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Read the AODA Alliance’s Oral Presentation to the Manitoba Legislature’s Standing Committee on Social and Economic Development on Bill 26- the Proposed Accessibility for Manitobans Act – And Other News

November 8, 2013

SUMMARY

Here’s the latest:

1. You can read a transcript of our October 29, 2013 presentation to the Manitoba Legislature on Bill 26, the proposed Accessibility for Manitobans Act, set out below.

2. The grassroots campaign for provincial disability accessibility legislation has now spread to Nova Scotia.

3. Ontario’s cabinet minister responsible for implementing and enforcing the AODA has publicly called on Ontario business leaders to reach out to serve the international market for goods and services that are accessible to people with disabilities. We urge him to act decisively now to put this constructive call into action.

4. We update you on other accessibility news.

MORE DETAILS

1. Manitoba Gets Ready to Make Accessibility History

The Manitoba Legislature is poised to bring its accessibility bill to Third Reading for final passage into law.

Below we set out the 7 page official transcript of the October 29, 2013 oral presentation by the AODA Alliance to the Manitoba legislature’s Standing committee on Social and Economic Development. On that evening, the Standing Committee held public hearings and clause-by-clause debate on Bill 26, the proposed Accessibility for Manitobans Act.

We were the first of several presenters who made depositions on that bill that evening. We very much appreciate that the Manitoba legislature gave us permission to make this presentation by telephone from Toronto. This let us avoid the cost of having to travel to Winnipeg.

In our presentation, we commended the Manitoba Government for proposing bill 26. It is clearly inspired and influenced by Ontario’s accessibility legislation. However, we pointed out that in a number of key ways, Bill 26 falls significantly short of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. We urged Manitoba to learn from what we have done right in Ontario, and to do better in areas where Ontario needs to improve.

We presented concrete and constructive proposals for improvements to the bill. These were based on lessons learned in Ontario. They were carefully tailored to make them entirely consistent with the reform agenda that Manitoba’s disability accessibility advocates presented that evening.

You can read all the depositions that evening on Bill 26, as well as the clause-by-clause debates and amendments to the bill that the Standing Committee approved that evening, by visiting http://www.gov.mb.ca/legislature/hansard/2nd-40th/sed_11/sed_11.html

We especially encourage you to read the excellent presentation by Barrier-Free Manitoba. Barrier-Free Manitoba is the impressive grassroots non-partisan disability coalition that has tenaciously spearheaded the campaign for bill 26 over the past five years. We again applaud Barrier-Free Manitoba for their excellent work. It led to Bill 26 reaching the Manitoba Legislature. It led to the Standing committee approving several amendments that evening that strengthen Bill 26. The work of Barrier-Free Manitoba provides a great example for other provinces.

It is anticipated that Bill 26 will soon be passed unanimously. Both the governing New Democratic Party and the opposition Conservatives support the bill. During clause-by-clause debates, both the Manitoba Government and the opposition Conservatives proposed amendments to strengthen the bill.

When The Manitoba Legislature votes for Bill 26 on Third reading, expected to be later this year, Manitoba will become the second Canadian province to enact a comprehensive disability accessibility law. Ontario was the first. It passed the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities
Act in 2005.

It is great that on the same day that we were presenting to the Manitoba Legislature’s Standing Committee, our voice was actually heard, directly or indirectly, in two provincial legislatures, in Ontario during Question Period and in Manitoba during Bill 26 public hearings. To read how our name and our concerns came up in Question Period in the Ontario Legislature on October 29, 2013, visit http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/10302013.asp

2. Ontario Minister Responsible for AODA Includes Disability Accessibility in His Economic Summit Speech

On November 7, 2013, Ontario’s Economic Development, Trade and Employment Minister Dr. Eric Hoskins (who has lead responsibility for implementing and enforcing the AODA) referred to disability accessibility during his speech to the “Economic summit.” According to his speaking notes, he said:

“There’s one more area that I want highlight especially given our focus today on Going Global, and on positioning Ontario to succeed now and in the future. You may be aware that in the Throne Speech, Premier Wynne announced that she would be moving responsibility for Ontario’s Accessibility Directorate from the Ministry of Community and Social Services to the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment.

This move has given us an unprecedented opportunity to engage business leaders like yourselves in efforts to make our province more accessible – and in the process, to make our province more competitive.

One-in-seven Ontarians have a disability. That number is growing as our population ages. There is a tremendous economic opportunity here in providing goods and services in an accessible way.

In Israel, I met with an organization that is doing just that. Just like in the blue economy, and in life sciences research, Ontario has an opportunity to lead the world, exporting goods, services, and knowledge in the area of accessibility.

And so today, with such an impressive group of business leaders gathered here in one place, I ask that you join with me in helping both to improve the participation of Ontarians with disabilities in the workforce, and to make Ontario a global leader in this burgeoning economic space. We will do this by making our businesses more accessible in line with our province’s accessibility standards, and by making accessibility-focused goods and services an important part of our Going Global Trade Strategy.”

3. The Grassroots Disability Act Cause Spreads to Nova Scotia

On November 3, 2013, a grassroots effort to campaign for a strong and effective Nova Scotia disability accessibility law was launched at a successful public forum in Halifax, Nova Scotia. AODA Alliance chair David Lepofsky was invited to speak. There was a great turnout and enthusiasm among the attendees about getting active on this issue. The new Nova Scotia Government promised to enact a provincial accessibility law.

The event garnered great media attention, with items on that evening’s Global TV and CTV news broadcasts. To watch the November 3, 2013 Global TV news story on the Halifax public forum on a Nova Scotia accessibility law, , visit http://is.gd/ZmKAyx

4. Other Accessibility News

There have now been 287 days since the AODA Alliance wrote the Ontario Government for information on the Government’s plans to keep its election promise to effectively enforce the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. To read the AODA Alliance’s unanswered January 22, 2013 letter to the Ontario Government, requesting the Ontario Government’s plans for enforcing the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, visit http://is.gd/XdwlVG

There have been 83 days since AODA Alliance chair David Lepofsky submitted his August 15, 2013 request to the Ontario Government under the Freedom of Information Act for the Government’s plans for keeping its promise to effectively enforce the AODA.

There have been 70 days since the Ontario Government held a news conference to unveil its planned legacy for the 2015 Toronto Pan/ParaPan American Games. We are still waiting for the Government to unveil a comprehensive planned legacy of disability accessibility that will come from the huge public investment in these games. Check out the detailed proposal that the AODA Alliance made public for a disability accessibility legacy for the 2015 Toronto Pan/ParaPan American Games that we urge the Ontario Government to adopt, by visiting http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/10012013.asp

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Text of the AODA Alliance’s October 29, 2013 Presentation to the Manitoba legislature’s Standing Committee on Social and Economic Development

LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY OF MANITOBA
THE STANDING COMMITTEE ON SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
TIME – 6 p.m.
LOCATION – Winnipeg, Manitoba
Bill 26–The Accessibility for Manitobans Act

Mr. Chairperson: I now call on Mr. Lepofsky on the telephone to begin your presentation, sir.

Mr. David Lepofsky (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance): Well, I want to begin by thanking the committee very, very much for the honour and the privilege of being able to present to you and for letting me do it by telephone from Toronto.

I’m the chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance. We’re the non?partisan province-wide coalition that advocates for the effective achievement of a barrier-free Ontario for people with disabilities through the implementation of our disabilities act. From 1994 to 2005, I had the privilege of chairing, also in a volunteer capacity, the predecessor coalition which fought for the enactment of our disabilities act.

And I want to begin by, on behalf of my coalition in Ontario, congratulating the government of Manitoba, Minister Howard, for bringing forward this legislation and for the opposition party for supporting it. This is a huge and momentous development.

Because time is short, I’m going to get right to the contents of what we’d like to propose. Clearly, what you are trying to do is admirable and commendable, but it needs some refinements so that Manitobans with disabilities at least get the same accessibility rights that Ontarians with disabilities now enjoy. There’s no reason why Manitobans with disabilities would deserve anything less.

In Ontario, we began fighting for a disabilities act in 1994. In 2001, the Mike Harris Conservative government brought forward our first disabilities act. It was called the Ontarians with Disabilities Act. It was a good–it was well intentioned, but it didn’t go far enough. That’s what led our–the successor McGuinty government to pass a stronger law, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, under which we’re now operating. Now, it’s far from perfect, and we’ve had issues with how it’s implemented, but it’s certainly a good guide for Manitoba.

In some ways, Bill 26 is closer to the Conservative–the Mike Harris Conservatives’ Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2001, and I’m going to explain why, and I’m going to offer you some concrete suggestions of how you bridge the gap and move forward within the framework of the bill that’s before you.

First and foremost, I want to endorse–we want to endorse the brief from Barrier-Free Manitoba. Every single thing they’re recommending is a good idea. We’re going to elaborate and add a few things. As Barrier-Free Manitoba points out, it is absolutely indispensable that your law be amended, that your bill be amended, to set a specific requirement of full accessibility, that the government has to lead the province to full accessibility and that it set a deadline.

We have the deadline of 2025. That has been an absolutely central part of what’s made our bill contribute to progress, and without it, we would be considerably further behind. Now, you might wonder, or some of you may wonder, well, why do that? Well, it–because it, actually, it creates a yardstick by which all action can be judged. Without a deadline, you’re basically saying, well, we’d like to achieve full accessibility but we may never get there, or we’re not prepared to say when we will get there, if ever, and it may not be in our lifetimes or anyone’s lifetimes.

Let me put it to you this way: If the deadline was 2090, I can’t imagine that there is a public servant or a politician who’d say, well, no, that’s too–that’s not far away enough, we can’t get there. On the other hand, if I said a deadline of 2014, you’d probably all say that’s too soon. That proves that really the debate isn’t whether we need one but simply when it should be. And if there’s some debate within the government or the opposition when it should be, consult with the business community quickly and with the disability community and come up with a designation that you can live with. That’s what happened with us: Some with us–within the disability community thought the government’s 20 years was too long. But, even if it was, it served a really important role. So that’s my first recommendation: You’ve got to set a deadline, and it will guide everything.

The next thing, your law–the second point I’d like to make is this: Your bill is commendable because it sets out the–a regime for developmental–developing accessibility standard. That’s pivotal to what we’re doing in Ontario. I will tell you, however, that your law falls short and is much closer to the Mike Harris bill that we’ve all now recognized did not go anywhere near far enough, because it does not require accessibility standards to be made; it merely says, they may be made. That’s what we got in 2001, and we found out over the next couple of years that no one was making any, and we tried to get them made. The only thing that led to progress for us is a requirement in law that they must be made now, at least discretion of the government which ones to make, when to make them and what to–excuse me–what to include in them. We absolutely need a mandatory requirement that accessibility standards be made.

The next thing that we learned is that once accessibility standards are made it is pivotal that any recommendations that are brought forward must have a representation of 50 per cent of people with disabilities or their representatives at the table otherwise, they get outnumbered. They get outmaneuvered and the resulting standards that will be proposed will be inadequate. Our law didn’t require 50 per cent originally, but–in 2005–but we quickly learned about this deficiency, and in 2007 we got election commitments from the government that no one has opposed since that there be 50 per cent disability representation around the table. It’s absolutely vital.

The next recommendation I’d like to make is this. It is absolutely critical. You’ve got a good regime in the law–in your bill for how to develop the standards, but the problem is, even if one is made, the act allows the government–another government or the same government–to learn around–turn around and repeal it or gut it without any need to consult with anyone. It’s really important. It’s got a great regime for consulting and working collaboratively to develop it, but then someone else could come along and say, after you did all that hard work we’re now slashing the whole thing and we don’t need to consult with anyone. It’s absolutely critical to change that. You need to embed in legislation protections that once there are gains made under this legislation through standards, that you don’t turn around and cut them back without the appropriate consultation process. Obviously, government has to be able to amend things. It’ll learn by doing and so on, but it’s important not to have that risk that one government makes progress and another one comes along and cut it without even needing to have a moment’s public consultation or a moment’s public debate. People with disabilities deserve better than that.

Because time is short, I’ve got lots of other ideas, but I want to–I’m going to shorten our contribution to two others.

One is in the area of enforcement. Without effective enforcement, a law like this doesn’t get you very far. In fact, it doesn’t get you far at all, and while you’ve got some good enforcement tools, they’re not–it’s not mandatory that the government ever use any of them. It provides that you can have inspectors, but it doesn’t require that you appoint any or that you appoint any in any of our lifetime. So it’s important to beef up those enforcement provisions not only as Barrier-Free Manitoba has recommended, but also to require that the powers that are in the act are actually exercised. One thing you might want to consider is to require the minister to make an annual report of what its plan–the plans will be for enforcement and what has been done in the past year for enforcement as part of the reporting mechanisms.

The final thing I’d like to propose to you in terms of concrete suggestions is this: let’s use a measure to achieve accessibility that could have a huge impact and won’t cost the government a dime. What’s that? The government spends a fortune every year on capital and infrastructure spending and on procurement. Could you amend this bill to require that whenever the government spends money on procurement or capital or other infrastructure projects, that that money can never be used to create barriers, perpetuate barriers or exacerbate barriers? All you’re–I’m not suggesting you increase your procurement or your infrastructure budget by a dime. All we’re suggesting is that you make it clear that anyone who wants to get government money to–either selling goods or services to the government or to–for a capital project of any sort, that they’ve got to make it clear that that money won’t be used to make things worse for people with disabilities and at least it’ll stay neutral. If not, it will make things better.

I hope those ideas are successful–are helpful. I think Manitoba can be–

Mr. Chairperson: One minute, sir.

Mr. Lepofsky: –proud in attempting to develop this legislation, but please learn from what we’ve learned. We learned that the Mike Harris bill didn’t work, and support for progress came not only from the disability community but from others, and that led to our disability fact that we passed in 2005.

So make your access–make it mandatory to have–make a goal that must be met by a deadline and full accessibility and require the government to develop accessibility standards, not just permit them to, and require enforcement steps to be taken and to be made accountable to the public.

Thank you again, and I welcome your questions.

* (18:30)

Mr. Chairperson: Thank you for your presentation, Mr. Lepofsky. The floor is open for questions.

Hon. Jennifer Howard (Minister Responsible for Persons with Disabilities): Yes, thank you very much, Mr. Lepofsky. It’s nice to talk to you again, and it’s been a while now since we first met but you were a big part of us being in this position now, so I want to thank you for that.

I want to respond to some of your concerns. First of all, we will be bringing forward an amendment tonight to require significant progress to full accessibility by 2023. We have had some discussions and some debate about how to phrase that, and those will probably continue, but I agree that there should be a timeline. In my view, it should be meaningful. I think a 10-year timeline is meaningful because I do think folks who will be working on this will likely still be here in 10 years–maybe not me, but other people–and I also think that significant progress is, frankly, an achievable goal. I’m not sure that full accessibility in a decade is an achievable goal.

So that’s one of the thing–one of the amendments we’ll be making tonight. We do currently have an Accessibility Advisory Council who will be spearheading the standard development. They are made up half of people with disabilities and half of people who represent sectors that are affected by the standards, and they will work to construct committees and take advice, but they are the ones that will forward the recommendations.

And I think to your point about permitting government to do things or requiring government to do things, I think what we’ve done in this bill is put in place a number of reporting mechanisms, a number of reviews, so that any government will set standards, and that’s certainly the intent of this government. I think, given the fact that we have broad support from the opposition, if the government were to change, I believe that would continue.

There is an annual reporting requirement from the minister. There is a five-year review requirement of progress on the bill. In respect to your comment about government procurement, there is right now a procurement initiative, ongoing, to look at how we do some of the things that you’re talking about, require accessibility built into our projects.

So I think we are making progress on a number of your concerns, and I just wanted to share that with you and thank you very much for your advice on how we make this bill stronger and more meaningful.

Floor Comment: Well, Minister, I want to–

Mr. Chairperson: Mr. Lepofsky. I have to recognize you, sir, before you reply.

Mr. Lepofsky: Oh, sure. Thank you.

Thank you, Minister, and it’s been a privilege to have met you back when you were getting started on this, and I think you’ve come a tremendous way, for which you can be proud.

In our experience, the public service, as they advise the government how to draft this kind of legislation, sort of gets caught in a bit of a dilemma because at times they’re looking at themselves as being the regulated body worried about, oh, what are we going to have to do, and at times they’re worried about advising government, don’t tie your hands, don’t give yourself too many commitments, this might be hard, give yourself a lot of flexibility. And when I reread this bill this afternoon, it read to me like a bill that was all about saying, good intentions, lots of flexibility. And what we found in Ontario is good intentions are great, but lots of flexibility means you can end up with the–people move on to other issues and the ball gets dropped.

And, in fact, that’s become a bit of a–more than a small issue in Ontario right now, even with greater benchmarks than you’ve got built in. And if there’s something we’ve learned from the Ontario experience, it’s that you don’t write a law for the people sitting around the table there tonight. You’re excited about this and you’re looking forward to being proud about achieving it and collaborating on it. You’ve got to write a law for the people who are going to be doing this three, four, five, six, seven, eight, 10 years down the road, and making sure that they are directed to take actions because, invariably, they will find flexibility means we don’t really have to do as much as the people may have thought they had to do when they were sitting where you’re sitting today.

Mr. Chairperson: Okay, I just want to remind–I want to remind everybody we only have five minutes for questions and answers, so just keep that in mind when you’re putting your question, and I also advise the presenters that we have other people who want to ask questions.

Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): Yes, I’ll be brief. I just want to say thank you for your comments, David. They’re very helpful. I raised some of these issues when I spoke at seven–at second reading, particularly the need for specific targets and goals, and I just want to say thank you for your presentation.

Floor Comment: Well, thank you. I’d just give you one other–

Mr. Chairperson: Mr. Lepofsky.

Mr. Lepofsky: Well, thank you. I’ll just give you one other idea that you might want to build in, and that is this. We’re–and we learned in Ontario that this is totally worth doing. What about putting a provision in the bill that requires the government to undertake a review of all provincial statutes and regulations for accessibility barriers? Ontario’s now in the midst of doing that. It’s something that–it needs to be done that wouldn’t otherwise be done, and it’s the kind of–you could set a benchmark, say, get it done in the next three years. It–that doesn’t commit the government as to what they’ll do with that review. You may end up amending laws, you may not. You–obviously, the government has to decide that on its own. But at least you get the process going.

Anyway, again, I appreciate very much on behalf of my coalition the opportunity to participate, and I–we can only reiterate that Barrier-Free Manitoba has brought superb ideas to the table that are not just practical and workable, but they’re balanced and they take into account the needs of people with disabilities and the obligated sectors, and we encourage you to give them serious thought.

Mr. Chairperson: I’ll allow one more question, briefly, please.

Mrs. Leanne Rowat (Riding Mountain): Thank you, David, for your presentation. I’m the PC critic for persons with disabilities. I want to thank you for your comments and your suggestions. I think they’re valid and they do provide some thought to strengthening the bill.

I have a question for you. If–one of the amendments that we’re looking at is time periods. If the impact of a barrier is quite substantial, the barrier needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. So we’re looking at amending the legislation to provide the Accessibility Advisory Council to have, you know, more strength. What is your opinion on that?

Floor Comment: I think that that’s a good idea–

Mr. Chairperson: Mr. Lepofsky.

Mr. Lepofsky: I think you got to look at two things, one of which is targeting the efforts at the barriers that affect most people and building on one of the things that Barrier-Free Manitoba’s raised. You’ve absolutely got to change the definition of disability. The–there is no benefit in saying only long-term disability. I don’t know who’s got long-term ones and short-term ones except for people like me who are totally blind–oh, you know, I have been for decades and will be the rest of my life, I expect–and our legislation has a very broad definition of disability; it has not gotten in the way of anything. It has not impeded development of standards. It has made–it has liberated the government and those who are developing recommendations to be able to target problems without looking over their shoulder going, well, does this fit that technical definition? I’m not sure whether your definition of disability would just freeze out people with learning disabilities, for example. You have to take a serious look at that. I sure wouldn’t want you to and I don’t think you’d probably want to either.

But I think you’re right. You want to focus on making sure you’ve got a broad definition of barriers, a broad definition of disabilities and your recommendation of having–focusing efforts on the biggest barriers that hurt the most people first, as well as focusing on the things that are the easiest to fix first so that you can get some wins in and get people excited about the progress you’re making.

Mr. Chairperson: Thank you, Mr. Lepofsky. Time for this presentation has expired.