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How Does The May 2 2013 Ontario Budget Look When Viewed Through A Disability Accessibility Lens?

May 3 2013

SUMMARY

Here is our analysis of the May 2, 2013 Ontario Budget, viewed from the disability accessibility perspective. When reading the Budget Speech of Finance Minister Charles Sousa, we ask how and to what extent the Ontario Government is using its budget strategies to get Ontario on schedule for becoming fully accessible by 2025, the mandatory deadline that the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act sets.

We find in the Budget some important explicit announcements for people with disabilities, e.g. improved terms for those receiving Ontario Disability Support Plan (ODSP) social assistance, and improved funding for developmental services for persons with developmental disabilities.

Apart from these, the Budget Speech also mentions a good number of other initiatives that could be harnessed to advance the accessibility agenda. However, the Budget Speech includes no announcement that the Government will effectively use any of them to that end. We urge the Wynne Government to take the steps listed in this Update, below, to ensure that these initiatives all equally benefit Ontarians with disabilities.

Below we set out our point-by-point analysis. You can read the May 2, 2013 Ontario Budget Speech in its entirety at: http://www.fin.gov.on.ca/en/budget/ontariobudgets/2013/statement.html

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AODA Alliance’s Point-By-Point Disability Accessibility Analysis of the May 2, 2013 Ontario Budget

1. Major Disability-Related Announcements

* It is good that the Government announced increases in social assistance payments, including for ODSP. It also lets those on social assistance earn more money through work, without clawing back social assistance from the Ontario Government.

The Budget Speech states:

“Ontario is not well served when people face barriers to employment.

That’s why Ontario’s Budget would see us reduce barriers to employment for people who receive social assistance.

I want to thank Frances Lankin and Munir Sheikh for their excellent advice and insight.

As a result of their work, the government proposes to create a $200 monthly earnings exemption for people who receive support from Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program …

Because people deserve to keep more of the money they earn through their hard work.

We are proposing to increase social assistance rates by one per cent…

And to improve benefit levels of Ontario Works singles without children with an additional top-up.

This is the group of social assistance recipients that experiences the lowest incomes.

Finally, the Budget would increase cash and other liquid-asset limits for people who receive Ontario Works so they have more financial security.

Mr. Speaker, these changes are far-reaching and fundamental.

Above all, they are fair.

Without this reform, some people risk falling farther and farther behind…

While, at the same time, becoming less likely to seek work, because the current system takes back some of the gains of employment.

Ontario’s Budget would put an end to that.”

* It is also good that the Budget announces increased funding for developmental services. The Budget Speech states:

“The government remains committed to helping those with developmental disabilities.

We will invest in reducing waitlists, helping families in urgent need.”

2. Budget Announcements that the Government Could and Should Harness to Advance the Goal of a Fully Accessible Ontario for People with Disabilities

The following announcements could and should be harnessed to advance the goal of a fully accessible Ontario for people with disabilities. The Budget Speech does not do so. However, the Government can and should use each of these announcements for that purpose.

* The Budget announces new infrastructure funding. Yet it is critical that the Government actively and effectively ensures that none of that new infrastructure includes any disability barriers. As the last Finance Minister, Dwight Duncan wisely said, in his final economic update on January 22, 2013: “And as a government, my view is we need to prevent new barriers from being erected. Public money used for capital infrastructure or procurement of goods and services should never be used to create or perpetuate any barriers against persons with disabilities.”

We have been pressing the Government to act effectively and decisively in this area. Yet progress is far too slow. Promises remain unkept. To learn more about our efforts to date to get the Government to ensure that no infrastructure spending creates, perpetuates or exacerbates barriers against people with disabilities, visit http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/07042011.asp

The last time the Government spent huge funds on new infrastructure, after the 2008 economic crunch, it missed this opportunity. It must not do so again.

The Budget Speech states:

“Two: we will continue to make investments in modern infrastructure.

Because we know that growth in Ontario’s economy is supported by the movement of goods and people.

That’s why Ontario’s Budget provides more than $35 billion in infrastructure investments over the next three years…

Including a new, dedicated fund to help small, rural and Northern municipalities address roads, bridges and other critical infrastructure.”

* The Budget announces efforts to expand public transit. Yet it must act far more effectively to ensure that any and all public transit services, equipment and facilities, including any and all public transit stations, are fully accessible to people with disabilities. It must also ensure that new roads, and roads that are modified, are fully accessible with proper accessible curbs, tactile walking surface indicators for safety and way-finding, and other like measures.

The public transit and public spaces provisions of the Integrated Accessibility Standard, enacted under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, are helpful, but themselves are not comprehensive and sufficient. However, at the very least, the Government must now keep its promises to effectively enforce them.

The Budget Speech states:

“That’s why our government will consider a range of new revenue tools to support the expansion of transportation and public transit in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.”

* The Budget Speech announces a new strategy for investing in the skills and education of the workforce, with an emphasis on young people. Yet it is critical that any strategy in that area include effective, pro-active measures to ensure that this training and education is fully accessible to people with disabilities, and to ensure that people with disabilities are effectively included in that training and education.

This is a good illustration of why the Ontario Government should now accept our proposal, which we have pressed for years, that it develop an effective Education Accessibility Standard under the AODA.

The Budget Speech states:

“Three: we will invest in the skills and education of our workforce, particularly when it comes to our young people.

Ontario’s Budget proposes a comprehensive Youth Jobs Strategy that invests $295 million over two years.

The strategy would generate job opportunities for about 30,000 young people.

We will engage with youth and young professionals to ensure they get the right training…

The right job opportunities and have the tools they need to succeed.”

Later the Budget Speech states:

“At the same time, our government has been making investments in young people…

To ensure they are prepared for both the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Ontario is teaching its young about teamwork and critical thinking…

It is building a workforce that is creative and entrepreneurial.

This support starts in full-day kindergarten…

Through smaller class sizes in the early years…

To improved graduation rates in high school…

And through programs such as the 30% Off Ontario Tuition Grant and the new tuition-fee framework.

The Province must continue to provide world-class education, adding to the many opportunities we have created together.”

* The Budget Speech announces efforts to help Ontario businesses turn new ideas into goods and services for global markets, and to help Ontario businesses reach global markets around the world. Yet it is essential that the Government include in these efforts new, effective measures to ensure that Ontario businesses develop goods and services for sale here and abroad, that are fully accessible to customers with disabilities. There is a market of fully one billion people with disabilities around the world. The Ontario Government should spearhead efforts to ensure that Ontario businesses are ready to serve that huge market, and reaches that market.

This is an important reason why we have supported Premier Wynne’s decision to move the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act to the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment. We are urging Dr. Eric Hoskins, the new Economic Development, Trade and Employment Minister, to be a strong leader on this front. When he goes abroad with Ontario business delegations, he should ensure that those who accompany him on those trade missions have accessible goods and services to sell to the global market of people with disabilities. He and his Ministry should also ensure that Ontario businesses that the Government supports have fully accessible workplaces, so that Ontarians with disabilities have a fair shot at working there.

If Ontario businesses develop and market accessible goods and services, this will benefit people with disabilities around the world, including those right here in Ontario. It will also give Ontario a competitive edge in the world market, where the demand for disability-accessible goods and services is growing.

The Budget Speech states:

“Four: we will strengthen the ability of Ontario’s entrepreneurs to transform ideas into goods and services for global markets.

We will continue to invest in arts and culture, including $45 million over three years to help support jobs in the music industry.

This fund will help the industry create jobs as Ontario becomes a leading place to record and perform.

Five: we will work with business to expand global market access for goods and services.

We must leverage our relationships around the globe to help Ontario businesses seek out new markets for new opportunities.

So we are working with the federal government to expand trade agreements and we are helping exporters with over 60 trade missions to new markets over the next year.”

* The Budget Speech emphasized the importance in a fair society of people being able to find a job and of removing barriers to employment.

This shows why it is critically important for the Ontario Government to now keep its promises to effectively enforce the accessibility standards enacted under the AODA, including their provisions that address barriers in the workplace that impede people with disabilities from getting or keeping jobs.

The Budget Speech states:

“When our government speaks about a fair society, I want to be clear about what that means in the context of our economy.

It means ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to find a job…

Because Ontario’s economy is stronger when everyone has the opportunity to be gainfully employed…

To participate in the life of their communities…

And to contribute to the prosperity of our province.”

Later the Budget Speech states the following, quoted in a different context earlier in this Update:

“Ontario is not well served when people face barriers to employment.”

* The Budget Speech also emphasized that for Ontario to be a fair society, important public services like health care must be available and accessible. Yet to achieve this, an important step the Government should now take, and which we have pressed for years, is to develop a Health Care Accessibility Standard under the AODA.

The Budget Speech states:

“It also means they have access to important public services.

Ontario is transforming health care services so that more people will quickly receive the care they need, where they need it.

In the 2012 Budget, we committed to increasing investment in home and community care by an average of four per cent per year.

Ontario’s 2013 Budget proposes that we go farther — it would add an additional one per cent per year — for a total increase of over $700 million by 2015–16 compared to 2012–13.

Across Ontario, people need help getting to their medical appointments…

They rely on mental health and addiction services in their communities…

And they have complex medical needs that require nursing visits in their homes.

Ontario’s Budget would help ensure people get the care they need in their communities and in their homes.

We are also dedicated to improving health services for small, rural and Northern communities…

For Aboriginal people, seniors and people living with mental health and addiction challenges, through the Health Action Plan…

Because we all deserve the same great care, no matter where we live.”