"So many dreams at first seem impossible. And then they seem improbable. And then when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable."
~ Christopher Reeve

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Case Study on Holding Government Accountable for its Promises?

Below is the text of an email I recently received through the Disability Coalition. Reading through it, it felt a little like I was reading a case study on how to actually hold a government accountable for its promises.

What say you? Would/could this kind of approach work in Nova Scotia with our new provincial government?

If so, perhaps it's time to get moving.

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE UNITED FOR A BARRIER-FREE ONTARIO 

New Toronto Star Editorial Backs Our Call for the Ontario Government to Reveal Its Plans for Enforcing the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act  

SUMMARY
On October 31, 2013, the Toronto Star ran a hard-hitting editorial, set out below. It calls on the Ontario Government to at last make public its plans for enforcing the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. It is a real boost to our non-partisan campaign to make Ontario fully accessible for all people with disabilities, when a major newspaper runs an editorial that backs our cause. 
Here, the Star backs the Freedom of Information application that AODA Alliance chair David Lepofsky filed on August 15, 2013 to unearth the Government's actions to date and plans for enforcing the disabilities act. This editorial has been widely circulated in cyber-space. It has been re-tweeted many times. 
After we set out this editorial, below, we give you links to several other newspaper editorials over the years that have backed the position of the AODA Alliance, or its pre-2005 predecessor coalition, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee. 
There have now been 285 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. 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
There have been 81 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.
See the exchange in the Ontario Legislature on October 29, 2013 during Question Period to which this editorial refers  
See exactly what the Ontario Liberal Government promised about the effective enforcement of the AODA on May 10, 2005, the day the Legislature passed this legislation. 
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Toronto Star October 31, 2013 - EDITORIAL
The Government is Refusing to Give Details on the Success or Failure of Accessibility Standards for the Disabled. 
NATHAN DENETTE / THE CANADIAN PRESS 
Published Wed Oct 30 2013 
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has promised "open and transparent." Now's her chance to fulfill that promise.  
Premier Kathleen Wynne has promised an "open and transparent" government more times than it's possible to count.  
So it's particularly perplexing that Ontario's Ministry of Economic Development has refused to give a volunteer group for the disabled important information on hard-won rights for equality. They're looking for details on the compliance and enforcement of the province's standards for accessibility in private businesses and organizations.  
In other words, the very information that would prove whether the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act is actually working - or not.  
The government's response so far isn't anywhere close to "open and transparent." That's a shame. Wynne must prove her promises of accountability are principled and not just empty words.  
The information should be provided as soon as possible, for the benefit of all Ontarians who are disabled. The public should not be kept in the dark about the successes or failures of the law. Since the roll-out of the new rules won't be completed until 2025, it's especially important to keep a close watch on the system.  
Problems - like lack of compliance and enforcement - should be fixed as soon as possible. If the act fails to embrace the needs of the disabled in everyday life - something as simple reaching an office in a wheelchair -
then what's the point of moving forward with new rules that don't work?
The obfuscation began in January when David Lepofsky, chair of the volunteer group Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, asked the ministry for information that would determine if the new standards were having any effect.
Lepofsky, who is blind, wanted to know how businesses had to file the new online compliance reports; how many actually did file; and what, if any, enforcement action, including hefty fines, was taken against those not following the new rules.  
"They made a fundamental commitment to us and we want to know what they're doing about it," Lepofsky says. It's a reasonable request for accountability. 
Companies with 20 or more employees are among those that are now supposed to fill out these online reports. They must state whether they comply with the act's accessibility standards, which focus on areas like employment, transportation and customer service. One question, for example, asks if service dogs are allowed on the premises.  
The ministry's response was unfortunate. Lepofsky said he received no response despite months of requests for the electronic data. He gave up in August and filed a freedom of information request. Instead of getting the files, he received a letter informing him of a $2,325 charge to process his request - an impossible amount for his small volunteer group to pay.  
On Tuesday, NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo asked about the request in the legislature and received a similarly opaque answer from Economic Development Minister Eric Hoskins, who said a five-year routine review of the act is underway. Unfortunately, that response doesn't meet the premier's new transparency standards.  
As DiNovo says, "It's egregious that no one knows whether the law is being enforced." She's right.  
Since DiNovo raised the issue, the government has offered to lower the freedom of information processing fee. That may be well-intentioned but it's an insignificant development, to say the least. Ontarians have a right to scrutinize the implementation of important standards that - on paper - support the basic rights of so many. 
It's a sad statement that a government that uses transparency as a slogan won't allow disabled citizens to see whether there's any truth to the act's promise for change. 

PREVIOUS NEWSPAPER EDITORIALS THAT HAVE BACKED OUR CONCERNS AND ISSUES 
Our campaign to get the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act effectively enforced, has been waged on Twitter every day for months. It is great to see it catapulted onto the editorial page of the Star. We have been honoured several times over the years by previous newspaper editorials that support and endorse our efforts. 
* Read the Toronto Star's April 12, 2010 editorial supporting our calls for elections to be fully accessible to voters with disabilities 
* Check out the Toronto Star's November 23, 2006 editorial, blasting the Ontario Government of Dalton McGuinty for invoking closure to cancel further public hearings on its Bill 107, which privatized enforcement of human rights in Ontario, and which cancelled a hearing at which the AODA Alliance, and others, were to voice opposition to that bill 
* See the Toronto Star's January 21, 2002 editorial, slamming the weak Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2001 passed by the previous Harris Government in Ontario 
* Read the Hamilton Spectator's November 8, 2001 editorial on the weak Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2001 then proposed by the Harris Government in Ontario 
* View the London Free Press's March 26, 2001 editorial, calling for a Disabilities Act
* Read the Sarnia Observer's October 16, 2000 editorial, calling for a Disabilities Act 
* Check out the St. Catharines' Weekly November 27, 1998 editorial, slamming the first proposed Disabilities Act tabled in the Legislature by the former Harris Government in Ontario
* Read the Toronto Star's November 27, 1998 editorial, also slamming the Harris Government for its weak proposed Disabilities Act 

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