Other than the NDP call for a Canadians with Disabilities Act and politicians and the press did not cover disability issues during the 2015 election

By Stephen Pate – Mt Allison Assistant Professor Mario Levesque complains the media did not cover disability issues in the 2015 Canadian Election.

“Why such a lack of media coverage and interest in disability candidates and issues in the 2015 election?” asks Levesque in Missing in Action: Disability Policy and Persons with Disabilities CANADIAN ELECTION ANALYSIS 2015: COMMUNICATION, STRATEGY, AND DEMOCRACY”

“Surely disability is a significant issue. Disability’s absence was interesting given attention to questions of gender parity among candidates both pre-election and post-election.”

Why does it matter? People living with disabilities have double the unemployment rate of the non-disabled, suffer discrimination in public services, have lower incomes than average Canadians and are more likely to be living on government supports.

If black people, gays or women were denied access to public places or were the subject of systemic and persistent discrimination there would be a political and media interest in getting those stories out.

People with disabilities are more likely to get a figurative “pat on the head” and a handout than an equal place in Canadian society.

There are slightly over 5 million people with disabilities in Canada, 14% of the Canadian population. People with disabilities equal the total number of all visible minorities in Canada yet they get the least amount of attention from politicians and the media.

“There were few candidates with disabilities: just 14 out of a possible 1,430 candidates,” says Levesque. “That is about 1% of the total number of candidates, a gross under-representation, given that up to 14% of the Canadian population identifies as having a disability.”

Levesque suggests politicians with disabilities are silent on issues important to people with disabilities. “Yet, why the silence on the lack of candidates? It was not for a lack of quality candidates or competitive races.”

Even when elected Canadian politicians with a disability seem reluctant to speak out on disability issues. “Steven Fletcher (was) the long-time Conservative MP and former cabinet minister. While progressive as an MP on disability issues when in office, such issues never formed a big part of his re-election bid which instead broadly focused on the economy.”

Levesque cites the reluctance of two other candidates in the election to bring disability issues to the public. “Liberal candidates (with a disability) Kent Hehr (Calgary Centre) centred on issues such as job creation.”

Carla Qualtrough (Delta) despite years as a “high profile human rights lawyer and disability activist” also campaigned on “economic issues.”

Levesque suggests that politicians are afraid of the “stigma and discrimination in society against persons with disabilities.” That’s like a black or Chinese politician trying to pass as white, shameful but it might reflect the reality of inherent discrimination in Canada.

The NDP did take a stand on enacting a Canadians with disabilities act but no other party made the issue a priority.  “The NDP went the furthest in publishing a four page open letter from their leader, Tom Mulcair, on their positions and support for Canadians living with disabilities.”

Canada’s media neglect

Even when politicians take up the topic of disabilities, the Canadian media aren’t interested. “The limited media coverage on the few candidates with disabilities is troubling given the relative indifference in media attention to disability issues.”

“Where was the media coverage on the lack of Conservative action on their proposed 2006 National Disability Act?” asks Levesque. Where Is The Stephen Harper 2007 Canadians With Disabilities Act?

“The silence from the media was deafening on this major policy stand. Only one media article by Andre Picard exists on the subject, a fact which led CBC radio’s Michael Enright to conclude that disabled Canadians were invisible in the 2015 election.”

A visible minority is defined by the Canadian government as “persons, other than aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour”. Wikipedia

Mario Levesque, Mt Allison photo

Mario Levesque, Mt Allison photo

Mario Levesque Assistant Professor, Department of Politics and International Relations Mount Allison University Mario Levesque researches disability policy in Canada.

For the complete report see UBC Press.