By Glenn Kauth | Publication Date: Monday, 13 September 2010
With municipal elections set to take place across the province this fall, it’s a good time for discussions on the need to accommodate candidates with disabilities.
Barbara Hall, chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, raised the issue recently in her annual report for 2009-10.
“There’s a general movement to accessibility in all parts of life,” Hall tells reporter Robert Todd. “A reality for people with disabilities who wish to
run as candidates, however, is that there are a lot of things that need to be looked at and solutions found.”
Among the issues Hall identifies is the need to make locations for campaign offices, meetings, and debates more accessible. In addition, she’s calling
on the government to acknowledge the added expenses candidates with disabilities face, including those related to sign-language interpreting.
As a result, she recommends removing those costs from the campaign expense limits those vying for public office must abide by.
“At the very minimum, the need to incur those costs shouldn’t be included under the spending limits,” Hall says. “But I think as a society we need to look
more broadly at whether the individual candidate should have to bear those costs.”
The issue is particularly relevant to municipal elections. In those contests, candidates run independently with no party affiliation, meaning those with
disabilities often have little outside support for their added expenses.
It seems reasonable, then, to follow Hall’s recommendation to exempt them from campaign spending limits since it’s an easy way to address the accessibility
The question of covering candidates’ added costs, however, is more complicated. Who or what body would pay for them? What would the support cover? The
issue is tricky given the need for the government to stay neutral in elections.
Any move to provide added funding beyond what other candidates receive could provoke concerns over perceived advantages in elections. That’s not to say
people with disabilities shouldn’t receive help, but how to do so remains a challenge.
In the meantime, Hall is right to raise an important issue. If we’re going to make meaningful progress on reducing barriers, creating a level playing field
for people with disabilities to run for office and take on key political roles is crucial.
Until then, it’s unlikely we’ll see those in that situation represented in our public bodies in numbers proportionate to their share of the population.
— Glenn Kauth