Since 2005 the AODA Alliance has been established to create permanent benchmarks to finally transform our society into one that is completely accessible and with a foundation in complete equality. But, as the AODA Alliance has consistently demonstrated, Premiere Kathleen Wynne has been less than fully supportive of the AODA. She has given great speeches, and stated outright she would implement provincial standards to ensure educational equality. However, this has yet to take place. In December 2016, the Premiere was challenged in the House on this issue.
“In Question Period today, Progressive Conservative MPP Bill Walker asked Premier Wynne to agree to develop an Education Accessibility Standard to tear down the accessibility barriers impeding hundreds of thousands of students with disabilities in Ontario schools, colleges and universities. Premier Wynne said yes. In fact, she said it twice, after MPP Walker asked her twice. Her final words were: “We recognize that there’s more to be done, and there will be an education standard developed.”
Yet, here we are in April of 2017 and there has been no move on Wynne’s part to make good on her promises in the House. On this, and many other matters of Wynne’s failure to uphold the AODA, the Alliance has begun a determined campaign to address these issues.
2018 Ontario Election
In June 2018, Ontarians will go to the polls. The time to press Wynne on these issues is right now. She needs to understand that disability rights activists are serious when it comes to the enforcement of the AODA. On March 2017, the Alliance drafted a lengthy summary to “[…] the Wynne Government’s lead minister responsible for leading Ontario to full accessibility by 2025, Accessibility Minister Tracy MacCharles.” The summary provides an excellent foundation to understand just where and how the Wynne government has failed people with disabilities in Ontario. Some of the specific issues the Alliance seeks clarity on are the following:
- Has your Ministry developed a detailed plan designed to ensure that Ontario will reach the AODA’s required goal of full accessibility by 2025? If so, may we see that plan?
- What are your Ministry’s detailed plans to substantially strengthen AODA enforcement for last year, this year, and next year leading up to the 2018 election?
- By when will you post an announcement inviting people to apply to serve on the Education Standards Development Committee, and by when will that Committee be appointed?
- When will the Health Care Standards Development Committee be appointed?
AODA Alliance Chairperson, David Lepofsky said the following:
“We are eager as the Ontario Government enters its last year during this term in office to know what they intend to do to get Ontario back on schedule to reach full accessibility for people with disabilities by 2025, the mandatory deadline which the Government set in 2005 in the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.”
Disability Rights Activism and the 2018 Ontario Election
These are just a few of the critical challenges facing the full enforcement of the AODA. As yet, neither the Minister, nor the Premiere have responded to the Alliance. The larger question of course is why has Wynne not moved on these issues? The Ontario Premiere has had plenty of time and certainly the mandate was there for her to proceed with the work. Instead, she has repeatedly stated she will do this and then repeatedly does nothing. This gives us a real insight into the ways in which Wynne establishes her priorities. However, it is also a unique opportunity for the Disability Rights Movement in Ontario to speak up and be heard.
Over the next twelve months, disability rights activists must work together to ensure the public is aware of Wynne’s failure on the enforcement of the AODA. It is imperative that we speak up loud enough so that we are heard by the entire province. If we do not, then Wynne will never fully hear our message, and neither will the public. The Disability Rights Movement, and perhaps specifically the AODA Alliance must find allied with whom to work. There is a great deal of frustration with Wynne’s government, and she has a very low approval rating. In fact, CBC news reported just last week (March 24, 2107) that Wynne’s approval rating has dropped to an historic low of 12%. Much of this may have to do with the enormous problems related to Wynne’s mismanagement of the Hydro One issue. Ontarians face record high bills, and Wynne has been publicly supportive of selling shares to private investors. But, a majority of Ontarians oppose this move.
Premiere Wynne’s Historic Low Approval Rating
This historically low approval rating offers the AODA Alliance and the Disability Rights Movement with a unique opportunity to open up the narrative to include her failure to fully support the enforcement of the AODA. In 2015, The Toronto Star reported the following:
“But so far, 65 per cent of businesses still have not filed their 2012 accessibility reports and 60 per cent have failed to meet the 2014 deadline, said Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid….”
The sheer inefficiency of the Wynne government with respect to the enforcement of the AODA must become an issue for the 2018 election. Only disability rights activists can make it so. We must find our allies and work with them on the issues that are meaningful to both sides. AODA enforcement is crucial now, especially as Prime Minister Trudeau announced there is $2 million in the new Federal Budget for national legislation. If we cannot enforce a provincial legislation, then how can we expect to see enforcement of a national act? The law in and of itself is useless unless it is enforced to the fullest extent. We have seen many failures of the AODA, and not because the law itself is ineffective, but there has been a less than determined effort to enforce this law by the government. In conclusion, this writer contacted Minister Tracy MacCharles for a response to the AODA Alliance summary she received, but her office did not respond.