Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update
United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
Premier Ford Ducks Our Request to Meet, and Instead Has His Accessibility Minister Send Us a Letter Saying Nothing New – and – Ford Government Considering a Very Troubling Proposal to Let Builders Hire Their Own Private Building Inspectors, Rather Than Having Building Code Inspections Conducted by Qualified Public Officials — And Then Answers Criticisms in an Inaccessible Tweet
January 23, 2020
1. Instead of Premier Ford Agreeing to Meet Us, Accessibility Minister Raymond Cho Writes the AODA Alliance, Offering Nothing New on Disability Accessibility.
On January 21, 2020, Ontario’s Accessibility Minister Raymond Cho wrote the AODA Alliance. We set out his letter below.
Sadly, this letter tells us nothing new. It is a serious cause for concern. Here’s why.
First, this letter is the Government’s response to our November 26, 2019 letter to Premier Ford. Premier Ford never answered that letter.
In our November 26, 2019 letter to Premier Ford, we asked for a meeting with the Premier. The Premier has not agreed to meet. In contrast, Ontario’s last two premiers, Kathleen Wynne and Dalton McGuinty, each met with AODA Alliance leadership several times.
Second, we pointed out to Premier Ford in our November 26, 2019 letter that the Premier’s leadership on the accessibility issue in Ontario is needed now. We wrote:
“When we have written you over the past months, your office has referred us back to the Accessibility Minister, Raymond Cho. We have met a number of times with Minister Cho and his officials. He and his ministry do not have the responsibility and authority to take a good number of the key actions that are needed. It is the Premier whose action and leadership we need.
Three successive Independent Reviews of the AODA’s implementation have been conducted. The first reported in 2010. The second reported in 2014. The third, by David Onley, reported earlier this year. They all called for Ontario’s Premier to show new leadership on this issue. We regret that neither of the two previous premiers showed the leadership that over 2 million Ontarians with disabilities need. We are turning to you to make the difference we need.
We are eager to meet with you to discuss this, and offer constructive ideas on how to make the progress that Ontarians need. Everyone in Ontario either has a disability now, or is bound to get one later in life as they age. They all need your leadership and your help on this important issue.”
Instead of showing the leadership we need, Premier Ford has again simply sent us back to Accessibility Minister Cho. Minister Cho lacks the authority to take a good number of the measures that over 2 million Ontarians with disabilities now need.
Third, Minister Cho’s January 21, 2020 letter primarily points to The Government’s efforts at raising public awareness on accessibility for people with disabilities. Most, if not all, of those programs or activities were in place under the previous Government. They have not solved the predicament that Ontario remains a province full of “soul-crushing barriers” in the words of the Onley Report. Ontario will not become accessible to Ontarians with disabilities just through such public education and awareness raising.
Fourth, in his letter, Minister Cho said again that The Government is “working across all ministries” on accessibility. This is not working any more than it did when the previous Government claimed to be doing the same thing. Minister Cho wrote:
“We are working across ministries to make accessibility a responsibility of all ministries and inform a whole-of-government approach to advancing accessibility.
This includes reviewing policies, programs and services, and identifying areas where we can work together to remove the barriers faced by Ontario’s 2.6 million people with disabilities.”
That ineffective strategy did not lead the Ford Government to effectively prevent the serious dangers to people with disabilities and others posed by the Ford Government’s new regulation on electric scooters. That regulation allows municipalities to permit unlicensed, uninsured and untrained people as young as age 16 to ride silent electric scooters on Ontario roads, sidewalks and other public places.
The Ford Government has in effect ignored our concerns. Its new electric scooters regulation will lead to the creation of serious new accessibility barriers for Ontarians with disabilities. See more on this below.
In the next section of this Update, we identify another example that shows that this “whole of Government” approach to accessibility is not working.
As of today, there have now been 357 days, or almost a full year, since the Ford Government received the final report of David Onley’s Government-appointed Independent Review of the AODA’s implementation. That report called for strong new Government action due to the fact that progress on accessibility has been so slow.
The Ford Government has still announced no plan to implement the Onley Report, even though the Government said that Mr. Onley did a “marvelous job.” That is yet another reason why we urgently need a meeting with Premier Ford.
2. Ford Government Considering Weakening the Enforcement of the Ontario Building Code Including Its Inadequate Provisions on Accessibility for People with Disabilities
Last May, the Ford Government used its majority in the Legislature to defeat a resolution that advocated for Ontario to create a new Built Environment Accessibility Standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. The Ford Government erroneously and hurtfully claimed that this would just be more red tape, and pointed to the Ontario Building Code as if it were sufficient.
The Ontario Building Code‘s disability accessibility provisions are widely known to be palpably inadequate. They do not ensure that a new building is barrier-free for people with disabilities.
Making this even worse, the media this week reported that the Ford Government is considering an option that would seriously weaken enforcement of the Ontario Building Code. This would apply to all aspects of the Ontario Building Code, including its weak accessibility provisions. See the January 21, 2020 CBC News report set out below.
When a new building or major renovation is now to be built, a public official must inspect the project to ensure that it complies with the Ontario Building Code . The January 21, 2020 CBC news report stated that the Ford Government is considering replacing this with a regime where an organization could instead hire their own private inspector to inspect the project. This creates a serious conflict of interest. Builders will shop around to hire the private inspectors who will go the easiest on them. In this CBC report, the Ford Government says that it has made no final decisions on this.
Yesterday the Government released a response to criticisms of this from others, in a tweet. That tweet is more proof that the Government’s approach to accessibility is so deficient. That tweet links to a responding statement by the relevant minister which is in an inaccessible format.
We are exceedingly concerned about this proposal. We call on the Ford Government to immediately drop it from consideration. Building inspections must only be conducted by public officials who are utterly free of any financial stake or conflict of interest.
This problem regarding building inspectors has troubling similarity to the Ford Government’s problematic decision to embrace the seriously flawed private accessibility certification process offered by the Rick Hansen Foundation. Last year we revealed serious problems with the Rick Hansen Foundation’s program. We called on the Ford Government not to divert public money into it. That program also has serious conflict of interest concerns, as we revealed last year.
This proposal for private building inspections is the latest example that shows that the Ford Government’s “whole of Government” approach to accessibility, addressed earlier in this Update, is toothless and ineffective.
3. We Invite Additional Disability Organizations to Sign Our Open Letter to the Ontario Government and Municipal Governments on Electric Scooters
On January 22, 2020, we made public a compelling open letter to the Ontario Government and to the Mayors and Councils of Ontario municipalities. It calls on them not to allow electric scooters (e-scooters) because they are a danger to safety and accessibility for people with disabilities and others.
An impressive list of eleven disability organizations have already signed this open letter. We encourage other disability organizations that operate in Ontario to join as signatories to this open letter. If your organization would like to be added to the list, email us at [email protected]
We are delighted that CBC Radio Toronto’s flagship public affairs morning program, Metro Morning, interviewed AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky today on this e-scooter issue and the
Open letter that we sent yesterday to address it.
January 21, 2020 Letter to the AODA Alliance from Ontario Accessibility Minister Raymond Cho
Dear Mr. Lepofsky:
Premier Ford forwarded me your correspondence regarding the Ontario government’s plan to improve accessibility in Ontario. I appreciate the opportunity to respond.
Our government is committed to accessibility and we are working to support people with disabilities and seniors to remain engaged and participate fully in their communities.
As was recommended in the Third Legislative Review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA) by the Honourable David Onley, we are working across ministries to make accessibility a responsibility of all ministries and inform a whole-of-government approach to advancing accessibility.
This includes reviewing policies, programs and services, and identifying areas where we can work together to remove the barriers faced by Ontario’s 2.6 million people with disabilities.
With our ministry partners, we have had discussions with stakeholders to promote accessibility and look at opportunities to support accessibility awareness. We believe Ontario should be built to work for everyone – and that means being accessible for all – whether you’re pushing a stroller, or making a delivery, using a white cane – or a wheelchair.
We are helping to make communities and businesses more accessible with our EnAbling Change Program. Through this program, the ministry partners with non-profits, industry organizations, and professional associations to educate their stakeholders about the benefits of accessibility, provide resources and tools, and drive change including a focus on employment.
An example of an EnAbling Change project is a resource guide, The Business of Accessibility, that was developed by the Ontario Business Improvement Area Association. The guide provides helpful tips for businesses on how to become more inclusive and accessible including addressing barriers in the built environment such as entrances and exits, space layout and design. More information on this project can be found at OBIAA ACCESSIBILITY.
The Ministry’s Employers’ Partnership Table supports the government’s commitment to increase employment for people with disabilities by providing a place for employers to give their perspectives and advice to us on how to support inclusive hiring, retention and success for people with disabilities. We are also working across government to align efforts that support employment for people with disabilities including transforming our employment services.
Additionally, this fall we resumed the Health Care and Education Standards Development Committees, a key recommendation in the Onley Report. These Standard
Development Committees will provide recommendations for new AODA accessibility standards in these sectors.
These are just some examples of how we are working with our partners to improve accessibility in the province. Through this work, we are on the right track to creating an Ontario where communities offer opportunities instead of barriers.
We will continue our outreach with people with disabilities and disability organizations, and consult with businesses, non-profits and industry groups to get their perspectives on how to improve accessibility in Ontario.
Thank you again for writing. Please accept my best wishes.
c: The Honourable Doug Ford
CBC News January 21, 2020
Province eyeing changes that could see developers hire their own building inspectors
Certified professionals program would allow architects, engineers to okay building permits
Should developers be allowed to hire their own inspectors? The provincial government is looking at that possibility. The City of Toronto is pushing back against a provincial government proposal that could give developers the power to skirt the rules surrounding municipal building inspections. The Certified Professionals Program would allow architects and engineers to undergo additional training in the work that city inspectors do. Developers could then hire the newly-minted professionals, instead of calling in city inspectors to approve their progress.
“Toronto Building staff do not support the introduction of a program whereby builders would be allowed through legislation to hire designers to assume the plan review and inspection roles and responsibilities on behalf of municipalities,” Will Johnston, the city’s chief building official, wrote in a report to the planning and housing committee.
“There are a number of concerns with this model, including potential conflicts of interest.” Even if the proposal is eventually approved, it may have a tough time getting architects onboard.
Adam Tracey, manager of policy and government relations for the Ontario Association of Architects, says the association is against the proposal to introduce a Certified Professional designation for architects in Ontario.
The Ontario Association of Architects, which regulates the profession, weighed in last November in a letter to the province.
“The development industry may have pitched this to government as a cheap and simple way to to get building approvals faster,” the letter reads in part.
“As risk is transferred from municipalities to individual practitioners, the profession’s liability would increase, and higher insurance costs would directly translate into higher building costs. “Adam Tracey, the association’s manager of policy and government relations, warned those extra costs would likely be passed on to the public. “There will be some kind of cost transfer from municipalities back on to homeowners and business owners,” he said. “Somebody has to pay for it. It’s not going to be done for free.”
Will Johnston, the city’s head building official, worries that introducing certified professionals in Toronto could lead to perceptions of conflict of interest, because developers would be allowed to hire their own inspectors.
The proposal is part of larger discussion paper, circulated by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing among professionals in the building industry last fall.
The aim of the consultation, according to a statement from the ministry to CBC Toronto, is “modernizing and transforming the delivery of building code services to help speed up the construction of new housing and building projects, and better support Ontario’s $38-billion building industry.”
Builders have been complaining for years about red tape that’s slowing down the building process. They’ve been asking for a more streamlined system. As things stand now, every builder — from single-home contractors to the largest developers — must adhere to the Ontario Building Code when erecting a new structure.
Municipalities enforce the code, signing off on each stage of construction, from the original building permit application, through foundation work, framing, plumbing, and other work normally done by tradespeople. Ultimately, after a final inspection, the city issues an occupancy permit.
The only permits not covered would be those that affect personal safety, such as electrical inspections, according to Joe Vaccaro, CEO of the Ontario Home Builders Association, which has also been involved in the consultations.
Under the new model, developers would be allowed to hire their own certified professionals, rather than have city inspectors visit the site, according to Johnston and Vaccaro, who’s in favour of the certified-professionals model.
“We are struggling to get permits, we are struggling to get inspections done in a timely way,” Vaccaro told CBC Toronto. “And when those delays happen it backs up the entire project. So, now the idea here is to get people in their home sooner and safer.”
But Johnston said municipal regulators are essential in ensuring new buildings are properly constructed. ‘A robust regulatory system’
“What’s important to Toronto Building is that we have a robust regulatory system where the public can have confidence that the buildings that they work and that they live in, that they visit, are safe,” he said.
Joe Vaccaro, head of the Ontario Home Builders Association, says the proposed changes could streamline the building process and ‘get people into their homes sooner and safer. “The best way to achieve that in my view is to have a system where you have independent oversight of the building design and construction process.”
The ministry would not agree to an interview with CBC Toronto. But in an email, a spokesperson maintained no decisions on streamlining the system have been made.
“Modernizing and transforming the delivery of Ontario’s building code services will take time and this is the beginning of the conversation,” Conrad Spezowka wrote. “Consultation feedback is currently being reviewed and no decisions have been made.”
Although the province has not provided details of the proposed changes, it has stated that the idea to establish certified professionals in Ontario is based on a British Columbia model.
But Maura Gatensby, a B.C. architect and certified professional, said only the cities of Surrey and Vancouver have opted to let certified professionals bypass municipal inspections.
The issue is scheduled to be discussed at Wednesday’s meeting of the planning and housing committee, as part of a broader discussion on possible changes to the way the Ontario Building Code is administered.