Disabilities get small concessions in Ontario from political parties
By Ed Montigny, Staff Lawyer, ARCH
If you review the election platforms of the three major parties you will find little in the way of policies aimed directly at assisting persons with disabilities.
It is clear that the discussions of the economy, jobs and taxes dominate, although health care issues and education also receive attention from all parties.
Only in the area of health care do disability issues clearly emerge and even then, it is seniors and not the general population of people with disabilities who are expected to be the primary beneficiaries of most potential policy changes. Some persons with disabilities might also benefit from general reforms meant to assist low-income families, although it is unlikely that any of these policies will have any major impact.
All three major parties have made health care issues a major part of their platform. In every case senior’s issues dominate.
The Liberals are offering to create a “Health Home Renovation Tax Credit” worth up to $1,500.00 annually. The credit seems focused on helping seniors with disabilities remain in their homes longer. It is not clear if the tax credit will be offered to younger persons with disabilities who need to renovate their homes to make them more accessible.
Persons with disabilities may benefit from the Liberal promise to spend some $60 million to redesign Ontario’s primary care and home care system, including bringing back medical “house-calls” for seniors and persons with disabilities. The Liberals are also promising to invest in mental health issues focusing on prevention, early identification and services for adults with mental health disabilities.
The Liberal plan to create a new “Family Caregiver Leave” program providing Ontarians with up to 8 weeks of job-protected time away from work to help a family member with a serious illness or injury may also be of some benefits to persons with disabilities or their families.
The PC party is promising to invest in health care by expanding home care services and adding some 5,000 new beds to Ontario’s long-term care system.
They also plan to increase the number of doctors in under-serviced areas.
The PC party also promises to double the tax credit available to persons who take on care-giving responsibilities at home.
The NDP promise to fund an additional one million hours of home care over 4 years and eliminate wait times for long-term care services for those with complex medical needs.
They also plan to create a publicly owned home care system and establish open family care clinics to provide quicker access to medical care.
They would also eliminate fees on some medical services such as ambulances.
POLICIES THAT MAY BENEFIT LOW-INCOME PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES.
In other areas there are a few proposed policies that could be of benefit to persons with disabilities particularly those with lower incomes.
The Liberal Party is promising to make a large investment in municipal public transit systems.
The Liberals would allow seniors to defer any increases in property taxes on their homes until the home is sold.
The also plan to increase the Ontario Child Tax Benefit from $1,100 to $1,310 by 2013 as well as expanding after school child care options.
The PC Party is offering to remove HST and other additional charges from hydro bills.
The PC party is promising to increase spending on transportation – although it appears that more funding will go into expanding roads and highways than public transit.
The PC would streamline the welfare system to make the transition from welfare to work easier and they would allow OW (Ontario Works) and ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program) recipients to retain a larger portion of employment earnings. Although the PC party would also institute a one-year residency requirement for people to become eligible for social assistance benefits in Ontario.
The NDP would increase the minimum wage to $11.00 per hour and increase enforcement of the Employment Standards Act.
They would ensure that increases to Ontario Works benefits match inflation.
The NDP plans to freeze transit fares.
The NDP would also take action to lower or eliminate additional charges on hydro bills.
GENERAL COMMENTS ABOUT DISABILITY ISSUES
Beyond the official party platforms, the various parties have indicated how they plan to deal with accessibility issues in their responses to the letter sent by the AODA Alliance to all party leaders seeking confirmation of their commitment to implementing and enforcing the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).
In Dalton McGuinty’s response to the AODA Alliance he noted that Ontario is a leader in accessibility and jurisdictions worldwide now look to Ontario for guidance. The Liberals promise to continue this trend by:
ensuring enforcement of the AODA, enacting a ‘Built Environment Standard”
creating a full-time assistant deputy minister responsible for disability issues within the Ministry of Government Services,
integrating accessibility considerations into all government initiatives and
conducting a review of all legislation to identify and remove accessibility barriers.
McGuinty also noted that the Election Act has been amended to provide for accessible voting equipment at polling stations, accessibility training for election officers and accessible formats for Elections Ontario publications (see article by Ivana Petricone in this issue).
The Government has also appointed Andrew Pinto to conduct a review of the Human Rights system to ensure that it remains an effective means for persons with disabilities and others to protect their rights.
In her response to the AODA Alliance Andrea Horwath stated that the NDP recognizes the vital importance of building a truly accessible Ontario. They intend to strengthen and enforce the AODA and any other legislation with accessibility implications. They also intend to enact a “Built Environment Standard” as soon as possible. The NDP support the AODA Alliance recommendation that existing government inspectors be allowed to enforce the AODA.
The NDP also support a comprehensive review of all Ontario laws to identify and eliminate any barriers to accessibility. They also plan to designate a minister responsible for accessibility issues and to work to improve access to legal services and other human rights protections for persons with disabilities.
The PC were the only party to send a response to the AODA Alliance from someone other than the party leader. Their response was supportive of AODA Alliance goals but provide far less detail than responses of the Dalton McGuinty or Andrea Horwath. The letter offered to arrange a meeting with Mr. Hudak and members of the AODA Alliance to discuss disability and human rights issues.
For more information on various issues that have been raised by other organizations, see the section in this edition of ARCH Alert titled, “Campaigns and Questions for Candidates”.