

The Ontario Liberal Party should be proud that when it formed Government in 2003, it had committed to pass strong new Ontario accessibility legislation, working in consultation with Ontario’s disability community to design it. Ontario’s Liberals can also be proud that in 2005, the Legislature unanimously passed the AODA, and shortly afterwards, got a good start on implementing it.

However, progress later slowed, mired in bureaucracy. Ontario has made some progress on disability accessibility. However, Ontario is far from accessible. Ontario will not fulfil its legal duty to become accessible by 2025.

In January, 2019, the final report of the Government-appointed Third Independent Review of the AODA’s implementation and enforcement, conducted by former Lieutenant Governor David Onley, found that the pace of change since 2005 for people with disabilities has been “glacial” and that “the promised accessible Ontario is nowhere in sight.” David Onley concluded that progress on accessibility under this law has been “highly selective and barely detectable.”

The Onley Report found “this province is mostly inaccessible” and that:

“For most disabled persons, Ontario is not a place of opportunity but one of countless, dispiriting, soul-crushing barriers.”

The Onley report in substance found that there has been a protracted, troubling lack of Government leadership on this issue, even though two prior Government-appointed AODA Independent Reviews called for renewed, strengthened leadership:

“The Premier of Ontario could establish accessibility as a government-wide priority with the stroke of a pen. Our previous two Premiers did not listen to repeated pleas to do this.”

Four years later, the March 1, 2023, interim report of the Fourth Independent Review of the AODA, conducted by Mr. Rich Donovan spoke in even stronger terms. The Donovan Interim Report found:

Despite 17 years since the AODA has come into force, People with Disabilities (PWD) still consistently face barriers in their everyday experiences, from navigating city streets, to applying for jobs, to accessing public transit and government services.

This has led to frustration, anger, resignation, and disappointment with the state of accessibility in Ontario.

The Donovan Interim Report concluded:

The current experience for many people with disabilities in Ontario is poor. This stems from design flaws in services, products, technology, buildings, infrastructure, careers, processes, and human imagination.

The Donovan Interim report described the implementation of the AODA over 17 years as a series of failures and missed opportunities. He found it utterly shocking that the Ontario Premier and Cabinet have no plan to achieve an accessible Ontario for people with disabilities. His report found that both the Government and private sector organizations have not prioritized disability in their operations.

Mr. Donovan concluded that there is an urgent need for action. His report called for accessibility for people with disabilities to urgently be made a greater priority:

Boards of Directors, business owners and the Premier of Ontario must urgently demand better experiences for Ontario’s people with disabilities.

Mr. Donovan assessed that the Ontario Government needs an urgent and material adjustment in strategy and output.

The Donovan report concluded that among disadvantaged groups in society, no others experience the same severity of exclusion:

No other demographic group faces these kinds of negative experiences, barriers, and outright discrimination without public outcry, much less one that represents nearly a quarter of the population.

The report determined that there has been a failure of needed leadership on accessibility:

It is the assessment of the 4th Reviewer that leadership on accessibility and the AODA has been absent for 17 years. Without leadership, progress on this file is impossible.

The Donovan report identified the Government of Ontario and all political parties as sharing responsibility:

It is the obligation of the government of the day to serve the population. It has failed to do so for 22% of that population. Opposition parties have failed to hold governments of the day accountable for this lack of service. These failures are shared by all of Ontario’s political parties.

Mr. Donovan determined that the failure to make more progress on accessibility was also due in no small part to the lack of meaningful enforcement of the AODA:

Alongside standards is a critical lack of enforcement or incentives to comply with the AODA or improve accessibility more generally.

The Ford Government has not strengthened or accelerated the AODA’s implementation or enforcement. It has not shown the new revitalized leadership on this issue that Ontarians with disabilities need. If anything, progress has slowed even more. However, as the Onley and Donovan Reports found, insufficient implementation and enforcement of the AODA is due to ineffective action of successive governments in Ontario.

What We Ask of You

We are eager to ensure that the next Ontario Liberal Party leader will build upon the Liberal Party’s past commitments on disability accessibility.

1. We welcomed face-to-face meetings with Premiers Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne to discuss accessibility issues (in addition to face-to-face meetings with different cabinet ministers, successive Secretaries of Cabinet, and other senior government officials). We regret that Premier Ford has never agreed to meet with us. His Accessibility Minister has not met with us for at least two years, and his office has over that period not answered any of our communications.

If you become your Party’s leader, will you maintain your party’s past practice of personally meeting with us to discuss accessibility issues, in addition to our meetings with your appropriate caucus members? As part of this, will you meet with us within 60 days of becoming your party’s leader, so that we can brief you on these issues? If your Party is elected to form the Government, will you as Premier agree to periodically meet with us, in addition to our meeting with appropriate cabinet ministers?

2. Under your leadership, will your Party make it a priority to press the current Government to keep its commitments and fulfil its duties on accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities?

3. In Ontario elections, will you continue your party’s practice in every Ontario election since 1995 of making election commitments to us on the issue of achieving an accessible province for persons with disabilities, in letters to us?

4. Under your leadership, will the Liberal Party fully maintain the implementation of the AODA 2005 and not weaken or reduce any provisions or protections in that legislation or regulations enacted under them, or any Government policies, practices, strategies or initiatives that exist to implement them or achieve their objectives? Even if the 2025 deadline is missed, the AODA remains fully in force.

5. Four Government-appointed mandatory AODA Independent Reviews have examined the Government’s implementation of the AODA (in 2009-2010 by Charles Beer, in 2013-2014 by Mayo Moran, in 2018-2019 by former Lieutenant Governor David Onley and in 2022-2023 by Rich Donovan). All four reports called on the Government to revitalize and breathe new life into the implementation of the AODA, and to show strong new leadership on this issue. The Moran, Onley, and Donovan Reports each identified the pressing need for Ontario’s Premier to show strong new leadership on accessibility.

If you become Ontario’s Premier, will you show new, strong leadership on accessibility and breathe new life into and revitalize the Government’s implementation and enforcement of the AODA?

6. Each premier sends Mandate Letters to their cabinet ministers, assigning their priorities. In your Mandate Letters, will you direct your cabinet ministers, the Secretary of Cabinet and other senior public officials to implement your Government’s duties and commitments on disability accessibility?

7. By the next Ontario General election, Ontario will have passed the 2025 deadline without reaching the goal of becoming accessible to people with disabilities. If you become Ontario’s premier after that deadline, will you commit to work with us and the disability community to set a new achievable deadline, to establish a comprehensive plan of needed action and to institute measures that will ensure that it is achieved (and that will not weaken or reduce any provisions or policies then in place)? As part of this, will you commit not to re-open the AODA. We ask that its provisions be treated as sacrosanct.

8. Students with disabilities continue to face serious disability barriers in Ontario’s K-12 and post-secondary education systems. Patients with disabilities continue to face serious disability barriers in Ontario’s health care system. The previous Liberal Ontario Government promised to enact a Health Care Accessibility Standard and an Education Accessibility Standard under the AODA to eliminate those barriers. The Ford Government has not implemented the final reports of the Health Care Standards Development Committee, the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee or the Post-Secondary Education Standards Development Committee.

If you become Ontario’s Premier, will your Government enact an effective Health Care Accessibility Standard and an effective Education Accessibility Standard under the AODA?

9. The Moran and Onley reports expressed a concern that public money has been used to create new accessibility barriers against people with disabilities. Will you commit that under your leadership, public money will not be used to create or perpetuate barriers against people with disabilities?

10. Ontario voters and candidates with disabilities still face too many barriers in provincial and municipal elections. Under your leadership as premier, will the Government bring forward new measures, including new legislation, to ensure that provincial and municipal elections in Ontario are fully accessible to voters and candidates with disabilities?

Who Are We?

As a volunteer, grassroots, non-partisan community coalition, the AODA Alliance does not seek to get any party or candidate elected. We do not endorse or oppose any candidate for leadership of any party.

Founded in 2005, we united to achieve a fully accessible Ontario for over 1.7 million Ontarians with disabilities, through the prompt and effective implementation of the AODA. Our supporters include persons with disabilities, people who have not yet gotten a disability, and community organizations concerned with the rights of persons with disabilities in Ontario.

Our predecessor coalition was the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee (ODA Committee). From 1994 to 2005, the ODA Committee spearheaded a province-wide accessibility campaign. It led to the enactment of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2001 (passed by the Mike Harris Government), and later, the AODA 2005 (passed by the Dalton McGuinty Government).

Our leadership on the issue of accessibility for people with disabilities, as well as that of our predecessor coalition, has been repeatedly recognized by all parties in the Ontario Legislature, as well as by the media. We have been recognized as a leading non-partisan grassroots voice in Ontario that advocates to make Ontario a fully disability-accessible province.

We have given our input on these issues to the Federal Government, and to those addressing these issues in Manitoba, Nova Scotia, British Columbia and Alberta. Our input has been sought from others outside Canada, including in Israel, New Zealand and the European Union.
The Ontario Liberal Party’s Past Commitments on Accessibility For Ontarians With Disabilities

Starting in 1995, the Ontario Liberal Party has made written election commitments on accessibility legislation for persons with disabilities in each of the past eight Ontario general elections. These commitments were set out in letters from the leader of the Ontario Liberal Party to the ODA Committee in the 1995, 1999, and 2003 elections. After the ODA Committee wound up in 2005 with the passage of the AODA that year, the Ontario Liberal leader made these commitments in letters to its successor coalition, the AODA Alliance, in the 2007, 2011, 2014, 2018 and 2022 Ontario general elections.

On October 29, 1998, the Ontario Legislature unanimously passed a landmark and historic resolution setting out eleven important principles that a strong and effective Disabilities Act should fulfil. That resolution was introduced into the Legislature by Liberal MPP Dwight Duncan, at the request of our predecessor coalition, the ODA Committee. Right after that resolution was passed, Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty took part in a Queen’s Park news conference with ODA Committee Chair David Lepofsky. At that news conference, Mr. McGuinty, then Ontario’s Opposition leader, committed that a Liberal Government would implement a Disabilities Act that fulfilled that resolution.

To see the Ontario Liberal Party’s election commitments on disability accessibility in the 1999 Ontario election, visit http://www.odacommittee.net/letters/march26-99.html

To see the Ontario Liberal Party’s election commitments on disability accessibility in the 2003 Ontario election, visit http://www.odacommittee.net/news80.html#letter

To see the Ontario Liberal Party’s election commitments on disability accessibility in the 2007 Ontario election, visit https://www.aodaalliance.org/whats-new/newsub2011/liberal-party-writes-aoda-alliance-with-election-commitments-regarding-disability-accessibility/

To see the Ontario Liberal Party’s election commitments on disability accessibility in the 2011 Ontario election, visit https://www.aodaalliance.org/whats-new/new2011/read-the-ontario-liberal-partys-august-19-2011-letter-to-the-aoda-alliance-setting-out-its-2011-election-commitments-on-disability-accessibility/

To see the Ontario Liberal Party’s election commitments on disability accessibility in the 2014 election, visit https://www.aodaalliance.org/whats-new/new2015-whats-new/may-14-2014-letter-from-liberal-party-leader-premier-kathleen-wynne-on-her-partys-2014-disability-accessibility-election-pledges/

To see the Ontario Liberal Party’s election commitments on disability accessibility in the 2018 election, visit https://www.aodaalliance.org/whats-new/read-the-may-14-2018-letter-from-the-liberal-party-to-the-aoda-alliance-setting-out-its-2018-election-commitments-on-accessibility/

To see the Ontario Liberal Party’s election commitments in the 2022 Ontario general election, visit https://www.aodaalliance.org/whats-new/read-the-may-1-2022-election-commitments-on-disability-accessibility-by-the-ontario-liberal-party/ In Conclusion

We would appreciate a response to these questions by October 30, 2023. Please send your response by email to aodafeedback@gmail.com and please attach it as an accessible MS Word file. Do not send it as a PDF as that format presents accessibility problems. We would be delighted to give you and your team any briefing and background information on this issue that you request.

We look forward to working with the leaders and members of all Ontario’s political parties now and in the future on the shared goal that all the major parties have endorsed, of achieving a fully accessible Ontario.

Sincerely,

David Lepofsky, CM, O.Ont,
Chair AODA Alliance