Disabled: On the Horns of an Election Dilemma

By Randy Norris

It’s time to plan ahead. There’s a provincial election next fall and it’s time to start asking questions and demanding answers from our politicians. It’s your vote they want.

No apologies, no timidity, no excuses; every one of us should be asking questions.

In the end, however, voters may simply be on the horns of a dilemma. For the disabled in this province, it may be a vote for the best of evils. If the polls are to be believed, only the leaders of the Liberal and Conservative parties have a chance at becoming Premier of Ontario.

This choice seems vaguely familiar to what we faced in 1995. Voters in the province could choose between Bob Rae or Mike Harris and when the dust settled they ushered in the Harris revolution. The characters in the current drama, Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty and Conservative Leader Tim Hudak, seem to be playing similar roles.

Accessibility News has done a fine job of focusing on the current government in the column “McGuinty Watch” but we shouldn’t ignore the Conservatives since they lead in the opinion polls and there’s a good chance that they could form the next government. Who are they and what will their government mean to the disabled community in Ontario?

The Conservatives have returned to their right wing leanings after flirting with the John Tory leadership. Tory couldn’t strike a chord in the electorate and in 2009 Hudak, with Harris’s support, won the leadership of the Conservative party.

Hudak won partly because he appealed to the right-wing libertarians in the party by promising to abolish Human Rights Tribunals. It’s a bold step especially in ethnically diverse Ontario but the disabled community should also pay attention. Human Rights Tribunals are one of the important processes that protect the rights of the disabled.

A few weeks ago, Hudak backtracked and withdrew his commitment to abolish the Tribunal. Just after that he released what he is calling his “Change Book” and although it’s not specifically mentioned as a target, the threat still exists.

Page 14 of the Conservative election platform states that,

“We will reduce the number of agencies, boards, and commissions and the hidden billions they consume. Ontario has almost 630 different agencies, boards & commissions. Every one of them will be reviewed to ensure they are providing good value to families. Our process will be straightforward. If it works, leave it alone. If it’s broken, fix it. If it cannot justify its existence, it goes.”

Reducing waste is an admirable goal but it’s obvious that the Human Rights process is still in the cross hairs.

Remember that this is the party when last in power abolished the Employment Equity Act. It’s not inconceivable that they could sweep aside other processes that protect the rights of the disabled.

Does everyone understand the implications of this move for the disabled community in Ontario? I think that we should ask the questions and expect answers.

The libertarian wing of the Conservative party has long wished to rid itself of what it sees as “reverse discrimination”. In their minds, discrimination occurs when minorities’ rights are enshrined in legislation. There are many who view the rulings of quasi-judicial boards such as the Human Rights Tribunal as, simply, the tyranny of politically correctness by “white wine socialist bureaucrats”.

In their minds, equality can only be achieved if the legislation that attempts to protect the disabled, among others, is abolished. But there’s no clear understanding of what impact this will have on the disabled nor is there any motivation to understand. Ideologically driven they are, as are most abled, ignorant of the issues facing the disabled.

On one hand, the Liberal government has demonstrated a great ability to blather and pontificate about the principles of accessibility. The current government spends more time congratulating itself for spinning in circles than actually doing something concrete, in real time, for the disabled.

The Conservatives, if their track record indicates anything, are certainly not anemic but any sweeping changes in the province’s Human Rights process has the potential to set back disabled rights in Ontario for decades to come.

Every disabled person in the province should ask and demand answers of all parties vying for their votes. What are your policies, what will you do and what will be the consequences for the disabled?

Even if you agree with the Conservatives platform on other issues or even if you believe in massive reform to the Human Rights processes, these questions should be asked. Weigh all of the issues and make sure when it’s time to vote that you fully understand the consequences of that vote.

For a list of MPP’s email addresses visit http://www.aoda.ca/?page_id=39.

Twitter: @disabilityragca